Monthly Archives: August 2015

Delete My Computer, Please. Confessions of an Administrative Aide

RailTrail morning (MikeAndbergdeskplaque) 005 B&WIt’s the first day of my new job. I stroll the clean, quiet halls en route to my office. It’s a long walk. On the way, I see workers in their offices, sitting at desks, bodies visible, but heads obscured by the back of their computer, almost as if the computers were their heads. Well, this isn’t right. I’ll never learn the names and faces of my new work associates doing this, will I?

My own room is cute, although windowless, about ten by ten feet. My boss greets me there, glad to finally meet the person who’s filling the long-vacated position.

“Hit Control-Alt-Delete,” she says, standing over my shoulder by my desk.

That’s funny, I never have to do this at home, and I can’t find Delete anywhere on the gigantic, trumped-up keyboard I apparently have to use here. I find Delete, but try to press all three Control, Alt, and Delete keys simultaneously with one hand and, like failing to play an octave on piano, I hit a sour note on my first job responsibility.

As the day goes on, it’s difficult to accomplish any work. Short of my bathroom break, everything  here is done through a computer. Everything. Any file I’m looking for is in a file within a file within a file within a file, sandwiched between Excel spreadsheets, distribution lists, PDFs, Word documents, technology files, room reservations, timelines and countless other folders. My search for a sense of Control has already been filed under Lost, no doubt sub-filed under Technology.

Anything this computer can do, I can do better. Example: my PC’s office calendar system that magically links everyone’s schedule in my department with each other. I’m not impressed. First of all, by the time I get to the computer calendar with new dates to add, I’ve either forgotten the date, the subject, or both. Worse yet, the computer’s design makes each week’s grid and each person’s calendar look the same. It’s only a matter of time before my doctor visits will be plastered all over the boss’s agenda. I sketch my own calendar on a scrap of paper and hide it in my desk drawer. Far more effective. Confidential. At my fingertips. Surge proof.

Meanwhile, unresolved office emails and phone tag games go on all week. If I merely walked across the hall, couldn’t I personally answer all these people in about five minutes? But no, that’s not the way it’s done anymore. If I had a window in my office, I’m sure I’d be tempted to jump through it about every hour.

I make calls from my office to other companies to update files: No one who was working at these companies a year ago is working there now. Where have they all gone? Were their jobs like mine? Did they leave from job dissatisfaction? I don’t get it.

To keep my job, the handiest survival tip I’ve used has been to write down all tasks that require three steps or more. As sure as the photocopier will go down when we need it most, I will not remember directions beyond three steps. Period. I secure an old Rolodex from the mailroom to organize the fifty index cards upon which I’ve scribbled instructions of three steps or more. They’ve been real ass-savers.

My boss is out sick today, and I’m asked to review all her email for important correspondence she may need. There’s a hundred emails. What madness. And some are personal, and I sure as hell don’t want to discover what I don’t want to know about her or anyone by snooping through their email! After all, isn’t there’s some confidentiality agreement in my job description?

I’m proud of the way I’ve learned to prioritize office duties. The most important thing in my job is knowing passwords, usernames and codes. Actually, they’re the most annoying part of my job, but taping passwords to the wall is handy and I’m far less aggravated by them in doing this. I refer to passwords, usernames and codes an average of twenty-eight times a day. Sure, they’re visible for everyone to see on the wall, but it’s less important strangers see them than I do not. Without my passwords, I might as well go home. Otherwise I can’t do a thing on either my PC, desk phone, company website, Facebook, and a zillion other things.

For some reason, I’m getting really behind. So, the last thing I want to do is spend time on the tutorials I’ve been encouraged to view. The first was on Excel spreadsheets. Then Abobe Creative Suite. Then In Design, whatever that is. But I did see the tutorial about our operating system. So confusing, the company kindly hired out a technology consultant to get me straight. That was back in the beginning before anyone knew I’d need a computer personal trainer.

Yeah, I do get a little sloppy sometimes. There’s no telling what keys my fingers just slid across by accident. I’m somewhere between a loose cannon and someone who can’t get out of his own way. Because of this, I’m paranoid about clicking Forward by mistake when replying to someone by email. Or clicking Select All. Or Reply All. Click the wrong button, and X might see a string of correspondences attached to my reply where Y and Z had been cc’d and X doesn’t like Y and Z said something bad about X last month. I make phones calls whenever possible, being sure to talk very carefully and very slowly.

It’s only natural I look for any physical duty there might be to do around the office now. I volunteer to tack flyers to the bulletin board. Photocopy documents. Staple handouts. Hole punch binders. File folders. Pick up mail. Open the new water jug. Walk receipts up to Finance. And, on the way, walk around and personally respond to everyone’s stalled email and phone messages!

An optional staff development invite pops into my email. I jump on it. Anything to get out of the office. But the seminar, “Decreasing Job Dissatisfaction and Improving Workplace Productivity,” could help me, too. Is there something I could change to make my job easier? Modify about my attitude? Wouldn’t it be nice to be so efficient that I alternate one good habit with another all day long?

The job dissatisfaction seminar leader begins the two-hour discussion with, “First off, I strongly recommend you get rest on weekends.” Come on. What else ya got?

“All that work on your desk? Remember. It’ll still be there tomorrow.” Right. It wasn’t done yesterday because it wasn’t done the day before that either. And, yes, it’ll still be there tomorrow. Help.

“To assist in organizing your day, start with the end first.” Apparently, there is no end to my job, so to backtrack from something that doesn’t exist is insane.

“Despite what we’ve all heard, there is no such thing as multi-tasking!” Oh, right. My job is predicated on the multi-task principle, and everyone else’s, too. I feel no more relaxed or productive now than when I walked into this room.

It all comes down to this. Your boss emails you something to be done. You do it. You email it on. That person sends it to someone else who does something with it, mostly to get it off his back, then on to someone else. She sends it to her boss who looks at it and sends it to someone else because she has rank. Somehow, someway, it may eventually come back to you, at which point you place it in your “To Do” file. I’m aware of this pattern, yet I am still ranked only as an Administrative Aide.

Confounded by yet another day of computer curve balls, I summon the IT Department. They send me a student-level tech person. In less than one hour, he teaches me things I’d never dreamed were possible on a computer! A genius, and only nineteen. It’s obvious to me he could do my job, and in half the time. What’s he doing in IT? What am I doing here?

The best thing this young tech has taught me as an Office Administrative Aide? When to hit Delete.

It’s nice to have gained control again. No passwords required either.



Filed under Blog, The Daily Thought

Stories From Maybe Boomer: HMOs, Nuts and Deevertiks

white lab coats 003The health care system grabbing the country’s attention during the nineties was Health Management Organizations, or HMOs. On paper, they seemed great with their long list of primary care physicians and offices from which to choose. After years of hassle, paperwork, long waits and questionable care, I took action.

Do it. That clinic in DC, on U street, inner city and all that comes with it. Go there. Otherwise, it’s another round of crowded suburban HMOs. White, male MDs. Sterile lab coats. Masses of boomers getting pushed in, getting pushed out.

I do it. I sign up, walk in, and feel instantly relieved.

Now, I love my doctor’s office. Look at the lobby – devoid of all glossy magazines on fancy tables and annoying charts of the human digestive tract tacked to the wall. Is that a cute, cuddly kitten poster I see over there? A poster from the movie Shaft? I’m digging it, and I’m especially digging all the different people passing through in all their various levels of cleanliness.

Sure, my new primary care physician seems late, thirty minutes late to be exact, and maybe I could use one of those fluff magazines to read, but it’s okay. I’ll wait. Everything’ll be fine.

Finally, she’s here, and I like what I see. My MD is a large black woman, complete with African shawl-like thing wrapped around her shoulders.

“Hello, My-kal. Whadd can I do for you today?”

“Yes, I hope you can help. I’d like you to look into my digestive problems.”

“How old you now, My-kal?”


“Ah, you too young to be hee-ah!”                                       

“What, thirty-five is young? It doesn’t feel that way. I jog, but feel like every mineral’s been drained from my body afterward. I lift weights and come down with stomach pains a few days later. And then there’re these abdominal aches on my left side …”



“Could be the pesky deevertiks. My-kal, have you been diagnosed with diverticulitis before?”


“See, when you get old, these little pouches form in your colon, you know where that is, right? You eat nuts? Stop eating nuts. Now. Seeds, too. All Boomers eat too much seed, and never chew.”

I’m confused by the barrage of information, then realize this is great news. Just stop eating nuts and seeds and my problems are over.

I love this doctor. I love her clinic. I love brothers and sisters. I feel so much better. I not only thank her, but stand to shake her hand.

“Oh, no, we’re not done yet. Gotta make sure it’s the deevertiks. Get infected dere, people known to lose twenty feet.”

“Twenty feet of what?”

She hands me a pamphlet entitled, “Your Digestive Tract,” and some papers.

“Here. This form for barium enema. And upper GI. Any hospital will do them. No. You go next door with Howard. Do better there. You had AIDS test? All – men – need – AIDS test! Siddown.” As she pulls out a needle and syringe, all I can think about is being protected from a barium enema.

Howard, as it turns out, is Howard University Hospital down the street. I wait in a prep room there for my upper GI when a nurse presents me with a large Styrofoam cup containing a vanilla milkshake-like substance. Mm-m-m, with just a hint of pina colada, too. 

She returns with three more cups to drink. Downing the second, I tell her it tastes more like barium colada and I’m nowhere near the drunken state I want to be in. Despite my bloated condition, the x-rays of my upper GI tract reveal no abnormalities.

What was abnormal was the lower GI procedure I endured. A total stranger pumped a ton of barium in through my rear, took x-rays, then watched the barium jettison back out of me like a 747 taking off.

A week later, I review my intestinal x-rays with an MD at Howard University Hospital.

“See, right there, there are tiny, tiny deevertik pouches in your colon.”


“There. You best not eat nuts and seeds.”

Great. I’ve been Liquid Plummered for $2,000 and told to avoid watermelon and macadamia nuts yet again.

I immediately go out and gorge on three PayDay bars, the ones with 99% peanuts. Why not? Who cares now? The next HMO doctor will probably say the same things, or that he can’t do anything more for me, or that I have AIDS. Munch on.

This excerpt is from Chapter Thirteen, “Health” in my memoir, “Maybe Boomer.”


Leave a comment

Filed under Blog, Stories from Maybe Boomer

Everything I Love About Opera Has Nothing to do With Opera

Doug Norski 2015 001Suppose you’d never been to an opera. That was me just a few weeks ago.

Then I won a ticket to see any Santa Fe Opera performance I wanted. A big fan of composer Richard Strauss, I chose Salome. After having heard from friends how beautiful the whole Santa Fe Opera experience was, I couldn’t wait to go.

I drive into the parking lot and notice the zest in which Santa Fe Opera people party. They dress like it’s New Year’s Eve and feast around fancy table set ups like its Thanksgiving dinner.

I enter the opera house for my very first time. It’s other-worldly. What a beautiful structure. Streamlined, clean. Comfy seats.

When the house lights dim, a setting sun – as seen through the opera house’s open back-end – turn set pieces into majestic silhouettes. Lights return, exposing a sparse but beautiful set.

Then, performers appear. They start talking, er, singing. That’s when the party ends.

Hearing a ton of German sung on stage, I constantly check subtitles posted on the chair back in front of me. I read Salome’s words, but only hear a song fest. It’s taking some getting used to, but I try to get into the swing.

Fifteen minutes through the production, characters still talk about the same thing they were talking – er, intoning – fifteen minutes ago when the show began. Not only that, but they’re prompting subjects that never come up in normal conversation (let alone ones people might sing about in public if so inclined).

The huge box that centers the stages slowly rotates 180 degrees to expose a new set containing a man sitting at a table in the middle of a room. He barely moves. A woman circles the area, pontificating about his nose. I check the time on my watch.

Fifteen minutes later, the man is still serenaded to, but the woman changes the topic to a musical discussion about his lips. Apparently, she likes him? It is here I believe a love story has entered the opera, but I’m not sure.

Four more watch-check intervals later, the woman holds up the man’s bloody head for all to see. She’s even performed a risqué dance in honor of the severed orb.

Then the opera is over. That’s it.

The guy behind me stands, yelling “Bravo!” Seconds later, the rest of the audience stands. What did I miss?

I glance at my ticket stub and the $118 price. What? This seat is pretty far back and way to the right.

You see, for better or for worse, this is how I see opera.  I come from a generation steeped in television and movies where no one sings instead of talking to each other. Tonight, thousands attended Salome after waiting all year to experience its glory. Authors of the Bible, Oscar Wilde, Richard Strauss, even Al Pacino, have been captivated by Salome’s story, so what happened to me? Perhaps I should never have left the parking lot’s fine dining experience.

It all comes down to this: When a guest suddenly sings across the table to me, “Please pass the salt,” I immediately get the urge to be excused from my own dinner party to go watch TV.


Filed under Blog, The Daily Thought

Eternity as the New Ninety

Human life expectancy has taken an unprecedented leap during middle-aged American’s lifetime. I hadn’t paid much attention to this phenomenon or seen evidence of it until just the past few years.

Suddenly, everyone I know has a loved one in their nineties. Not eighties: that used to be the standard for “old.” It appears ninety is the new eighty.

Some ninety-year-olds I know are articulate as ever. If they were feisty before, they’re feisty now. What made them happy before makes them happy now. The only visible impairment is slowness in walk, use of a cane, wrinkles, thinning hair, et al.

Maybe I, too, will live another ten years beyond what was expected fifty years ago. In fact, if we all take care of ourselves, with luck, we might live to ninety and beyond. I suppose that wish depends on how you define quality of life. Currently, this issue is approaching me head on because many of the ninety-year-olds I know are just barely hanging on. And on. And on.

The strong human will to live, combined with advances in science seemingly keep people going forever (that is, if you have the money to afford never-ending medical bills). Many ninety-somethings don’t even recognize loved ones who’ve come to visit them at the health center. Many are cognitively alive but unable to do much with their bodies, particularly activities that were special foundations to their happiness and self-worth.

If we knew now we’d be severely compromised at ninety, how many of us would elect not to be there? This question is dicey. So many if’s, so many legalities; so much family involvement, so much confusion. It’s one of the peskiest philosophical questions we’ll ever ask.

Not too many decades ago, it seemed when people died, they died. No hook-ups to machines; no cure or appreciable turnaround in health was imminent. People expected to die in their seventies and were happy to have lived that long. The dream today is about being as strong in our nineties as we were (or are now) at seventy-five. But most folk I know in their nineties, or know of, are nothing near their seventy-five-year-old self. We have to prepare for what the modern reality of ninety and beyond is.

One elderly woman I know is sharp as a tack. A beautiful person. She adds life and insight to everyone she knows. She’s glad not to be in any great pain, that she can walk a hundred feet from her apartment and back twice a day, but says she’s ready “to go.” Happy to have had ninety great years of life, it’s time. It’s time to die. And that’s that.

Another woman I know wants to live forever. She has a great circle of friends around her, lives in the same house she’s spent most of her life, and continues to cultivate a burning hobby. She’s also been healthy for over ninety-one years and is one of those never-get-sick, strong-as-an-ox kind of people. Even with the crippling changes in her body and other unfortunate recent circumstances, she’s better than she was at seventy-five!

Yet, most of my friend’s parents or relatives or close associates are stringing out life far into the nineties, making their families go through a living hell to care for them. Sure, no one wants a loved one to die, but how long should life go on? How exactly do we define quality of life? Again, a prickly question, one that’s not going away.

Neither is science (or pharmaceutical companies). In thirty years, will the new human one hundred be ninety? Will science of the near future be able to keep all vital systems of the mind and body going to sustain life past one hundred? I doubt it. Centuries of human evolution changed in mere decades? Modern health science seems more about halting disease, keeping ventricles pumping blood and lungs inhaling oxygen than sustaining the heart and soul of the survivor, not to mention breathing vibrant life back into a living, caring being that wants to go on for more than just the sake of going on.

As for me (note: I don’t have to worry about any of this since I’ve still got thirty years to think about it) , I joke about my plan to live a good life right up to the end by having a will made out, all possible loose ends tidied up, then, when the time is right, I step in front of a speeding train.

Even this flippant, quick and easy plan has a crack in it: “when the time is right.”

‘Tis the eternal question – when is the time right?


Filed under The Daily Thought

Stories From Maybe Boomer: Compassion, and Befriending “It! The Terror From Beyond Space”

Paul and I perused the channels on my family’s ultra-modern new television set hoping to find a great color show. Zippo. Every progarm was in black and white. I wanted to impress Paul, my new companion, and so far, the Quasar – Motorola’s beautiful twenty-four inch console set – was letting me down.

Things changed at precisely two o’clock.

“Oh, wait, flip back. Flip back,” Paul said.

I cranked the Motorola’s spiffy all-metal dial back one click to the opening credits of a movie.

It, the Terror From Beyond Space! This could be cool,” I said.

“Look, look how clear the title is,” Paul replied. “You’d never be able to see that on your old Silvertone set.”

So blown away by crisp picture quality, we’d forgotten the fact the movie was in black and white. We didn’t care. The alien creature creating havoc inside the spaceship’s darkly-lit hull devoured our attention. To us, this standard 50’s sci-fi flick was a classic.

Halfway through It, I cried out, “Look at the scales on the monster’s skin!”

“And look! Look! There’s a zipper!”


“On his back …”

“It’s really a rubber suit …”

“It can’t be …”

“It’s a rubber suit!”

“It’s so fake …”

“And look, now he’s picking some guy up …”

“And twirling him around …”

“Like he’s gonna heave him …”

“But it’s so fake …”

“Just showing their shadows …”

“I know …”

“Instead of them …”

“I know …”

“So the zipper doesn’t show …”

“I know …”

“I hate that …”

“I know.”

“I hate that.”

“Me, too.”

However, It got clobbered in the end. But what a bad finale that was. The monster was our hero. How could the American astronauts, dressed in hokey space suits, zap It before he reached the ship’s cheesy-looking control room to eat everyone in sight? I was so let down.

After Paul went home, sudden pangs of nostalgia came over me for the Silvertone set my family had owned forever. It sat in the corner of the basement now, unplugged, abandoned, collecting dust. The beautiful, ash-colored television had once been the family’s universe, producing a relentless drone close to sixteen hours a day. Occasionally, Dad had spoken over the Silvertone in anger when its fifteen inch screen shrank to eleven by nine after the horizontal and vertical holds got their way with things. With the all-encompassing love for our new Motorola, I knew the Silvertone’s worn-out tubes and technology would be hauled away soon.

Sure enough, a few weeks later, the set was gone. Both the Silvertone and It had been beaten by technology. Just as the creature was left alone to decay on Mars’ barren landscape, I imagined the frightening sight of my cathode comrade dumped in a landfill somewhere, disrespected, with no funeral service conducted or head stone prepared. I’d have appreciated its ashes being put into a nice urn, or a Kool Aid pitcher if we couldn’t afford the urn, or at least sprinkled around the Quasar as a respectful remembrance. I would miss my companion terribly. After all, before Paul, the Silvertone was the best friend I had.

This is an excerpt from my memoir, Maybe Boomer. The post honors the fifty-seventh anniversary of It! The Terror From Beyond Space and its August, 1958 debut.  Note: the film takes place in the “far off future” – 1973!

1 Comment

Filed under Blog, Stories from Maybe Boomer