Downwind of Amsterdam
March 2003

« February 2003 « » April 2003 »

March 31, 2003

Cold morning in Florida

Probably my last breakfast at Winter Park's fiercely English Daily Express, possibly the only deli on the planet where you can hear without irony: "Care for grits, mate?" But this morning a TV on the counter blared about Iraq (between loud ads for deodorants and lawyers). I doubt I'll be back. I have so few Florida days left that I have to choose carefully what I want to do one last time and what I must skip and relegate to memory.

Bumper sticker in front of the Daily Express:

What if the Hokey Pokey IS what it's all about?

Walking across the grocery store parking lot was a trial--windy and 46F/7C. I thought I might freeze, but that is the average temperature in Chicago, where I'll move in a few days. They say surviving the cold is simply about the right clothes. I hope they're right.

I'm finding Dutch pronunciation to be pretty easy, except that I often swap the gutteral G sound with the similar H sound. "Heel goed" (very good) often comes out "geel hoed" (yellow hat).

Tried to lunch outside (but out of the cold wind) at the Briarpatch, Winter Park. They seated me, then forgot me. I counted to honderd and walked. And I really had wanted their Gorgonzola and Walnut salad, the one that, among other things, induces labor.

posted by eric at 19.47 CET | Permalink | Comments (2)

March 30, 2003

OK, let me gloat just this once

posted by eric at 22.36 CET | Permalink | Comments (0)

March 29, 2003

Farewell, friends

I have written some of those laid off as well as some friends in Coke in Atlanta. When I will pack my office next Tuesday, I'll say goodbye to those still there. But right here, right now, I will openly embarrass some of you with inappropriate displays of affection.

Please don't be disappointed (or gloat!) if you're left out--I may get you later...

Larry -- No has a better friend, nor needs one. What a trooper. Of the world's best OJ team, you're now the last one left. Best of luck in Atlanta.

Louis -- I've never worked with anyone more honorable. Not a day passes but that I'm sorry the Brussels deal fell through and you and I couldn't work together more. Ironically, with my new job, now we might be able to. Life is strange.

Cathie -- It's about time they promoted you. A kiss on each cheek. Be well.

Jeff -- The greatest GC talent I know, better even then me, ha ha. My best to Katie, and I hope you're not mad at me for getting you into this.

Mark -- You'll be fine, no matter what. Don't let them get you down, and don't let them warp your thinking. I hope you're not mad at me, either.

Yuny -- Things will be changing all around you, but don't you dare let them change anything about you.

Rod -- I'm not sure you and I will ever see each other again. I hope we do. Get well and kick ass, trooper.

posted by eric at 2.54 CET | Permalink | Comments (2)

March 28, 2003

First inkling

Looking back, there was a first realization that I might clash with Coca-Cola's famous culture. It was 1995, and my group and I were trapped in one of those Human-Resources-subcontracted, horrifically American religious rallies:

"You are empowered™! You know, you can do anything you want to do! You can be anything, anything at all!!!...Yes, Dr. Dose?"
"Excuse me, but I can never be a pregnant schnauzer no matter what I do."

It was downhill from there.

I thought I could suffer with Coke's system, and do my bit to better it, but now I see that I would have had to become a different--certainly a worse--person. In my 8 years there Minute Maid's and Coke's cultures have changed, and not for the better. I wish them all the best, but my coping with their culture would have required failing at life.

posted by eric at 16.29 CET | Permalink | Comments (0)

March 27, 2003

Weirdest morning of my life

The Day of Reckoning: massive layoffs at Minute Maid. Not pretty.

We didn't know how many of us 40 R&D types they would axe, or whom. Could be 5, could be 15. The atmosphere when the 9:00 start time rolled around was exactly that of the expectant battlefield: the Unknown awaits, it is not friendly, some of us are scared witless and weeping, others stoically await, and above all some of us will get slaughtered and the ones left standing will suffer a shock that nothing can prepare you for.

One scientist of my group was the second to get pulled into the director's office and summarily canned. I wasn't even invited into the room when it happened, and my first inkling was when she came to my office and told me. I consoled her the best I could. She seemed OK, but you never really know.

I was the fourth or so to get canned. I'm sure the director wondered why I took it so well. The financial package amounted to more than I made in my first 6 years of work life. Then, a few confirmatory phone calls later, I told him I had a new job lined up. He seemed oddly relieved.

It went on all morning, and there was indeed wailing and gnashing of teeth. We lost 40%. People who had worked and traveled together for decades made their final goodbyes in the vinyl hallway under fluorescent lights and then were just gone, into the sunshine.

Of my (ex-)own group of 6 scientists, here's the score: lost 3, kept 3 including one promotion for which I had pressed for a long time. Be happy, I told myself, the promotion was a nice touch to go out on.

It was 11:30--I had had enough. We had lost 16 by my count, 40%. My pride was a little bruised, but I was well compensated, and trading my self-respect for pay is all too concise a summary of my 8 Minute Maid years. At least this time the rate of return is better. Their kicking out several people I had hired does make me angry. I'm glad for the ones remaining.

I turned off my computer for the last time, gathered my severance envelopes, and turned the office lights out--but my (ex-) phone rang. I sighed and went back to answer it. It was my new company, telling me they would cover closing costs for selling my house. The same house I'd already sold, for over the asking price, two days ago.

I ordered a nice lunch at Panullo's on Park Avenue (Winter Park). Dazed as I was, I once or twice scared other diners with slightly desperate, maniacal laughter...

posted by eric at 21.12 CET | Permalink | Comments (0)

March 26, 2003

Goodbye, 470

Tonight I sold my house, 470 Clarendon Avenue, Winter home for 8 years, the one I moved 1000 miles to live in.

  • Where I laughed myself silly when I signed the contract to buy it, and the palm trees out front, and the ligustrum and sagos and wild pothos ivy all around, and the woodpeckers and wood ducks in the trees, fish crows mocking and squirrels barking somewhere unseen, and bald eagles and brown eagles and osprey gliding overhead, and the open rooms and dark wood floors throughout the interior. Much nicer than I ever thought in my life I would live in, much less own,
  • Where I got the news in 1998 and thought serious thoughts.
  • Where I lost Joni.
  • Where my lovely next door neighbor brought her then-small kids, and my mother read to them.
  • Where when I was preparing my house to sell, I fell off the ladder and jumped rather than be crushed under it. Where I brooded when [multinational corporation who shall remain nameless] then gratuitously screwed up my Brussels assignment, and I had to beg for my old job (here) back and tell the realtor I was going to keep the house after all.
  • Where I read something like 200 books and learned to write and launched my novel.
  • Where for almost 2 years I've had computers doing computation to find screen small molecules in a group effort to beat cancer (see United Device's web site).

So a week ago, I put the house on the market without telling anyone at work.

"What will you do with your house if you get laid off next Thursday?"

"Ohhhhh, I don't know."

I hate that sort of business. I just say as little as possible.

Last Sunday I had driven through pouring rain to see a model "apartment" of the same sort I'm likely to have to endure for 2-3 months in Chicago. True to their advertisements, it had a desk, queen bed, dining table, kitchen, nice bath--and the whole thing is smaller than my (admittedly ridiculously spacious) bedroom here. I couldn't believe how large 470 seemed when I got back.

So the next day--yesterday--Nikki my real estate guru told me I had two offers. One was from her parents, and she handled it very professionally, and the offer was great, more than I had asked, even. Pretty good for the first week of a war. Tonight I signed the papers. There is no turning back now. 470 was built in 1943; the new owners may live in it, or they may tear it down, which I could not bear to see.

I never wanted to leave this house. It's part of who I am and how I see the world, and however long I live and wherever I sleep I will probably dream of it .

posted by eric at 4.04 CET | Permalink | Comments (0)

March 15, 2003

Favorite Rare Words, P-R Logolatry

Pagophagia -- eating ice to help offset iron deficiency

Pais -- group of people from whom a jury is drawn

Papafitte -- prehistoric lake dwelling

Palinola -- compulsive repetition of an act until it is perfect

Palpebration -- winking

Pangram -- sentence containing all the letters of the alphabet (how does this work in Chinese?)

Pansexualism -- theory that all thought derived from sexual instinct

Parabolist -- teller of fables

Paralipsis -- fixing attention on subject by pretending to ignore it

Paraph -- fluorish under one's signature

Parnel -- mistress or concubine of a priest

Paroxysm -- fit of passion, laughter, violent coughing

Parvis -- enclosed space at the front of a church

Patriolatry -- excessive devotion or worship of one's native country

Pejorocracy -- government by the worst, or according the worst principles

Penelopize -- to create work as an excuse to deter suitors

Pentheraphobia -- fear or hatred of one's mother-in-law

Pettifogger -- lawyer given to underhanded tactics

Phillumeny -- collecting of matchbox labels

Phosphene -- light seen when the eyeball is pressed

Pigsconce -- blockhead

Pleonasm -- use of more excess words than necessary (uh,...)

Pollard -- tree having the whole crown cut off

Pornocracy -- government by harlots

Pornotopia -- perfect setting for the antics of pornography (I see a move title in this one)

Potamic -- of or relating to rivers

Probang -- flexible rod put down throat to clear obstacle

Prolepsis -- anticipation, device where objections are anticipated

Pseudophonia -- suicide disguised as murder

Psittacism -- parrot-like repetition of speech

Pteronophobia -- fear of being tickled by feathers

Pygia -- pain in the rump

Quillet -- subtle point in argument, a quibble

Recondite -- out of the way, little known

Rectalgia -- pain in the butt

Resipiscence -- recognition of error, change to better frame of mind

Rhabdos -- magic wand

Rhapsodomancy -- divination by opening works of poetry at random

Once more: these are selected from Steve Chrisomalis's wonderful Forthright's Phrontistery site.

posted by eric at 16.17 CET | Permalink | Comments (0)

March 11, 2003

Dennett describes Science A thought

Daniel Dennett gets it spectacularly right in this article from Butterflies and Wheels.

Try to draw a straight line, or a circle, "freehand." Unless you have considerable artistic talent, the result will not be impressive. With a straight edge and a compass, on the other hand, you can practically eliminate the sources of human variability and get a nice clean, objective result, the same every time.
Is the line really straight? How straight is it? In response to these questions, we develop ever finer tests, and then tests of the accuracy of those tests, and so forth, bootstrapping our way to ever greater accuracy and objectivity. Scientists are just as vulnerable to wishful thinking, just as likely to be tempted by base motives, just as venal and gullible and forgetful as the rest of humankind. Scientists don't consider themselves to be saints; they don't even pretend to be priests (who according to tradition are supposed to do a better job than the rest of us at fighting off human temptation and frailty). Scientists take themselves to be just as weak and fallible as anybody else, but recognizing those very sources of error in themselves and in the groups to which they belong, they have devised elaborate systems to tie their own hands, forcibly preventing their frailties and prejudices from infecting their results.
posted by eric at 14.15 CET | Permalink | Comments (0)