Thursday, March 31, 2005

Radio Days

Come gather 'round the campfire, young'uns, and listen to your old auntie Aimless tell you about a long-ago era called "the late '70s". It was a much simpler time, and compared to you kids these days, we had precious few options for entertainment. Sure we had television, unlike our poor deprived parents, but this was before the advent of something called "cable," which meant that we only had 4 or 5 grainy channels to choose from. Sony's Betamax, the expensive and unwieldy precursor to the video cassette recorder (which is itself rapidly becoming obsolete), had just been invented and was years away from becoming a standard household appliance. There was no internet to surf, no Nintendo, no Gameboys or XBoxes to while away the hours.

So what did we do for fun? Well, like kids of every generation, we loved to listen to the latest pop hits - but without MTV, or streaming audio, or iTunes, our only means of learning what was new and hot and happening in music was to tune in to the local Top 40 station on our clock radios or transistors (nope, there were no Walkmans or boom boxes either)! It was in this atmosphere that the late, great Dr. Don Rose ruled the airwaves throughout the San Francisco Bay area.

Now, way back then auntie Aimless was a vastly different creature than the sophisticated woman of the world you see before you. In 1977 I was but a skinny, grubby nine-year-old failing miserably at fitting in with my wealthy, preppy classmates at the elementary school near our new house in the suburbs. To state that I didn't have a firm grasp on the prevailing cultural zeitgeist would be a massive understatement. A hopelessly late bloomer, I had just barely stopped listening to my Disney LPs, Peter Pan and Cinderella and Mary Poppins, and then only because one of my babysitters graced me with a box of Donny & Marie memorabilia she had outgrown, inadvertently triggering a years-long obsession. Needless to say, my fixation with the long out-of-style pink chiffon, purple socks and Puppy Love did not do much to endear me to my peers at Castle Rock Elementary.

One day, in the middle of fourth grade, we were called into an all-school assembly to promote the annual March of Dimes walk-a-thon. I couldn't immediately identify the man standing at the podium, but I recognized his voice as soon as he began to speak. Why, it was Dr. Donald D. Rose, the guy with the goofy voices who introduced cartoons on channel 44! (This was another mark of how out-of-it I was back then - I had no idea that the kid's TV voice-over guy actually had another, far more high-profile job).

Apparently my schoolmates were not quite as clueless.

"What's the Bay Area's BEST radio station?" he boomed.

"KFRC!!!!!!!!" the audience yelled in unison.

"Who's your favorite morning show host?"

"Doctor Don! Doctor Don!"

"And who is my special guest in the studio all month?"

"ANDY GIBB!!!!" the crowd roared.

The names KFRC and Andy Gibb meant nothing to me - but I knew that with the whole school screaming about them, I would probably do well to familiarize myself. Being in that assembly was like being given a secret decoder ring, showing me how to finally speak the same language as my fellow fourth graders. Once I started listening to Dr. Don's show each morning, I began to understand all the references to "Berzerk-ley" and "Sacra-tomato," I could join in the groaning about his corny jokes and gags and jingles, and boy, did I learn about Andy Gibb, whose silky feathered hair and dulcet harmonies instantly banished all thoughts of Donny Osmond from my mind. By the time that walk-a-thon rolled around, I happily trudged the full 20 miles (or 32 kilometers actually, this was back when they were still hoping the metric system would catch on) just for a chance to catch a glimpse of my idol (I didn't).

Listening to the KFRC morning show didn't make me instantly popular, far from it - but at least it gave me a toehold into basic social acceptability. Dr. Don was my friendly, zany, good-natured tour guide through the unexplored world of musical pop culture, and it was through his show that I learned to tell my Sylvers from my Supertramp, my Carpenters from my Commodores, my Foreigner from my Fleetwood Mac.

Hearing the news of his death on the car radio last night, it was like when Mister Rogers or Jim Henson died - I felt a little piece of my childhood crumbling away.

It seems strange to say this about the man who blasted the whole Bay Area out of bed each morning with clanging pots and pans and mooing cows and train whistles and foghorns, but . . . may he rest in peace.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Have Fun or Else!

Our team at work did well this year - so well, in fact, that each one of us qualified for our company's highest award, a 3-day trip at a posh resort culminating in a dinner in our honor. I was particularly excited to win because this year the event will be held at the elegant, luxurious Del Coronado , a historic beachfront hotel in San Diego that I would never be able to afford on my own. The trip is planned for late April, and Chef and I have been looking forward to it for months. There are loads of places to take the kids - the only tough thing is deciding between Lego Land, Sea World, or the famous world-class zoo. Chef is also hoping to get a few rounds of golf in, and I thought I might actually take a rare opportunity to pamper myself at a nearby salon.

Then, the dreaded memo from HR arrived Friday, breathlessly announcing a new event being added to the weekend's schedule:

We have decided to up the fun factor a bit and bring out the competitive nature of the sales teams with a Beach Olympics contest.The Beach Olympics will offer a fun-filled team building competition, on the beautiful beach of Coronado. The DJ will energize our teams as you complete a warm-up stretch and dance, 5 Wacky Relays and Tug-o-War competition. The Del recreation staff will facilitate the entire event from start to finish ensuring an exciting event.

This news was greeted among my officemates with the same enthusiasm we might exhibit towards an invasive root canal. Quite honestly, I simply cannot imagine anything less pleasant than spending all morning freezing my ass off on a beach with a bunch of complete strangers while some preternaturally perky facilitator forces us through a strained regimen of manufactured wackiness. And this is supposed to be our "reward" for being the company's top revenue producers?

We grumbled amongst ourselves for awhile, and debated whether or not it was worth it to respond to the HR director and ask if it was strictly necessary to attend this fiasco. No one seemed willing to do so, so I decided to politely email her myself. Little did I know that one of my other coworkers had the very same idea. We immediately received the identical perfunctory reponse: it IS mandatory, the president of the company feels it builds cameraderie, and we are expected to be there. At that point, we were all prepared to just suck it up and let the matter drop - what choice did we have?

The next morning I came in to an email from my boss. Apparently, the HR director felt the need to contact her personally to let her know that two of her employees had dared to question the necessity of the event, and suggested that perhaps she should try to communicate to us the CRITICAL IMPORTANCE of participating. As it happens, my boss could care less - I think she'd be more surprised if we didn't bitch about attending. But I was supremely annoyed that I cannot ask a simple, reasonable question (I merely asked HR to let me know if attendance was required so I could arrange for babysitting) without being tattled on like an errant kindergartener.

So we decided to have a little fun with her. One by one, all of the employees on our team emailed her individually to ask if attendance was mandatory. C. noted that she was not going to have anyone to watch her 18 month old daughter that morning. TOO BAD, she was told. The event is mandatory for all the "winners" and their guests (umm, now she's going to tell my HUSBAND what to do? I hate to break this to you, sweetie, but he'll be LONG gone on the golf course by then - along with C.'s husband and our bosses fiancée) and if need be, she needs to arrange child care with the hotel at her own expense.

B. told her that he probably wouldn't be able to make the event, because his wife is still recovering from donating a kidney early last week. TOO BAD, he was told, he still needs to be there - although she did generously offer to provide a chair for his wife to sit in.

Towards the end of the day, there was only one person left to send an email - our accounts manager M. By this time we figured the HR rep must know that this had turned into an office in-joke, so we told M. not to even bother with a legitimate sounding excuse. "I know - tell her you can't go because you want to get your nails done!" I offered. So she did just that. Her message read "Unfortunately I will be unable to attend the Beach Olympics due to a previously scheduled massage, manicure and pedicure."

"Man, this is really going to piss her off," we laughed gleefully. "I can't wait to see what she says!"

Her response? "I understand. Please just let your manager know. Thanks!"

So nice to know where the company's priorities lie: child care crises or recent kidney removal are not acceptable reasons for missing corporate-sanctioned fun. But a manicure/pedicure? Totttallyyy understandable!