Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A recurring work rant

How many people do you know who, when offered free money—a significant quantity of it—just ignore the offer and walk away?

My plant has 130 employees. We have an excellent 401(k) plan with dollar-for-dollar company matching contributions for up to the first 6% of salary that an employee will “defer” (put into the plan for their retirement).

Of those, 25 are currently contributing less than 6%. And 17 of THOSE are contributing ZERO!

I try to tell them that if they put in 6% it will only reduce their take-home pay about 4.5% due to the tax savings. I try to tell them it’s the only 100% guaranteed way to double their money instantly, and with no (current) tax consequences!

I ask them if they expect to live on Social Security when they retire. They shrug. Many tell me they can’t afford to defer “right now.”

“But you just got a big raise earlier this year,” I counter. “Use some of that windfall to save at least something!”

“Well, next year when we get a raise I’ll try to put some in the plan.”

Yeah. Right.

We offer 32 investment options. We offer a Roth 401(k) option that will allow them to take out their contributions and all the interest and earnings completely tax free. Did you hear that? Not tax-deferred; TAX FREE! Where else are you EVER going to get tax free money in this country?

I plead. I cajole. I belittle and shame.

Does little good.

Some would view my actions as paternalistic. “They’re big boys and girls—let them make their own decisions.”

But I’ll keep trying. It just feels like the right thing to do.

Somehow I feel sure they’ll be grateful later.

(Okay, end of rant. I feel better now.)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Whaddaya mean, it doesn’t rhyme?

A friend of mine was working on a note the other day. He asked me for some "word advice." Well, what else could I say? I told him, "Sure thing! I'm your man." But then I had to cringe. He said he needed help to find a word to rhyme with "orange."

"Well, gee," I told him with a shrug. "That's harder than you think. Though many English words have rhymes (some perfect, some that stink), there are SOME words that have no rhymes—not even on the fringe. And one of those un-rhyming words is your colorful 'orange.'"

He sneered at me and said, "That's bunk! Here. . . take the color 'purple.' In 'Dang Me,' Roger Miller made it rhyme with 'maple surple.' If he could do that (and it worked!), then surely you could 'arrange' — to put together simple sounds and make them rhyme with 'orange!'"

I told him, "Look, it can't be done. Wise men have tried for years... to rhyme that word with anything that won't offend the ears. I don't know why you want it, but unless it's something grungy, you won't like words I mispronounce to make them sound 'orange-y!'"

"Well, thanks a LOT! I'm outta here." He waved me a dismissal. I think he'd just been smoking weed that smelled like burning sisal. I wondered if some other drugs, those taken with a syringe, might now be fueling his desire to find a rhyme for "orange."

In French, now, it would work. You see, they place the accent later. It's on the second syllable, not on the first (like "TA-ter"). So if you think of "duck l'orange" (a tasty dish I picture!) "l'orange" becomes a perfect rhyme with "mélange" (meaning "mixture").

In English if you place the accent on the second vowel, and say the word with emphasis from deep within your bowel, (for emphasis is everything, and on it all this hinges), you'll wind up with a word that rhymes. Just try it! Say, "o-RINGE-s."

(Artwork courtesy of Karyn Lyndon. Thanks, Karyn!)

Friday, October 19, 2007

A true cake story

All my regular readers know about our good friend (and golfing buddy!) Ruth. Ruth is the lady who makes those gorgeous wedding cakes.

These, for example.

Well, another friend of ours (actually she's a very good friend of our younger daughter's, but like a number of our daughters' friends, she's friendly with us too) sent me an email this morning that I just HAVE to share with you.

Yes, I have her permission.

She wrote (I've changed a few details to protect an identity):

"Okay, so today's Don's birthday. Yes, it is after midnight on Friday morning. I have been up past midnight every night since last Friday working on his cake.

I asked him what he wanted... I was thinking a simple birthday cake.

Oh, no. He wanted me to bake a cake for him to take to the FBI National Academy luncheon the PD is hosting. Friday. Today. The day after he returns from a week-long absence.

What does he want it to look like, you ask?

He wants me to make the seal of the FBI National Academy; he'll be attending it (Quantico, Virginia) this spring. He'll be gone for THREE MONTHS!!!

Anyway, seals are pretty simple, right?

I'm attaching the picture he gave me... before he left for a week-long Chiefs of Police conference in New Orleans.

Like I said, I've been up past midnight every night for seven straight nights. Here is the result of all my work...

I have to admit, it looks pretty good.

Or it did. Before I threw it at him.


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Devil Made Me Do It

If you've already seen this, I'm sorry.

If you haven't seen it, you probably don't want to and WILL be sorry.

Two Brooms

Two brooms were hanging in the closet and after a while they got to know each other so well, they decided to get married.

One broom was, of course, the bride broom, the other the groom broom.

The bride broom looked very beautiful in her white dress. The groom broom was handsome and suave in his tuxedo. The wedding was lovely.

After the wedding, at the wedding dinner, the bride-broom leaned over and said to the groom-broom, "I think I am going to have a little whisk broom!"

"IMPOSSIBLE!" said the groom broom.

(Are you ready for this?

Brace yourself; this is going to hurt!)


(Sounds to me like she's…


sweeping around!)

I TOLD you you'd be sorry!

Monday, October 15, 2007

It’s Baa-aa-aack!!

Last Monday (a week ago) we had a moderate rain shower. No big deal. During the rain our electricity blinked off and back on once or twice, and went off to stay at about 4:30 pm.

This has become an all-too-common event the last few months. We called in the outage and waited. After 5:00 we called back to check on the status. There was no answer.

Okay, it was after office hours. But the same number is supposed to be picked up by an answering service after hours, so that outages can be reported 24-7.

Long story short — the office folks had forgotten to switch the phones over. We finally called a power generation plant, explained our problem, and their personnel transferred our call back to the repair group. After nearly two hours, the power was restored and we were assured by the repair crew that they had found the source of ALL of our summer-long problems, and fixed it! No more outages! WOO-HOO!

Meanwhile, the bread Carol was baking fell, the computer didn’t run, the laptop worked on battery but the cable modem lost power so we had no internet, no TV, etc. We ate dinner and read by flashlight.

That was last Monday. Yesterday (Sunday), we had another shower, and GUESS WHAT HAPPENED?

Good guess.

At 6:10 pm the power went out! Yes, we reported it. Yes, we were disgusted.

At 7:20 I drove around the block and found the repair crew working on the same transformer they had “fixed” 6 days earlier. “It’ll just be a little while,” they assured me. At 9:00 pm the lights came back on.

End of story? Oh, no!

The one “corded” phone in our house rang while we were sitting in the dark. My daughter Christina was calling to tell me that half a continent away in Tampa, her toilet had “exploded” spraying water all over their bathroom floor and beyond. She was able to get the water turned off, and wanted advice on how to proceed. (This was a Sunday evening, remember.)

Without boring you with outcomes, I’d just like to ask a question:

Do you think it was coincidence that at the same time on a Sunday evening over a thousand miles apart I experienced a total electrical failure and she had a catastrophic plumbing failure?



In fact, it won’t surprise me at all to learn that some of you, my dedicated readers, ALSO experienced some electrical, plumbing, appliance, auto, or other breakage or outages this past weekend. You can let me know by comment.

Just when we were lulled into a false sense of security, the “C” is back! And I don’t think it’s over yet, not by a long shot!

So if you haven’t been affected yet, get ready. Put your defenses in place (whatever those might be). Steel your nerves. Gird your loins. Strengthen your resolve. (Pick your favorite metaphor.)

Maybe, somehow, we can all get through it with our lives intact and our bank accounts not completely emptied.

We’ll see.

Friday, October 12, 2007

A wonderful opportunity (true story)

A local small-town family physician retired a few years ago to the dismay of many of his regular patients. He was well-beloved and respected for his down-to-earth manner and obvious care for those who sought his expertise and treatment.

Retirement soon proved a bore. He missed seeing patients; but he didn't miss the paperwork, files, insurance claims, billings, and all the rest.

A dilemma. Should he come out of retirement, and put up with all the hassles? Or should he contiune to miss doing what he loved most—helping people?


He presented himself to a local industrial plant of nearly 2,000 employees with an offer. He would come to the plant two afternoons a week and see anyone who wished to see him. He would educate, diagnose, prescribe, and treat. He would refer to specialists if needed. He would order lab work if needed. He would NOT do paperwork, claims forms, billing, etc.

The "patients" would not pay a single dime for his services (but any drugs, lab work, specialist visits, etc., was out of their insurance or pocket.) Rather, the plant would pay him by the hour; and that hourly rate would be just high enough to cover the cost of his malpractice insurance and keeping his license to practice current.

Well, did it work?

It was ideal! Employees who would otherwise stay home from work to see a doctor came to their job and saw him. Those who would otherwise come in sick and hope to get better, saw him. Those who typically put off seeing a doctor unless they were at death's door saw him. The result was early detection and intervention, and a lot fewer sick days.

The doctor decided he was having so much fun that two afternoons a week were not enough. So he approached my little plant to see if we could use him one afternoon a week for a few hours.

He came for the first time on Wednesday. We only announced his impending visit on the day before, and had no idea if anyone would come to see him or not. We asked him to stay for two hours and see who showed up.

He ended up staying for four hours and saw 20 people! He arranged for follow-up visits for a few with high blood pressure. He diagnosed incipient bronchitis and prescribed an antibiotic. He told one man that his painful, swollen finger was not broken, just bruised . . . And the stories are still coming in.

When he left, he exclaimed, "Damn, that was fun!"

He'll be back each Wednesday afternoon for the rest of October, and then we'll re-evaluate how often he needs to come.

Since our health insurance is self-funded (meaning the company pays the claims, up to a limit), I figure we're saving on insurance claims. Employees are saving the co-pay for an office visit. Convenience and low cost (free!) mean employees will see the doctor before they get so sick they miss work.

Gee, is there a down side here that I'm missing?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

How hard can this be?

Subject: A routine pre-employment drug screen.
(With apologies to Zinnia Hope, a wonderful writer who live in West Virginia and does NOT embody the stereotypes portrayed herein.)

My company offered “Sam” an engineering position contingent upon a successful drug screen. Trouble is, Sam lives in West “By God” Virginia, and we’re in “Thank God!” Texas.

I asked our local drug testing provider, a company operated by a very efficient lady named “Kay,” to help us arrange for a drug screen to be performed in Sam’s home town with the results transmitted to us. Kay provided the name of a urine-sample-collection outfit with the proper credentials, chain-of-custody protocols, etc., and I asked Sam to drop by the place on a Thursday to leave a sample.

All arrangements had been made.

Sam presented himself late Thursday afternoon to produce the needed sample, but was told they couldn’t accept one. Why? Well, Kay had told them what “panel” needed to be run, but the word hadn’t been passed to the collection folks. They can’t print a label for the sample unless they know which panel is needed. And they can’t accept a sample without a label, because the donor must sign the label for proper chain-of-custody proof. So, no panel = no label = no test on Thursday.

Sam called me. I could have told them what panel to run, but they wouldn’t accept the info from me. It had to come from Kay. Kay couldn’t be reached, so Sam left to return the next day. On Friday, a sample was provided. The collection folks said they would send it off to the pre-arranged lab, and the results should be available "by Tuesday . . . or Wednesday at the latest.”

Now if the sample had been provided and properly shipped off on Thursday, the results would have been available by Friday afternoon or Monday morning, but. . .

Time passed. Monday came and went. Tuesday afternoon came and Sam called me to ask if we have results yet. (No, he wasn't nervous. But he wanted to give his two weeks’ notice to his present employer, and we advised him NOT to do so until the drug test results were in.) Kay called the lab for us, but the sample results were not available yet.

By noon Wednesday we still had no news. I called Kay. About an hour later she called back. It seems that the folks in West “By God” Virginia had sent the sample to the wrong testing lab, whose technicians had no instructions concerning where to send the results. Absent that information, they elected not to run the sample at all, but to send it back. (Note: There may have been some logic in that decision somewhere, but it escapes me. Couldn’t they call? But that’s water under the bridge.) The sample was en route back to the collection point; delivery date and time unknown.

By Thursday morning the collection point had still not received the nomadic sample, so I asked Kay if she could locate a DIFFERENT testing agency who would run a saliva drug test (like we do here in Texas) because that test provides results on the spot in about 5 minutes!

Kay located a lab and provided me with a business name, address, phone number, contact name, driving directions, and assurances that, again, all details had been arranged. I passed this on to Sam, now a full week after he had first tried to be drug tested. Sam left work early to drive to this lab.

Upon arrival and identification, Sam was told that they couldn’t “do” his sample yet. Why not? They were waiting for a phone call from Texas to find out the payment arrangements (as in, who was going to PAY for the test, and how).

Sam waited. Then he went back to the desk and . . . Well, here’s how the dialogue went:

Sam: “When are they supposed to call you back?”

Girl: “I don’t know. Soon, I think.”

Sam (unconvinced): “Do you have their number? I’ll call THEM.”

Girl: “Uh, no. I didn’t get a number.”

Sam: “Well, who was the call supposed to come from? I’ll call my contact there and we’ll expedite this call.”

Girl: “Uh, I didn’t get her name.”

Sam (exuding patience): “Okay. We don't know who's going to call you or when. Tell me, please, how much does the test cost?”

Girl (brightly): “It costs $55.”

Sam: “Tell you what . . . I’LL pay for it. Do you take Discover?”

Girl: “Uh, no.”

Sam (grinding his teeth): “How about American Express?”

Girl: “No. Uh, sorry!”

Sam (nearly at the “losing it” point): “Okay, I’ll write you a personal check. Or would you prefer cash?”

Girl: “Uh, we don’t take those either.”

Sam (with his last vestige of self control slipping away): “Well, what the hell DO you take?”

Girl (brightly): “Oh, we only take money orders.”

Sam (snarling): “Well, gee. I don’t happen to have one of those, so I guess I’ll just leave now. Goodbye!”

The slam of the door registered on the seismograph in nearby Charleston, measuring a strong 3.4 on the Richter scale.

Seething, Sam called me on his cell phone as he drove home. I was in a committee meeting for a non-work but work-related activity and couldn’t take the call. He left a message. I’ll leave the contents of the message to your imagination.

The next morning (Friday, for those of you keeping track) the ORIGINAL sample showed up, was run, and the results were communicated back to me as negative!

I called Sam and told him that if he still wanted to work for us after all that fiasco he should give his notice because the offer was now confirmed!

I thought he might be upset or concerned about our apparent inability to properly arrange things. But to my surprise HE apologized to me! I asked him why.

He replied, “That’s just the way things are in West “By God” Virginia. That’s why I want to move back to Texas!”

He’s scheduled to start on Monday, October 29.