Friday, July 18, 2008

The Company Kitchen

In corporate life, I regularly collect news stories and pictures from 30 company locations in various parts of the world. I compile these bits of wisdom, inanity, and lameness into the bi-weekly Corporate News Update—a sort of half-baked electronic newsletter.

Over a three-year-period, I've discovered at least one important thing: people in Sofia, Bulgaria have drastically different views of newsworthiness than their counterparts in Chilliwack, British Columbia.

A sample of typical news headlines:

* Stream Chilliwack's 7th Annual Golf Tournament
* Velizy Site Organizes Fun for its Support Functions
* Stream Derry Takes Part in Silver Surfers' Day
* Fundraising BBQ for Camp Trillium and the Canadian Cancer Society
* The Big Chop 2008
* Gasparilla Celebration
* Stream Watertown Employee Referral Program
* Stream Watertown Fifth Anniversary Events
* Fun Team Balloon Pop
* Healthy Resolutions Fair
* Chilliwack Fun Days
* Cape Breton Stream Fun Team Hosts Childrens Holiday Party
* Christmas Chocolates in Cape Breton

Surely, you get the picture. The Fun Team Balloon Pop was a real BFD in Watertown, New York. In Helsingborg, Sweden? Not so much.

Over time, though, I came to discover the common denominator, or perhaps the universal language of corporate news. And you guessed right...FOOD!

I could not possibly tell you why someone in Nova Scotia thinks I might be interested in what they ate at the Healthy Resolutions Fair. Or Chilliwack Fun Days. Or The Big Chop 2008; however, people from Mumbai to Milan have the very same impression:

"This guy is completely queer for pictures of food taken at company events."

And so the story goes—week-to-week, month-to-month, and now year-to-year—every other Thursday, my inbox takes on the puzzling characteristics of a Tim Burton musical inspired by Betty Crocker and the fine folks at Omaha Steaks. Banquet tables tremble beneath the caloric density of hot dogs, casseroles, beans, secret family recipes, cookies shaped like animals, seasonal dips, holiday beverages, and snack cakes.

I see cafeteria tables surrounded by the ravenous locals—nervous, ghoulish, and often delirious with the joy of free food. But more than anything, I see Crock Pots!

Old ones! News ones! Fancy ones! Dirty ones! Passed-down-through-generations-ones!!

I even have a picture of Tampa's 3rd Annual Chili Cook-off. Defiantly Spartan in its simplicity, this glorious 3"x4" testament to portable cuisine shows only a banquet table, draped in vinyl cloth, nobly displaying six icons of slow-cooking convenience.

These proud warriors shout for all to hear and adore—1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th place!!

As days turned to years, these hopeful and cheery scrap-bookers, those who once cast aside puffy paint and Bedazzlers in favor of raffia-textured picture pages and neatly stacked rows of Rubbermaid craft boxes, became my tormentors; taunting me in digital images, reveling in the bounty of free food, bellowing their disdain through terrible horns of plenty, smiling for the camera just moments before the tart residue of institutional yellow mustard smothered the last stain-free stitch of a freebie t-shirt from HSBC Consumer Credit.

Until one day, a single, gleaming ray of friendship peered out from behind the cracked shell of a castaway egg at the Easter Egg-stravaganza in Sergeant Bluff, Iowa. I had taken myself too seriously for too long. The pompous spirit of self-righteous indignation was smitten and tossed away like a wet clump of paper towel.

Irresistible lullabies rang in my ears, praising the spirit of community, friendship, and company culture; calling to me loudly and clearly in the distinct phrasings of food—the international language of corporate news, the Siren Song of Sam's Club.

In the time since this fateful day, I've come to cherish our regional differences. I've refined the critic's palette, and now enjoy European cakes just as well as North American cakes. And Caribbean cakes, too! I've even devised a rating scale to score these diverse desserts on a level playing field.

In recent months, I was finally able to love these cross-functional, cross-cultural, and multi-national epicures as my brethren in the company mission; but only after first embracing them in the company kitchen.

In this shining light of togetherness, employee engagement took flight on the greased wings of one more day at the office.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The Former Mr. and Mrs. Laupin

A couple I know well recently decided to separate, with intent to divorce. Even in the valleys, the former Mr. and Mrs. Laupin wore their vows in strange homage to the noir silliness of The Thin Man.

Dry martinis in the plainly tiled kitchen of a post-war home nestled in the early suburbs of Long Beach.

"Olives, dear?" Mr. Laupin would ask in form of tender mercy.

"Oh, certainly," Mrs. Laupin would reply as she waited for the punchline.

"Well, then," Mr. Laupin would quickly cut in, using his best bad impression of William Powell. "One for me, two for you, and one for little Nicky, Jr., too."

Rinse and repeat through seven dreary months of tension, living with the former Mr. Laupin's mother and a deadbeat car salesman. The former Mr. and Mrs. Laupin floated mindlessly through this period, as the in-laws hurtled toward the dark abyss of deception and infidelity.

"Olives, dear?"

"No, dear. But you go ahead."

"All right then. One for me. And one for Little Nicky, Jr, too."

In the years since, the former Mr. and Mr. Laupin moved on, returning to Dallas - the site of their bluntly ruffled courtship.

The olives were shoved to back of the refrigerator, while the garage filled with tools, and their new home glowed with color and trim and punchy decor. And somewhere in these vapors, they said goodbye.

Months later, they received the news themselves in the form of a frank, though confusing discussion.

"I don't remember the taste of gin. Much less the olives we loved so well."

"Did we ever love the olives? Or did we love the drinks and the funny accents? And the part where we knew something no one else did?"

"The thing we knew was good, as were the drinks and funny accents. Oh, and don't forget the grab ass - that was always a hit. And truthfully, Nicky has always loved the olives."

"But don't we agree? Tending the tree has become a bit of a chore?"

"We do."

"Then shall we each take a branch, and go our separate ways?"

And so it was for the former Mr. and Mrs. Laupin, greeting their thirties with the same irreverence that once served olives one, and two, and one.

What they lost in the vapors is more difficult to understand. Our lack of understanding means one of three things:
  • God
  • Magic
  • Insufficient cognitive abilities

Having ruled out cognitive deficiency, we're left with God or magic.

At Christmas, the former Mr. Laupin's mother received a love potion in a bottle from a friend at work. She's been wearing it since the middle of last week in hopes of supporting her recent venture into online dating. She says it's for fun.

In one week, this magic has overseen separate phone calls from two ex-husbands, two first dates classified as "great," and a flirty call from an aging fling (circa. 1986).

This evidence, along with James Cameron's recent discovery of Jesus' tomb, throws the cosmic tumblers heavily in favor of magic as the driving force in these recent events.

Regardless, I pray the former Mr. Laupin's mother does not open the vile around her neck, or wield it too heavily.

Things we don't understand are common to life. A postmodern Pandora's box is frightening.

Especially when the cost is good friends like the former Mr. and Mrs. Laupin.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Austrian Citizenry

After a long hiatus, I've returned to share a brief yet meaningful snippet of my recent life with those of you who are paying attention.

In October, I attended the funeral of great old friend from childhood. For a number of reason, I hadn't spoken to Jeff for a few years and I always felt a twinge of guilt when I thought about him. Drifting away from good friends is, after all, a strange thing.

Without divulging too many details, Jeff acheived the rather monumental feat of drinking himself to death just six weeks shy of his 29th birthday. For many people it wasn't unexpected, but dwelling on the cause of his death diminishes the impact he had on the lives of his friends. So I'll try not to.

In any case, the week I spent in California--along with my dear sweet wife--afforded me the opportunity to reconnect with some old friends, including Jeff's dad and brother.

At the end of a long, emotional week, we promised to keep in touch. So far, we have.

Jeff's dad--Big Pete hereafter--sent an e-mail to myself and a few others shortly after the funeral to thank us for our support. He also recounted a story he'd read somewhere in his studies of military history.

Quoting from Big Pete--

"I once read that the WWI German high command was always complaining about their Austrian allies and the attitudes of their citizens. It was said that: 'In Berlin the situation was serious, but not desperate. In Vienna the situation was desperate, but not serious.' I am sure Jeff would have lived in Vienna."

As so often seems to happen, the most appropriate words already belong to history.

His cause of death speaks loudly of desperation, but suspect that even up until those last hours, an undue degree of impishness prevailed in his heart.

Thursday, November 24, 2005


Wednesday, November 23—2 p.m.
Since 916 will be hosting its first Thanksgiving, I figured a written record would be appropriate. We'll be eating in just about 24 hours, so I thought I'd provide the first update for this year's Thanksgiving meal, meal preparation, and the random musings therein.

Over the past few years, I’ve received mixed feedback regarding the actual time investment required to prepare Thanksgiving dinner. As one who prefers to err on the side of caution, I began the first subtle movements toward dinner six days ago.

The family spread out for this year’s holiday, so Katharine and I settled on a simple menu focused on quality and tender-hearted goodness. Our modest five-person meal (including three-year-old Xander) is a variation of what my mother-in-law refers to as The Menu:

· Pumpkin and sausage soup
· 16-pound turkey
· French salad*
· Fried sweet potatoes
· Sweet smoky beans
· Avocado salad
· Cranberries
· Cranberry margaritas
· Pumpkin pie*
· Apple pie*
· Mashed potatoes
· Creole stuffing
· Italian stuffing
· Classic stuffing
· Wine
· Cheese and crackers
· Glazed ham
· Scalloped potatoes
· Yams
· Stuffed artichokes

* To be prepared by my father-in-law

I think we’ll touch all the culinary bases without overextending ourselves.

I hope the real joy of this year’s meal comes from starting new traditions, beginning with the centerpiece of our meal—Lance, the free-range Oklahoman turkey.

A few weeks ago, I spoke to Ray Ray, a dear friend from college. RR’s parents raise turkeys in the yard of their Arlington, Texas home. Each year at Thanksgiving, RR and family choose the plumpest turkey from the yard, say a prayer together, and begin a delightful series of rituals honoring the turkey’s noble sacrifice.

RR spoke so lovingly of these family traditions, I immediately thought my own family would benefit from doing the same.

Six days ago, I drove north up Interstate 75 from Richardson to Achille, Oklahoma—a town totaling 520 residents on 0.4 square miles of incorporated land. Not much to sneeze at really, but Achilles’ claim to fame is Terry Tecklenberg’s Free Range Turkey Farm.

The Farm, as it’s known in town, actually sits five miles outside the incorporated city limits on a small, unkempt highway. In Achille, The Farm maintains a visitor’s booth with a full catalogue of purchasing options, etc.

Before I digress any further, I’ll summarize the trip. I drove into Achille, met a rich cast of wonderful characters including Pooky the town greeter, purchased a 16-pound turkey named Lance, and returned home with my prize.

The Ritual
The first turkey tradition, as described by RR, is the prayer itself. I gathered Katharine and Xander in the courtyard at 916, carefully eased Lance out of his pine box, and tied him to 48-inch post coated with muddled Serrano peppers and agave leaves.

As a secular family, we stumbled briefly on the prayer before settling on the Serenity Prayer, which I know well from my mother’s days as a drug-dependency counselor. I then hummed a few bars of Amazing Grace.

Very austere.

The next step called for drumming and chants. Having no drums and knowing no chants, I drove over to Record Town at the Valley View Mall and picked up a CD of tribal music. I then returned home and played the CD four times consecutively to honor Lance—who looked nervous, but regal and calm.

I’ve spent nearly my entire life living in cities, so the need to kill an animal never really came up. To prepare myself, I did a little reading on ritual sacrifice—a fascinating topic, really. The Celts and Druids drank the blood of their sacrificed human victims, whose throats were cut over cauldrons, and burned their bodies alive in wickerwork gages.

The Aztecs cut the hearts out of the human sacrifices with flint knives; the priest held the still-beating heart aloft, and then placed it in a ceremonial receptacle. The body was frequently dismembered and eaten as an act of ritual cannibalism.

The Khonds of southern India speared their victims on stakes and cut off pieces of their backs to fertilize the earth.

The sacrifice of the first born child was also prominent throughout the early years of humanity—practiced by various cultures, and with a marked increase during troubled times. During the Punic Wars, for example, the nobility of Carthage sacrificed hundreds of children to the god Baal by throwing them into fire pits.

The Hebrews also offered blood sacrifices. The Biblical book of Leviticus, in the Old Testament, features full instructions for sacrificing animals and fowl. In Genesis, Cain offered the first fruits of his harvest, which did not please the Lord. His brother Abel, conversely, offered one of his flock. This pleased the Lord, though Abel ultimately signed his own death certificate as a result.

God tests Abraham in the book of Genesis by instructing him to sacrifice his son Issaac. At the last minute Isaac is permitted to substitute a lamb. I found no mention of wicker baskets, dismemberment, or flint knives, but the story lives on in Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited.

Oops…time is getting away from me. I need to prepare the beans and soup stock. Also, it’s time to break into the Thanksgiving scotch.

More to come later.

Wednesday, November 23—10 p.m.
The beans have simmered, the stock is stocky, and my palate gives many thanks to Johnny Walker.

About three hours ago, I found myself covered in corn meal and barbeque sauce. Lance, perhaps sensing his fate, began gobbling incessantly. I poured an additional two fingers of scotch, turned on Ave Maria, and sharpened my knives.

I’m on way out to the yard now.

Wish me luck.

Wednesday, November 23—11:30 p.m.
Bruce Willis has nothing on this fucking bird. If Lance called President Bush and volunteered to go to Iraq, the President would have to listen, or else find himself on the wrong end of the fucking jailhouse shiv posing as a beak.

I have a two-inch laceration on my fucking neck, and I can’t feel my left hand.

Lance is hurting now, though.

I went out to hum a few more bars of Amazing Grace before enjoining him in the ritual of giving thanks. Without warning, Lance went medieval on my ass.

Apparently, Lance had been chewing on his agave-and-pepper tie-down post and turned his beak into some sort of spicy implement of death. About the time I finished humming, he sprung in a flurry of talons, frenzied gobbling, and the loosed contents of his giblets.

He drew first blood, opening my neck like the goddamn frontier, spoiling the ritual wicker basket I’d purchased at Pier One earlier in the week with my own blood. The pepper paste on his beak burned deeply and awoke a primal beast within me.

I quickly rolled on my back, unfurled the garden hose, and proceeded to choke him out. The blood loss made woozy, though, and I tired before finishing the job. Lance was also shaky and couldn’t muster another attack. I got to my feet, grabbed the garden shovel from the shed, and swung mightily.

Lance fell, but a low, mournful cooing joined him in his wounded slumber.

I came back into the house, poured two fingers of scotch, and started this report.

Thursday, November 24—6:30 a.m.
Apparently, the scotch got the better of me. Katharine just found me on the couch, wounded, and sleeping deeply.

Unfortunately, Lenny, our blood-thirsty feral cat, got the better of Lance.

We just came in from the yard, where Lenny growled savagely over a pile of blood, feathers, and entrails. Lance—the regal, free-range warrior—was no more.

What the fuck are we going to eat for Thanksgiving dinner? Our guests are due in seven hours, and we have no bird.