Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Another Trivia Win

Last night our trivia team the "Smartbuckets" managed to win at Ri Ra yet again, which makes us three for three and now officially beginning a reign of terror. (Which is different from a "rain of terror" which is what happens when you really really really don't want to get wet but what can you do, it's raining out). We now even have an official "Smartbuckets" war cry, which goes "Smart-buckets" sort of like how the Hot Pockets commercial goes "Hot-pockets". (If you haven't heard the Hot Pockets commercial, then you'll have no idea what I just wrote, and for that I envy you).

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Trapped in the Cold

Portland is suffering a severe wind and rain storm that has me hoping my windows were properly installed. (I'm not even sure what I'd do if a window blew out, I don't have sheets of plywood laying around). On the plus side, it's not as cold as it was a few days ago. But it does bring up the fact that the weather here is generally abysmal, with short stretches of "not so bad". Why am I here? Let's break it down:


1) Charming town, with plenty of old-style New England character.
2) Strong social network.
3) I own my condo here (something I'm still kicking myself for, considering this market).
4) Summers are very mild.


1) Job market sucks relative to anywhere.
2) Taxes and cost of living are still way high. Anyone who doesn't think so is either not paying taxes or not buying their own stuff, or has never lived anywhere else.
3) Winters are horrible. There is nothing "charming" or "beautiful" about snow and ice on the sidewalk that requires you to wear rubbers and dig out your car. There is nothing remotely cute about your nose freezing off if you're in -10 degree weather for a minute. And it lasts way too long.

One of the downsides of homeownership is it reduces your mobility. Being on a job hunt sucks anywhere, but especially so when you have to worry about making your mortgage payments. True, I can still sell, perhaps for not much less than I paid, or perhaps by keeping it on the market for a bit, and for the right job it would be worth that hassle. But it's not as easy as if I was just renting now.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Lazy Sunday

The weekend had its fair amount of activity. Friday after work, some co-workers took me out for drinks, as it had been my last day at my job (in a way, celebrating the start of a LOOONG weekend) and after that I wasn't in any shape to drive so was unable to join the folks who were going to see our friend Shawn's band in Freeport. Saturday Erin had some free time from her studies and so we invited a bunch of her nursing buddies over for a pot-luck turkey dinner, which now means I have enough leftovers to carry me through this week. Also, I'll be all turkeyed out by the time Thursday rolls around. But people had fun, and sampled some fine brown ale which I had brewed.

The next morning, Erin had a bit of a cardiac event, so we headed up to her folks' place to check out the heart monitor and contact her doctor. (The heart rate was well above normal and fluttery, so the doctor said to check again at 5PM and if it was still like that we'd have to go to the emergency room.). It was looking dicey at one point, but then all of a sudden her rate dropped back to normal, and the situation was under control (although she was quite exhausted). Meantime, we watched the Patriots play the Dolphins and then saw some of the original "Rocky" and had some pizza. That was our Sunday.

Friday, November 21, 2008


Well one way to look at this is I have some serious vacation time ahead--though unlike previous vacations, this one cannot be spent frivilously since I have to find work and can't spend too much money since it isn't clear just how long this one will be. However, this does give me free time to do some painting and writing, and assorted other projects that have been neglected lately.

As they say, the Chinese use the same word for "crisis" as they do for "opportunity"--and that word is "crisi-tunity".

Last Day

Well, today's the last day at the job--the managing partner sent out a kind farewell note to the firm yesterday and I sent my own farewell messages as well. It was sort of like a series finale for a TV show--everyone coming by to say their goodbyes, various kind emails indicating sorrow and expressing best hopes in my job search. I almost expect the return of popular characters who left the show two seasons ago! But today's a day of wrapping up, and just about everything's done. I will certainly miss this place.

Four and a half years ago, when I first came to the firm (and Portland, for that matter) we had a growing, big client and a practice group that was expanding. (It would double in size during the time I was here). Of course, those years were gravy--I was consistently meeting billable hour targets and getting the bonuses. But alas, the collapse of the securitization market meant an implosion in the credit industry, and this caused a precipitous dropoff in work earlier this year, requiring us to let go of two employees almost immediately. The hope was that we could hold on until more work picked up, but this sadly has not happened as more and more banks cut back. Finally, the axe had to fall on me and another of our attorneys, bringing the practice group down in size to handle a smaller workload. Unfortunate that this has to happen, but understandable. It's just not a good time for this economy.

Where to now? That's the tough question. My experience is in a niche area of law, but that niche is hurting right now. I'm going to have to find something somewhere though.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Warren Buffet Should Open a Place Called "The Warren Buffet Buffet"

Had an enjoyable lunch with my old pal Nichole, where we hit the new Thai Buffet place on Congress Street. What a calorie-laden, carb-loaded feast that was! I used my usual buffet strategy--make a first round to taste everything, then find out what you like best for the second round. It's a marathon, not a sprint!

Nichole at least had an excuse for the carb-loading, she has two soccer games tonight. Way to make me feel guilty, Chole! Though tonight I have a more important task, namely to come back with the car to take my paintings and framed diplomas out of my office. A day from now and the idle period begins....

We Need a Tunnel

We're being hit with a particularly nasty cold snap, as though it's God's way of saying "get the hell out of Maine, fool!" Yeah, God sounds a lot like Mr. T and he's pitying this fool. Some have argued that God sounds more like Johnny Cash (which would explain why so many country music fans are religious) and others have argued that God sounds more like an elderly Jewish mother (which would explain why s/he was able to get Moses to do all that stuff in the Bible).

Portland could really use a series of underground tunnels (perhaps lit by glass skylights and some electric lighting) for this time of year. Maybe I need to drop by city hall, and propose it, sort of like I'd be doing the city a big favor.

Brando: Hey, city commissioner, my crew and I just got done putting in an amazing tunnel system for Del Mar, Minnesota. Don't bother looking that town up on your atlas because it's unlisted.

City Commish: Really? Why are you telling me this? And who let you in my office?

Brando: Yeah, the tunnel paid for itself in a few years, since they set up stores and vendors in the tunnels, and they saved on having to plow sidewalks and get sued by people falling on ice.

City Commish: Hmm, I always dreamed of not getting sued so much....

Brando: And that's not all! If you act now, we can do it with a minimum of overcharges!

City Commish: Sold!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

My Temperament

Had my exit interview today at work--it was very cordial, mostly checklists of items that need to be covered prior to my departure on Friday. One thing I noticed was that through the process it has been remarked that "we appreciate how professionally you're handling this." While I like that they acknowledge my professionalism in handling a layoff, it does make me wonder--what do people normally do when they lay them off here? Scream and yell, beg for their job? Freak out? Well, I'm just not a very dramatic person--I always thought of myself as dramatic, as per my Mediterranean roots, and all the legacy of Opera and grandiosity. But when it comes to big life changes and decisions, I usually handle them with the stoicism of a Scandanavian. Not sure where I got that from--my parents certainly aren't that way.

But I guess my main reaction to all this is "well, this is the economy, it sucks, and I need to hit the ground running pronto" rather than "EEEEEEKKK!!!" There just isn't time for being unprofessional. I'll have plenty of time to be unprofessional during my time off!

Trivia Win

Last night I ventured into the cold to join my friend Paula's trivia team the "Smartbuckets" (don't ask--it'd take another blog post just to explain how that name came to be) at Ri Ra. Sure enough, we won, beating out the toughest teams in Portland for the $50 gift certificate and plenty of undersized t-shirts and hats--and frankly, during times of thrift any little bit counts.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Why Did You Leave Your Last Job?

Whenever you're looking for a new job, the first question anyone--whether it's a potential employer, or a headhunter, or even just an interested friend--asks is what happened to your old job. There's not really a good answer for that--

1) If you got laid off due to budget cutbacks, it implies that your employer wasn't doing their job. After all, you had been hired to benefit the company, and the company should have been able to pay you, right? If you're a good employee and they have to let you go, then they must have screwed something up in the way they ran their business.

2) If you got laid off because you're no longer worth more to them than you're costing them (in salary, benefits, office space, extra coffee, frustration) then it implies you're not that good a bargain for the next employer, unless they pay you less, or give you less office space, cut back on your coffee, or somehow get you to work harder. Even though the previous employer hadn't been able to do these things.

3) If you got let go because you were running a cockfighting ring in the breakroom, then your new employer has to wonder about animal rights laws, laws against gambling, and the large number of Guatemalans who keep wandering past reception.

It's sort of a pointless question, since it really doesn't matter if you got laid off for a "positive" reason (such as budgetary cutbacks), and if you got laid off for a "negative" reason (like washing your socks in the coffee maker) you're certainly not going to say so in the interview (this could be found out by examining a police record, or asking the former employer when checking references. Anyone who doesn't provide a former employer as a reference, well that you have to watch out for.).

Online Web Comic

Maybe the saddest thing about leaving at the end of this week is that now that I've been cleaning up the files in my office, my office actually looks clean and pleasant to work in! But then there's the pluses--from now until I find a new job, I can actually sleep in which is key at this time of year when it gets horribly cold out and the last thing you want to do when you're in your bed coccoon is get out of it and into a cold morning.

The time off will be partly used in creating a web comic, one in which photos will take the place of drawn panels, and dialogue will be filled in (either in bubbles, or in text below the panels, depending on what works). The whole project will require a webmaster (to get the whole thing up), a photographer, and "actors" to pose in the panels. A new medium shall be exploited!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Money Saving Tips

Someone left a can of whipped cream in the fridge at work, so I've been making myself "poor-man's cappuccinos" this morning. The fact that this is my last week at work is starting to hit me, not only because of the lack of paychecks (once my severance runs out, that is) but because of the lack of little perks, like the coffee maker, fancy teas, and little holiday luncheons that I've grown accustomed to. Not to mention my sweet office view! But alas, this is what happens when the economy takes a downturn.

What tips do I have for trying to live on less during these tough financial times?

1) Return all returnables to the grocery store. This is rather piecemeal--you could return a hundred bottles and still not have enough to afford a six pack. Makes more sense to buy less bottled beverages in the first place.

2) Eat out less. Gonna have to do that. Still, grocery costs are surprisingly not that much less than costs of eating out. In any event, portion control is the key.

3) Use library instead of buying books. Well, I can't remember the last time I bought a book--normally I reread what I have, or read books borrowed from friends, or read online.

4) Postpone any big purchases that can be put off. I guess no new car for a while, and no new suits (I do have a couple good suits for interviews. I just wont' have to buy new suits for work, which is just as well, as most places are going casual these days).

5) Use cheapest gasoline option. Makes sense, though I drive so little anyway it won't make a huge difference.

6) Rent out spare room. This is a tricky option--after all, if I end up moving away I may need to rent the entire apartment, and it may be easier to rent it as a whole rather than room by room.

Looks like lean times ahead.


Looks like the government is going to bail out the U.S. automakers, since nothing makes more sense than giving taxpayer dollars over to big companies that manage to lose money every year by producing cars that no one is buying. Apparently, the American dream is (1) create a big company that doesn't make any money; (2) make sure it employs enough people that it would be devastating if you go out of business; (3) get the government to give you other people's tax money; (4) profit. Splendid plan! Sure beats actually doing something useful for society.

Seriously though? Wouldn't it make more sense to just give the cash directly to the employees of these defunct car companies, paying them to not work? At least then they wouldn't be wasting steel and glass on making cars that won't sell.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Clever Business Plans

My friend Mark is the sort of guy who can follow you into a revolving door and come out in front of you. Always wheeling and dealing! Like when a month or so ago, he brought us together with a co-worker of his who wanted to start an art gallery/knicknack shop in downtown Portland, and we'd advise as to the business and legal plan for this venture. After all, who better to provide guidance on opening an art gallery/knicknack shop than a consumer finance attorney and a controller for a clothing manufacturer? Exactly. Qualified--we are it.

So while that was all going on, I couldn't help but think, "Brando" I said to myself (that's what I call myself during my darkest moments. And my lightest moments.), I said "what sort of small business should I be running for my own benefit?" After all, I always say that the real fulfillment and security is in having your own business.

But of course now, the government is preparing to nationalize the auto industry (since it worked so well with Amtrak) and the financial industry is basically saying to the government "thanks for the several billion dollars, now we can pay out bonuses to our rich executives who caused the problem. Hey, can we get a pony?" In other words, other words which I should have used instead of that rant, the economy is in Suckville, which is the seat for Suck County in the state of New Suckvania. So this would be a terrible time to start a business, right?

Not necessarily, my hasty-to-conclude-things friend(s)! There's something that economists call "counter cyclical businesses" and I don't know what that means exactly, but let's just say that some businesses will thrive when the economy's bad. Like, the guy whose business it is to fix clogged toilets. Who on earth ever says "well, money's tight, I'll just leave that clog for a few more weeks"? No one! And if I'm wrong, make sure I never rent a room to that guy.

But also, when the economy's bad, people drink. A lot! So maybe at some point my business partner Mark and I will find a way to produce or sell booze. That's one industry that's not about to go to China. When's the last time you drank Chinese whiskey?


Well, I'm in full job search mode--always a humbling experience, as you try and condense all the work you've done over the years into bullet points. Imagine putting other aspects of your life into bullet points:

  • Good friend, saved Jeffy from drowning that one time
  • Efficient parallel parker--saved friends plenty on meters
  • Bought flowers on seven occasions in sixteen-month period

Now that I'm looking for work, it opens up a lot of possibilities--stay in Maine? Move to bigger city? Move somewhere I've never lived? Move to warm climate (but with the tradeoff being that giant spiders live in warm climates)?--but the biggest problem is that I bought a condo earlier this year. Ack, the one flaw!

There's not enough tequila in the world . . .

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Culture Vulture

Tonight I'm going to catch a bit of "culture"--Erin and her fambly are kindly taking me to see a modern dance show downtown. The conversation went like this:

Erin: My fambly and I are going to go see a modern dance performance.

Me: Neat! I'll be home watching TV and maybe having a beer! Though I'm not sure what kind of beer.

Erin: Do you want to come with us to see the performance?

Me: Sure, so long as you're not just inviting me because you feel sorry for me sitting home and watching TV, since I do enjoy the Thursday Night Lineup and need to make more space in my fridge...

Erin: No, I understand your way of life....

Me: What makes it "modern" dance? Isn't "bump and grind" techinically "modern"?

Erin: (grumble grumble)

Cultural evening, here I come!

New Group In Town

My friend Paula and I were chatting about ways to survive this coming Maine winter--there's a lot of reasons why people are going to get completely antisocial at that point, namely, it's too cold to go out; my (insert name of significant other) wants to stay in and watch TV and that frozen pigeon on the sidewalk makes me easily convinced that s/he is right; I can't guarantee that the next terrorist attack won't be on the bars of the Old Port. To that I say, for shame! The cold weather is all the more reason to be social and have stuff to do.

So we're setting up a "happy hour club" except unlike most such clubs, this one:

1) Holds the regular happy hours at people's house/apartment;

2) Requires that rather than random strangers just respond to flyers, any invitee has to be known to someone who is already a member of the group; and

3) Will not be completely lame.

Is this all about weekly happy hours, rotating from home to home? Yes. But in a more accurate way, no. Because we plan to do so much more! Remember how "Fight Club" started with, well, a fighting club, and then it turned into a soap business and then somehow they blew up a bunch of buildings and SPOILER ALERT the Ed Norton guy ended up with that goth chick? Well, we're not going to quite do that, but I thought it was a cool movie and you should see it if you haven't.

But we do plan other events, charitable events, professional networking, road trips--but we need some nucleus to start the whole thing. Stay tuned!