I wish I knew how to be happy about a three day weekend (transcript)

Published June 4th, 2016

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Good evening, Mr. and Mrs. America, from border to border and coast to coast and all the ships at sea. This is Michael Phillips and THIS IS NOT A TEST. THIS IS NOT A TEST is not for the timid soul. So I tell you calmly, but sincerely, that if you frighten easily, turn off your computer now. Or your phone or whatever you listen to podcasts on. What do you listen to podcasts on? Probably your phone, eh? On your way to or from somewhere. Maybe to or from work? Ah, work. Can I talk about work again? For a minute or two? I just talked about it last time. What are the rules here? What are the rules regarding yammering at people about your job on your podcast? Or oddcast, as it were. Well, I’m going to say there aren’t any rules. I wouldn’t have gotten into this line of entertainment if there were any rules involved. And this is entertainment, right? Sure it is.

So I’ll just start by asking, how was your Memorial day weekend? Those of you here in the U S of A? Isn’t it lovely, they give us these three day weekends to enjoy and relax and live life to the fullest? Isn’t it generous and benevolent? The three day weekend? Isn’t it just the best? I don’t know about you, but I just love ’em. So relaxing. So much time to just spread out, sit back and let the glory of life wash over you. Three days! What did I do to deserve it? What did any of us do to deserve it. To deserve this thing we’re in the middle of. This thing we’re living. This life where we think three days in a row without work is some kind of gift. I suppose it’s better than the way things used to be, when we’d work six or seven days a week for 12 or 16 hours a day. Yeah, it’s better than that. But it’s still not good, is it.

And I like my job. Now. I haven’t always liked my jobs. But even now that I’m doing something that’s not horrible, it’s still horrible, the time. The days and weeks and months. I just passed the ten year mark on this current job. I don’t even know how the hell ten years passed, to tell you the truth. I’m not sure what I was paying attention to as those years slipped away. I get three weeks of vacation time every year, but that doesn’t really do anything for my soul or my sanity, a week here, a week there. Even if I took all three weeks off at once, I’m not sure I’d feel exactly, you know, refreshed when it was over. Tanned, relaxed and ready, like Richard Nixon in 1968. That reference is probably lost on most of you, but then most of my references are probably lost on most humans. I’m not sure what it would take, how much time, to really make me feel like I’d had a vacation, like I’d had time away. I know it’s more than three weeks though. Probably more than three months.

The job is kind of like a vacation at the moment though, because we just moved to a new office building, and everything is in chaos. Just like a vacation. Upheaval, junk scattered everywhere. Living out of a suitcase, looking for the pool. You know. If you think a normal house or office accumulates a lot of junk, you should see what a tech company has to move after eight years in one place. Just a ridiculous amount of expensive hardware, and I don’t even know what it all does. It’s stacked up around the new building in people’s offices, in the hallways, outside the back door – shit is just everywhere. Servers, boxes and boxes and more boxes of cables and little gadgets and machines and thing-a-ma-bobs, most of which, again, I have no idea what they’re for. It’s chaos because the move was poorly planned and more poorly executed. The movers had no idea what our labeling system was, no one told them, which meant they loaded up a couple of trucks full of shit that we didn’t intend to move and brought it to the new place. Which just makes the mess more intensely thick and creamy. I don’t know what’s going to happen with a lot of the shit. Maybe we’ll make it into chairs. Or fainting couches or something. Just arrange all the boxes and equipment so we can lounge on top of it like Swedes in the 1970s.

Now me, I don’t particularly enjoy chaos, so I was pretty organized for the move. I don’t keep a lot of personal stuff in my office anyway. I’ve had too many companies sold out from under me for that. I learned my lesson about getting too comfortable in one spot. So I was ready to go with just a few boxes and my desk, a couple of chairs, you know, you get it, why am I describing it to you? Anyway, moving day came and I went to the old office and just kind of stood around while the movers moved shit and sweated all over everything, but as entertaining as that was, I eventually got bored and drove over to the new place. I had some stuff in my car that I didn’t trust the skilled moving professionals with, so I figured I’d drag it in to the new office and just hang around there and wait for them to bring the heavy stuff. After a few hours they brought my boxes and my chairs and my awesome VARIDESK stand up desk machine, and I set it all around the office, on the floor, waiting for my desk, since in an office everything pretty much goes into, onto or around the desk. The desk is the thing, man. The lynchpin of the plan. The center of your office universe.

I waited – 11 o’clock, 1 o’clock – waiting, a couple of trucks come and unload, then one of the guys I work with said, “I think it would be a far greater use of our time to go get some lunch,” so we walked up the street and found some food and ate and hung around and took our sweet time getting back. 2:30, 3 o’clock – a couple more truckloads are dumped there, still no desk. So I’m wandering around and everyone needs some help moving this or that, and I’m not doing anything, so I help, and it’s hot so I get sweaty, which I always try to avoid, but what can you do. So I’m sweating and moving other people’s shit around, and another truck comes and I’m thinking, “Well, it has to be on this truck,” but no, no desk. Every time another truck came I said the same thing, “It has to be on this truck.” The day drags on and I’m wandering around and still helping everyone else and waiting for my desk. “Two more trucks coming,” someone says, and I wait and they unload and no desk. What the hell? “Oh, one more truck is on the way.” Okay. Well, it’s got to be on the last truck, right? 8 p.m. the last truck pulls in, they’re unloading another mountain of shit and I walk out to look in the truck, and no desk.

Now my desk is kind of large. It’s an L shape, six by five feet, it’s heavy, has to be moved in two parts, blah, blah, blah. Four or five of us have those big desks, and the rest of them were all at the new office, along with 20 or so regular rectangular desks. But when I see mine isn’t on the last truck I say to the moving guys, “Where’s the other big, L shaped desk?” and they’re like, “What?” and one of them says, “Yeah, someone over there was telling us not to take some things that were marked to come over,” which I know is bullshit, because I talked to someone who was over at the old office at 4 o’clock and he said my desk was there and it was marked to come over. But some time after 4 o’clock someone – and I don’t want to point fingers at the movers, but here I’m going to go ahead and point my finger at the movers – someone ripped the big pieces of tape off my desk, the ones that had, “this desk goes into room 10 for MJP” written on them with thick black marker, someone just peeled those off and balled them up and threw them into a pile of trash or burned them up like a magic trick or something. Made them disappear.

So it’s 8:30 and I’ve been on this move and waiting for the fucking desk for 12 hours, and I was tired and damp and smelly and pissed off, because, you know, the desk is the center of the universe. I could have just taken one of the small regular desks that were strewn everywhere and set up my computer and gone home, but I wasn’t about to do that. When I was younger I would have done that. I would have given up and not made a fuss, and then I would have been pissed that my shit got left behind and harbored a grudge and wondered for months why I got the short end of the stick. But I don’t do that anymore. One thing working in the so-called white-collar world has taught me is that you don’t get anything that you don’t ask for. When I was a printer or doing manual labor, it didn’t matter what you asked for, you weren’t going to get anything anyway, so you give up on asking very early on. But in the business world, you can pretty much get anything you want if you ask for it. Or, you know, when necessary, demand it.

The CFO of the company, the guy who had arranged the move and was ostensibly responsible for it, was standing there as I looked into the back of the last deskless truck, and I said, “Howard, my desk has to come over, it was marked, someone has to bring it over here,” and I put it on him to work something out to get the fucking desk into my office. He didn’t seem real thrilled about that, and he said he’d “try” and I just kept saying, “My desk has to come over.” Like a robot, or an idiot, or an idiot robot. Then I went home. On Sunday I got a text saying the movers were bringing the desk over on Monday, even though it was a holiday. And again, when I was younger I would have felt bad about that. About making some guys drive a big truck around on a holiday just to get my desk to me, but now I don’t feel bad about it. I don’t feel bad about it because it was their job to bring the fucking thing, so I don’t really care if they have to bring it on a holiday or at three in the morning, or during their baby daughter’s birthday party.

But really, all of this just goes back to people not being able to do their jobs. Incompetence, laziness, stupidity, not caring. I’ve done manual labor, I know how it goes. Someone looked at that big desk and it was late in the day, and the move had already taken longer than they thought, and they said, “Fuck this thing,” and they ripped the tape off it and left it behind. I’m not sure how people do things like that and think it’s okay, or think they can get away with it. How people can just not give a shit. And you can say, “Well, they’re movers, not brain surgeons,” but I don’t care. If I was a mover I’d want to be a good mover. When I was a printer I wanted to be a good printer, and when I was on top of a building in the summer in Los Angeles with a bucket of hot tar and a stiff mop I wanted to die, but I also wanted to do a good job fixing the god damned roof. That’s what I was there for.

So I don’t understand people who just don’t care. Who are just putting in the time, punching the clock or whatever and thinking about – I don’t know what – while they’re supposed to be moving my desk or changing the oil in your car or bagging your sister’s groceries. No job is small. No job is unimportant or “beneath” anyone. Where’s the pride? Where’s the desire to do a good job no matter what that job is – because you feel like the job you do reflects on what kind of person you are? Where is that? Where did it go? No one gives a shit about anything anymore, and it’s depressing. It pissed me off when I waited all day for a desk that never showed up, but more than that it made me sad. The state of the world often makes me sad, but I know that I’m a sucker for feeling that way. That’s just the way things are, right? Better to accept it. Yeah, I guess it would be better to accept it. I wish I knew how to do that. I wish I knew how to do a lot of things. Life would be a lot easier.

I wish I knew how to be happy for a three day weekend. But I didn’t even get a three day weekend, because I went in to the new office on Monday to make sure my desk was put together and situated properly, because I didn’t trust the guys who abandoned it a few days before to give a shit. So I didn’t get three days to do nothing, or to do everything I need to do when I’m not working for someone else. But what are you going to do? I only have so much fight in me. So I showed up on Tuesday morning, and what did I do? I helped some of my co-workers move more shit around, because they weren’t here on Friday or they left early. Like I should have. But by the middle of the day Tuesday I was pretty much set up and trying to get used to the new joint. It’s always strange to move and occupy a new space in a new building in a new town in the world. It shouldn’t be. Weren’t we all nomads 100,000 years ago? Now we’re nomads with VARIDESKS and key cards and lanyards. Fucking lanyards.

When did everyone start carrying a lanyard around? Why would you want your keys or anything else to be at the end of a long loop of fabric? That’s what a lanyard is, in case you didn’t know. That thing that looks like a big shoelace that’s hanging out of everyone’s pocket. I have a key card for the new building with a picture of my lovely face on it and it’s on a god damned lanyard, like I’m going to wear it around my neck or something. I mean, I guess that’s exactly what I’m supposed to do, but I just leave it on my desk, and so far anyway, I forget to pick it up pretty much every time I need to have it on me. You need a key card to get anywhere in the new building. I need that key card to take a piss. You’d think it was FBI headquarters or something. I guess the lanyards and the picture key cards make people feel like they’re important. Just makes me feel like an asshole. Like walking around with a backstage pass stuck to your shirt or something. “Wow, you get to go backstage?! That’s so cool!” But it’s not, really. There’s nothing backstage. Seriously. It’s just like everywhere else. Backstage passes just make people ask you questions you can’t answer or don’t want to answer. I’m just trying to do my job, man, I don’t know if the band got your telegrams.

I kind of switched gears there, sorry. What does a backstage pass or being backstage have to do with anything? Nothing, that’s what. But it’s true that there’s nothing back there. Whatever’s going on out front is more interesting, I can pretty much guarantee that. When I was a teenager all I wanted to do was get backstage, and when I did, I have to say that I was thrilled. You know, when I was a teenager. Then I became an actual working, touring musician and the thrill of backstage evaporated like last night’s puddle of spilled beer. You know, when there is beer. You’ve probably seen movies where there’s a lavish spread laid out for the band backstage, but that’s in movies. Even famous millionaire bands don’t get good spreads backstage. Food spreads. Take your mind out of the gutter. Maybe they used to, in the 70s, but more likely these days it’s the same deli platters you can buy at the grocery store, and a tub full of ice with a few bottles of Costco water or beer or Royal Crown Cola stuck in it.

When I was in punk bands I never saw a single free anything backstage. Not a cup of water, a stale cracker, a dirty towel, nothing. Then when I graduated to touring with a reggae band, I did see that tub full of ice and drinks – sometimes – but most of the time it was the same nothing I saw when I was a punk. One remarkable and memorable thing I did see when I was touring with a punk band though was in Chicago, when a club owner had his wife bring us a pot of spaghetti. Seriously, he called his wife and asked her to make us a pot of spaghetti, and she did and she delivered it to the club where we ate it with our hands because it didn’t occur to anyone that we might need, you know, forks to eat spaghetti. It was an extraordinary gesture though, an unusual kindness that I think happened because the guy felt sorry for us. We’d come in off the street, unannounced, looking for a gig more or less for gas money to get us to the next city. We were broke and probably smelly and disagreeable, but the guy took pity on us.

Other than that spaghetti though, and a grocery store cold cut tray at the Troubadour in Los Angeles once, there usually wasn’t anything to eat or drink backstage, and there was certainly never any place to relax or get some peace and quiet. And like I said, it’s not much better when you’re famous. Maybe you’ve seen those tour riders on the Internet, where there’s a page that lists what the promoter or the venue has to supply for the artist – because the band are always referred to as “artists” in official paperwork and contracts – and most touring bands do have those kinds of things in their contracts. Sometimes very specific or outrageous things, and most of the time the promoter ignores all of that and drags back the ice tubs and the room temperature meat tray, which only guests of the artists ever dare to eat from. I’ve been backstage at some shows by the biggest bands in the world and it’s always the same old crap, and no one is touching it.

So hopefully I’ve disabused you of the notion that there is a banquet or a feast backstage. If you had that notion. So what other reason could there possibly be to try to get backstage? You know unless you’re an open-minded young girl looking for adventure? Well, I suppose you might want to meet the band, you know, shake their hands and tell them how that one song of theirs got you through middle school. But the band doesn’t really want you to do that, to come back there and say that. They might appreciate the sentiment, but they don’t want to meet you. Not before the show or after it. They want to get in, do their job and get out. The only band I ever saw that wasn’t like that was the Clash. They actually seemed to enjoy talking to people, and they’d let anyone backstage after their shows. So if you knew that, you could just walk back there and talk to them, which I did a couple of times, and that was cool, but again, I was a youngster.

A big thing now is the meet-and-greet, which they want you to think is like hanging around backstage and having a conversation with the Clash, but what it really is is a super expensive ticket that you can buy that gets you into some banquet room or broom closet in the arena for a minute – not even backstage – usually hours before the show, and you get to stand next to the artist and get your picture taken. Which is about all that will happen. You’re not going to have any kind of meaningful interaction during one of those, because, A) the artist doesn’t want to interact with you, and B) it ain’t like that. It isn’t a casual hang out, it’s a business proposition. It’s just a new twist on the $50 t-shirt or the $8 beer. Another way to separate you from some cash.

So there’s nothing cool going on back there. Now you know. No one who has to be back there likes being back there. They want to be at the hotel or on the way to the next city, anywhere but backstage, because backstage is just dead, wasted time. Which most time on the road is, really. If I may speak honestly about that particular lifestyle. You know, you probably never wanted to go backstage anyway, so who the hell am I even talking to? Anybody still with me on this one? Well, if you are still with me and you do want to get backstage, I’m going to tell you how to do it. As a special bonus for being so listeny today. This method will work at any sized venue for a band of any fame level, and you don’t need any special skills or elaborate props. Ready? Okay, so you get yourself to the venue around two in the afternoon, find the load-in area or the back door or whatever, and just walk in like you’re supposed to be walking in. Done.

That’s how we did it when I was a teenager, and if a teenager can do that, imagine what a fully grown type of person can get away with. If that’s too simple for you I always thought that you could get into just about any venue – a stadium, anything – if you had the same purposeful walk and you were carrying a guitar case. Two guitar cases would be even better. Even better than that, wheeling an amp-sized Anvil case in front of you. No one is going to stop someone wheeling a road case. Or go buy some of those deli trays and carry those in. If anyone stops you, you just chuckle and say, “Okay, but you’ll have to explain to the Rolling Stones – or whoever – why their food isn’t here.” and then turn around and start to walk away. Whoever wouldn’t let you in will call you back and hold the door open for you.

The only place that might not work is at a Trump rally. Yeah, I said it: Trump. You have to deal with him now, he’s going to be on the Presidential ballot this year. In America, yes. You know what’s funny? Eight years ago when the Republicans said that Sarah Palin was their vice-Presidential nominee I said in my blog that it was clear evidence that they had given up on the election, that they were rolling over and handing it to Obama. Well, if that’s true, and I think it was, what does Donald Trump being their nominee for President say? Seems to me they’re saying that they just give up on their party completely. It’s got to be annoying to be one of the giant bags of festering shit and sawdust that run the Republican party and look around and see that the people you’ve controlled for so long are taking over, that they don’t want to hear your opinion anymore and they’re flying the crazy flag high and proud.

Trump is laying out some real George Orwell, 1984 shit though, it’s kind of incredible to see. Anyone who questions him about anything is attacked as a bad, bad person – because they dared to ask him a question he doesn’t want to answer I guess – and the crowd screams with delight. I’ve heard him say 100 times, “We’ll bring the jobs back to this country, we’re going to win again,” but not once has anyone ever heard him say how that’s going to happen. And the crowds continue to scream. He talks about being a tremendous, world-class negotiator and successful businessman, but never about the many times he’s bankrupted his businesses or himself. And the crowd still screams and waves their little paper flags. Well, like Orwell said in 1984, “If the Party could thrust its hand into the past and say of this or that event, it never happened — that, surely, was more terrifying than mere torture and death.”

And politics is more terrifying than torture and death to me, so that’s about all I have to say about that. Does anyone remember laughter? You ready for summer? It’s heating up over here. It’s only a matter of time. Hey, what happened to El Nino? Where’s all my rain? Where’s my million dollar check? Where’s my body oil, incense and environmental records? Check. Where indeed. Well, be sure to come back baby, the next time we meet, it’ll be sweet. Bye bye.