This morning I got to experience the real value of working with a real estate agent. It’s not so much that they are board certified professionals who spend every day facilitating technical sales with dozens of moving parts and a propensity to run into trouble at every step of the process. What makes the realtor so valuable than any of that, however, is they allow the buyers and sellers to stay at arms length through almost the entire transaction. For most people real estate is the single largest purchase they’ll ever personally experience. Throw in the emotional dimension of a place called “home” and the whole thing is fraught with issues.
I’m bringing this up because I went by my house-in-waiting this morning to get some measurements, look at a bit of furniture the sellers are interested in being rid of, and to make sure the truck actually fits into the garage (Yeah, that’s actually a thing with a large truck and a standard size garage). Unlike the other showings and the inspection the seller was there. So was his son. So was his daughter-in-law. They all seem like nice enough people – the son and his wife apparently live a couple of streets over so we’re even quasi-neighbors. Despite that, I’m still the guy who chiseled them down to a rock bottom price and then presented a longish, but reasonable, list of repair requests on a house, their home, that the seller and his departed wife designed for themselves from the basement up. But there we all were standing in their living room (that in about three weeks will be my living room) making small talk while I made snap decisions about their furniture and then wandered from room to room with a tape measure and clipboard figuring out where my own furniture will fit. The whole experience was just awkward.
It needed to be done, but the whole thing just felt so very odd… and I’m pretty sure I’ve come to the preemptive decision that I will never even consider a sale “by owner.” I have enough weird in my life without adding that to the mix. For this one small thing, the realtor is worth every penny of their commission.
That title is a misnomer, actually. As it has been for the entirety of my career, what was held this afternoon was the official Non-Denominational Winter Holiday Luncheon (NDWHL). I didn’t attend and if the past is prologue all it meant giving up my chance to pay $18 for a mediocre lunch and the opportunity to participate in painfully awkward party games.
I don’t have any philosophical issues with the annual get together. Sure it’s awfully lame compared to some that I’ve seen put on by private sector creatures, but that’s not really the problem either. Hanging around with Uncle, you get used to settling for the PG, family friendly, version of everything. For me it comes down to the simple discomfort of spending three to four hours boxed into a room full of perfect strangers. Being surrounded by people I don’t know and being required to make polite conversation with them for hours is basically one version of my own personal hell.
There is simply no amount of cajoling, peer pressure, or guilt that would convince me attending the NDWHL is a good idea. Telling me who to work with is well and good, but I always reserve the final say when it comes to who I do and don’t socialize with… and when I know something is simply going to be awkward and uncomfortable, why on earth would I pay for the privilege of enduring it when I have any other option?
Some people are funny – and no I don’t mean in that “Hey, pull my finger” kind of way. There are virtues to that kind of humor too, of course, but I’m think more about people who can turn drop a perfectly aimed barb on a dime. They have the knack. It’s some combination of timing, ability to turn a phrase, topical awareness, and lacing your words with just enough poison to let the point drive home without ever doing more than brushing against a subject.
Sadly, there are another group of people who wield sarcasm like a brute force weapon – a cudgel with which to beat people about the head and neck repeatedly. It’s a pity, because sarcasm is a real art form when it’s done right. When it’s done wrong, it leaves you looking like a total ass. There’s a fine line there and it’s critical to know where that line is at all times.
People who don’t have the gift just really shouldn’t try to force the issue. It shows every single time and it never stops being uncomfortable. There are few thing more awkward than a person standing around throwing out what they think are zingers while the rest of the captive audience is forced to ponder just how much of a tool that person really is. Here’s a hint: if no one else in the room is laughing, you’re probably doing it wrong. You should stop immediately. And you should consider never doing it again.
The world is a big place. Not everyone needs to have the same skills. For the love of God, if you don’t have a knack for humor please leave it to the professionals – or at least to the skilled amateurs. Sometimes it’s ok to enjoy the show rather than try to be a part of it.
1. Lack of purpose. I work in a place full of engineers. They can be a socially awkward group – not that I have a lot of room to talk. What I’ve noticed in my travels in and around the building is that it seems like none of them are even walking anywhere with a sense of purpose. No one walks like they have anywhere to go. They’re slouching down the halls, staying close to the wall, hands jammed in their pockets, avoiding eye contact at all costs, and generally unaware of anyone in motion around them. To those grown men and women I say pick your head up. Be aware of what’s around you. I assure you that your feet are going to remain right there at the end of your legs even if you take your eyes off them for a few steps. They’re not going to escape. However, it’s going to do you (and me) a world of good if you start walking around like you have some sense of purpose in life. In the meantime, I’m going to continue walking down the middle of the hallway, head on a swivel, and making you painfully uncomfortable in passing.
2. Violence. If there’s anything likely to stir debate in this country it’s the nature of the gun and the rights and responsibilities that go along with it. What I’ve never been quite comfortable with is how many people single out the gun as the problem without a moment’s pause to look at the real issue – violence. It’s fine to say that you’re sick of gun violence, but doesn’t that kind of statement imply by omission that you’re not sick of other types of violence? I’m not sure it would matter much to me if I were killed by a gun, a knife, a hammer, or a pointy stick as the end result is the same. Violence is violence. It’s my humble estimation that dividing violence by the category of tool used to carry it out is not only a bit naïve but also simply treats the symptoms rather than getting after root causes.
3. Office 2013. The productivity software on my work computer was “upgraded” to Office 2013 this week. I’m not a nuts and bolts software guy but it seems to me that upgrades should somehow be based on actually improving on the design and functionality of what came before. Instead what we apparently have is a new piece of kit that makes it harder to do the “normal” workhorse stuff, adds a few flashy “so what” kind of capabilities, and looks absolutely dreadful no matter whether you opt for a layout in “gray” or a vaguely more tinted “dark gray”. Oh I’m sure it still has the capacity to do everything I want it to do, but it doesn’t perform those tasks the way I want them performed – or at least not in a way that doesn’t require minute-by-minute consultations with the help menu and Google.