Even more shocking than yesterday's announcement that our rapist of a (former) president plea bargained his way out of two rape charges and several sexual assault charges in return for an admission of a "friendly kiss", was the incredible discovery of paper recycling bins under each and every building on Weitzman street in Tel Aviv. WOO!
I am in complete and utter shock this morning.
I mentioned yesterday that the venture capital fund from hell warranted its own entry, so here goes:
I interviewed for the job with the bitch of an investment manager (Let's call her Michelle). I don't think she smiled once during the entire interview, and I don't much recall the interview itself. After speaking with me she took me in to speak with the CEO, and again I don't recall much of what was said, but my impression of him was that he was tough and demanding, but fair. BZZZZZT. At any rate, before I had even managed to get back to my office (the interview was early in the morning and I still had a full day of work at the software start-up to go), she called me to offer me the job, foregoing a reference check. I arrived at my office, gave my two weeks' notice, and continued merrily with my life.
Two weeks later I arrived for my first day. I was introduced to everyone, including the CEO's secretary, who had only started working there about two months before (we'll name her "Kay"). I didn't know this at the time, but the girl who was training me was asked to leave, pending the hiring of a replacement. In retrospect, the reason for her dismissal became all too clear. My full week of training with her consisted of a lot of sitting around, watching her lean her chin on her hand while staring blankly into space. Kay remained relatively silent during this week, excluding explanations regarding the CEO's preferences.
When the chick I replaced finally departed, Kay and I had about two days to work together and to get the real training started, before she became sick and stayed home for a week. Thus began my week of Initiation by Fire, and my first inkling that not all was well with this place.
I was never a secretary before, so I'm not sure if this is common in North America, but in Israel, managers don't dial their own phone. "Get me so-and-so" is a fairly standard request, with the process being me calling so-and-so's secretary, and both of us transfering the call. It sounds fairly simple, but alas, the whole exercise stems from Israel's military system, where military secretaries connect between officers, and thus, rank plays a function.
For example, if I were an officer of X rank, and needed to speak to an officer at the rank above me, my secretary would call his secretary to see that he was free, and if so, my secretary would transfer me to his secretary, who would then transfer me to her officer. Conversely, if I needed to speak to a lower rank, the lower rank would be tranferred to me. Stupid, but given Israel's militaristic society, the practice was bound to permeate corporate ranks.
Allow me to regress a bit before describing the incident. CEO had his special phone line - known in militaristic terms as the "Red Phone" - that had to be answered ahead of all other things. Office on fire? Answer the red phone if it rings. Seven lines going at the same time? Answer the red phone if it rings.
During that week, CEO asked me to get him someone. Being new to the secretarial scene and utterly unaware of this whole ranking game, I got the person's secretary on the line, who'd said she'd tranfer her boss, so I transfered the call to CEO and got off the line. Almost immediately I saw that the call light was no longer lit and simultaneously, the red phone rang. I picked it up and asked "Did the call get disconnected?" to which CEO replied "I don't speak with secretaries", hanging up immediately thereafter. I stared at the phone in utter disbelief, rather uncertain of what had just transpired. It hadn't even occurred to me to point out that *I* was a secretary. I rang the person's office again, this time got the person that CEO wanted to speak with on the line, and transferred him to CEO myself.
That little scene pretty much defined my entire working relationship with CEO, who turned out to be an arrogant asshole of magnificent proportions. Luckily Kay was his secretary and I only ever acted as back-up.
I mentioned that Michelle seemed rather a humourless witch. I wasn't entirely correct, as she did have a cynical sense of humour. Ok, that's not true. I'm cynical - she was plain mean. For the most part, however, we got along.
The other investment manager wasn't too bad, but as I'd mentioned, he had some sort of speech impediment that made him impossible to understand, and rather than ask the same questions over and over, and receive the same unintelligible answers, I preferred to guess what it was that he wanted for me. It worked most of the time, but there were a few resultant skirmishes - though none tragic enough for me to really worry about. He was also fairly self-sufficient, often-times dialling his own phone, so I didn't really need to do that much for him. Ironically, he was much higher ranked than CEO in the military, but lacked any of the arrogant-asshole mannerisms.
The accountant, whom we'll refer to as Tanya, was very capable professionally, but not quite right in the head otherwise. She seemed to derive pleasure out of treating people like shit, and particularly yelling at them at the top of her lungs. I, for the most part, was spared her wrath, but it had more to do with the fact that I tried to avoid irritating her as much as possible, anticipating the outcome. The woman essentially spent 90% of her time screaming at someone - her mother, her brother, the bookkeeper, suppliers, portfolio company CEOs, etc. I particularly remember the day she yelled at the people who installed a toilet in her house, since there was a board meeting taking place in the conference room, and none other than our CEO got up to close the door so as to block the screeching out.
Around the time I started working there, the company had hired an in-house counsel. This was a guy with little corporate law experience, but he did have two law degrees plus a masters in mathematics. In short - the guy wasn't low of IQ. However, on his first day there, he hadn't instinctively realized that the acronym BOD signified "Board Meeting" and asked Tanya what it meant. BIG MISTAKE. Tanya, being a bitter sow, resentful of the guy's higher salary (um, hello? He has FOUR DEGREES, bitch!) decided right then and there that the guy was a complete moron, and from that point forward made every attempt to trip him up. Since he was to take over many of the functions she had taken on in the absence of a lawyer (she was the most well-versed person there in all of the investment contracts), he should have made her life a bit easier, but her raging jealousy and hatred prevented her from seeing straight and instead of off-loading the info, she would not cooperate with him, leaving him to spend hours reading contracts. It took him months to catch up, all the while suffering abuse from her. The guy, who was nice enough, though not someone I became particularly friendly with (he was so tired of her that he mostly sat in his office with the door closed, so we didn't get to speak with him much, either) realized fairly quickly that he had met a dead end and wasn't going to get anywhere, so he decided to use his time with the company to study for the NY Bar exam, which the company was financing - in fact, it was written into his contract that they couldn't let him go for a year and were obligated to pay. Good for him, I say. As soon as he passed the bar, he was let go, but not before Tanya convinced the CEO to try and swindle the guy out of some compensation he had owing. Luckily, her blind range and lack of formal legal training meant that she had no ground to stand on and the guy got every last penny. It was awesome to see him get the better of her at the end.
I won't get too much into describing my interaction with Kay. It wasn't easy and there were many irritants, but eventually she and I became good friends, which made the irritants seem more like quirks. We've fallen out of touch, but I still admire her for staying in that hell-hole as long as she did - four years of working for that cast is less than a treat.
Now that I've described the cast of character, I'll describe my work and some of the incidents that are etched in my mind.
During my first week of training, the fired girl showed me where to get the mail. There were several envelopes that came from a particular investment company, which contained analysis reports. The girl told me that when they came in I was to put them in a particular cupboard (unopened). There were piles of them there. Not knowing what they were, I didn't really question the practice, and furthermore, no one ever asked me about them, so I continued chucking them in the closet.
Kay and I sat side by side behind a desk that had a raised counter - the kind you'd lean your arms on if you were standing up. Between the desk and the counter was a pile of filing that had to be tended to. Little did I know that this was the tip of a filing iceberg, and that the analyst reports above were only a small part of it! As soon as the girl had departed, Michelle and Tanya told me that we had to start putting things in order. They opened the various filing cabinets and showed me all the PILES AND PILES of paper. Apparently, the filing system up to this point was to pile things up between the desk and the counter, and once the pile reached counter height, it was dumped inside one of the cabinets. Really.
Tanya and I devised a filing system. Each portfolio company got a binder (or however many were necessary to accomodate the related paper-work), which were divided into the same sub-sections. From that point on, Kay and I spent about four months getting all the paper work in order. Luckily this was at the tail end of the internet bubble of 2000-2001, so we had plenty of free time to tend to it. Did I mention how much I detest filing? Yeah, anyway. As for the analyst reports, when I pointed them out to Michelle, she was shocked. She didn't even know we were getting them, and what's worse, we were paying to be on the mailing list. Since they hadn't really been in use, we ended up just cancelling the subscription. I weep for all the forests.
At the same time that we implemented this filing system for printed matter, we did the same in our computer directories, with the same set of main folders and sub-folders. There were about 6000 documents saved in our directories. I'm not exaggerating when I say that there were probably about 5000 file folders in them, too. The idiot who worked there before, and her sister, who had been the full-time secretary before her, were not particularly bright, and whenever they were asked to file something, they opened a new folder for it. We spent several months putting all that crap in order, too.
Once that was mostly finished, Kay and I pretty much sat and twiddled our thumbs all day. There was only so much filing you could do in a day without wanting to slit your wrists, but on the flip side, there was no work, either. It got to the point that I brought translation work to the office and did it there. Nobody gave a shit. Kay and I weren't the only bored ones. Though Tanya would never admit it, we could totally hear from her angry, aggressive mouse clicks that she was playing mine-sweeper in whatever part of the day she had free of yelling at someone.
One day Kay got a call from one of the secretaries in the head office (the fund was a subsidiary of a huge high-tech company), asking bizarre questions about tranferring Michelle's phone line and email to their office/server. Kay was mystified, and it wasn't until that day that we discovered - quite accidentally, as it were - that Michelle was leaving to go work in another division - the following day! We didn't actually say anything to her, waiting to see if she'd say anything as she was leaving for the day. She did not. She walked out at the end of the day and never even bothered to say goodbye to us, or tell us what she'd be doing. I don't know about you, but that doesn't strike me as something that a sane person would do. Whatever, one bitch down.
One day our insurance agent came to the office unannounced. Well - she didn't arrange an appointment, she called a few minutes before arriving, saying that she wanted to meet with the CEO. I told him she was on her way and he snootily asked "Do I have an appointment with her?", to which I replied in the negative. He went into his office and closed the door. A few minutes later I let the insurance agent in, and she asked to see him. I looked down on the phone to call him to let him know she was there, and noticed his call light was on. I told her he was on the phone and in the meanwhile she went to speak with Tanya. At this point I turned to Kay and asked her if she'd transferred a call to CEO. She looked at the phone light, looked at me, and said "No". We were perplexed. As I'd already mentioned, the man NEVER dialled his own phone. The agent kept poking her head out to see if he was free, but the call light stayed on. She eventually left, at which point Kay decided to investigate. She knocked on his door and he called her in. She told him the agent was gone, at which point he picked up the phone receiver, which had been sitting off the hook, on his desk, and hung up the phone. When Kay came out and told me this, after I finished scraping my jaw off the floor, we both laughed for a good half-hour about how utterly ridiculous the man was. And it wasn't that he didn't need to speak with her - it was that she dared show up without his advance permission. Ass.
Another equally flabbergasting incident occurred not long before I left the company. CEO went out to lunch with the company (parent company) accountant (Tanya was the accountant for our subsidiary only), a man who is very well known in the finance industry, and a senior partner in one of the biggest accounting firms in the country. He also happened to be CEO's personal accountant. Unlike CEO, this man was lovely - sweet, affable, and generally a good guy. He had no problem dialling his own phone, either. We got a phone call from him after they had finished their lunch meeting, and he told us that they needed to schedule a follow up meeting. Given who this was (he was one of the few people who could call up CEO and be put through right away rather than being told he'd get a call back), we went ahead and scheduled the appointment. CEO came back to the office a few minutes later, and saw that we had scheduled the meeting through Outlook. He came out and asked us "What's this meeting?". Kay replied that Accountant had called to set it up. CEO then asked "Do you work for him or for me?", to which Kay tried to reply that she thought it was something they'd agreed upon during their lunch. She only got as far as "We thought that..." when he cut her off and said "I don't pay you to think. Cancel the meeting". He turned back to his office while Kay and I just stared at each other in silence for a few moments. "He sure pays us a lot not to think," I said, but we were both too shocked to actually laugh at the absurdity of the situation.
It wasn't long after that that I decided I'd had enough, and resigned. It wasn't this specific incident that made me quit - just general boredom with the job, coupled with utter desolation about the situation in Israel. There were suicide bombers going off left, right and centre. I didn't feel like the Prime Minister (Sharon) was leading the country anywhere but down, and there seemed to be no light at the end of the local tunnel.
One thing I can say with certainty is that this was a wasted year in my life, both professionally and personally. On a personal level, I was at the office 10 hours a day, plus a 1-2 hour commute daily, so I wasn't really doing a whole lot socially, and the company was too small and, well - NARSTY - for me to improve my social life. On a professional level, the only thing I took away was the affirmation of how much I detested filing, and that was hardly something new.
Funnily enough, a few months after I left, Kay told me that Tanya decided that the computer filing wasn't to her liking (even though there was a big mess before, she knew where everything was - she preferred to work by memory, rather than logic, evidently), and she made Kay put everything back to the way it was. Kay didn't argue, knowing it would get her nowhere, and just did as she was told.
Even though I did close to nothing there for many months, it hadn't occured to anyone that it wasn't necessary to replace me, and in my wake followed several replacements, none of whom were able to tolerate the place or deal with the lovely personalities in question. Had I not left, I could have still been working there today, I'm sure. Kay stayed on for a couple more years, the poor soul.
I'm sure people can top that, though it's a tall order. What was your worst experience?
Sherry asked me the other day which of the jobs I held was the worst. I told her that such a question isn't easy so answer on the spot, and promised I'd do a post detailing all my jobs, to help me decide. Here goes:
So - which was my worst job? It's a toss up, but I'd say that the Venture Capital job was it. I spent a year there, taking nothing but abuse and I came out of it having learned not a single thing. With most of my other crappy jobs, there was at least something positive or amusing to take away, somewhat offsetting the misery but not so in that job.
So there you have it. What was your worst job?
Rappy: I'd like a large capuccino. I've brought my mug.
Salad bar owner: No.
Rappy: Why not?
Salad bar owner: We only make coffee in our own take-away cups. If you want you can pour it into your mug outside.
Rappy: But I brought my own mug so you wouldn't use a take-away cup, to be friendly to the environment.
Salad bar (incidentally, called GREEN) owner: You can only have it in the take-away cup.
Rappy: I guess that means no coffee for me then.
Rappy: I'd like a large capuccino. Here, I've brought a mug.
Cafe cashier: *Stares in confusion, stammers...* I can put it into a take-away mug and you can pour it in.
Rappy: Well, no. The reason I brought the mug is to save the use of a non-reusable cup.
Cafe cashier: That's all I can do.
Rappy: I guess that means no coffee for me then.
Cafe cashier: Wait. I'll check what I can do. Let me have the mug so I can measure what size coffee it fits.
Rappy: Ok. Thanks.
Cafe cashier: *Fills mug with water, ascertains it is a medium, pours it down drain [The sigh here is implied. There was an actual volume measurement MARKED on the mug], leaves with barrista* That'll be a medium capuccino. 13 Shekels please.
Rappy: Here you go. Thank you.
Cafe cashier: You're welcome.
Rappy: *Happily awaits capuccino in own mug*
Barrista: *Prepares coffee, pours it into take-away mug, then pours it into mug.*
Yesterday, my brother and I attended a hands-on "workshop" on composting at Kerem Maharal, a moshav south of Haifa.
The event was held by Eretz Carmel, a non-profit organization whose goal is to "promote models of sustainable growth and revival of the environment, while at the same time preserving quality of life and building for a better future", and led by its founder, Amiad Lapidot.
We arrived at around 9:00, and under the shade of an olive tree, we sat and listened to Amiad describe the perfect composting cycle, and the composting project he implemented on the moshav (where household garbage is separated by residents at the source into organic and inorganic waste). Afterwards, we went down to the composting site (where we had originally congregated) for a more hands-on explanation and demonstration.
The site is an old greenhouse (an uncovered greenhouse - just a metal frame), probably 20 meters deep. Amiad begins constructing the compost piles at the far end (there are currently five piles) and works from the back to the front of the plot, adding new waste as it is collected. Currenlty there are 5 heaps , each at a different stage of decomposition. The piles aren't particularly high - the newest heap is approximately half a meter tall, and as the materials decompose, the piles get lower and lower.
Once a week, after Amiad collects all of the organic waste thrown out by residents, he brings it to the site, along with tree/garden trimmings that he either collects or buys. He sets down a bed of the trimmings, tops it with the organic waste he collected, and covers it with more trimmings. The pile gets longer and longer with each passing week and once it reaches the front of the plot, he can start constructing a new one. Once he covers the newest addition with trimmings, he wets down the pile, in order to maintain a proper level of moisture. The moisture is necessary in order to keep the red worms he employs in the process alive.
Materials can decompose with or without red worms, but they certainly make things go much faster - six months vs. a year. The breakdown of materials is accomplished through heat (and the worms). The piles heat up to extremely high temperatures. We stuck our hands in two of them, and the temperatures were in the 50-70 degrees celsius range. Amiad gave us an explanation regarding each heap (ranging in age from brand new to 4 months), showed us the worms at work, and showed us the breakdown progress over time.
Next we built an improvised back-yard composter (almost identical, in fact, to what my parents have had in their back yard for years) and began filling it with farming waste that had been dropped off that morning.
Next we went to the oldest pile, approximately 6-7 months old, which was completely decomposed and ready for use. Amiad showed us some of the methods he uses at this stage to separate the fine compost powder (the type generally sold in nurseries) from the remaining compost (which breaks down in bigger chunks, good for ground cover between trees and plants), beginning with a simple window frame shaken by two people (almost like sifting flour), a bigger netting he rigged, and finally a mechanical spinning drum that his father and a friend engineered out of an old barrel, netting, and an old washing machine engine (see video below).
I would imagine that many people would be wary of living next to a compost site, or of having a composter inside their home (if they are city dwellers like me), but I have to point out that the site does not smell at all. As my family will attest (and my florist, too, since I once had to toss out a beautiful new bouquet he sent ), I have an ultra-sensitive sense of smell. The only thing in the entire site that smelled at all, was the pile of broccomini that had been delivered by a resident farmer that morning for composting, part of which we used to fill the improvised composter. Fresh refuse draws flies and rots in the elemetns, leading to the familiar rotting smell that we find so repelling. However, once it is covered up with trimmings and the flies' access is blocked - the smell is gone! I have a friend who lives on Kerem Hamaharal, right next door to Amiad's compost site. In addition to his house, 50 meters away, are two residential units that he rents out. His tenants' windows are 20 meters away from the plot. There is NO SMELL at either of these units.
When we left, Amiad gave each of us a small bag of compost (I gave mine to my brother, since he's a budding gardener (heh - I'm so punny sometimes) and I also bought a 2L bottle of ecological-organic olive oil from him (home-made), which smells awesome.
Pictures and a film follow. A more detailed explanation of the pictures appears in the flickr set.
I worked at CIBC from 1992 to 2000 and often-times worked close to 10 hours of overtime per week. Now that I think back, I totally remember how in my first month there, after I filled in my time sheets with the actual time worked, I was taken aside and told that the time sheets can only reflect the hours I was scheduled for, i.e., if I was scheduled to work 10-4 and worked 9:30 - 5, I could still only record and get paid 10 - 4.
As I sit in my apartment, surrounded by piles of paper everywhere and a mess nearly indescribable, it occurred to me that the cleaning lady might be coming tomorrow. Yikes. She's been away so I'm not sure when she'll return, but she generally comes every other week and it's been two already. I'll have to do some major tidying in case she does come. Unlike most Israelis, I don't *clean* before the cleaning lady comes, but I do tidy.
This mess is all rather ironic, given what I've been doing for the past two weeks. A couple of weeks ago at the Soup Salon, noorster asked me to come over and help her get her apartment in order. So I did and after some resistence, she realized that she would have to get rid of the table and chairs because she had just too much furniture in her wee little apartment. Fast forward to the following Friday's soup salon, and noorster can't stop talking about the wonders I performed in her apartment (all I did was throw out some suggestions - she did the rest). I went over later and indeed - the place looks awesome. She tossed, rearranged, cleaned and generally made the place a lot less cramped. Savta Dotty, hostess of the weekly salon came over later that evening and was duly impressed, and asked me to come work my miracles at chez dotty. So I did. There's still lots left to do, but we threw out a ton of stuff (the fine paper non-recycling from yesterday's entry, for starters). The momentum was only stopped due to savta dotty's impending travels. In return for whipping my leash, I was rewarded with savta dotty's lovely company (she's the awesome) and with two fabulous meals - lunch at Orna & Ella (a favourite restaurant) on Sunday and a lovely dinner at Orca yesterday. Yum!
Following savta dotty's enthusiastic gushing about the progress we had made after the first day Nominally Challenged called me and asked to hire my services. Help people get organized while getting paid for it? There's a concept! I went over this past Friday after soup and we worked for a couple of hours - mostly just rearranging the configuration of the living room/office to create some more space and make it more welcoming. We have a bit more to do, but I think it'll turn out perfect.
It's bizarre, but I love doing this kind of stuff (less so for myself, obviously). And with that, I'm off to do some filing :). (Not really.)
Phone call placed to the person at the Ministry of the Environment responsible for recycling in Tel Aviv:
rappy: Hello, I was told you were in charge of recycling for Tel Aviv.
woman: Well, sort of. How can I help you?
rappy: I have large quantities of fine paper for recycling. Where can I recycle it?
woman: You can't.
rappy: I can't? Why not?
woman: There isn't any paper recycling in Tel Aviv.
rappy: Why not?
woman: Well, it isn't really my responsibility. The sanitation department is in charge of it, but paper recycling is only being rolled out right now.
rappy: Ok, rolled out where?
woman: In the north part of the city. It's only available in a few buildings that have their own garbage disposal room. You'd have to know which buildings have them and then you'd have to go into their garbage room, which is private property. Which neighborhood do you live in?
woman: Yeah, it isn't available there.
rappy: Are you aware that we're in the year 2007? The technology exists. Why isn't it available?
woman: It just isn't.
rappy: So I have to throw all these papers in the garbage?
While standing at bus terminal for 15 minutes, a bus driver pulls up and leaves his (double-parked) bus idling for a full 10 minutes. Another driver opens the door to this driver's bus but doesn't get on. I ask him to turn off the ignition because it's bad for the environment, but he says it isn't his bus, so he can't. Turns out he's the driver of the line for which I was waiting. Our exchange:
Driver: It's a hot day, he needs to leave it on for the air-conditioning.
rappy: I don't really care. It's horrible for the environment and he should turn it off.
Driver: Don't you worry about that kind of stuff. Worry about your own problems.
rappy: The environment is my problem. It's yours, too.
Driver: Nonsense. No one ever died from an idling bus.
rappy: Actually, 600 people died last year from pollution-related illnesses.
Driver: That's a load of crap.
rappy: No, it really isn't.
Driver: Well, what difference does it make if he turns off the engine? It's only one bus.
rappy: Right, and if all the buses didn't idle for ridiculous lengths of time, we'd all be better off.
Driver: You need to stop worrying about other people. This is a country of assholes. Only assholes get ahead here, not the people who care.
rappy: Perhaps if everyone in this country didn't operate on that assumption, we'd get somewhere.
Driver: Forget it, we're all assholes and that's that.
rappy: That's a refreshing position to take. I happen to not be an asshole.
Driver: You're full of crap, and it's a good thing you commented about the engine to me and not to the other driver, he would have kicked your ass.
Call placed to Dan Bus Company:
woman: Dan Bus Company, how may I help?
rappy: Hello, have I reached the customer complaint line?
woman: Yes you have.
rappy: I'd like to find out if drivers are required to turn off their engines if they leave their bus.
woman: Of course they are.
rappy: Well then I'd like to file a complaint.
woman: Can you give me the details?
rappy: Bus number XX at station YY was idling for at least 10 minutes while the driver was busy having a coffee in the office.
woman: Ok, I've recorded the details.
rappy: And what happens next?
woman: The driver will be brought in front of a disciplinary committee.
rappy: Thank you very much!
woman: Have a nice day.
rappy: *Kick my ass, did he say? Mwahahahaha!*