Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Wanna hear a pretty good joke? It happens we've ripped one off for you -- plus some thoughts on work and why the U.S. economy is in the toilet


Morris and his wife Esther went to the state fair every year, and every year Morris would say, “Esther, I’d like to ride in that helicopter.”

Esther always replied, “I know Morris, but that helicopter ride is fifty dollars, and fifty dollars is fifty dollars.”

One year Esther and Morris went to the fair, and Morris said, “Esther, I’m 85 years old. If I don’t ride that helicopter, I might never get another chance.”

To this, Esther replied, “Morris that helicopter ride is fifty dollars, and fifty dollars is fifty dollars.”

The pilot overheard the couple and said, “Folks I’ll make you a deal. I’ll take the both of you for a ride. If you can stay quiet for the entire ride and don’t say a word I won’t charge you a penny! But if you say one word it’s fifty dollars.”

Morris and Esther agreed, and up they went. The pilot did all kinds of fancy maneuvers, but not a word was heard. He did his daredevil tricks over and over again, but still not a word.

When they landed, the pilot turned to Morris and said, “By golly, I did everything I could to get you to yell out, but you didn’t. I’m impressed!”

Morris replied, “Well, to tell you the truth, I almost said something when Esther fell out, but you know, fifty dollars is fifty dollars!”

--"Joke of the Month" from the Noble Desktop Enewsletter Number 93 (June 3, 2008)

Can you really rip off a joke? Don't jokes just exist, like sunshine and rainfall? Well, I suppose the people who write jokes for a living would take a different view of the matter.

Anyway, if it will ease your precious conscience, the person who sent in this joke, one Pattie Steib, has already gotten a Noble Desktop T-shirt, and all she did was send it in! Who knows who Pattie ripped it off from?

I get the Noble Enewsletter because my company once paid for me -- well, not just me, but everybody who's involved in the production of our magazines -- to take a course there, and I was so impressed with the instructor that I took advantage of the opportunity to provide online feedback, which got me put on the Enewsletter mailing list. I'm sure you too get put on all sorts of e-mailing lists that you'd desperately like to get taken off of. However, I always look at the Noble newsletter, if for no other reason than that each issue includes a list of free (yes, free!) seminars being offered through the month. All you have to do is register, a simple online procedure.

Now, the free seminars are only two hours, and unlike the regular classes (in a wide range of subjects in print and Web production), which are "hands on," with everyone at a computer, the seminars are in lecture format. But they cram a lot of material into those two hours, and all the instructors I've encountered are really great. Often you find yourself in the presence of the person who wrote the company's workbook for the software he's teaching. (They produce their own manuals, not to mention instructional DVDs.) I've been to a handful of them, and always feel like I come away a better person, or anyway a slightly smarter one, or . . . hey, it's free, and you feel as if you're learning something.

We were all sent down to Noble, in SoHo, when we made the big switchover from QuarkXPress to Adobe InDesign as our publishing softwared -- an increasingly common switch, I'm told. We were grouped, logically enough, by department (art, editorial, production), but in the end for many if not most of us the training was next to worthless, because the people in our company who sent us really had so little idea what we actually do. I'm sure the Noble people would have happily tailored the course to our needs, but our masters didn't know enough about our needs to clue them in. In fact, some of the things that we in my particular little editorial group really needed to know, the instructor had been expressly instructed not to teach us.

So we just got a sort of generic overview of the software, and the instructor provided whatever help he could. Since he knew both Quark and InDesign cold, for those of us who were used to editing in Quark, he could point out features that were similar or different in InDesign, as well as answer questions, except of course for the ones he had been told not to answer.

It kind of makes you proud to draw a paycheck, knowing that while your company may not know what you need to learn, it cares enough to cordon off stuff that you're not allowed to learn. When it came to making the actual transition, this all helped about as much as you might expect. There were some pretty chaotic, stressful months during which we gradually figured out what the hell we were doing, and so our masters never really did have to trouble their heads over what exactly it is we do and who does it. Somehow it all gets done, which exhausts their interest in the matter.

Most of the fellow working stiffs I know at other companies seem to work in very much this same way. Somehow it all gets done. It's not a pleasant way to work, because it means for one thing that since nobody at the command level really knows how anything gets done, there isn't much chance of being rewarded for doing it well, or for that matter being punished for doing it badly.

When those fellow working stiffs of mine are inclined to grouse about it, I sometimes tell them about my mother's philosophy of work. It used to drive me crazy, back when I was, shall we say, newer to the workplace than I am now. I must have done my share of complaining about how unfulfilling my work was. This got no sympathy from my mother, who didn't understand where all of us young people were getting the idea that work was supposed to be something you enjoy. She would explain as patiently as she could that work is what you do because you have to. Enjoyment didn't come into it, and as for fulfillment -- well, you don't want to know.

Of course this was a long time ago, and as Oscar Hammerstein's King of Siam [that's Yul Brynner at right] put it, "World have changed a lot." Back then, I suspect that the people who managed those workers, doing their jobs because they knew they had to, knew exactly what every one of them was supposed to be doing, and how to do it. Very likely the manager had risen through the ranks and had done most of those jobs him or herself.

Of course that was also before books on management philosophy and techniques became a publishing subculture. Since those days, computers and all sorts of other technology have caused worker productivity to shoot through the roof. But we don't seem actually to produce much of anything, do we? And the economy isn't growing, so we've got to divide up the same old pie, with the people at the top of the economic ladder reclaiming their rightful overwhelming share.

This always used to be explained by how much "risk" high-level executives took. We worker drones came in and did our thing and in return got regular paychecks, including benefits! Whereas our high-flying bosses succeeded or failed on their derring-do and guts and cunning. This was all before golden parachutes, and chief execs failing serially, often upward.

My mother is slipping away now, probably in her final months. I don't think I ever told her that I'd come to see the wisdom of her understanding of the work process. These last few years one of the most urgent reasons why I had to hold on to my job was to make sure that she was taken care of, something that she at least earned. Otherwise I look around my little corner of the U.S. economy, and the concept of "earning" doesn't really come into play much.

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At 7:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, I ripped that joke off from my cousin who e-mailed it to me after getting it from goodness knows where...share the love! :-)

btw, I WUV my Noble T. It's all good.


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