Beer, Pomme Frites, Chocolate and So Many Et Ceteras (Day 1)

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Finally…finally took a moment to venture into Europa and take a look around.  Where did I land?  In Brussels. 

Don’t make that face.

Every one of my British co-workers turned up their noses when I mentioned my long weekend of Christmas market shopping in Brussels. I mean, it’s not like I was going to Bruges…sheesh

If I’d grown up on a farm and was retarded, Bruges might impress me, but I didn’t, so it doesn’t. – ‘In Bruges’

I figured that if I was ever travelling to Europe from the States, I would NEVER choose Brussels as a destination.  But since it is a 2 hour train ride away – (shrug) -what the hell.  Let’s set the stage, Golden Girls style: ‘Picture it.  London.  2011.  A beautiful, young American with brown skin meets an exciting, but pennyless artist on her train to Belgium.  There’s an instant attraction.  They laugh.  They sing.  They slam down a few boiler-makers’…wait, I think I am totally stealing Sophia’s story.

This how it really happened: on the train – under the Channel – 1.5 hours – off the train – into a bitter cold that I was not expecting.  I didn’t realize there was more arctic wind south of the UK, but apparently being inland wasn’t going to save my nose from a mild case of frostbite.  I found a little boutique hotel (Hotel Chambord) which was very reasonably priced and located about 10min walk from Grand Place.  I was in room #01 which was a very clean single with no window.  But that isn’t what bothered me, what got me was the fact that I was in between the ground and first floors.  I have heard of basements, but 1/2 floors?  Seriously?

I figured I could get a little sight-seeing in before the fun that was to ensue that evening (which turned into debauchery, but we will get there).  What is Brussels like?  For lack of a better word…European.  Clearly I was in Europe.  You could have dropped me in the middle of Austria and I probably wouldn’t know the difference. 

My guest arrived in the evening.  Awesome – time to hit the town.  A bit of wandering in the dark and asking directions in mime and faux french.  I just kept using Spanish hoping we could bridge the language gap with the Latin foundation…er, not the case.

First bar attempt was a miss.  Second bar – jackpot!  Delerium Bar, right off of Grand Place was hopping.  We walked downstairs from the entrance and the atmosphere was pulsing: old, dark wooden benches and tables, overpowering smell of beer, Nas playing on the speakers, packed to the raftors with drunken youth and hip bartenders with interesting facial hair and cool hats.  Brilliant. 

On the very crowded bar, there is a catalog the size of a phone book that is page after page of the different beers offered.  Overwhelmed by the choice, we randomly choose something that is pronounceable and move to pilfer a spot at a table in the heart of the bar.  It’s so loud I can’t hear anything but the music, laughter, shouting and clanging of glasses. 

20 minutes in and a table opens up…right next to a team of footballers…very loud, very inebriated footballers.  20 minutes later, we are chatting it up with the loud footballers who were kind enough to provide us our fill of beer.  Apparently they are from Switzerland and on holiday.  And apparently Belgian really is stronger than the beer we Americans are used to drinking, because 20 minutes later we have all agreed to abandon this bar for the next one.  I would like to note at this point that public drunkeness is really, really annoying…when you are not the one that is publicly drunk. 

So off to this random bar that, I swore, was a Russian mafia underground brothel.  The cigar smoke was thick and tangible, there were 2 light bulbs lighting the bar, everything was red, except for the floor which was black and there were 2 ‘ladies’ in a booth gettting very cozy with an empirically unattractive man.  But what did I spy with my little eye before we walked in that ‘establishment’?  A man standing in an alley next to a 3-foot velvet rope.  Now, if my wits were about me, I would never have run up to this man, in the dark alley who was smoking a cigarette, and asked him if the door he was standing in front of was a club.  But, I did.  And it was.  So, I gathered my newly found crew and headed upstairs to ‘The Flat’.  On the first floor, there was a bar and a room with a bathtub and another room with a bed…guess that’s why it is called the flat.  Now, this place didn’t look like a strip club, but within 5 minutes of sitting down there were 2 random chicks topless, in thongs, parading around.  I am pretty sure they worked there and they didn’t seem drunk (shrug) but now I understood why this place was situated in an alley.  Oy.  I just sipped my gin and tonic. 
How did the night end? 
Are you assuming it did?

Reason #148

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I want to have an indie movie moment…

I want to say something very profound to an acoustic soundtrack like ‘Paper Heart’ or ‘Juno’.  I’d even take jazzy sax like ‘American Splendor’ or quirky folk like ‘Up in the Air’.  Or the The Smiths…definitely The Smiths.

My hair is blowing in the wind.  And all the light is cast in the shadow of a setting sun.

Reason #148 to keep on keepin’ on…

Aside

“Choices and Opportunities” – WH Griffin

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Life is about choices and opportunities.
You choose a college.  You have the opportunity to indulge your dreams – you choose practicality.
You choose a job.  You have the opportunity to follow your passion – you choose stability.
You choose your lifestyle.  You have the opportunity to choose life – you choose life with borders.
…maybe I am just talking about me…

In my microeconomics class, Professor Macher lectured on the principle of ‘Opportunity Cost’ which encapsulates 2 simple principles:
1. When you choose one course of action, you are prohibited from choosing another
2. For every course of action chosen, there is a cost for which there is no re-compensation

Real-life application: our lives are the result of our choices and those choices can not be undone nor re-done.

I’ll give you a perfect example:
One day, during my second year of business school, I sat next to a friend who was whispering to me about this awful date she had the night before.  The date was with a guy who was a friend-of-a-friend and everything went as expected: drinks, dinner, small talk.  But, she was completely sure that he was not into her, at all.  I told her, “sounds like he was a real gentleman. Don’t turn down a second date.”  Well, a second date turned into many dates and, by graduation, she had an amazing job opportunity in another city.  When I asked her what she would do, she said was going to turn down the amazing job to take a local job.  She wanted to ‘see where it goes’. 
I told her, “that is stupid.  Turn down a great opportunity for a man – are you crazy?!”  She had the opportunity to see what would happen, she chose to take that opportunity.  Two years later they were married.  Four years later, they have two kids.  Five years later, she is still happy with her choice.  She never worked for that amazing company.  I am not saying she made the right choice or the wrong one but one path is forever closed and the other ones
…well, there are more choices to come, right?

Choices are the fabric our lives are made of.  And, opportunities (the good ones), are serendipitous at best.

 Choose Life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television, choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players and electrical tin openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol, and dental insurance. Choose fixed interest mortage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisurewear and matching luggage. Choose a three-piece suite on hire purchase in a range of fucking fabrics. Choose DIY and wondering who the fuck you are on a Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing, spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing fucking junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pishing your last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, fucked up brats you spawned to replace yourself.  Choose your future.  Choose life. – John Hodge “Trainspotting”

But choice does not prepare us for consequence.

Choice: focus on school when everything at home has fallen apart 
Consequence: 2 graduate degrees and a prescription for Zoloft

Choice: write a note to the boy I like
Consequence: public ridicule for dotting my i’s and crossing my t’s

Choice: career over a good man, who wasn’t a great man
Consequence: a good career that would (could) never be great

Choice: taking care of those who need me the most
Consequence: not taking care of myself

Choice: avoid being close to others to prevent being hurt 
Consequence: never getting close enough to feel anything at all

Choice: believing things will never change
Consequence: things never will

It’s not too late for me, I think.  I hope there are still a few, maybe more, opportunities hidden along my path.  I hope…I really hope…that I will have the courage to make the best choice(s).  We all know that we only get the one life.  But no one told us how many choices.  Choose…wisely. 

What do you choose today?  More importantly, what will you choose tomorrow?

“I’m Not Going to Name Any Names, But the Initials are M.E.” – WH Griffin

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Q: How do I talk myself into these things?

One of the great discoveries I have recently uncovered about myself (which I am finding this happens with greater frequency as I get older) is that I am masochist.  Now, the actions I take to inflict harm on myself don’t cause internal bleeding or bruises.  I don’t belong to Fight Club (even if I did, we all know the first rule).  I don’t cut myself for catharsis or give myself black eyes and then run to the emergency room looking for attention.  Nor do I like to be beaten or slapped or paddled while, thankfully, asking for more.
Yes, an Animal House reference – frankly you can never have enough of those…or Pulp Fiction

mas·och·ism (mas-uh-kiz-uhm) n.
A willingness or tendency to subject oneself to unpleasant or trying experiences

No, none of that foolishness.  I prefer to inflict ‘fear’ upon myself.  Fear.  Dread.  Official medical condition: scaredycatnosis.  Don’t worry – I don’t think it is contagious.

For example: I am deathly afraid of zombies.  And I don’t mean how some people are afraid of spiders or snakes or public speaking.  I mean terrified.  Not of voodoo zombies, but George A. Romero zombies.  Worse yet, Zach Snyder ‘I am going to run after you and eat you while you scream’ zombies.  And even though I can’t sleep after watching a zombie film, I can’t not watch when they come on TV or to the movie theater near me.  I own several zombie books including World War Z (which I bought back in 2008 before zombies were cool), the Zombie Survival Guide, Collapse, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and many others.  Why?  If you would have asked me yesterday, I would have said because there is nothing more important than knowing the enemy.  I want to prepare myself for the inevitable zombie invasion (and it is…inevitable) and I can do that with extensive research and planning.  But today…today, I realize I am simply a masochist purposefully inflicting fear upon myself.  So, can we now answer the question: How do I talk myself into these things?

  • I moved to a country I had never even visited
  • I am in a city where I know no one
  • I gave up temporary custody of my dog (thank God for her foster mom)
  • I gave up cable!
  • No family
  • No friends
  • Bad food
  • No hair products
  • No Triscuits
  • Work travel (we’ve only just begun)
  • Scary driving
  • Job…well you already know how I feel about that topic

So I am in Sweden – on business – taking bootleg airlines to God knows where, to have meetings with people that I don’t want to talk to, navigating cities I know nothing about, eating…fish soup and stuff wrapped in kale while sweating from every pore on my body, hands and feet.  And you wonder why I wear so much black.

A: Masochism.

I would like to say that this is the last time I will put myself in a situation that makes me want to curl up in a ball and pray the Earth opens to swallow me up – but it won’t be.  Turning my life upside down and forcing myself to do things that make me itch is my modus operandi.  And whatever excuse I want to give
‘it’s for my career’
‘it’s to help me grow as a person’
‘it’s not that bad, really’
is just taurus feces. 

A: Masochism.

There are those who would say I have an adventurous spirit.  But all this galvanting (and sweating) doesn’t count if you do it against your will.  The crazy thing is, it is ME who is doing this against MY will!
Either:
My brain is trying to kill me
or
It’s Masochism
or…
maybe, just maybe, there is a subconscious piece of me that knows I am so much stronger and braver than I know on the surface.
Hmmm…if that was the case, I would have approached every hot guy I’ve ever seen/met and asked him out with care of rejection or reproach.  Clearly this has never happened and there is little likelihood of this scenario in the future – or ever.
Nope, I’m going to stick with Masochism on this one.

Maybe you have a better theory?

Well, for now, I am going to take a taxi to my hotel.  Duct tape, blindfold and tie down the inner me that wants to run far, far away from the 10 hour day of meetings tomorrow.  And get on with it.
I am going to be like one little Fonzie here. 
And what’s Fonzie like?
Cool.

 

(correctamundo)

“Tell Me What It Is and I Will Tell You What to Feed It.” – WH Griffin

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The smell hits you first – of salted fish and rock. 

I follow my fellow passengers off the plane, which had landed on the sole runway of an airport in the middle of nowhere in Sweden.  Seriously.  When we were descending for landing, I started to freak out because I couldn’t see any lights – not even runway lights.  Landing at Reagan National ain’t got nothing on this place.

We deplane onto the runway and the smell slapped me again.  An open face slap, but it still stung!  Is this the small of Viking remnants, culinary meatball delights and IKEA furniture?
(sniff)
Probably. 
I slip my passport through a slot in a large wooden and plate glass box that encloses a middle-aged, blonde customers officer.  I immediately wonder what happens when she she has to use the bathroom. hm?
“How long will you be here”
‘I leave on Friday’
“Why are you here?”
‘Business’
Onto to the luggage carousel which is a long wait and the cacophany of Swedish from children, parents and business travelers is harshly foreign.  If the bathroom hadn’t reeked of urine, I would have doubted these people were human.  So blonde.  so.  very.  blonde.  And I am pretty sure every one of them had a tan; there must be tanning booths in every home.

I leave Skavsta airport and take a 55 minute taxi ride to Sodertalje.  1320 SEK.  Please do not ask what that stands for – I am just happy they take credit cards.  Although, unfortunately, it will have to be my personal card.  Corporate AMEX = NOT travel friendly.  SMH.
We pull up to Scandic Kungens Kurva hotel which is…wait for it…next to an IKEA.  No, I’m not joking.  It’s 10:30pm – dark and cold.  The lobby looks normal enough and the receptionist speaks English (shrug) – so far so good.  She tells me i am in room 227.  I giggle.  She looks at me like I have two heads.  Clearly, they don’t get TVOne here.

Up to the 2nd floor.  Whoa – when did I enter a mental institution?  The hall is cold and barren; very creepy.  And that smell again!  Sheesh.
Through the winding hallway, I reach room 227 and just look at the door.  I am hoping and praying that I am not going to find a metal bed, flourescent office lighting and a dripping sink.  Insert card in door, hear the click, turn the knob.  (sigh) It’s worse – drenched in IKEA, down to the wave patterned curtain at the window and random shell art on the wall.  I turn on the TV and shocked at what I see: True Blood?!?!?!  In English?!?!?!  Vuht a country!

Hunger sets in.  It’s 10:52pm.  I saw a McDonald’s down the road on the ride in and, apparently, it is the only ‘restaurant’ (and we use that term loosely, don’t we) that is open.  But, I am starving.  I haven’t eaten anything since a homemade PB&J at 2pm.  I need food.  Open suitcase – throw on my Uggz, scarf – pin hair back (it’s awfully humid this far north) – ipod, phone, umbrella – hit the parking lot.  It is a good 100 yards to the McD’s, the familiar sign calls to me.  Now, I am not a fan of McDonald’s – the only item I will consume of what they call ‘food’ is a vanilla cone.  But, I am going to need something more substantial, even at this late hour.  I start my trek across the parking lot (the very dark parking lot), T.I.’s ‘Poppin Bottles’ in my earbuds and I realize I probably shouldn’t be out here alone.  I pray outloud, “please, God, don’t let me get kidnapped and tortured in Sweden.”  The Hostel movies weren’t filmed here, were they?

The McDonald’s is open and practically empty except for a few teenagers.  I could have assumed they were older, but the steel studs in the lips and napkin-ring size holes in the ears indicate otherwise.  Order a QP with Cheese + fries + orange Fanta.  Turn to see a black dude – a real live black man – in the Swedish McDonald’s mopping.  Brotha can’t catch a break anywhere.  Pay, leave, back to room, inhale soggy fries, then scary looking burger…heartburn…sleepy…(yawn)

God, I hope that was beef (burp)

“On Any Given Day, You’re Best Will Simply Not be Good Enough.” – WH Griffin

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Today is not a good day.  Just when I think I have a good handle on what I am doing, it all goes to sh*t.  Just when i think I can’t make any more mistakes, I f*ck it up – YET AGAIN! 

 
“Just when I think I’ve hit bottom, someone throws me a shovel” – Garfield

What is it about corporate life that raises the expectation of human beings to be omnipotent, infallible, ever-confident while personable and well-dressed?  Too many damned perfectionists?  Let me back up.  I work in Business Development for a Biotechnology company which means I navigate inter-political wormholes, have antibody-receptor-ligand-binding affinity small talk with our resident scientists and grip-n-grin with other BD people from companies I have to pretend to care about until it’s no longer ‘of interest’ to care about them.
I totally suck at this.
 
12 years ago, I wanted nothing more than to spend time with my cells, gels and micropipets doing great science and making my mark on history as the queen of PDGF in tumor angiogenesis.  I got bored (and disillusioned), so onto the next thing.  Business school to gain a degree that gives me credibility when my answer is ‘it depends’ – all for the small price tag of $70K.  Onto marketing where riding the waves of creativity and profitabilty came naturally to me, only to be hit with the reef of biopharma’s youth intolerance and the ‘yeah, we don’t do that’ mentality.  I got bored (and even more disillusioned), so onto the next thing.  On to Business Development for a challenge – I have no idea what the hell I am doing so I will learn something new, right?  Maybe this will be fun?
 
8 months later, I have passed borderline career-suicidal.  Every email and meeting is under scrutiny with Executive Directors there at every dimple and crease to offer ‘direction’ (which is business speak for ‘correction’).  It’s a small world and you are not supposed to burn any bridges…but I am on the verge of loading mine up with C4 and napalm.  
 
Back to corporate perfectionism.  I am a perfectionist, although that philosophy has is losing its grip with increasing age and wisdom.  But, this environment is driving me insane.  When did it become unnacceptable to not know what to do in any given situation?  Why is a sign of weakness if my stress level is clearly evident (like slamming my head on my desk repeatedly)?  How can can I inform all the right people in the right order with the right message without stepping on toes so I can get this deal signed?  Even when it is…like…really cheap!  I don’t even like this job!  And I defintely don’t like strangers – which are the people I have to talk to all  the time for this job!  I don’t know how to do financial modeling – my former IBanking teammate did that part in Finance class…Why does it matter if this VP saw the memo before that director or that other VP.  Dammit – now that I think about it – I should have CC’d the janitor just he knows what the hell is going on in his place-o-work!
 
(hyperventilating)
 
Dad always said that on any given day, your best will simply…not…be…good enough.  Well, dad – what happens when you have 240 of those days in a row?
 
Where are my detonators?!?! (in my best Hans impression)
 
 

“The World in a Jug and the Stopper in Your Hand.” – WH Griffin

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Today is my birthday.

I’m 33.

It’s my second day in my flat in Cambridge, so I don’t exactly have any friends to go out and celebrate with and I have a pile of clothes and shoes to unpack, sort and catalog (summer, fall, winter, spring…which means ‘cold’ here, regardless).  I thought this UK thing would be exciting: living abroad for a year…close to Europe…fish and chips…cute guys with even cuter accents.  But I have spent most of my time in a hotel/motel (dubbed the Holiday Inn Express) and inappropriately dressed for an ‘English summer’.

This is my first time in the UK.  Past experience was running through Heathrow International to a connection flight back to the U.S.  But, I have 12 whole months, may 14, to suck the marrow out of this experience and get in touch with my…non-American side.  My grandmother, affectionally known as ‘LulaBee’ always told me that I had the world in a jug and the stopper in my hand.  Well, LulaBee, here is an opportunity to see if that’s true.

To start this off, I can’t help but show off the ‘nerd’ in me: let’s recap, evaluate and prepare…
Things I’ve learned in my 33 years about the world (I’ll try to be brief):
1. A city is a city, no matter what country you are in
2. Homelessness and poverty abound
3. All countries have soap operas and soap operas transcend language – drama is drama
4. If you eat the thing that looks the most foriegn, it is usually delicious
5. Bring your own soap

Things I’ve learned in my 33 years about other people:
1. Never trust anyone who calls you ‘buddy’
2. Blessed are the meek at heart, for they shall inherit the earth
3. Everyone is lonely
4. Even the biggest sourpuss believes in and wants true love
5. If a person ever says ‘I’m not going to throw up, I just need to sit down’, walk away…immediately

Things I’ve learned in my 33 years about me:
1. I like persons….I really don’t like people
2. Vodka is the one liquor that starts and ends the evening perfect
3. I am (sigh) a hopeless romantic (see above #4)…crap
4. I chew on the right side (can’t help it)
5. I have no idea what I want…

Well, a new adventure is beginning – in more ways than one.  I know that I am up for it.  The only question is will I be brave enough to step into it?  I hope to bring you along…and I will keep it real – all the way.  No need to strap in.  This will be no rollercoaster (I am afraid of heights…)

Welcome to my world,
griff