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I recently turned the big 3-0 on Friday, and man is it depressing.  Honestly, due to the stresses of work and studying for the CPA exam, I didn’t have any time to think much of it.  In fact, we didn’t even have anything really planned to celebrate because I’m just not into drawing that much attention my way.  For whatever reason, it makes me very uncomfortable.

For weeks/months, my incredible sister, who is very outgoing and social, had been asking me how I want to celebrate my 30th B-day.  For hers and her husband’s 30th, each party was a big shindig where all their friends and family came from miles around.  And that seemed to be perfect for them.  But she seemed to be very put out when I told her that the thought of a lot of people lavishing attention on me was quite disconcerting.  So much so that I started to get annoyed anytime she would bring it up, although she was possibly hoping that I might change my mind and say “OK, please invite every person who has ever heard my name.”  

We finally compromised to have a joint birthday party with my niece who was born exactly on my birthday and was celebrating her first.  And I told my sister that if my niece wanted to invite any of her hot friends, I wouldn’t stand in the way.  Sarcasm aside, I really do appreciate her enthusiasm and the enjoyment she gets from being the center of attention for one evening, but for me it’s nails-on-a-chalkboard awful.

So the night of my birthday came, and due to our babysitting group changing from the usual Saturday to Friday, my wife and I found ourselves at home alone without the boys.  I was feverishly studying, and she was working on her latest project for the new baby who is due to arrive in just a few weeks, but I guess the silence was deafening and we decided to get out of the house and go to a BBQ at some neighbor friends’ house.

It wasn’t long after we arrived and started talking that they found out it was my birthday.  I was surprised at how incredulous they were that I would be spending my birthday, let alone my 30th birthday, with them instead of having some huge party somewhere else.  But once the incredulity wore off, we enjoyed a very nice evening as we talked about anything from sports to politics to babies.

After we left to pick up the boys, I decided that because it was such a nice night outside, I’d like to go and get ice cream from Marble Slab with my beautiful wife and incredible boys, despite the fact that a cake was waiting at our home ready to be eaten.  But the informal outing turned out to be the most relaxing, wonderful part of my birthday as we just sat and talked and watched as both boys attempted to keep their melting ice cream from dripping onto their clothes.  Needless to say, they were pretty messy when we got home, but still very adorable.

The next night we went to the family party which was held at the clubhouse of the neighborhood where my sister and bro-in-law lived.  There was a lot of family there, and even though we were celebrating my niece’s birthday as well, I still didn’t like the attention that I was getting, especially since not many of them had seen me since I shaved my head.

All throughout dinner, I couldn’t wait to escape and I was grateful when my boys begged me to take them swimming in the pool.  Once I got outside to let my social claustrophobia breathe a little, I felt much better and was ready to go back in and open presents.  Fortunately, almost all the attention went to the one-year-old who had finished stuffing her face with cake and was very ready to rip wrapping paper.  Very cute.

Anyway, all of this being said, I posed the following question to myself the other day:  At what age does your birthday stop being about you and start being about other people?  If I had it my way, Friday night would have been totally sufficient and Saturday night could have gladly been left by the wayside.  I don’t know if it’s the formality of the whole thing or the fact that I’m becoming more of a curmudgeon in my old age.  But whatever it is, less is certainly more as far as I’m concerned.

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April 15th—Tax Day!

Today, I have had multiple (multiple!) clients remind me that today is April 15th, as if I didn’t know.  Many of them ask if we have already filed extensions, even though we have been doing their taxes for 10+ years and they ask the same question each April 15th.  I can certainly see that’s it’s important for them to know that their butts are covered, but no one has to tell me that it’s the 15th—I’ve been counting down the days since Jan 1.

Surprisingly, however, Apr 15th is a very relaxed day.  This is for two reasons.  First, I am incredibly organized (go figure that an accountant is organized, but you’d actually be surprised) and know that every one of my clients is taken care of.  Second, most clients assume that I am absolutely swamped and so they either don’t dare call at all or if they do call it’s only for a brief minute or two.  But my feeling is that if it ain’t done already, it ain’t gettin’ done today. 

A common misconception is that we accountants are in our office until midnight tonight.  Truth be told, some of my buddies at work and I are planning on going to see the 3:40 showing of Hot Tub Time Machine.  By the way, proof of how relaxed this day is is that I am blogging at work on the middle of the 15th.  A wise man once said, “Be prepared, and ye shall not fail.”  That may not be the exact quote, but I like to replace fail with fear.

So, I have come to the realization that on Tax Day, I am like the drunk guy at a party who becomes increasingly annoying and increasingly loud as the party wears on.  I don’t know if it’s because I am so excited that busy season is almost over or because, when I am not stressed to the point I could pull the rest of my hair out, my true personality reveals itself and I actually am annoying.  Whatever the case, I am self-aware enough that I have a self-imposed ban of shunning myself in my office.

As I wait for the next phone call to remind me about today’s significance, here are some of my “favorite” pet peeves I’ve gathered over the last three and a half months:

  1. “I know you’re busy but…”—If I had a nickle for every time I heard this phrase or read it in an email, I could retire by the end of next busy season.  I know it’s used more like an ice breaker than anything else, but the only thing I really feel like breaking when I hear this phrase is the client’s face.
  2. “I forgot about deducting ____”—This isn’t really a pet peeve as much as it is funny, but nothing jogs a taxpayer’s memory better than when they owe taxes.  Me: “Mr. So-and-so, it looks like you owe $50K in taxes this year.”  Client: “Really, how can that be?  I’m sure I’m forgetting to deduct (insert non-deductible item here).”
  3. “It seems like you’re charging me too much to do my taxes.”  When a client complains about their bill, I have to remind them that by doing all the year-round tax planning, etc, I have saved their ass more in one year of taxes than they will ever pay me over our professional relationship to prepare their taxes.  I’m not bitter about this, but this seems like a pretty common theme within the professional service industry.  It’s true that it’s not like we’re building a tangible asset that they can actually see the value in it like a Nintendo Wii, but knowledge is more valuable than a widget; just ask a doctor or an attorney.  On second thought, don’t ask an attorney since, in my experience, they actually cause more work than is necessary.
  4. And of course, “I hope you remember that today is April 15th.”—No shit, Shirlock.

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Here are two clear-cut examples of why TV/Movies for children is so entertaining. 

Whenever my wife goes to class on Mon & Wed evenings, I bribe the boys to eat their dinner and get their pajamas on (in record time mind you) with the promise of watching Discovery Channel’s “Man Vs. Wild with Bear Grylls,” or, as my boys like to call it “Jungle!”  Whenever they are slowing down on eating their food and the latest gimmicky game can’t convince them that eating their dinner and having a full stomach is a good thing, I know that I can always pull out the wild card by proclaiming “All right!  Who wants to watch ‘Jungle?!?'”  To which they respond with more gusto.  If only other things in life were this easy to manipulate. 

On the other hand, whenever our oldest boy poops in the toilet, he is rewarded with half a stick of gum.  Oh children.  Anyway, after his latest triumph on the porcelain throne, I gave him the stick of gum, upon which he beamed brightly.  But as I was working on my laptop in the kitchen, I kept seeing him go to the bathroom, turn on the light, and climb up on the step stool in front of the sink to look at himself in the mirror.  After the third time he did this, I asked him why he kept looking at himself in the mirror, to which he replied: “To see if my nose is turning blue.”  Apparently he had just watched Willy Wonka and was worried that if he chewed the gum too long, he would turn into a blueberry.  To have a little fun with him, I said to him “Oh no, Ben, your nose is beginning to turn blue.”  He then sprinted into the bathroom, presumably to look at himself in the mirror and discover that his nose indeed was not turning blue and that I was just teasing.  However, after a few seconds, he reemerged from the bathroom sans gum.  I asked him where his gum was and he said that he had spit it out for fear of turning blue.  When I told him I was just kidding, he began to cry, which made me feel awful.  So to make up for the prank, I gave him another stick of gum and a huge hug. 

See, TV is fun with kids!

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Music Takes Serious Blow

I assume Billboard is not talking about Nickelback the band.  If they are, clearly music was not the determining factor.

It’s rumored that in gratitude for the recognition, Nickelback is going to release a book entitled “One Habit of Highly Successful Bands,” in which they detail how to write one shitty song and then rename it multiple times to create an entire shitty album.

By the way, this is proof that just because something is popular doesn’t mean that it is good.

Best Artists of the Decade [billboard.com]

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[Editor’s note: it may seem redundant to state both “Men’s bathroom” and “urinal,” but this is to clear up the confusion that these rules apply to little boys as well.  Believe me, these rules would never apply to my two sons who like flaunt their own junk without inhibition.]

While the concept of having to urinate in public is embarrassing to begin with, gun-shy pissers everywhere were clearly given little thought by the creators of the urinal.  And because no formal rules have ever been written, I decided to make a concerted effort to set forth some sort of guideline to give a little privacy to what should be a private matter.

  1. Hide Your Shame—When you enter the bathroom, quickly survey the situation and apply this most basic rule of distance and space.  Take the urinal that provides the least likely possibility of seeing each other’s junk.  If the bathroom has only a trough, stand as far away as possible from others.  Splashing may occur, but it can be minimized with proper aim and technique.
  2. Choice and Accountability—In concert with rule #1, you must take the urinal furthest from the door and, therefore, closest to the far wall.  Depending on the number of urinals available, the next choice is to put at least one urinal between you and the next guy (see picture above).  If there are two guys positioned like the picture above, it is okay to take the middle urinal.  However, with any choice in life, there is accountability.  If you get splashed because of poor choice, you have no one else to blame but yourself.
  3. I Don’t Know What to Do With My Hands—The unoccupied hand (i.e. the hand not holding the junk) MUST be used to block/obstruct exposure of the junk.  To further explain, the unoccupied hand cannot rest on the top of the urinal, or remain in your pocket, or be holding a cell phone, which we’ll address later.  Also, you absolutely cannot strike a Superman pose with both hands on your hips, which will surely decrease accuracy.
  4. Close Encounters—You must stand as close to the urinal as possible.  There is to be no bending of the knees, no rotating of the hips, no stretching of any kind, no rainbows from five feet away, and absolutely no excessive spreading of the legs.  Shoulder width or urinal width is an appropriate measuring stick.
  5. Spray it Forward—I don’t think this needs to be overly complicated, but you’re not painting a mural.  The direction should be either straight out or straight down.  Don’t try to out think a urinal.
  6. No Talking—Get in and get out.  There is to be no conversing with the guy at the urinal next to you, with someone in a stall behind you, or especially with someone who is not even in the room (i.e. no cell phone conversations).
  7. Keep Your Eyes Forward—If you find that your eyes tend to wander, just try not to look down while you’re standing at the urinal or at least not in the direction of fellow pissers.  You may find that checking out each others’ junk is the most overblown cliché, but it certainly can lead to the most anger and discontent.
  8. Rock and Roll—When you’re done, you can certainly shake the junk once or twice to avoid PPD, but also try to avoid excessive bouncing or jostling.  Moreover, try not to make it seem like it’s a difficult task to get your over-sized gun back into its holster.

There might be more or better rules available, but these are a few of my thoughts based on informal and casual observation.  If you learn nothing else from this post, please keep this in mind that the underlying theme of urinal etiquette is to do your business without making it any one else’s.

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Don’t Skip the Small Talk

More and more, I am beginning to realize how important small talk can be both as a conversation starter and a conversation enhancer.  While I can be social when I want to be, I have a very difficult time getting a conversation started because I regularly mock small talk and avoid it at all costs.

In case you’re not sure what small talk is, it generally begins with an obvious question that can easily be answered with sarcasm:

[A coworker sees you warming up your breakfast in the microwave]

  • Q: So, are you warming up your breakfast?
  • A: No, I’m seeing how hot I can get the microwave.

See, it’s that easy.  And while it may seem like it’s completely ridiculous, I was actually asked that question once and that was actually my answer.  Because the person was a friend of mine, he knew I was being sarcastic, but he still didn’t like it that early in the morning.  I realized later that I could have answered it differently.

Not all small talk is bad, however, but most of it seems pretty pointless:

[A coworker passes you in the hall]

  • Q: How’s it going?
  • Q: What’s up?
  • Q: What’s going on?

These questions could be answered myriad of ways, but mostly we answer in a very generic manner:

  • A: Good.
  • A: Nothing much.
  • A: Nothing.

Are we really doing good (which is grammatically incorrect but works well for this scenario)?  Do we really have nothing going on?  Clearly these patented questions and answers are just a way to break the ice and allow for a more meaningful conversation to take place depending on time allowed:

[A coworker passes you in the hall]

  • Q: How’s it going?
  • A: Good.
  • Q: Did you see that game last night?
  • A: Yeah, it was…

Or,

  • Q: What’s up?
  • A: Nothing much?
  • Q: How’s your wife/kids/family?
  • A: We’re doing well, how about yours?

See how easy it is?  It would be socially awkward if someone you didn’t know very well were passing you in the hall and just blurted out:

  • Q: What do you think of President Obama?

This question certainly couldn’t be deflected with:

  • A: Nothing much.

But it would be so shocking to the person who was asked the question that he may fall down.

Not all sarcasm is bad, however, as long as the person understands it.

[A coworker sees you getting pens from the supply closet]

  • Q: So, are you out of pens?
  • A: No, I’m stocking up in case the world ends today.

[Someone sees you with a sweater on]

  • Q: Are you cold?
  • A: Of course not.  I have a sweater on.

(Actual questions.  Actual answers)

In conclusion, I’m beginning to feel better about making small talk and avoiding the initial dislike, especially with someone I am unfamiliar with.  However, I just don’t think it would be any fun if the sarcasm were dismissed altogether.

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Vehicular Slaughter

Auto Repair for DummiesI like to think I know a lot of things, but when it comes to cars, I am completely clueless.  I avoid AutoZone or Napa like it’s going to give me the swine flu.  But the one place I absolutely can’t avoid no matter how much I want to is the a place to change my oil.  Whenever I drive up, I feel like I need to pray for inspiration so I don’t come off as a total nincompoop.  However, despite my pleadings from above, I am forced to look like a vehicular idiot as I slaughter the manly language of cars.

“I see that the mileage is such and such.  What kind of oil would you like to use?” the attendant asks me. 

“Um, whichever we used last time,” I reply, “how about The WD-40 one?”

His blank stare tells me that I have totally screwed up and should now go sit in the fish-bowl looking room, ashamed of my lack of auto knowledge, so he can get on with his manly work.  I’m not worthy kind sir, please don’t make fun of me.

Later on, he pokes his head in the room I’m in to “ask me a few questions” about my car.  I can tell that he is going to try to sell me something I might not necessarily need at the moment but am going to buy anyway because the way he says “I can see you haven’t flushed the rear differential girder mortar in quite some time” makes me very concerned that I might not be able to get my car started ever again if I don’t get that particular service.  Hell, he could be telling me anything, but I’m pretty sure that a girder mortar is fairly important.

After he finishes up the service, I eagerly pay for whatever amount he asks and am on my way.  However, for my own safety and protection, he feels he must gently guide me out of the 10-feet wide bay like I’m an airplane.  Because if I don’t know anything about my car, clearly I’m incapable of driving it.  Thanks, Oil Guy.

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