Thursday, October 25, 2012

Kids These Days

While I am squarely in the camp of pragmatic Type A careerists, I have always been quite sympathetic, if not admiring, of those who pursue nobler, loftier goals. I do not look upon people who study the arts and humanities as “basket weavers”.  I do not regard anthropology or feminist studies with scorn. (Well, I admit I look at anthropology majors with suspicion.)  Not everyone should take accounting, I say.
However, I am shocked at how woefully ill-equipped university students are at job applications these days.

When an employer asks for a résumé, cover letter and a copy of your academic transcripts, one would expect the job applicant to send all three documents.  During one round of recruitment at my company, at least one-third of the applicants did not submit all three. One-third. This is what four years of university education gets you, huh?

And even among the other two-thirds of the pool, not a single person submitted a copy of an official transcript. This is when I realized that I have become an old fogey. In my day, you had to request transcripts from the registrar, and it costs you $10 a pop. You would sigh with relief when you see a job ad allowing you to send photocopies; you would grit your teeth when the posting said the transcript had to be sent directly from the registrar to the employer, as that costs extra. Job hunting season meant spending at least $50. 

Today, academic records are online so you can just print them out. The thing is, these are not official transcripts so there are no security features, i.e. watermarks that emerge when you photocopy the real deal. Now I am sure most young graduates today are upstanding citizens who would never think of forging a transcript, especially in this economy. Right…you see my concern. The web transcripts are just a bunch of tables that I can whip up in Microsoft Word in about 15 minutes. (Some applicants, tragically, are clearly honest because the transcripts are full of C’s, D’s and F’s.) Even worse, some graduates submitted “transcripts” that were cut off at the top and sides due to the margin settings of their web browsers, so their names were missing, or certain rows or columns were gone. Four years of university education, huh?

When I asked the person that I eventually hired to get an official transcript, she looked at me with utter bemusement, as though I had asked her to fetch the Dead Sea scrolls or the 1954 census records for Swaziland.

I won’t even get into the typos, mangled grammar, and cringeworthy buzzwords. What is truly surprising is that with one exception, not a single applicant dressed in business attire for the interview. I would think it would be evident that you need to put on a blazer or something business-y when you interview with a law firm.  I used to agonize over whether to go with a pant suit or a skirt combo when job hunting.  Apparently, that is not a question that even registers with today’s job seekers.

Each batch of interviewees brought new revelations. I had pinned high hopes on yesterday’s candidate. She had excellent marks and her cover letter did not reveal any egregious mistakes. Granted, she did not sign her letter (geez, how hard is it to learn how to scan?) but I have resigned myself to lowering my standards for such minor details. Nevertheless, I was a tad disappointed when she arrived late without apologies or explanation. But then, she did something that was truly disconcerting. 

She cradled a Starbucks coffee in her hands for the entire interview.   

Am I being fussy, or is this not a horrendous faux-pas? Are we now so casual that we can bring shopping bags into interviews, perch our sunglasses on our heads and kick back with a latte? And of course, I cannot help but draw the conclusion that her tardiness is somehow linked to the coffee transaction.  Did she saunter into Starbucks minutes before the interview and when the purchase took longer than she expected, did she think "Oh well, being a few minutes late will be fine"?

The sad part is that I am forced to still consider this girl for the job, because the other applications are so dismal. The job is an entry-level position and the pay is low, so I have to keep my expectations realistic. But, really, is this what passes for a university graduate these days?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Pinning up my life of quiet desperation

Reading my last post, I realize I must sound very materialistic. Well, I am unabashedly materialistic, but I don’t think I’m half as bad as most people.  How do I know?  Because I am not an avid Pinterest user.

I keep getting invitations to join the damn site.  My first thoughts were:
1. Pinterest?  What’s next, Ibsenest?*
2. Put up scads of photos of things I covet but can’t have?  How uplifting.
3. How does this thing make money? Oh my, they admit they don’t have a clue. How very…21st century.

Of course eventually I succumbed to the Pinterest hive mind.  You know, I used to read Thoreau and Emerson in my youth, and their essential message is “Make, not buy.”  So I feel a bit unclean.

But then again, when I checked Walden out of the library many years ago, the granola-eating, Birkenstock-wearing university librarian said: “Thoreau, ugh.”

*Seriously, how do you pronounce this name? Is it Pin-ter-est, or is it Pin-tress?

How Do They Do It?

I’m suffering from a bad case of house envy. Well, it’s actually a townhouse, but it’s not the form that matters. It’s the achingly splendid décor that has me drooling.

My friend’s downtown pad (Pad! I make her sound like a swinging bachelor.) is over 1000 square feet.  That should already set hearts here all aflutter – it’s a lot of money.  The construction is newish, and the bathrooms alone made me froth at the mouth.  All frosted glass and uber-modern pieces, they look like something out of a four-star hotel.   

But it’s the furnishings. Paintings, leather-bound books, cool objets d’art, antique cabinets, wall full of African masks. Nothing says "excess cash" like primitive African doo-dads. And the thing is, there’s a lot of it.  I could understand if they splashed out for their living room and the rest of the space was rather ordinary, but from top to bottom it was replete in tasteful stuff.

This would not be surprising if the owners were either old, or one of them is an investment banker. The couple, however, is in their late thirties/early forties; she doesn’t work, and he is in PR. How the hell do they pull it off?  I know they made some money flipping their last house, but surely the townhouse would absorb most of that profit.  And I’m sorry, publicists of the world, but I know 99% of you make hardly a living wage.

Don’t you wish you could just barge up to people and brazenly go “I say, old chap, what is your secret?”

Anyways, besides looking like something out of House & Garden, the place smelled divine. It was some exotic concoction of sandalwood, lily and the blood of trust fund babies. You know it isn’t Glade. I became obsessed with enhancing my own place aromatically. I can’t afford an Eames chair, but perhaps a nice candle would lift me into the chic set.  

Well. It’s a pretty asinine exercise, isn’t it, trying to replicate a scent?  I wasted a morning at Bath Works and Beyond, a store that’s completely over-run with vanilla and cinnamon, the two very scents that I loathe. Crabtree & Evelyn seems to have the same merchandise since 1921 and few candles or fragrance plugs.  The Body Shop has some promising scents that I may return to. But my superego, which is basically Scrooge incarnate, kept threatening to throw me to the wolves.  Spend money on fragrance for a room? Pah! “Well, is Glade really so bad?” I mused. 

In the end, I bought an Air Wick candle.  On sale.  And I already regret it – when lit, it smells exactly like an Air Wick candle on sale.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Saturday, October 13, 2012


Last week was truly one of the worst weeks of my life.  Every day dealt a new blow, including an unexpected reprimand from one of my bosses. He is retiring and I had not made enough of a fuss, so he became snippy. When I came home that day, I just sat there in a glum stupor willing the day to be over and my luck to turn.

There’s been a good sign.  Round one of the property damage battle goes to (ting, ting, ting)…Snivelly!

It’s only the first round. My other boss phoned me and asked if I was OK. I said, “Well, my stomach is a bit more unclenched than before.”  It’s true — I was so stressed that my stomach had been in a knot. I had not realized how this sounded in a literal sense. He thought I had diarrhea.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Legally Inept

Aside from being a middle-aged child, I am legally inept. Being a lawyer, that's kind of a hindrance.

Well, I exaggerate. I'm not inept in the area that I practise in, but I'm a total imbecile in any other areas. That is one of the greatest myth about lawyers: that we are more capable than non-lawyers to argue in any dispute or cope with any kind of legal mess.  Nay nay. In fact, we may be worse off than a layperson, because years of law school and actual practice have frightened the daylights out of us about touching anything outside one's area of expertise. We become aware of all the pitfalls, and none of the strategems.

I am, right now, scared shitless as to how I am going to deal with a property damage dispute in my personal life.  I know that the charges for the property damage have been grossly inflated, on a scale of something like 10x the actual cost. But what can I do about it? All I want to do is to curl up in a corner, and get someone else to deal with it. Preferably my boss, but he's too expensive to hire.

I'm a child, I tell ya.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Middle-Aged Child

It might appear from the disgraceful lack of posts on this blog that I’ve lost my appetite for blogging. Well, partly true, but I’m mostly flummoxed by what direction this blog should take. Lately, blogs have become extremely niche (e.g. blogs about food, investing, or Parisian apartments). Even the personal narrative blogs have become quite thematic, e.g. adventures of “quirky expat”, or “bitter divorced dad”, or “educated call girl”.

(Actually, blogs seem to be on the wane, since our ever-shortening attention span has fostered the rise of Tumblr and Twitter. We can’t be bothered to read more than 144 characters now, it seems. Pity. I so miss 1999-era blogs.)

Anyways, I don’t know if there’s any kind of theme to my life, or if I have a persona. Sad singleton? Cat lady without a cat? Probably. Judging from today’s string of disasters, I would say it’s something like “middle-aged child”.

It’s not funny. I can’t seem to take care of myself. Not in a Courtney Love kind of way, but in a “lacking age-appropriate skills” kind of way. I think if you’re almost 40, you should be able to:
  • cook a dish with more than two ingredients
  • invest your money in a responsible fashion
  • rustle up some kind of social life
  • go to bed when you’re tired
  • buy insurance before catastrophe strikes

I’m negative on all accounts. Some of my friends have children – it boggles my mind.