June 30, 2010

Last fall, my coworkers and I nervously waited for several weeks until our management at GlaxoSmithKline formally announced a large round of layoffs in our department. It wasn’t the first time that we had been faced with such gnawing uncertainty, either. Our division, known internally as R&D IT, had undergone a layoff or restructuring every single fall for five consecutive, cost-cutting years.

The fateful day arrived in mid–November 2009, and I was informed that my full-time job of seven years would indeed come to an end in mid-2010. Meanwhile, the sweeping “simplification” initiative also claimed the jobs of dozens of other employees — some right away, a few like me by the following summer, and many more by the end of 2010.

Despite the perennial threat of layoffs, working at GSK has been a valuable experience. I’ve learned new skills, worked on rewarding projects, and gained many meaningful friendships. And even though a layoff isn’t the way that I wanted to leave GSK, it’s hard to argue with receiving over seven months’ notice. (During the only other layoff of my career in 2002, I received precisely one hour’s notice prior to a mandatory group meeting with Human Resources at 9 a.m., and about 30 of us were escorted out of our Rittenhouse Square offices later that same morning.)

Anyway, I spent most of June completing my remaining work and “transitioning” (as though that’s a real verb) past projects to my colleagues. Before I knew it, my final day as a GSK employee arrived, and I spent most of the morning packing the contents of my cubicle into large plastic tubs.

To my surprise, I was treated to an elaborate Office Space–themed lunch at our beloved Swedeland Fire Company. My good friends presented me with an astounding array of gifts: a “case of the Mondays” (comprised of a blue plastic container stuffed with white pieces of paper that read, “the Mondays”), a box of pet rocks; a pair of suspenders with pieces of flair depicting several inside jokes; an official Office Space kit; a homemade CD of Michael Bolton’s greatest hits; a three-pack of disposable lighters (ostensibly to set our office building on fire, like Milton); a print-out of Office Space quotes from IMDb, and a gag check in the amount of $305,326.13 from the fictional GSK Operational Excellence fund.

And that’s not all. Following our midday meal, my friends handed me a large box containing an old printer — a thrift-store purchase for $1, apparently — and an old metallic baseball bat, then led me to a grassy lot across from the firehouse where we re-enacted the infamous printer-smashing scene from (what else?) Office Space. I have to admit that the attack felt quite cathartic, and the resulting devastation was impressive:

Damn, it feels good to be a gangsta

When I returned to my desk after such a surreal lunch, I discovered that my coworkers left me no fewer than 17 voicemails. Practically everyone at lunch had secretly and individually called my work number using their cell phones, and each one asked me the same question: “Did you receive the memo about using the new cover sheets on your TPS reports?” Naturally.

I work with a bunch of evil geniuses, plain and simple.

After work, we enjoyed a low-key happy hour at Flanigan’s Boathouse in Conshohocken, and I thanked everyone for their kindness and friendship over the years. I’m sure that we’ll get together again soon, and I’ll have plenty to share with them about my post-GSK life. But for now, I’m still savoring one of the best workplace send-offs in recorded history. Thanks to everyone for such a touching and hilarious farewell.

[ No. 579 ]

June 24, 2010

I’ve always been a fan of unusual scoring in sports, and one simply remarkable men’s match at Wimbledon that ended earlier today is impossible to ignore:

  1 2 3 4 5
Nicolas Mahut 4 6 79 63 68
John Isner 6 3 67 77 70

The marathon match lasted for 11 hours, 5 minutes over the course of three days! According to ESPN (emphasis is mine):

The fifth set alone took 8 hours, 11 minutes, surpassing the previous longest match, which took 6 hours, 33 minutes at the 2004 French Open.

Simply amazing! I hope both players are remembered as tireless warriors.

[ No. 578 ]

June 22, 2010

I’ve already posted the following story and photo on Facebook earlier this month, but this picture is such a gem that I simply must document it here on the blog, too.

Our group at work has adopted a tradition of gathering for lunch at the local firehouse to celebrate our coworkers’ birthdays each month, and the festivities usually include a cake from the local Genuardi’s supermarket. According to my friend Rob, his most recent phone call with the bakery department included an exchange that went something like this:

Employee: “What message would you like on the cake?”
Rob: “ ‘Happy birthday.’ ”
Employee: “Anything else?”
Rob: “Just ‘happy birthday.’ ”

Somehow, the employee took the conversation just a bit too literally, and Rob wound up picking up the following cake:

Happy Birthday Just Happy Birthday

We could never have requested something like that on purpose, and it’s easily the funniest cake I’ve ever seen. (My sister Meghan also pointed out that even the balloons are terrible — the lower pink balloon has strings all over it, while the upper yellow one has none and appears to be levitating.)

A few days later, my mom forwarded an e-mail from her coworker about a disturbingly similar order that was placed with the Genuardi’s store in Phoenixville; the resulting cake read, “Thank You Real Big.” (My mom’s theory is that they’re moving the same kid from store to store.)

[ No. 577 ]

June 7, 2010

In the wake of a huge shake-up among late-night TV hosts, I joined my sisters and Joan to see a sold-out live show by Conan O’Brien at the Tower Theater.

After a bizarre comedy/hip-hop opening act by Reggie Watts, Conan triumphantly took the stage wearing a Flyers jersey (a kind salute to their appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals). The lively performance included a video montage of Conan’s pre-tour workout regimen, a giant inflatable bat (said to come from Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell tour), a video featuring the always hilarious Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, a musical performance from Trey Anastasio of Phish, and a completely unexpected cameo by Upper Darby native Tina Fey during a series of absurd Walker, Texas Ranger video clips.

Conan closed out the show on lead guitar with a full backing band on slightly altered versions of “On the Road Again” and “I Will Survive.” And survive he most certainly will — Conan’s new show premieres on TBS on Nov. 8.

For more details, check out the Team Coco blog entry about the Philly show!

[ No. 576 ]

June 3, 2010

TV Guide has its “Cheers & Jeers,” but I have my Rants & Raves:

Rave: I’m still savoring a terrific Memorial Day weekend in Stone Harbor with my parents, sisters, Aunt Mary, and Joan. The weather at the shore in late May often fails to cooperate, but we were treated to abundant sunshine on both Sunday and Monday. Highlights included the reliably delicious baked rigatoni at Marabella’s and ice cream at Springer’s, and we even spotted a beautiful reddish moon rising over the Atlantic from the 88th Street pavilion.

Rant: On Apr. 20, a huge explosion at the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11 people, and over the course of six weeks, the disaster has escalated into the worst oil spill in U.S. history. Worse, BP’s failed attempts to fix the gushing leak are nothing more than feeble, unproven experiments. Perhaps I’m oversimplifying things here, but how could BP run such a huge offshore drilling operation with any disaster-recovery plans in place?

Rave: I’ve been mulling over a handful of entrepreneurial ideas lately, so I was excited to read Rework, a book published by the staff of 37signals, an influential Chicago-based software company. The book was a very fast read, and it’s teeming with common-sense observations and advice about efficient ways of starting and running a small business. And, naturally, most of their recommendations are completely contrary to the absurd practices at most of today’s workplaces. Really inspiring book — it’s time for me to get working.

Rant: I haven’t been interested in the NBA for many years, and I have another reason for my apathy: the Lakers and Celtics seem to face each other in the NBA Finals every single year. And I simply detest both teams; I can’t even bring myself to root for the lesser of those two evils.

Rave: After eight seasons (of which I’ve watched six), I was saddened by the series finale of 24 last week. It wasn’t a perfect show, but I always enjoyed looking forward to seeing Jack Bauer’s adventures every Monday night. Thankfully, the series ended on a high note — and after hearing many bitter complaints about the confusing Lost finale, I definitely chose the right show to follow on a weekly basis.

[ No. 575 ]