Tuesday, March 7th, 2017

We have a great big shiny new parking ramp next to our office building, and we got to park in it for the first time yesterday. The ramp is so new that it’s literally shiny. The cement has that slick new look to it, the floors have a fresh coat of what might be a preservative dope or paint, and all the metal fittings like the stairs and the elevators have the gleam of new steel. And it’s roughly as big as the moon because a whole lot more people will work in the great big shiny new office building that goes along with it.

We have to pay a pretty penny to park in it, although that’s nothing new: we had to pay to park in the surface lot, too, but the fee to part in the ramp is quite a bit higher. We tell ourselves that at least we have the benefit of covered parking now, so maybe that’ll make it worth the added cost. Funnily enough, our assigned parking spot is so far up near the top that My Darling B thought at first we might end up parking in one of the slots that are exposed to the elements, and was working up an indignant huff to complain to the management until I found our slot, just inside the covered area.

Three guys in reflective vests were standing by the gated entry on Monday morning, presumably ready to help in case our key cards didn’t open the gate or some other malfunction kept us from getting in. I heard that others had some trouble but we didn’t, so all they had to do for us was say good morning and wave us through. Three more guys with flags were just inside the main entrance. They didn’t flag us or say good morning, so I couldn’t tell what they were there for. This morning there was just one guy. When I waved my card key at the reader and the gate went up, he said, “Amazing! It worked!” as if he thought there might still be some doubt.

ramped up | 5:44 pm CDT
Category: work
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Saturday, September 10th, 2016

Here’s a random memory that popped into my head as I was taking out the trash:

I used to work with a woman I’ll call Lilly, for the purposes of respecting her privacy. We worked together while I was stationed at RAF Chicksands in central England and, coincidentally, we both went to language school in San Antonio at about the same time. I didn’t know her well, so my impression of her may have been wrong, but she seemed like a rather quiet person with a disposition on the sunny side. I never saw her angry, until one night at Chicksands.

Our jobs at Chix seemed really super-cool at the time, mostly because we weren’t allowed to tell anyone about it. I’m still not allowed to tell you about the details, but there is one aspect of the job that’s important to this story: We banged out a lot of text on teletype machines, which are a kind of electric typewriter. They printed all this text on that old computer paper with the holes along the sides that came out the back of the machine in one long ribbon of paper that never seemed to end.

The text was considered classified material, so after it was no longer needed, the paper had to be destroyed. The military preferred to destroy classified paper by shredding it, and at a station like Chix there was a lot of material to destroy, so they built some impressively huge shredders to do the job. Unfortunately, Chix didn’t have one of these monster shredders. They had a furnace at the back of the building in a dirty, stinking room called the burn room. Nobody wasted a moment’s imagination naming that room because it didn’t deserve it.

At the end of every shift, we collected all the paper in bags, labeled the bags so we knew where they came from, and piled the bags in the burn room. A couple times a week, two or three airmen were given the responsibility of firing up the furnace and burning as much paper as they could, a dirty job made even dirtier because they had to break open every bag and sort the paper from the garbage. It was strictly verboten to put garbage in the burn bags, but people did it anyway, and nothing but paper could go in the furnace, so all that garbage had to be picked out by hand.

I’m pretty sure it was a swing shift or mid shift when I found out how much Lilly hated being on the burn detail. I was sitting at the far end of the aisle I worked in — and let me back up to describe the aisle for you: We worked on what was called the operations floor, an open room filled by rows of tall gray steel cabinets. There was a gap between each cabinet big enough for one of the teletype machines to sit on a shelf. We sat in the aisles between the rows of cabinets, facing the teletypes. Our seats were in an aisle wide enough for us to sit back-to-back with room behind us for one person to walk.

The cabinets were chock-full of electronic equipment that hummed and buzzed and clicked. All that electronic equipment generated a lot of heat, so the room was kept very cold by refrigeration units blowing cold air up through vents in the floor. We wore headphones while we worked, and between the noise coming the headphones, the chatter of the teletype machines, and the rush of air blowing through the ventilation system, it was pretty easy to sneak up on us.

Enter Lilly. Did I mention she was a tall woman? At least as tall as I am, maybe even an inch taller. Dressed in green fatigues, covered in soot, dripping sweat, and face as red with rage as her hair, she seemed to appear in the blink of an eye. One moment we were all concentrating on our work, and the next minute this red-haired fury was in our midst. She held a torn-open burn bag in one hand and bellowed, so we could all hear her: “I AM SICK OF PICKING YOUR GARBAGE OUT OF THE BURN BAGS!” Then she swung the burn bag over her head, smashing it against the floor like the hammer of Thor, where it burst open, scattering paper, orange peels, apple cores, and paper cups dribbling coffee everywhere.

We were caught dead to rights. Written across both sides of the bag was our address and the date it had been sealed up. I don’t recall if that fixed the problem or not, but I will never forget the way Lilly glared at us with disgust before stalking away.

And I never saw her angry again. Maybe she got it all out that one night.

trash talk | 10:42 am CDT
Category: My Glorious Air Force Career
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Sunday, May 22nd, 2016

I got to move to a different desk on Friday morning. Jim retired the middle of last month, and a couple days after he announced it, I asked Susan if anyone else had called dibs on his desk. Jim worked in a smaller cubicle but it had a raised desk top that he could work at while standing. I would much rather stand than sit all day.

When Susan said nobody had asked to switch desks with Jim, I allowed as to how I would like to switch, if it was okay with her. Turned out she was just fine with that. She had to make some arrangements with the IT department to move my computer and my phone, and in the end they messed up the phone move which now won’t happen until some time next week, but Friday morning there was an IT person at my desk when I went in bright and early, and about an hour later I’d finished moving all my files, bound manuals, pen cup, stapler, tape dispener et cetera, and cleaning up after myself.

It turned out to be as good a move as I thought it would. Standing is much better than sitting all day. I’ve been sitting behind a desk for nearly all my life, but for a little more than ten years now I’ve been much less active outside work. The Air Force had ways to motivate me to stay in shape, but after I retired from the military I had to come up with my own ways, and at this I have been sorely lacking.

And I mean sorely. Every evening for the past ten years when I got up from my office chair I felt a little worse than the day before. I could almost feel myself falling apart, but it’s not as if I had nothing to do with it. Sitting all day is bad, no question about that, but after work I would feel so exhausted that when I got home, the temptation to drop into a comfortable chair and sit all night was all but irresistible. I did not resist.

B and I got a membership at a local gym last fall and promised each other that we would go at least once a week at first, working up to twice a week through the winter. We had nothing but the best intentions. We even went to an introductory lesson, in which one of the personal trainers at the gym showed us how to use the machines that concentrated on building up core muscles. I’ve never before been in the presence of any personal fitness instructor who was more disinterested in our physical fitness. Usually they’re such hoo-rah cheerleaders that you can hardly stand them, but this guy excreted lack of enthusiasm from every pore in his body. We never went back, and I think neither one of us ever sincerely intended to go back even though we didn’t cancel our memberships for several months. Guilt is a crazy thing.

About two years ago we started going to yoga classes at the local community center. Yoga is supposed to be about getting your mind, body and spirit in shape. We weren’t necessarily thinking about mind and spirit, but getting out a couple times a week to a little light physical exercise didn’t hurt us at all, and surprisingly enough it relieved a lot of stress I was suffering from. I’d just started my current job at the DMV, investigating fraud, and was having more than a little trouble getting along with my supervisor. Somehow, I don’t know how, the practice of always taking deep, regular breaths eliminates quite a lot of stress from my life.

The poses seem to do me some good, too. I always feel more limber and relaxed after an hour of yoga, but I’d hesitate to call it exercise. The people who are really good at yoga obviously spend a lot of time doing what I would consider real exercise at a gym with weights and treadmills and such, and as I noted already I have issues with motivating myself to go to the gym. But even if the poses do nothing else, they taught me that I’m getting a pot belly because I let my core muscles get flabby. There’s a thickening layer of fat there, too, no denying it, but there’s also no denying that whenever I’m on my feet, I slouch and tend to lean on things because I’m literally out of practice when it comes to standing for any length of time greater than five minutes.

So I’m grateful, and I say this without one iota of sarcasm, to have the opportunity to slave away at my desk while standing. I stood almost all day long. I tried variations by standing on one leg or the other. I stood in tree pose, which is that yoga thing where you put the sole of your foot against the side of your calf and crank your knee around so it sticks out to one side. I did deep-knee bends. I did leg lifts. And occasionally I sat, just to give my knees a rest, which are not happy with my newfound enthusiasm for standing.

There are two downsides to my new location, though: the cubicle is located at the entrance to our section, so I’m the first person anybody sees when they walk in. When Jim worked there, he was answering questions from everyone who wandered in. The other downside is that the cubicle is right across from the break room, so every time someone toasts a couple of Pop Tarts or warms up some curry in the microwave, my stomach growls.

the moves | 7:30 am CDT
Category: daily drivel, office work, work
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Thursday, May 21st, 2015

There are a lot of fun things to do in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Staying overnight at a hotel alongside the highway is not one of them. But this is for work, not play, so I didn’t really expect to have much fun here.

There was a little bit of a problem with the room; I couldn’t get the card key to work. I put the card in the slot, pulled it out and got a red light; the door remained locked. I put the card in and pulled it out more slowly; it still remained locked. I put the card in, left it in a moment, pulled it out slowly; still locked. I put it in backwards. I put it in upside-down. I put it in again and again and again as fast as I could. No joy. Red light all the way.

Since I couldn’t think of anything else that might’ve worked, I gathered up all my bags and made my way back to the check-in desk to tell the manager my woes. She took my card from me and did some electronic jiggery-pokery with it before handing it back, assuring me that it would work now.

It didn’t. I went through all the motions again, fast, slow, upside-down and backwards. I even grabbed the door handle and shook it hard, because why not, before gathering up my bags for another trip to the front desk.

As I was coming down the stairs, I could hear the manager on the phone with somebody. Sounded like there was a problem with double-booking. When I got there, she was doing that key card magic behind the desk. She offered me a card key before I said a word. “You’re not in 204, you’re in 205,” she explained. “Sorry about that.”

205 | 7:10 am CDT
Category: travel, work
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Wednesday, May 6th, 2015

Being on the road again might have been good for Willie Nelson. For me, I’m pretty happy not to be looking forward to five-plus hours in a car today. Just saying.

driven | 6:16 am CDT
Category: daily drivel, work
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Tuesday, May 5th, 2015

I can’t tell you how good it feels to be home again. Okay, that’s not entirely accurate, as I’m about to attempt to tell you exactly that.

I just got back from a business trip of nearly seven hundred miles to the northwest corner of our fair state, and I don’t feel it’s an exaggeration to say it felt like a trip to the moon would have been easier. And then I would be able to say that I’d been to the moon instead of Park Falls, Wisconsin. Not that there’s anything wrong with Park Falls. It’s not as exotic a location as the moon, is all.

I should also point out that, while I get along well with all my co-workers, I would challenge anyone to spend ten hours in a car with their dearest friend and see how long that conversation lasts.

I’m really glad to be home again, where I can sleep in my own bed with my favorite girl, is all I’m saying.

billions and billions | 7:40 pm CDT
Category: commuting, travel, work
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Thursday, April 30th, 2015

Wow! A Great Big Fish!
a great big fish in Hayward, WI
This must be the one that got away.

Just one of the things we saw on a recent business trip to Hayward, Wisconsin.

Great Big Fish | 6:38 am CDT
Category: travel, work
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Saturday, April 25th, 2015

I think I may finally be all caught up on the sleep I lost this week. Actually, I didn’t lose that much sleep. I was on an overnight business trip and we stayed in a hotel that was almost literally curbside to Interstate 43 in Manitowoc. I say “almost literally” because Interstate highways don’t have curbs, but if they did, I would have been sleeping – correction, non-sleeping within spitting distance of the curb. My coworker and traveling buddy got a room on the quiet side of the hotel and wouldn’t switch with me no matter how much I begged him. The turd.

We stopped at a liquor store for a six-pack of beer on the way back to the hotel from dinner, and I think that the two bottles I drank while channel surfing helped me get a solid two hours of sleep after lights off. An eighteen-wheeler downshifting on the exit ramp right outside my window woke me at about twelve-thirty. After offloading some of the beer I drank, I laid in bed mostly wide awake for about an hour, must have dozed off at some point and slept for maybe fifteen or twenty minutes when the next truck coming off the Interstate woke me with a blast from his engine.

I cycled between semi-sleep and wakefulness like that for the rest of the night, with a break at about three o’clock when I just said fuck it and spent about an hour and a half reviewing the paperwork I would have to follow for the audit I was scheduled to perform the next day. That made me just drowsy enough that I thought I might be able to sleep the rest of the night away, but shortly after I turned the lights off, another truck came jackbraking off the Interstate. GodDAMmit!

So when I got home the next day, I was in bed by eight o’clock that evening and I didn’t so much sleep as fall into a vegetative state that I did not rouse myself from until the alarm woke me in the morning. And that was good, but I truly felt that I needed more, especially after we came home following a visit to the gym that evening.

We are not fitness fiends, not by any stretch of the imagination. I like to take walks around the neighborhood and ride my bike around town, but that’s about as physically active as I get. My Darling B gardens, and that’s a physically demanding activity, but only from about May until September or maybe October. We took up yoga last fall so we wouldn’t spend all winter blobbing out on the sofa, surfing the internet for puppy videos.

And we talked about joining a gym, but that’s about all we did until last week when B proclaimed her ardent desire to firm up her muscles, or something. I got on board with that because that’s just the supportive kind of spouse I am. So Thursday night was our first time trying out the 30-minute workout circuit they had set up in the back of the gym, ten weight machines arranged in a semicircle around three rows of boxes. A traffic light on the back wall flashed green to tell you it was time to work out, and red to tell you to switch to the next machine. You were supposed to climb on the boxes between stints at the machines as a sort of rest period.

So off we went! B went first, guided by Luis, the gym’s fitness instructor. We didn’t tell Luis that neither one of us had visited a gym in about ten years. He could look at us and easily tell that we weren’t exactly prime physical specimens, but we probably should have given him that critical bit of information.

The first three machines were leg work. I got through those and thought, Hey, this is pretty easy, probably because I have to walk around on my legs every day. The rest of the machines worked on my back, arms and chest. The only work my arms do every day is lift my hands to a computer keyboard, so by the time I got to the fifth machine I had already changed my mind to, Okay, so maybe this isn’t going to be so easy after all, and by the sixth or seventh machine I was not at all confident that I would be able to make it to the end of the circuit.

My Darling B was doing just as well as I did until she got to the sixth or seventh machine, and then her blood sugar crashed, probably because she hadn’t eaten anything besides a banana at eleven o’clock. Luis took her out of the circuit and made her drink a bottle of Gatorade while I limped toward the finish line. Slept like the dead that night, I can tell you.

Two days later, I still feel like somebody beat me around my shoulders and upper arms with a lead pipe. A yoga class last night helped stretch out my poor tired muscles and I slept the sleep of the just once again, getting out of bed around six-thirty this morning only because Boo wouldn’t stop whining about whatever it is that cats whine about at six-thirty in the morning before they go back to sleep at seven-thirty.

deficit | 4:40 pm CDT
Category: travel, work
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A coworker and I stopped at a Perkins restaurant for lunch on a recent business trip. After we finished our entrees, the waitress took our plates away and asked us if we had saved any room for dessert. I wasn’t interested, but my coworker asked about the cookies he’d seen in the display case on the way in.

“We have a special on those,” the waitress told us. “If you buy three, you get three.”

We looked blankly at each other for a couple seconds, both thinking the same thing: What’s so special about that? If you pay for three, you ought to get three.

Then the nickel dropped. What she meant was that if he bought three, she would give him three more. It was a two-for-one deal.

pay for three | 8:10 am CDT
Category: coworkers, food & drink, restaurants, work
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Saturday, January 17th, 2015

Yesterday, for what I’m pretty sure was the first time ever at the office where I work now, someone stepped up to the middle urinal while I was at the right urinal and someone else was at the left urinal. I’m almost one-hundred percent positive that’s never happened there before. At least, not that I’ve seen. I’ve been working there a little over fourteen months. Maybe the old-timers know different.

This particular building went up in 1964, back when urinals stood four feet tall and were sunk into the floor. More to the point, they were very often planted so close together that, when every one of them was occupied, you rubbed shoulders with the guy beside you. I had to learn early on not to mind getting nudged while peeing. That hardly ever happens in modern buildings, where urinals are spaced far enough apart to put up a steel divider between them.

There’s a gang of three urinals in the men’s room off the elevator lobby, and like the rest of the men on our floor, I’ve always used one of the end urinals. Nobody uses the middle urinal, not even when they go in and find themselves all alone, because what if somebody comes in? And if you go in and find that both end urinals are occupied, you either pass by on your way to the toilets, or you do a one-eighty and go to another floor.

I’m not sure why. My first guess was that most guys think it’s gay, but I’m not sure that figures, when you think about it even a little bit. Most guys stand way too far from the urinal while they’re using it – that’s not my opinion, that’s a fact that a quick scan of the floor will confirm – so I don’t think they’re uncomfortable about putting their junk on public display. But maybe it’s the shoulder-rubbing that they’re uncomfortable with. I’m more than a little uncomfortable with it, to be totally honest. I don’t want to be rubbing shoulders with anyone other than my wife in any situation that isn’t a dire emergency.

My second guess, and this one seems a lot more likely to me, is that the social dynamic of the public bathroom has changed a lot in fifty years. Used to be that guys would gab a lot in the men’s room. Especially so at the urinals, probably because they were packed so close together anyway. If a guy stepped into the vacant spot next to you, he’d say Hi, How Bout Them Packers? Or he’d tell you the latest one he heard about the priest, the rabbi and the pastor, and you’d be expected to tell him the best one you heard that week. Doesn’t happen now. I’m not lamenting it; things change. But you can observe it yourself: Guys don’t talk much in the men’s room any more, least of all at the urinals, where they’re silent as gargoyles. About half of them are plugged into podcasts anyway, so you couldn’t trade jokes with them if you wanted to.

Which is why I was absolutely gobsmacked, and just a little taken aback, frankly, when a guy stepped into the middle urinal yesterday. I almost said something to him. Not about the score of the last Packers game, but something like, Did you even check to see if there’s an open toilet? Because I’m pretty sure he didn’t. And because he had Transgressed the Unwritten Law. It’s not like there are a lot of rules to using the men’s room, but this one has solidified over the years to the point that it’s virtually carved into the tiles above the middle urinal: Thou Shalt Not. Back Away. Do It Now.

And yet, there he was. Guy’s obviously too much of a rebel for unwritten laws. Or he’s from another planet. Didn’t think of that until just now.

middle | 9:49 am CDT
Category: coworkers, daily drivel, Farts & Farting, office work, random idiocy, this modern world, work, yet another rant
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…if one wanted to crush, to annihilate a man utterly, to inflict on him the most terrible of punishments so that the most ferocious murderer would shudder at it and dread it beforehand, one need only give him work of an absolutely, completely useless and irrational character.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The House of the Dead

crush | 9:04 am CDT
Category: Big Book of Quotations, work
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Sunday, December 14th, 2014

I recently went to a meeting with my supervisor, who was busily working up an e-mail or a memo or something as I walked in. “Give me just a minute,” she said, banging away at the keyboard in a most determined way and I answered, “No problem,” and waited while she finished her thought.

When she hit the final full stop and turned from her keyboard, I made an offhand remark like, “Are they keeping you busy much?” She took a deep breath, let it out and said, and I wish I could quote her verbatim but it was something like, “Oh, it’s been one of those days, but I guess none of us has ever had a job that we looked forward to every day,” by which I’m sure she meant only that there are good days and there are bad days, not that she wasn’t happy in her job. But her comment made me perk right up and blurt, “That’s not true!” It was out of my mouth almost before I realized I’d said it.

That stopped her dead in her tracks. She looked puzzled, then asked, “You had a job that you looked forward to every day?” as if she didn’t quite believe it. And then she had to ask, “Well, what was it?”

So I proceeded to tell her about when I was a resource manager, programming the work schedule at a military facility just outside of Denver, Colorado. I know it sounds lethally boring and I wish I could tell you exactly what made it so enjoyable that I looked forward to it every day, but I can’t because I’ve been sworn to secrecy about it, not in the cool I’ll-have-to-kill-you-if-I-tell-you way but in a mundane, we’ll-both-go-to-jail-if-I-tell-you way. Think Edward Snowden instead of James Bond.

But I can tell you that I was part of a small, specialized team of people whose work made it possible for dozens of other people to get their work done. Without our team, everybody else would have been sitting on their hands a lot of the time and billions of dollars worth of hardware would have sat idle. The team I was on found where those idle spots were most likely to be and reassigned the hardware.

It was entirely different work from anything else I had done before that, so I had to learn it from scratch, mostly by sitting next to the inestimable Chad Burlingame for a few weeks as he explained how things worked, talked me through what he was doing, then moved aside to let me sit in his seat and nervously try to mimic what I’d seem him do. I listened carefully as he patiently correct the thousand and one mistakes I made, and eventually he let me do the job on my own, so I must have learned it well enough.

I did that job for three or four years (I forget exactly), and loved it from beginning to end. There were probably a few off days, but I don’t remember them and I never got tired of the job. I would’ve done it for as long as the Air Force let me stay there.

happy in this job | 3:25 pm CDT
Category: coworkers, My Glorious Air Force Career, office work, work
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