Thursday, November 20th, 2014

Thirteen years ago today I was one of the newbies on Misawa Air Base. By this time in November I’d been there a little over ten weeks and I’d gone to more mandatory formations in that time than in the rest of my military service. In the Air Force, we called any meeting a ‘formation.’ Mass formations were held at the base theater because they could cram a lot of us in there, checking the box on a whole lot of forms at one sitting.

They briefed us on everything that happened at Misawa, but they were especially thorough about briefing us on winter. Thorough, as in they talked a lot about it, but the briefing was dumbed down to the point that it was inane. Sitting through it I would think, Do people really have to be told this?

It gets really, really cold in winter. Don’t get frostbite. And we get so much snow here that people have heart attacks shoveling it, so don’t keel over and die while you’re shoveling your sidewalks. Now, in our own special way, let us try to scare you out of doing something stupid by showing you gruesome photos of frostbitten toes and hands that got mangled in snow blowers. Thank-you for your time and don’t forget to sign the attendance roster on the way out or you’ll have to come back and do this all over again tomorrow.

I’m not kidding. They really did make us watch a slide show of hands mangled by snow blowers, projected onto a screen twenty feet high and thirty feet wide, apparently in the belief that even the dopier specimens among us would stop and think about what we were doing the next time a snow blower bogged down. And yet, every year, the clinic supplied the people doing the brief with new photos of some dummy’s hand after he stuck it into a snowblower. So, yeah, people need to be told this.

briefings | 4:20 am CDT
Category: My Glorious Air Force Career
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Friday, August 29th, 2014

One of my coworkers takes great delight in singing less-than-likeable pop songs from the 70’s. The asshole. I’m a live-and-let-live kind of guy, but I could cheerfully curb-stomp anyone who thinks it’s hilarious to resurrect pop songs that should have remained dead and buried. That’s one breach of etiquette that ought to be punishable with at least a bit of ad hoc facial reconstruction.

And by ‘etiquette,’ I’m being purely rhetorical. I certainly don’t mean that my coworker should be asking permission to drag these musical abominations from the grave. If you’re going to politely ask, “Say, do you mind if I sing the chorus to Seasons In The Sun?” you might as well just sing the fucking song, because either way it’s going to play on a loop in my head the rest of the day.

And I’m not talking about mildly annoying songs, or songs that I like in spite of themselves. The kind of songs I’m talking about are vile in their construction, repugnant in their performance, and malicious in the way they infect you. They are musical disease. I’m not kidding. Do you seriously believe Playground In My Mind was recorded for any reason other than to painfully torment you for the rest of your days?

These are the kind of songs that were so long gone that not only had I dared to believe they would never be heard again, I had reached a kind of pop-song Nirvana: I had not thought about them for decades. If only every song by Hall & Oates would vanish so completely. But now there’s this coworker who has to go and dredge them up, one by one, by singing just one or two lines of a chorus, off-key. One pass, and I spend the rest of the afternoon listening to every goddamned saccharine-sweet line, because of course my memory, which can’t be depended on to remember a grocery list with three items on it, can remember every word of every song I heard in the 70s.

dead and buried … and undead | 6:08 am CDT
Category: coworkers, daily drivel, music, work
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Saturday, July 26th, 2014

Just outside the schoolhouse on the Air Force base where I learned how to do all sorts of technical things there was a fenced-in break area with a soda machine and maybe a couple picnic tables. I think we got one break in the morning and one in the afternoon when we would all go bunch up in the break area; those who smoked would smoke as furiously as they could in the ten minutes or so before we had to go back in. Those who didn’t smoke drank soda or just stood around gabbing.

On one particular day we went out there to find a guy loading the soda machine. He was good enough to stop what he was doing and pass out cans of soda to us so we wouldn’t have to miss out before going back to class. As he was passing out the cans he bobbled one of them, and when it hit the ground it must have caught a stone just right because as it rolled across the concrete floor of the break area it sprayed a geyser of brown caramel soda pop into the air each time it rolled over.

I had never seen panic and mayhem in a crowd setting before. Turns out that kids wearing clean blue uniforms will climb over one another to get away from a rogue soda can.

let us spray | 7:03 am CDT
Category: My Glorious Air Force Career
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Wednesday, April 30th, 2014

I’ve been making myself cross-eyed staring at drivers license applications all day long. Or is it driver’s license applications? I feel there should be an apostrophe in there somewhere. Without it, “drivers license applications” is just a long string of nouns. Truly, the phrase should be “applications for the licensure of drivers” because it sounds so much more grand that way and because I’m kind of an officious boogerhead.

Staring at blank drivers license applications all day wouldn’t necessarily make me or anybody else cross-eyed, but examining hundreds of applications day in and day out, looking for mistakes, finding them and then meticulously cataloging them for analysis – that, I can tell you, would make everybody and their mothers lose their minds.

Not only have I been doing that, I’ve also been reviewing the applications that other people have already looked at, to make sure they haven’t missed anything. By actual count, the people in my office have looked at just over 3,900 applications and found mistakes on about half of them, which I have then re-reviewed. My brain hurts. I think it may be permanently damaged.

cross-eyed | 6:04 am CDT
Category: office work, work
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Monday, April 28th, 2014

England memories:

When Tim heard that we were moving into a house on RAF Digby with an upper floor, he asked right away if it had stairs. His eyes lit up like Christmas when I told him it did. “Cool!” he said. I enjoyed his exuberance even though I didn’t fully understand it until the day we moved in. I was downstairs when I heard what sounded like a god’s knuckles dragged along a washboard. Looking for the source of the noise, I found Tim at the top of the stairs on his belly looking down at me. “Watch what I can do!” he commanded before launching himself downward, arms outstretched like Superman, going flup flup flup flup all the way to the bottom. Made my knees hurt just watching (he was using his as brakes).

superman | 8:29 pm CDT
Category: My Glorious Air Force Career, O'Folks, T-Dawg
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Saturday, February 1st, 2014

paper towel dispenserThe management has installed new paper towel dispensers in the restrooms. These are better than the old paper towel dispensers because you don’t have to touch them with your dripping wet hands. There will always be a square of paper toweling hanging from the mouth of the dispenser. If you rip it off, another square will automatically be dispensed. The size of this square has been carefully calculated so it will be precisely the right amount to dry both your hands. Therefore, it is absolutely unnecessary for you to grab a second, third or fourth sheet of paper toweling. So just stop doing that. I mean it. Cut it out. And whoever told you to push the button that makes the dispenser spit out a sheet of toweling three feet long should learn to keep his mouth shut. You’re not supposed to touch the dispenser, remember? That’s why we took out the old dispensers and installed these high-tech dispensers! Use them the way they’re meant to be used, okay? Did you hear me? Keep your hands off them! Stop! Pushing! The! BUTTON!

drier hands through technology | 6:47 am CDT
Category: office work, work
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Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

I’m wracking my brains trying to think of a single thing that happened to me yesterday worth writing up some drivel about, but it’s just not coming. I sat in a classroom all morning while I listened to a guy read power point slides to me, then sat in a classroom all afternoon to watch two people explain how to use the advanced features of a piece of software I’d never learned how to use. By the end of the day I was numb. That’s about all I’ve got.

Oh, and it’s real cold.

Wait! I almost forgot! When we got to the office in the morning it was oddly quiet. I even said something to B about it, like “Why aren’t the air handlers running?” When I walked into the classroom about ten minutes later, it felt like stepping into a meat locker. I stopped, turned and read the temperature on the thermostat by the door: 56 degrees. “No way,” I said out loud.

“Yeah,” the instructor said, “there’s no heat in the building.”

“There’s no heat in the building?” I asked. Because it didn’t seem possible that it could be as warm as 56 if there was no heat in the building. The temperature outside was seven below. But it was true. When I checked my e-mail there was a DMV-everybody message in my inbox explaining that a steam pipe had busted overnight and there was no heat coming in. They got it fixed by about ten o’clock, but it was mighty chilly for a while, especially near the windows where I was sitting.

steam dead | 6:15 am CDT
Category: office work, work
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Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

When I was about seven or eight years old, my dad took me to the open house at K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base in upper Michigan. It’s closed now, but back then the place was buzzing with B-52s, and Dad thought a visit would be pretty cool. It was. I even got to sit in the cockpit of a really big plane, might’ve even been a B-52. It was a different world then.

This story is relevant because I’ve been sitting through an advanced class in how to process applications for driver’s licenses, something I’ve never done but the rest of the people in the class have. The last hour of the class is a practice period, where the other students get to apply the lessons they just learned by logging in to a testing database and processing applications as if they were the real thing. I tried, but after logging in, I couldn’t even figure out how to open a record. They’d showed me all the advanced pieces of the processor, but they hadn’t shown me how to start the thing up. It was exactly as if the pilot of that bomber had sat me down in the cockpit, explained how that and that and that worked, and then said, “You know what? Why don’t you take her out for a spin? I’ll be right here if you have any questions.”

b52 | 6:33 pm CDT
Category: daily drivel, office work, work
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Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

The gal sitting behind me in orientation this morning let out a long, low, steady belch that lasted for several seconds. It was the kind of burp that my father used to release when he was trying to get a reaction out of me, so when she was done I turned to her and, as Dad always complemented me when I ripped a good one, said, “Prosit!”

She appeared startled at first, then embarrassed. “I didn’t think anyone would hear that.”

I had to laugh at that because I’m pretty sure the people on the other side of the room heard it, and then I laughed a little more because burping has never been one of those things I’ve been embarrassed about, and I was more than a little amused that she was. When I burp, I own it. If you’re going to burp, even if you don’t think it’s going to be that loud, you should still own it, too. And that’s my great big philosophical thought for the day.

eructation | 6:55 pm CDT
Category: coworkers, work
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I’ve been banished to New Employee Orientation. Not forever. It just feels like forever. Amazing, really, how you can make time freeze in its tracks by putting any random set of Power Point slide up on a screen and have somebody read them to an audience. Einstein would’ve busted a blood vessel trying to figure out how that fit into his concept of time.

Lucky for me I’m at a table of people who don’t take it too seriously. Yesterday we designed a new license plate (because every single briefing has to have an activity), so we drew a fish swimming under some wavy lines and called that our Save The Great Lakes plate. Our plate wasn’t chosen by the committee to make it to production, but by then we’d moved on to playing with the pipe cleaners, so we weren’t bothered much.

If there’s one thing they should change about New Employee Orientation, it’s the candy. There’s probably way too much candy in the bowl on the tables, and it’s all gone by the end of the day. That means we’re eating it, but I don’t remember eating it, so we’re eating it without realizing we are, which usually happens when there’s a bowl of candy on the table. They should either get rid of the candy, or replace it with nuts or something healthy. Or, if they’re not willing to get rid of the candy, they should put out full-size candy bars, because when you eat one of those little things you always think, That was just a little piece of candy, so I can have another one. And you keep doing that until your stomach tells you you never want to see another piece of candy for as long as you live.

orienting | 5:52 am CDT
Category: office work, work
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Tuesday, January 21st, 2014

Brittney: “Do you know Barb Karpowla?”

Me: “Who? I don’t think I’ve met her.”

Brittney [funny look]: “Barb, your wife. Do you carpool?”

Me: “Oh. Yeah. Uh, I thought you were asking about somebody named Barb Karpowla.”

Brittney [laughing]: “I thought you were making fun of me!”

Barb Karpowla | 8:31 pm CDT
Category: coworkers, daily drivel, office work, random idiocy, work
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Saturday, December 21st, 2013

Well, I’m back from another 500-mile road trip to the frozen north. Not back as in just now. Not even as in just yesterday. I left early Tuesday morning with a couple of coworkers and we were back Wednesday night, so the news is a little stale, I’ll admit, but I’m doing the best I can. What? I don’t see you writing a blog.

One of the things I do as part of my new job is audit other people’s work, meaning I make sure they’re doing everything according to their own procedures. How are you supposed to be doing that? Oh, I see. Okay, are you doing that? You are? Great. See you next year. What a great job, eh?

Right now we’re auditing the field stations, some of them in exotic, faraway places like Hayward and Florence, so we have to do a lot of driving. Actually, most of the job is driving. The part where we’re at the field station, asking questions and counting inventory, usually takes about an hour if it’s a big station, half an hour if it’s one of the small ones. The rest of the time spend on these audits is getting there and getting home.

And this time of year there’s often a snowstorm involved. We had to retreat from Hayward being chased by a storm that dumped snow and sleet all over the Northwest. This last trip to Eau Claire was a little snowy, but not too much. Mostly, it was just cold.

After completing the audit, we drove into town to look for a place to eat. There appeared to be a lot of restaurants along Water Street, so that’s where we headed. When I went to school in Eau Claire thirty years ago, the drinking age was 18 and Water Street was where the students all went to get drunk. There were so many taverns on Water Street that if you tried to pub crawl your way down to the end and then back up again, you’d never make it. Or at least I never would have. The only time I ever came close to trying was one year on Halloween when my brother came for a visit. I think we got all the way to the end, but by then we were pretty drunk and didn’t try to drink our way back.

There seem to be a lot fewer taverns these days; we ate lunch in a pub called Dooley’s. I think it used to be called Camaraderie. I didn’t ask, though, because the waitress was so young that her parents probably hadn’t even met back then. (The Google tells me Dooley’s was built on the spot where the Camaraderie stood until it burned down in 2001. Ch-ch-changes.)

I recognized just a few other landmarks: The shop where I used to buy comic books, the downtown movie theater I used to go to, the dimestore where I bought goldfish to feed to my piranha. I must’ve bought dozens that year. Funny how the lady who ran the pet department never cottoned on to why I came back so often. Hard to believe she would’ve thought I had enough room in my tank for all those goldfish.

By a weird coincidence, we stayed overnight in a hotel across the road from the strip mall where I spent a shameful amount of my time and money trying to beat Tempest, a weirdly abstract video game. To play, you assumed the role of a yellow claw that crawled its way around the rim of a tunnel, blasting away at Xs that crawled up the wall of the tunnel to get you. They moved faster the longer the game went on and their touch was instant death but they were easy to kill. The sparklies were not so easy because they hid behind long spikes that you had to blast down to a stump before you could hit the sparklie. As you got better other foes appeared like the zappers, which tried to electrocute you. If you managed to kill all the Xs, you went whooshing down the tunnel and if you weren’t ready for it, you’d get impaled on one of the spikes left behind by the sparklies. I told you it was weird and abstract. Never did beat it, by the way.

I’ll just mention here that I wasted so much time playing Tempest and pinball games my first semester at school that my GPA was something like 0.0006 and I was put on academic probation. Not that I’m proud of it, kiddies. Do NOT try this yourself. I had to take that report card home and show it to my parents, who were underwriting my first year at school and were not well chuffed by my performance. We had a Very Serious Talk that night. And I’ll just end by noting that I managed a 3.6 GPA the very next semester.

road trip | 8:22 am CDT
Category: travel, work
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