Thursday, March 21st, 2013

“Home?” I asked My Darling B before I put the car in drive to pull away from the curb in front of the office last night.

“No. Alchemy. We’re eating out tonight,” she answered, naming our favorite after-work restaurant.

It was that kind of a day for her, too, then.

alchemy | 5:00 am CST
Category: daily drivel, food & drink, My Darling B, O'Folks, office work, restaurants, work | Tags:
Comments Off on alchemy

Thursday, March 14th, 2013

Becky and John joined us for our weekly night-out at Alchemy. My Darling B works with Becky at the DMV and about a month ago invited her and her husband, John, to join us for dinner at Smokey’s the last time we went there. Ever since then we’ve been trying to get together again. Our calendars finally matched up on this particular Thursday.

It also happened to be a party for the folks at Furthermore Brewing to roll out their new beer, Full Thicket, an IPA that B won’t have anything to do with because hoppy beer, she says, smells like armpits. I tried it and disagreed, but I’m not the sensitive flower she is. Lucking our way into a party for a new beer was good and bad: Good, because, hey, beer. Bad, and only in a very minor way, because the place was packed with beer-drinkers who’d come from all over the map to quaff a hearty brew and talk.

Even though we were closely seated around a very small table, we could hardly hear each other over the din of hundreds of happy people drinking beer. And that’s as it should be, but we gave up and checked out shortly after we finished our dinners, promising to meet there again on a Friday for the fish fry.

Alchemy | 8:05 am CST
Category: beer, entertainment, food & drink, My Darling B, O'Folks, office work, play, restaurants, work | Tags: ,
Comments Off on Alchemy

Wednesday, March 6th, 2013

I stopped at Radio Shack at eight o’clock this evening to pick up some wire and terminal lugs. I was the only guy there; I’m always the only guy there. How does Radio Shack stay in business?

There were two guys behind the counter. They had the radio on loud, playing their favorite tunes. They both said “Hi” to me, then went back to texting their girlfriends on their phones while they let me do my shopping.

I need that job.

dream job | 9:11 pm CST
Category: daily drivel, hobby, play, work | Tags:
Comments Off on dream job

Tuesday, March 5th, 2013

Among the things I will not be doing this morning is shoveling the driveway, even though I set my alarm clock to go bleepity-bleep-bleep a half-hour earlier than usual because the all-knowing National Weather Service said there was supposed to be somewhere between five and twelve inches of snow on the ground this morning. The driveway’s on the ground. So is our car. And when our car is separated from the driveway by twelve inches of snow, it doesn’t take us to work in the morning.

That’s why I gave myself an extra half-hour to shovel it all off this morning. It was a brilliant plan, except that, when I peered blearily out the window at the driveway this morning, there was no more snow on it or the rest of the ground than there was when I went to bed last night. Relieved, I went back to bed, reset my clock and burrowed into the bedcovers, where I laid for five blissful minutes until the cats began to dance on my head.

forecast | 5:30 am CST
Category: Bonkers, Boo, daily drivel, O'Folks, sleeplessness, work | Tags: , , ,
Comments Off on forecast

Monday, March 4th, 2013

Been there, done that.

lines | 7:19 pm CST
Category: daily drivel, entertainment, play, work | Tags:
Comments Off on lines

Thursday, February 14th, 2013

Sorry, I got nothing. It’s been a long week already and I’ve got a lot to do still, and it’s all pretty boring stuff, nothing I’d want to blog about. And cats, but I’m sort of burned out on blogging about the cats.

mea culpa | 6:07 am CST
Category: daily drivel, office work, work | Tags:
Comments Off on mea culpa

Saturday, January 26th, 2013

This was how my Friday began:

I drove My Darling B to work yesterday because we were going to meet some friends of hers at Smoky’s Club on the west side. If I had the car and went back to pick her up after work, it would eliminate a lot of driving back and forth.

Her office is on the west side of town and, at that hour, the beltline is the quickest, easiest way to get there. On Friday morning, though, there was a dusting of new snow all across Madison and, when I came down the on-ramp and merged with traffic, I had the luck to fall in behind a county truck and, just as I pulled up behind him, he dropped his spade and wing plow to clear snow from the on-ramp and he started spreading salt. Of course.

I tried to get out from behind him but couldn’t. He slowed down quite a lot to plow and salt the road, and the oncoming traffic in the other lanes was moving too fast to safely merge with it. Also, I was having a lot of trouble seeing: The spray thrown up behind the truck mixed up with the salt he was laying down, which quickly coated the windshield of the O-Mobile in an opaque, white glaze. I tried the windshield washer but nothing squirted out. Tried it again; still nothing.

It’s the kind of car where the wipers come on when you try to squirt the wiper fluid. Sweeping back and forth across the windshield, they smeared the road spray and salt all over the glass, leaving about three inches at the very bottom for me to peek through. I had to drive the rest of the beltline hunched down in my seat. My head was lower than the top of the steering wheel.

After dropping B off at work I pulled into the first gas station I could find on University Ave, a small Mobil station. There was a rack of one-gallon bottles of wiper fluid right next to the door; I grabbed a gallon on the way in, set it on the counter and dug my wallet out of my pocket. And waited. There was no one at the counter. There didn’t appear to be anyone in the service bay, either. I shuffled around a bit, making noise, but nobody came out of the bathroom or whatever hidey hole they were in. I could have shoplifted the cash register.

I was standing there about five minutes when an older guy came out of a back room behind the service bay. “Can I help you?” Yeah, that’d be nice, thanks.

Back at the car, I popped the hood and filled up the wiper fluid reservoir, started the engine and yanked on the wiper stem. The wipers swept back and forth, but nothing squirted out. I yanked again, because, you know, that fixes it, right? Only it didn’t fix it, and I didn’t have time to figure out what the problem might be. I was already late for work, so I just poured wiper fluid straight from the bottle onto the windshield, then reached inside the car and yanked the on the wiper stem. The wipers swept across the windshield, squeegeeing the wiper fluid off the glass and slopping almost all of it onto my pants. Of course.

This was how my Friday ended:

We’ve driven past Smoky’s Club I don’t know how many times, and every time we drove past, one of us said, “You know, we really have to visit there some time.”

Well, we finally stopped in at Smoky’s yesterday. They were taking part in Madison Magazine’s Restaurant Week, so for the last night we decided to finish off with a steak dinner at Smoky’s. And just to make it as much fun as possible, we met a couple that B knows from work and passed several happy hours swapping stories while we enjoyed dinner and some drinks. So, as bad as the day started, it ended about as well as it could have.

my friday | 7:56 am CST
Category: booze, commuting, daily drivel, festivals, food & drink, Madison Restaurant Week, My Darling B, O'Folks, O'Folks friends, play, restaurants, work
Comments Off on my friday

Wednesday, January 9th, 2013

For years, My Darling B has been She Who Trains Newbies in the DMV office she works in, but that was unofficial. She was good at it, so the powers that be assigned her the task more often than not. When the official job came open recently, she was a shoe-in for it. Even so, she fretted over her resume for weeks, and she dressed up in a skirt and suit jacket for the first time in years when she was called in for an interview. Yesterday, she learned she got the job. She starts next week. Here’s a great big good on ya from the drivelmeister to B for finally being recognized as the best in the bunch!

good on ya | 6:05 am CST
Category: daily drivel, My Darling B, O'Folks, office work, work
Comments Off on good on ya

Thursday, December 20th, 2012

Let me tell you about the woman I almost killed while I was trying to get to work this morning.

Driving to work in the snowstorm we have been experiencing on this fine pre-apocalyptic day was a challenge. The O-Mobile is a fine car, but in anything more than two inches of snow it steers like a cow and can’t find any traction. I hate the idea of shopping for a car so much, however, that we won’t be replacing our trusty steed any time soon. I’ll probably go shopping for tire chains the next time I get the chance and call it done.

I shoveled the driveway first thing in the morning, but realized before I got to the end that the O-Mobile wouldn’t be going anywhere until the city’s snow plows cleared the street. I didn’t even shovel all the way to the street until they came by and did that thing where they pile up a snowbank as high as an elephant’s eye right at the end of all the driveways, then speed away, cackling maniacally. That happened at about a quarter past seven, right after Tim came over to help dig out. All alone, it would’ve taken me at least twenty or even thirty minutes to chip away at that pile of snow, but together we murdered that snowbank in about ten minutes.

After a long, steamy shower to get all the snow-shoveling sweat off me and soothe my aching shoulders, I finished off a cup of coffee and headed out. The roads were a horror story. Our street, freshly plowed, was not so bad, but the main road through town was covered in slush, as were the roads further on. I wasn’t steering the car so much as suggesting which way it should go by ruddering the front wheels in what looked like the direction least likely to result in an accident. The O-Mobile decided to go in that direction or in another, apparently random direction, but the process it used to make that decision remained unknown to me.

This resulted in a more or less safe trip right up to the point I arrived at the office building where I work. The six-lane road it’s on, Washington Avenue, is one of the main traffic arteries right through the middle of the city and had been recently plowed, resulting in the aforementioned elephant-eye-high snowbank across the side street I would have to turn into to get to the parking lot. To get a good look at the street I cruised right past it, driving further down Washington to double back on Johnson, where I got stuck in a snowbank. The irony was not lost on me.

After a good Samaritan helped dig and push the O-Mobile out of the snowbank, I circled around the block and was coming down Washington for a second pass when I saw that someone had already turned into the side street and left two deep grooves in the snow. With some careful maneuvering and a little bit of luck, I thought, I should be able to make this turn if I can manage to get my wheels in those grooves.

Luck seemed to be with me. There were no cars behind me and none beside me, so I had the luxury of swinging the car into the middle lane and setting my speed just where I wanted it so that when, at the critical moment, I began a wide, sweeping turn into the side street, everything looked exactly right. But luck, she is a bitch sometimes. Just as I came to the corner of the building and could see around the snowbank, a woman on a bicycle appeared, riding out of the side street toward Washington in one of the tire tracks I was aiming for!

She jumped off her bike. Whether she was jumping off in reaction to the appearance of a 2005 Toyota Camry suddenly careening in her direction, or because she was tired of trying to pedal through slushy snow, I can’t say. I was kind of focused on trying not to turn her into road kill. Swerving to one side, I ran the O-Mobile into the snowbank. Momentum carried the car through the snow as it fishtailed back and forth, and I sailed past her, up the street and into the parking lot in the space of about five heartbeats. Five resting heartbeats. I squeezed about fifty heartbeats in the same amount of time. How I didn’t have to pick the broken remains of the woman on the bike out of the grille of my car, I can’t explain.

The storm continued pouring down snow all around the city and even got worse as the day went on, so I punched out at noon and made my way home ever so slowly along roads that were freshly-plowed on the Madison side of town. Further around the lake, though, the roads didn’t appear to have been plowed since I drove in four hours earlier. As the O-Mobile wallowed and swam along the slush-covered roads through Schenk’s Corners, another bicyclist appeared through the murk, riding right down the middle of the road. I smooshed him. He was asking for it.

kill death murder horror | 8:33 pm CST
Category: commuting, daily drivel, work | Tags: ,
Comments Off on kill death murder horror

Friday, November 23rd, 2012

I couldn’t wrangle a day off from work today so I had to spend Black Friday at the office. Oh, darn.

Black Friday is the strangest holiday ever; everybody spends all day Thursday gushing about how they’re thankful for the things they have, and then on Friday they trample each other to get more things. I don’t know how that makes sense.

By now you’ve probably worked out that, even if I had managed to take the day off from the office, it’s unlikely that I would have gone shopping. Trampling old ladies sounds crazy enough to give it a try, but I’m not about to camp out all night long in the parking lot at Shopko to do it.

I took Wednesday off instead, brewed another batch of beer, read a few more chapters of the book on my bed stand and washed some clothes. Then I had Thursday off, same as everyone else, and drug my ass back to work this morning where, in the absence of the usual never-ending stream of people knocking at my door, I managed to clean out my in basket.

And now, thank Jah, it’s Friday night and I can relax with a beer and doink around on teh intarwebs, contemplating what I’ll do with the next two days off. Yay, me.

fridayfridayfriday | 5:55 pm CST
Category: beer, daily drivel, entertainment, food & drink, hobby, homebrewing, office work, play, work | Tags:
Comments Off on fridayfridayfriday

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

Ten years ago:

I got a new computer at my desk. This happened in a really weird way. I was using the old computer a couple days ago when I reached across the desk and spilled a Styrofoam cup of hot tea on the keyboard, which stopped it dead. This was not entirely a bad thing, so far as I could see, because the old computer sucked, but unfortunately for me and anybody else who was a mission supe, we had to have that computer to do our work. I had to ask for a new keyboard, which meant that I had to explain why it wasn’t working, and they wrote up a memo for record and all.

Two hours later, another guy brought out the new computer, a sleek, black Dell with all the bells and whistles. Everybody stopped at my desk to oooh and ahhh over it. The lieutenant was so jealous. “Master Sergeant,” he commanded, “I want you to go get another cup of tea and dump it on my keyboard.” His computer sucked, too.

 
I was stationed overseas at Misawa Air Base in northern Japan from 2001 until 2005, where I did a brief stint as a mission superintendent. It’s almost impossible for me to believe that was ten years ago.
 

We had Thanksgiving at a friend’s house. Each family brought a dish or two and made a pot luck out of it. When the meal was ready, we made a long line that kept circulating through the kitchen as people came back to load up for seconds and thirds.

After supper, we got together in the living room to sing karaoke. Summarizing generally, the Americans sucked, but the Japanese were great at it.  The Japanese sergeant they called Chi-chi had a beautiful voice, but he sang only one song, so we mostly had to listen to the Americans butcher pop tunes from the 80s and 90s. 

Sean probably had the most fun of anybody; karaoke is his calling, I think.  He said later that it was the most fun he’s ever had.  Go figure.

 

Thanksgiving | 3:22 pm CST
Category: daily drivel, My Glorious Air Force Career, O'Folks, O'Folks friends, story time, work | Tags:
Comments Off on Thanksgiving

Monday, November 12th, 2012

Wow I hate going to the hardware store twice. I don’t mind going once but that hardly ever happens. I almost always have to go twice. It’s like a physical law of the universe. When I’m working on something that I’ve never worked on before, I have to go get the parts to start working, then I have to go back to get the parts I didn’t know I needed the first time. When I’m working on something I’ve worked on before, I have to go get the stuff I need to start working, then I have to go back to get the stuff I forgot to get the first time, even when I make a list.

Then there was last weekend. All I needed were two slabs of plywood and a pair of already-built racks. I was throwing up some shelves in the basement and they were going to be the most basic shelves ever: Rip the plywood into two-by-four boards for shelves, fasten some cleats on the racks, screw it all together. I already had the screws, and I had lots of scrap wood to use as cleats. That’s it. Done. I was sure there couldn’t possibly be anything in a plan as simple as that to make me go back to the store for something I forgot, or didn’t know I needed. Sure of it. What a dope.

After picking up and putting away all the tools that were scattered across the top of the outfeed table that doubles as a work bench, I grabbed the first slab of plywood and, as I was maneuvering it into position to make the first cut, noticed that in one corner of the slab the plys had come apart, as if they hadn’t been glued together properly. The plan I had for building the shelves was simple, but I needed every square inch of that plywood to make it happen, and I couldn’t use plywood that was de-laminating. I would have to take it back for an exchange. There was no way around it. But first, I had to cuss a lot.

Once I got that out of my system and loaded the plywood into the car, I made a quick list of all the supplies I needed to make another batch of beer later this week. If I was going all the way back out to the far side of town, I might as well. Two quick stops, one at the grocery store and one at Brew & Grow, and I had everything I needed. Brewing beer never seems to require two trips to get more supplies.

Then back to the hardware store. There was just one guy working the returns counter, and the people he was helping at the front of the line were returning about a dozen boxes of ceramic floor tiles and all the cement and grouting they would have needed to lay that flooring. They seemed to be in the process of opening every single box of tiles so the guy behind the counter could scan the price tag of each and every tile. The rest of the seven or eight people in line ahead of me each had just one item to return. On the up side, my piece of plywood was large enough to lean on.

I got to lean on it for only fifteen minutes or so. Thought it was going to be a lot longer than that, but after ten minutes or so passed, the return-counter guy must’ve stopped scanning floor tiles long enough to call for help, because two other people joined him at the counter, cranked up a couple of cash registers and started waving people at the head of the line over to get their returns.

One of the first people that got waved over was a guy pushing a shopping cart with a boxed tool set and a little girl in the rumble seat. When the guy took the box out and set it on the counter, the little girl stood up in the seat to get a better look at what was going on over daddy’s shoulder. She got bored with that pretty quickly, though, so she turned around to see what else was going on, and she liked the view so much that she kept turning around. Then she did a little dance. Then she seemed to want to sit down again, but it was a feint; she jumped up and began to dance again. I could tell who the parents were in the line ahead of me: Their eyes were locked on the little girl and kept almost-stepping forward, wanting to grab her and sit her down so she wouldn’t fall out of that goddamned seat.

The lady at the cash register took one look at the piece of ply I had and said I could go get another piece and bring it back, requiring me to make the trek from the exchange counter in the front corner of the store to the opposite corner in the back of the store, then trek all the way back to the return counter to exchange it. Have I mentioned lately how much I hate the enormous size of the newly-remodeled hardware store?

Once my second trip to the store was over and done with, I could get down to the business of building those shelves. And it was every bit as simple as I had planned it: Rip the plywood into shelves, attach cleats to the racks, screw the shelves in place. Took about an hour and a half, although I took a break for lunch right about in the middle of the project. It would’ve been done before lunch if I hadn’t had to make that second trip.

two trips | 6:00 am CST
Category: ch-ch-changes, Our Humble O'Bode, shopping, work
Comments Off on two trips

Tuesday, September 18th, 2012

We both worked late last night, so we both liked the idea of quick and easy dinner, which lead us to Roman Candle for pizza. That’s it. Ate out again. Roman Candle. Pizza. That’s all I got. Not much else to tell. Oh, I was working late so I could move a bunch of files to a different office, and B was working late because she’s got a project she’s trying to finish before a looming deadline. We were both pretty damned glad to get out of our respective office buildings and into Roman Candle, quaff a cold, delicious beer and wolf down a couple slices of their amazing Supreme pizza pie (half with mushrooms) (my half). Would’ve been nicer if the waiter had remembered to bring an order of garlic bread like we asked, instead of leaving it on the warming table all night, but at least he didn’t charge us for it.

cheese farts | 5:43 am CST
Category: beer, daily drivel, entertainment, food & drink, My Darling B, O'Folks, office work, play, restaurants, work | Tags:
Comments Off on cheese farts

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

Rode my bike to work yesterday. The weather was flawless and perfect in every way, so I had to ride my bike. I would’ve hated myself all day if I hadn’t.

Rode it to work again today. The weather tricked me this time. It was nice this morning, but on the way home I was sweating so hard it looked like cartoon sweating where those golf ball-sized drops go shooting off in all directions.

About halfway home I got a text from My Darling B: “Where are you? Want to meet me at Stalzy’s Deli?” I’d gotten as far as Olbrich Gardens, about five blocks down from Stalzy’s, but a sandwich and a cold beer sounded so good just then that I doubled back right after I texted a great big “YES!” at her.

I can’t recommend the Brooklyn Breakfast enough. (Stalzy’s serves breakfast all day.) And, if you’re a beer-drinker, it goes well with Ale Asylum’s Hopalicious.

Brooklyn Breakfast | 9:45 pm CST
Category: beer, bicycling, commuting, daily drivel, food & drink, hobby, play, restaurants, work | Tags:
Comments Off on Brooklyn Breakfast

Friday, July 20th, 2012

image of reason to drink coffee

The elation of making it to Friday is usually somewhat tempered by the need to find the reserves of energy necessary to get to the end of the day.

Fortunately, there’s coffee.

can’t | 6:16 am CST
Category: office work, work
Comments Off on can’t

Sunday, July 1st, 2012

We slept like babies last night, probably because we’re not used to moving heavy appliances.

For months, we’ve been talking about getting a small, second-hand refrigerator to keep at the bottom of the stairs in the basement for beer, soda pop, fresh fruit and various other sundries that fill up the big fridge in the kitchen. Kept talking about it but never did much until yesterday morning when we decided, more or less on the spur of the moment, to make a detour on the way home from the farmer’s market to stop at an appliance store along the way where we looked at their refrigerators. They had a pretty good small fridge and a second-hand fridge that was really too big, but stopping there got us off our butts, out of the house and looking, so we drove to Sears to see what they had, then to Home Depot.

Sears, of course, has rows and rows of refrigerators, starting with those teeny-tiny fridges you can keep under your desk in your college dorm room, all the way up to a fridge that was literally big enough to stuff a dozen college students into. We’d have to wall off the back half of the dining room just to install it. The upside, though, would be that we would never ever again have a problem with room for food. More reasonably, though, they had a fridge that was just the right size, not too expensive and they had one in the back, ready for us to take it away. We said we’d talk about it and get right back to him.

Home Depot had mostly monster fridges of the kind we already have stuffed into our too-small kitchen. The few smaller fridges they had all looked like cheap foot lockers made in sweat shops. After just fifteen minutes of looking we headed back to Sears.

Sears has a delivery service but a strange way of scheduling deliveries: they call you up the night before and tell you when they can deliver the next day. If you can’t be there waiting for them, they call you again that night to tell you when they can be there the next day, and so on. This could theoretically go on forever. “Forget it, we’ll take it home ourselves,” I told the salesman, then had to figure out how we were going to get it home.

B noticed when we were at Home Depot, just down the road, that they had a utility truck they rented out for twenty bucks, if you could get it back to them in an hour and fifteen minutes. That’s an odd deadline, don’t you think? But we were pretty sure we could get home and back with the fridge in under that. Leaving our car behind, we flew over to Sears where two big guys loaded the fridge into the back of the truck, then flew down Stoughton Road to Monona, pulling into the driveway of Our Humble O’Bode just twenty minutes later. Working very slowly and carefully, My Darling B and I managed to ease the fridge down off the back of the truck onto the driveway. It took a few minutes to figure out how carry it, but once we did we moved it into the garage and left it while we flew back up to Home Depot to drop off the truck. Did it in less than an hour! Score!

On the way back, B suggested that we might want to wait until we could talk Tim into coming over to help us get it down the stairs to the basement, but I poo-pooed the very thought. “It’ll be a lot easier for us to carry after I take all the packing material off it,” I assured her. “We can do it.” And as it turned out, I wasn’t just bullshitting this time. Wrapped in all that styrofoam and plastic it was hard to get a grip on, but much easier to handle after I stripped it naked. Also, this time I made sure I was at the bottom end of the fridge where the compressor and all the heavy machinery was.

The only tricky moves we had to make were getting the fridge around the corner by the back steps, then getting it down the stairs to the basement. In both cases we just took it one step at a time. Slow and steady did the trick. By three o’clock it was plugged in and B was happily loading up baskets with bottles and bags to transfer to the basement fridge. We were both so well-chuffed with ourselves that we had to show it off to Tim as soon as he came over.

The fridge in the kitchen looks so empty now. But I’m sure that won’t last.

frigid | 9:02 am CST
Category: beer, booze, ch-ch-changes, daily drivel, food & drink, My Darling B, O'Folks, Our Humble O'Bode, play, shopping, work
Comments Off on frigid

Thursday, June 14th, 2012

Not sure there was anything going on today worth talking about. Work was the same as always. Biked to work, so that was good. Biked home, too. That was a little buggy. And the Banzo cart was parked in the lot at the East Side Club, so we brought home a couple orders of falafels and wolfed them down. They’re so good, that’s the only way you can eat them: wolfing them down.

ssdd | 9:22 pm CST
Category: bicycling, commuting, daily drivel, food & drink, hobby, play, restaurants, work | Tags:
Comments Off on ssdd

Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

What a gorgeous day! I think I’ll get the bike out of the garage and take a long, slow ride through the early morning coolness as the sun slowly rises until I get to an office building that’s hermetically sealed off from fresh air and sunshine and I’ll sit in a little room for nine hours while I shuffle papers and answer phone calls. Yeah, that sounds like the perfect way to experience this beautiful, beautiful day. I can’t wait to get started!

gorgeous | 5:48 am CST
Category: commuting, daily drivel, work, yet another rant | Tags:
Comments Off on gorgeous

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

I drove in to work today instead of riding my bike. The weather forecast called for high winds this afternoon and evening, and I hate biking against a headwind more than I hate biking through the rain, so I gave it a miss. Still left work at four-thirty, though.

This being Thursday, it’s customary for us to stop at our favorite pub, Alchemy, for dinner, not to mention hoist a beer or two. I don’t know how they manage to fit so much talent into such a little kitchen, but their food has never disappointed either of us, and we’ve eaten out in quite a lot of places in this crazy town. The beer’s never disappointed us, either, come to that.

So on the way to work, I suggested to B that, if it wasn’t pouring down rain when she left the office, she should just plan on meeting me at Alchemy. She was very agreeable to the idea, and it wasn’t raining after work, so I quit promptly at four-thirty and hoofed it on over, Alchemy being just five or six blocks from the office where I work.

The place was pretty quiet when I got there, not unusual as it was still early. Justin was at the bar and came right on over when I sat down to see what I wanted. There was an ESB on tap from Left Hand Brewing out of Longmont, CO, that sounded pretty good, and darned if it wasn’t just what I needed after a very long day of shuffling papers and answering phones.

I was almost halfway to the bottom of my glass by the time B showed up. I’d snagged our usual table by then, so she knew just where to find me. Not that it’s a very big place. Still, don’t want to make it any harder than it has to be.

The special tonight was NY strip sirloin marinated in bourbon, served on mashed potatoes and sour cream, with a side of radishes baked in butter. Doesn’t that make you drool like an idiot? Me, too. We goth ordered it, and we both loved it. To go with hers, B ordered an oatmeal stout and let me have a sip. It was so perfect with the steak that I ordered a glass myself, so we had to stay long enough for me to finish it off. Since we were staying anyway, I finished off our visit with a slice of double chocolate cake. What decadence.

decadence | 8:28 pm CST
Category: beer, commuting, entertainment, food & drink, Guy Night, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, restaurants, work | Tags:
1 Comment | Add a comment

Friday, May 18th, 2012

image of meToday was bike to work week. I biked to work. I biked to work every day this week except Thursday, when I took the car to work only because I had to go to a medical appointment later in the day.


image of meI still didn’t get a t-shirt.

So, nuts to you, bike to work week.


nuts | 8:15 pm CST
Category: bicycling, commuting, daily drivel, entertainment, hobby, play, work
Comments Off on nuts

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

It rained this afternoon. Not all afternoon, just for the fifteen minutes or so right in the middle of my thirty-minute bike ride home. Right. Square. In. The Middle.

I thought I was going to miss the worst of it when I was about halfway home. I could plainly see the storm brewing way out across the lake and thought, “That’s miles away! It’ll never get way over her before I’m home and dry!” Then it came rampaging across the lake, throwing up whitecaps where the winds tore at the water. Because I was pedaling past Olin Park at the time, I had an unobstructed view of the monster. Made me pedal faster. And then faster still. And even faster than before. Pretty soon, I was really hauling ass.

To no avail. It started raining cats and dogs as I reached the north side of Monona. I hid out under the eaves of a shop, hoping the worst of it would blow over. When it looked like it did I made a dash for it, and five minutes later I was slogging through sheets of rain that didn’t let up until I was just a hundred yards or so from my front door.

Fifteen minutes after I peeled out of my sticky clothes, the sun was out and the birdies were singing again. Damn.

middle | 5:42 pm CST
Category: commuting, work
Comments Off on middle

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

The best thing about going to the Wisconsin Film Fest is taking a whole week off to do nothing but sit in darkened theaters watching films, then hanging out in restaurants between films to relax with a glass of wine and share what we liked most about the film, or try to figure out what it was about.

The worst thing about taking a whole week off to go to the Wisconsin Film Fest is returning to work after. *sigh*

I had about 150 e-mail messages waiting for me when I logged in to my computer that took me almost an hour to cruise through, answering the ones that were easy and flagging the ones I’d have to do some work on before I wrote an answer. I’ve still got about two-dozen flagged messages waiting for me.

There were 20 or 30 voice mail messages on my phone, but about a third of them were hangups and five or ten were repeats. I answered them all by the middle of the afternoon, but then I got 30 calls during the day, so I’m not sure whether or not I came out ahead.

And there are piles of files and other paperwork mushrooming all over the top of my desk. Can’t even see the desk, really. The paperwork looks like it’s magically floating beside my computer.

Won’t get to answer many e-mails, voice mails, or finish much of that paperwork today, either. I’m helping one of the other supervisors interview applicants to fill a vacancy in her office.

*heavy sigh*

return | 5:54 am CST
Category: festivals, office work, play, Wisc Film Fest, work
Comments Off on return

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012

Know where I am right now? I’m not at work! It’s the first day of the Wisconsin Film Festival, so My Darling B and I took today and the rest of the week off.

I could have gone to work. I could have spent another day working for The Man before we went to the opening of the film festival this evening. Yah. I can see how that could have been fun, just like I can see how bondage, domination and sado-masochism could be fun. Wait, no. No, I can’t see that. Totally blind to that, sorry.

But I’m not totally blind to movies. I could watch them all day long. In fact, on one or two days of the festival I will be watching movies all day long. I was remarking on this very fact when one of my coworkers asked me about it just the other day. “What do you do, just sit in the dark and watch movies?” she asked.

“Yes, that’s exactly what we do,” I said.

“What, all day? Just sit there? And watch?” Her tone of voice implied that not only couldn’t she understand the concept, she was having a lot of trouble even imagining it.

A friend of hers offered an explanation: “She’d have to sit still for more than five minutes, and you can’t talk in movies.” Another case of likes and dislikes again.

like | 9:07 am CST
Category: coworkers, festivals, play, Wisc Film Fest, work
Comments Off on like

Tuesday, December 27th, 2011

Breakfast: A cup of coffee, and another cup of coffee. And I’m fine with that because I’ve been eating nonstop since last Friday. It’s time to stop. I’ve eaten so much food in the past three days that I’m pretty sure I won’t have to eat again until maybe next week. Oh, wait. My Darling B is cooking a duck this weekend for New Year’s, so I have until Saturday to fast. Better make another pot of coffee.

One of the women I work with was telling me the other day that she used to drink ten pots of coffee a day, and she got a little mad at me when I ran the bullshit flag up the pole. But who wouldn’t? I had to, I really did. So she counted them off on her fingers: She said she drank a pot of coffee at home while she was getting ready for work. I’ve heard a few people say they started their day by drinking a pot of coffee. That seems plausible. Not exactly healthy, but plausible. I wouldn’t do it myself, even though I brew pretty mild coffee. The way my brother brews coffee, a whole pot would kill almost anybody. But if you didn’t do that, I suppose you could drink a whole pot right after getting out of bed.

Then, she said, she started another pot of coffee as soon as she got to work. That was back in the good old days when they used to let people keep coffee makers right on their desks. Just about every desk had a great big ash tray back then, too, with at least one lit cigarette balanced on the edge. She drank the whole pot before her morning break, she said, then started another pot after she came back from her break and drank that off before lunch.

She drank another pot with her lunch. At this point in her story I pictured her with her lips wrapped around the mouth of a beer bong filled with coffee. Would that even work, or would it scald you so bad that no ordinary human being would be able to suck it down? No matter. I wasn’t imagining an ordinary human being. If she had developed a tolerance for that much caffeine, it would probably maker her numb to even the most traumatic injury.

She drank another pot of coffee between lunch and her afternoon break, and on most days she drank another pot of coffee between her afternoon break and quitting time.

“Okay, that’s not ten pots of coffee, that’s really more like seven or eight,” she said, “but I drank a lot of coffee. And then one morning I woke up and I thought about making myself a pot of coffee and I really didn’t want to. And I haven’t drunk coffee since. I don’t know why, but I just couldn’t drink it any more.”

“I know why,” I said. “That was your body telling you that you were gonna die if you kept drinking seven pots of coffee a day!”

pots | 9:03 am CST
Category: coffee, coworkers, food & drink, play, work
Comments Off on pots

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011

I snorfled up a great big bug on the bike ride home today. At least he felt really big. I guess any bug would feel really big when it’s jerking spasmodically, trying to get untangled from the hairs just inside the opening of your left nostril.

Naturally it happened while I was crossing the street, per Hutchinson’s Law: If a situation requires your undivided attention, it will occur simultaneously with a compelling distraction. Nothing more compelling than getting a live animal stuck in an orifice of your body. I tried to use an air hankie to get it out but no joy, so as soon as I got across the street I reached into my pocket for the real hankie I always keep there … until today. The one day I really need a hankie. I wonder if anyone’s coined a law for that situation?

So I used my t-shirt. Not the one I was wearing, but the one in my saddle bag. I blew my nose until it felt like I’d blown my brains out and it still felt like that little bugger was in there. It still feels like he’s in there right now. I suppose he’ll haunt my nose for a few days, or until I forget about the whole thing.

bug | 6:35 pm CST
Category: commuting, work
3 Comments | Add a comment

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

Sometimes during the commute to work we can drive for twenty minutes without saying more that three or four words to each other, and sometimes we can talk non-stop all the way. And sometimes, even though we talk a lot, it all comes down to one or two words. This morning was a two-word morning.

We were motoring up Atwood Avenue, approaching the Barrymore Theater, when a guy in a beat-up old Chevy P.O.C. nosed his car out into the traffic lane, looked right at me and decided that he might be able to squeak out ahead of me, even though I wasn’t any more than fifty feet away going thirty miles an hour. But second thoughts came to nag him even as he was goosing the gas pedal and, as his car jumped out from the intersection he immediately danced over to the brake pedal, stomping it to the floor. His car nosed over as the wheels locked, then rocked back and forth, back and forth.

He tried to appear very cool and collected even though his car was jiggling like Jell-O and My Darling B, who is usually off in a daydream for at least half of the commute, was pointing at him and yelling, “What the hell was that?” Her magic pointing finger can usually freeze even the largest marauding dump truck in its tracks but its magic didn’t work on this derp, and she didn’t quite know how to take it. “You butt-shit!” she yelled at him as we drove away.

I curse a lot at other drivers myself, but I favor old standards like “dickhead” and everybody’s favorite, “asshole,” because, in the excitement of the moment, I’ve rarely had the presence of mind to coin my own. Her inventiveness at this high-stress moment really impressed me.

“Butt-shit?” I asked her.

“I was going to call him butthead,” she explained, chuckling, “but that didn’t seem harsh enough. It’s almost an endearment, really. But I already got most of it out by the time I changed my mind so I tried to think of a better ending.”

And that’s how a new addition to my driving vocabulary was coined.

coined | 9:02 pm CST
Category: commuting, My Darling B, O'Folks, work
Comments Off on coined

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

Driving to work this morning I slowed down for what I thought was a dog in the road. When I got closer I could see that it was a deer, not a dog, and that it was trying to get out of the road but was having a very hard time of it because at least two of its legs were broken. Someone must have hit it only a minute or two before we got there.

I came to a stop in the outside lane and put my flashers on so traffic would divert around us, while B called the police to tell them. During all this, the deer managed to drag itself as far as the gutter but the effort had cost it the last of its strength and it couldn’t get over the curb. It appeared to be having a lot of trouble breathing and was probably all broken up inside.

When B finally got hold of the police they told her that the driver who hit the deer had already called it in. By that time the deer was so absolutely still as to appear to be dead. I didn’t know what else to do. The rush-hour traffic was getting so much heavier that it was becoming dangerous to stay parked in the traffic lane any longer, so we drove on.

Not a great way to start a work week.

deer | 5:49 pm CST
Category: commuting, work
Comments Off on deer

Sunday, May 22nd, 2011

On my emergency trip across the Atlantic during the Thanksgiving weekend I’d had to suffer two broken ATMs to make sure I had no money in my pocket, a lack of places to eat in O’Hare airport except for a tavern serving cold sandwiches, a seat with no floor space next to a guy who liked to talk with his elbows (and it was a pretty boring conversation; all he could say was, “Back off!”); a minor malfunction of the airplane’s control systems requiring a special procedure that was in no way an emergency even though the flight controllers at Heathrow cleared all the other planes from our flight path and reserved an entire runway for us to set down on, and finally an uncomfortable moment at the customs gate as I tried to explain why I had left the country and was trying to get back in without proper leave papers.

But all that was over. At long last, I was back. There was no more welcome sight I could imagine than My Darling B’s glowing face at the baggage claim. After all the weirdness I’d been through, I didn’t even care if my bags showed up on the carousel or not. B greeted me with hugs and kisses and other happiness, then listened as I told her about the non-emergency that delayed our flight while we waited for my suitcases to be vomited up by the stainless steel baggage mangler. We scooped them up the moment they appeared and bolted for the door. The claim area was surprisingly close to the parking garage and B had even managed to snag a spot on the bottom floor. And luckily for me, she agreed to take the wheel for the first leg of the drive out from London. My brains were still woolly from jet lag and sleep deprivation. I never could manage to sleep on a plane, only jerk and snort through periodic dozing that’s a lot of fun to watch when other people do it, but agony when it’s happening to me.

Dusk was falling as we left Heathrow but the airport, urban London and the six-lane M25 motorway were all brightly lit by a tall picket line of sodium lights bathing everything on the road in sepia tones. We turned off the M25 to the M1 and followed it north until we hooked up with the A1, also a well-lit highway. It probably wasn’t until we were in the neighborhood of Alconbury, were we knew the back roads well enough to make a few short cuts along country roads, that I noticed how difficult it became to see the road when B dimmed the headlights.

“Does it look to you as if one of the headlights could be burned out?” I tentatively asked B.

She flicked the lights from bright to dim a couple times. The high beams were fine, but when she switched back and forth it became obvious that the low beam on the driver’s side was out. That whole side of the road disappeared from view each time she flicked the switch.

“How about that?” B said, not at all as amazed as I was that another mechanical gremlin was messing around with me. “It worked fine yesterday.”

And the little bugger was just getting started. As B steered the car through a roundabout, she ran over something in the road. The sharp turn around the island, together with the blind spot she had to deal with while she used the low beam through the busy intersection, made it impossible for her to see whatever the piece of discarded junk was until she was almost on top of it, way too late to avoid it. She swerved in the hopes of maybe straddling it, but a telltale bump-clunk under the car announced she hadn’t quite managed a clean miss.

Right after that, our engine exploded, or sounded like it, anyway. If you’ve never heard a car that’s lost its muffler, that’s exactly what it sounds like. My Darling B looked at me with terror in her eyes. I looked right back at her with “I can’t believe this is happening to me” in my eyes. The roar was so deafening that I leaned over to make sure B would hear me when I shouted, “We lost the muffler!”

“Should we stop?” she shouted back.

“There’s nothing we can do about it,” I answered. “Keep on going!” She didn’t appear to be very happy with that answer, but there really wasn’t anything we could do about it. There was no chance we would find a garage anywhere along our route that would be open at such a late hour, and I would never have dreamed of attempting a roadside repair, which would have required lying on my back in the gravel while trying to fit together the hot exhaust pipes by touch as cars and trucks roared past us on the highway. The only thing to do was grin and bear it, which wasn’t too difficult for me at that point. All I wanted was to get home, pop open a beer, slouch back in a chair and flip the bird at the angry gods when this trip was finally over. No way the gods were going to let me off that easy.

On a stretch of back road that was just a half-hour’s drive from our house we came to a full stop behind a queue of three or four cars waiting at a signal light. Just beyond the light the opposite lane ended and an impressively deep trench took its place, snaking out of sight around a sharp corner. Road crews often dug up stretches of country roads this way and, when they knocked off at the end of the day, they left automatic signal lights standing sentinel over the yawning holes. The light would change in a few minutes and we’d be on our way.

B glanced into her rear-view mirror as a car slowed to a stop behind us, and again as the headlights of the next approaching car appeared in the distance. She didn’t look away from him, though, because he didn’t slow down at all until he was way too close to stop safely. I missed all of this, of course, and she had no time to warn me except to say, “Oh, shit,” as she fumbled for the gearshift.

I perked up. “What?”

She turned around just in time to see the oncoming car swerve into the open lane, the one that was dug up, trying to avoid the line of cars we were in. When he saw the yawning hole ahead of him he swerved back again, and somehow he missed us. The car that had stopped in line behind us left just enough room for his car to slip between our bumpers and, against all odds, he did exactly that. Not only did he manage to not hit us, his car didn’t even give our car a peck on the cheek as it went by, and to make it even more jaw-droppingly amazing, he even missed the car behind us. If you had seen it in a movie, you wouldn’t have believed it.

After making sure that Barb was all right I jumped out to see if I could help. So did almost everybody else waiting in line, and we all stared open-mouthed along the side of the road as the driver climbed out through the window of his overturned car, stood beside it for a moment with his hands on his hips, and looked over the situation wearing an expression that said, “Well, dammit! Now how am I going to get home?” Then he dug his cell phone out of his pocket, dialed a number, and held the phone to his ear as he climbed up the side of the ditch to get to the road.

Our small crowd gathered around, repeatedly asking if he he was okay and watching him to see if he would collapse in a heap, felled by an aortic aneurysm or, at the very lease, nervous exhaustion. He seemed a little shaken but there wasn’t a cut or bruise visible anywhere on him. In between dialing numbers on his cell phone he kept assuring us he was all right, and eventually the crowd broke up and drifted away when it became apparent he wasn’t going to topple over and die.

His cell phone appeared to be giving him quite a bit of trouble, though. “The battery’s going,” he said to no one in particular, sounding a bit lost.

B had joined us in the road by this time. “Here, use mine,” she said, digging her phone out of her purse.

“It’s a long-distance call,” he apologized.

“Don’t worry about it,” she said, then turned and held the car keys out to me. She was looking a lot more shaken than he was. “Would you mind driving home from here?” she asked.

We waited by the side of the road for the driver’s friend to pick him up, making small talk as he chain-smoked. When his friend arrived he thanked us again for the use of our cell phone, then we climbed into our respective cars and drove off, his friend’s car purring quietly, ours rumbling like a dragster. We were less than a thirty-minute drive from home at that point and there was no chance I would fall asleep. I wasn’t even worried about jinxing myself by saying that aloud. At that point, so many other shoes had been dropped that the most outrageous thing I could think of that could have happened to us was, we would get home without another incident. And as crazy as it sounds, that’s just what happened.

heading home #3 | 2:15 pm CST
Category: daily drivel, My Darling B, My Glorious Air Force Career, O'Folks, story time, travel, work | Tags:
Comments Off on heading home #3

Saturday, May 21st, 2011

A transatlantic flight in coach class has to be one of the most miserable ways to travel even under the best of circumstances. I count myself as damn lucky when I can wangle a seat on the aisle so I can hang over the edge a little bit to get some breathing room, and the few times I’ve been given the option of a seat at the very front of the coach section where my knees weren’t pressed against the back of a seat in front of mine, I’ve been as close to happy as I could ever hope to be on a commercial airliner.

But on this particular flight I didn’t find myself in either of those circumstances. I was stuck in the tail of the plane with Mister Pushy McElbows in the aisle seat making sure I stayed plastered up against the inner wall of the fuselage, which curved far enough into the cabin that it ate up most of the floor space under my seat, forcing me to sit crosslegged like a pretzel for twelve hours. I wouldn’t claim it was the very worst of circumstances – certainly somebody out there can come up with a story of a trip that was worse – but I will go so far as to claim that, when the engines began to wind down and my ears clogged up, signaling our descent as we crossed over the coast of the United Kingdom, I heaved a sigh of relief strong enough to muss the hair of people sitting in the first row.

Then the public address system switched on with a hollow pop and the captain made his “Welcome to England” announcement, with a few added comments that made my relief so short-lived it was over before I could finish that sigh.

“Ladies and gentlemen, your attention please, ” he said. “As we begin our descent over the Welsh countryside, I’d like to take ten minutes of your time to inform you of a few special procedures we’ll be using for today’s landing at Heathrow.”

Special procedures? Yes, do go on, please.

“But before I say any more, I want you to know that we are not using these special procedures because of a state of emergency,” he continued, very casually, no emphasis at all on any word. It was almost as if he meant to imply that what he wanted to tell us was all in the way of making time-filling conversation, the way he would if he were pointing out a landmark we happened to be passing: “And if you can look out the left side of the plane you’ll see the Tower Bridge,” or somesuch. Instead, he was talking about special procedures and how they very definitely did not have anything to do with an emergency, or were unusual in any way at all, even though the fact that he even mentioned them was really pretty unusual.

“Shortly after we departed Chicago,” he went on, slowly, casually, “we detected a leak in one of the hydraulic systems. After an exhaustive analysis of the situation we were able to determine that, because the loss of fluid didn’t affect our ability to control plane, we could safely continue our journey.”

Oh. We sprang a leak. In the hydraulic system. But it was a small leak. So tiny that the flight crew, all experienced professionals with thousands of hours of flying time between them, and keenly aware that the lives of three hundred passengers were in their hands, found after reviewing the data that the leak was so insignificant as to make turning back unnecessary. Surely that’s what the captain was saying.

“The leak occurred in the hydraulic system that raises and lowers the main landing gear,” he went on, “and even though all the hydraulic fluid has been drained from the system, we will still be able to extend our landing gear by simply opening the doors that hold them in. The wheels will drop out under their own weight, and we’ll make sure they’re locked into place by rocking the wings just a bit. I’ll try to keep it to a gentle roll.”

Wait – all the hydraulic fluid leaked out? All of it? And the work-around for a jet that pees away all its hydraulic fluid is to let the landing gear fall out of the fuselage and trust that everything will get stuck in the down position? That works? Really?

But wait! There’s more! “The affected hydraulic system is also used to extend the flaps,” the captain went on, “but each one of them has an electric motor, to be used in situations just like this. The electric motors can only extend the flaps, though. After we put them down, we’ll be committed to making a landing because we can’t fly a circle around the airport with the flaps extended. So, to make sure we can land on the very first try, the flight controllers at Heathrow have closed a runway to every approaching plane but ours, and they’ve cleared all traffic from the air corridor we’re going to use on our approach to land.”

Like getting a pass to use the HOV lane on the highway through Chicago, we would have nobody in our way until we got to Heathrow! The pilot would take us straight in and ease us down to a smooth landing. It was almost enough to convince me that, for a no-fuss landing, losing all the hydraulic fluid was the best thing that could have happened to us.

There was just one more thing:

“The loss of this hydraulic system also affected our ability to steer the nose wheel and apply the brakes. After we touch down, we’ll keep on rolling straight ahead until we lose all our momentum and come to a stop, probably somewhere near the end of the runway. It’s miles long, so we’re in no danger of running off the end. A tug will be waiting there to tow us to the terminal.”

This far down the laundry list of broken things on our jumbo jet, adding “no steering” and “no brakes” didn’t make enough of a difference to worry me much.

The wheels came down with the usual bump-clunk and, just as he promised, the pilot did a slow, lazy wing-waggle, rolling the plane first to one side, then to the other. He must have been satisfied that the wheels were locked in place because he flew rock steady and straight as an arrow for miles and miles after that. There was no turbulence that I remember. I could hardly tell we were descending until the flaps whined down into place, causing the plane to nose over a bit.

Touchdown was smooth as silk. The plane’s wheels kissed the concrete so gently and with the tiniest of squeeks that I wasn’t sure when it had happened or even that we were on the ground until the rumble of the tires along the runway confirmed it. And, even after the thrust reversers kicked in, the plane didn’t go through the usual buck and weave it would have if he’d been able to jam on the brakes because, hey, no brakes!

After a long roll-out we came to a gentle stop near the end of the runway, where we added one more glitch to our list: The tug waiting for us had the wrong kind of hitch to pull our particular model 747. We had to hang out there for half an hour or so while a replacement tug was called up and it raced out to drag us off the runway. By that time it was too late to take our plane to its assigned gate. We’d lost our turn and had to be towed to a parking spot far off in a corner of the airfield where we were transferred to buses that converged on our plane to ferry us to the terminal.

They were the kind of buses that rose up on stilts and kissed the door of the plane so we could walk aboard. Each one was standing room only; there were no seats, only those floor-to-ceiling stainless steel poles you find on subway trains. I thought it would be a fairly short trip to the terminal – I could see it out the window – and yet somehow the ride went on forever. Honestly, I can’t remember that I’ve ever been on a bus ride between two places I could always see that lasted so long. And it wasn’t like the driver was taking his time, either. As he ducked through one darkened tunnel after another, arched over bridges and jackknifed around hairpin corners, he seemed to be living a roller-coaster fantasy. When we finally made it to the terminal I noticed I wasn’t the only one in hurry to get out the doors as soon as they opened.

We stepped off the bus into a high-ceilinged waiting area roughly as big as an elementary school gym. A row of chest-high desks, each with a uniformed customs official standing behind it, made a barrier along the far wall between me and the exit. Behind me, passengers were arriving in waves as one bus after another came to the door. And somewhere in Heathrow airport my darling wife was waiting for me – and had been waiting for hours longer than she expected to be.

I could only guess that she had been watching the arrivals board the whole time, only to see my arrival time delayed again and again, but I would have laid odds she would not have known anything about the reasons for my delay. It didn’t seem like the kind of thing they would announce to the crowds waiting to get aboard their long-distance flights. So she would have been sitting there, waiting, checking, sitting some more, checking again, waiting still longer, and on and on ad nauseum. There is no way to sit in an airport doing nothing for hours without getting tired, then desperately bored and finally cranky enough to want to kill somebody. And I would likely be the first person she spoke to.

It seemed vitally important that I call her right away to tell her what happened, to let her know I was off the plane and headed her way, and to arrange for a place to meet. As soon as I stepped off the bus into the customs area I headed straight for a payphone, dialed her number, then stood there counting the people who got off each bus as they came to the door. And holy cheese, there were a lot of people getting off thoses buses! How many people were on that plane, anyway?

Thankfully, she answered my call after just a couple rings. “Where are you?” she asked as soon as I said hi.

“Customs,” I told her, and gave her the short version of the leak and the landing and the wait and the roller coaster ride. “I’ve got to get in line before another bus pulls up,” I warned her, watching the stream of passengers queueing up to have their passports inspected and stamped. After we arranged a place to meet and a hurried good-bye, I sprinted away from the payphone to begin the hour-long snake-dance through the maze of ropes in the center of the room until I finally stood at the front of the line for the next uniformed officer who waved at me.

“Welcome to the U.K.,” he greeted me brightly. “Passport, please?” I slipped it across the desk. “Thank you. You’re on active duty?” he asked, when he saw my military ID sticking out of the centerfold.

“That’s right,” I nodded.

“May I see a copy of your orders, please?” he asked, and I slipped him a copy of my permanent party orders, but when he saw that the date of my assignment was months ago he asked, “You’re on leave, then?”

“Emergency leave, yes.”

“May I see your leave papers?”

“I don’t actually have any leave papers,” I confessed, and quickly tap-danced my way through the tune of trying to arrange emergency leave right before a significant American holiday that most British had never heard of. He seemed to understand my predicament but was unsure what do do about my lack of documentation and called his supervisor over so I could do my tap dance again for him, too. Then they had a short conference in hushed tones during which I tried not to look nervous at all about the fact that they still had my passport, ID and papers and I had no excuse at all for being out of the country without leave papers, other than an airman in the orderly room whose name I couldn’t remember said it would be okay. If I’d been in their shoes, I’m not sure I would have let me in, but for whatever reason they decided I was worth the risk, stamped my passport and sent me on my way.

heading home #2 | 10:29 pm CST
Category: My Darling B, My Glorious Air Force Career, O'Folks, story time, travel, work | Tags:
Comments Off on heading home #2

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

The longest journey ever made in the history of humankind was a trip I took from the small town in Wisconsin where my mother lived to the small town in England where I lived with my family. It wasn’t the longest trip if it were measured in ordinary miles or hours, as most normal trips would be, but I don’t take “normal” trips and have consequently never been able to measure trips that way. For longer than I care to remember, I’ve measured trips using a Bizzare-O-Tron, a clever device of my own invention that registers every coincidence, catastrophe and just plain weird occurrence and calculates a Weirdness Rating between one and eleven. The Bizarre-O-Tron doesn’t have a zero, because that would imply I could take a trip on which nothing untoward would occur, and that simply never happens, so I didn’t even bother with zero. And the meter doesn’t stop at ten because there will, someday, be trip that will bury the needle, and I want to be ready for it. This particular trip came so very close. It could have been weirder only if Steve Martin and John Candy were in every scene.

It started with the timing: Just before the Thanksgiving Day weekend I found out my grandfather had passed away, so I calling around to see what I would have to do to take a few days’ leave to attend the funeral. I was an enlisted man in the Air Force at the time, and under normal circumstances I would report to the orderly room to see the first sergeant, who would give the thumbs-up to the commander, who would sign my leave papers and I’d be on my way. The post I was stationed at, though, was a very small unit, just ten or twelve guys maintaining some equipment out in the boonies. I had to drive an hour and a half just to visit the orderly room to get the ball rolling. This being the Thanksgiving weekend, the orderly room was virtually deserted when I got there. I found one lone airman to help process my papers, and there was no commander, or anybody with any rank at all, to sign them.

“Leave these with me,” the airman said nonchalantly, gathering up the leave forms. “I’ll get the commander to sign them as soon as he comes back, and I’ll forward a copy to you.”

That right there bumped the Bizarre-O-Tron up a notch, which was a faulty reading, now that I think about it. Coiled, robotic arms should have come shooting out both sides and an alarmed voice shouting, “Warning! Warning” was supposed to make me back away and think long and hard about the trapdoor I was about to fall through, but I wasn’t hit by the full impact of this weirdness until later. I guess I was in too much of a hurry. Instead, I only asked, “How am I supposed to travel without leave papers?”

“Just show them your ID when you get back,” he said. “As long as you’re permanent party there’ll be no problem.”

He meant that, because I was stationed in the U.K. the customs agent would let me just waltz in and out of the country by showing him my military ID card, and for some reason I bought that, even though I’d never done it that way before. It seems like such an obvious red flag now, but as I said, I was in a hurry and there was still a lot I had to do.

The trip to the States was mostly benign, probably because of the Thanksgiving weekend rush. My Darling B drove me to Heathrow where I boarded a jumbo jet for a transatlanic flight that went by in a blur. Everybody from the ground up worked feverishly to get passengers through the gate, loaded on to the plane, unloaded and back out the gate. Time passed in the usual mind-numbing way.

The details of the trip back, though – those are burned into my memory forever. For starters, by the time I got through security and into the terminal it was way past supper time and my stomach was growling. With a few hours to go before my flight started boarding, I figured I’d grab a bite in one of the many restaurants in the terminal, but first I had to find an ATM so I could reload my wallet with a few twenties. The first machine I found was broken; probably still reeling from the assault of hundreds of holiday travelers. No problem, I was in O’Hare airport, the largest, sprawlingest airport in the midwest. I should be able to find another machine in no time, right? But no. No matter how many times I walked the length of the terminal, I could find only one other ATM, and it was out of cash. Two machines in a terminal big enough to be its own country. Who thought that was a good idea?

By scrounging through every pocket in my jacket and carry-on bag, I managed to put together just enough loose change to buy a sandwich at one of the few taverns still open. That was another peg up on the Bizzarre-O-Tron. On the one holiday that’s legendary for the huge number of travelers jetting from Atlantic to Pacific and back, in an airport terminal where most of those travelers will find themselves waiting for many, many hours for a connecting flight, there were no restaurants open for dinner, just a couple taverns serving hot sandwiches and other bar food. I guess all the waiters went home for Thanksgiving, too.

My flight went non-stop from Chicago to London Heathrow, a leg that typically lasts a numbingly long twelve hours, so I usually try to snag an aisle seat or, better yet, a place by the bulkhead where I can stretch my legs. No such luck on this trip, though. I got herded so far back into the tail of the plane that the seat they shoehorned me into didn’t have a floor under it. The inner wall of the fuselage curled in under my feet. Honestly. There was just enough room for me to plant my right foot flat on a sliver of level carpeting, but my left foot had to either ride on the curve of the wall, or I could cross it over my knee. Or, I guess, I could have asked the steward to lend me a steak knife from the galley, sawed my left leg off, and stuffed it into the overhead bin. Would’ve been about as comfortable as the other two options.

But the crazy geometry of the seating arrangement became even more awkward when Mister Passive-Aggressive plunked himself in the aisle seat next to me. If you’ve ever flown coach, or ridden a Greyhound bus, you’ve sat beside this guy. Before we even pulled back from the gate he staked his claim on what he thought was his personal space by digging an issue of the Wall Street Journal out of his bag and holding it wide open in front of him, elbows out. There was no doubt in my mind that he stopped at a newsstand in the terminal just before he boarded the plane just so he could buy the biggest newspaper in the pile for this very purpose.

Supper time was more of the same: Fork in one hand, knife in the other, elbows out. When he started sawing pieces off his beef cutlet his arms flapped like a Canadian goose trying to get enough lift for takeoff. And when he wasn’t eating or reading, he had his laptop out and was pounding on the keys with the ferocity of a blacksmith forging a weapon of war. The only notice he took of me from the beginning to the end of the flight was to mutter “Excuse me” each time his elbow jabbed me in the ribs to remind me he was still there.

To this day, that one leg of the trip ranks as the longest transatlantic flight of my life.

heading home #1 | 8:37 am CST
Category: My Glorious Air Force Career, story time, travel, work | Tags:
Comments Off on heading home #1

It was really pleasant waking up this morning, knowing that I didn’t have to get out of bed right away to jump in the shower and start getting ready for work, then getting out of bed anyway and doing whatever the hell I wanted. I made this ordinary weekend into a hyperextended super-weekend by taking off from work today and tomorrow, using the prorated vacation time I earned but couldn’t touch until I finished my probationary period at the office. Bliss!

And I’m putting it to good use so far, by which I mean I’ve spent the past hour reading web comics and looking at silly pictures on the internet while I drink coffee and listen to cocktail-lounge music on Pandora. I’m shooting for total awesomeness this weekend, and nothing’s going to stop me. Don’t even try.

off | 7:10 am CST
Category: coffee, daily drivel, entertainment, food & drink, music, play, vacation, work | Tags:
3 Comments | Add a comment

Friday, April 29th, 2011

Speaking of birth certificates, did I ever tell you that our youngest, T-Dawg, was very nearly born in a forest on the outskirts of Berlin? It’s true. He very nearly was.

We lived in an apartment in Zehlendorf on the southern edge of the city, right next to the Berlin wall, and when I say “right next to,” I mean we were right next to it! Keep going down the street past our apartment about a hundred yards and you were in a wooded park looking through barbed wire across a kill zone at the wall on the eastern side.

The wooded park ran all along that part of the wall, and on the inside of it there was a footpath called Koenigsweg that went from Duppel all the way out to Potsdam, I think. It was a very popular place to go walking just about any time of day, but especially in the evening.

My Darling B and I were expecting Timbers in August. As a matter of fact, when B started having strong, regular contractions on the eve of our anniversary, she was pretty sure he’d be born on the same day we were married, but sometime during the night the little bugger changed his mind. B was sorely disappointed, but she couldn’t convince him to come out that day, not for nothing.

But that afternoon she felt the contractions coming on again. After last night’s false alarm, though, she played them down. “It’s probably nothing again, I’m okay,” she kept saying, even after a contraction was strong enough to make her sit down and suck in a whole lot of air for a few minutes.

This went on for a couple hours, and the contractions didn’t seem to be going away. If anything, they seemed to be getting stronger, but B continued to downplay them. “Really, I’m all right,” she insisted, even while she sat slumped over, her head practically between her knees.

After a couple hours of that, B’s back was killing her. She wanted to try to walk it off, but I didn’t want to get too far from a phone, so I agreed to walk her up and down the street in front of the apartment. While we were out there, though, she wanted to keep walking down to the footpath through the woods. “Are you sure?” I asked her.

“Oh, yeah, I’ll be fine,” she assured me, even while she was still sucking wind. Since I wasn’t the one having contractions, and because she’d just been through a long night of them with no result, I reluctantly took her at her word, and off to the forest we went.

It was slow going. She would shuffle a dozen or so steps with one hand pressed against the small of her back, stop and make a this-is-killing-me face, then double over forward with her hands on her knees and take deep breaths for a minute or two before straightening up again and assuring me, “I’m fine, I’m okay.”

And I’d keep asking her, “Are you sure?”

“Yeah, uh-huh,” she’d say, and for some weird reason I’d believe her.

Shuffle-shuffle-shuffle, this-is-killing-me, huff-huff-huff.

“I’m okay, let’s keep going.”

“Are you sure?”

“Oh yeah, uh-huh.”

Shuffle-shuffle-shuffle, this-is-killing-me, huff-huff-huff.

We did that over and over again until we were about a half-mile down the footpath, which was strangely empty for once. There we were, in the woods, far away from any telephone, and neither one of us knew how to say, “Take me to a hospital, I’m about to have a baby,” in German. Boy, were we stupid.

Shuffle-shuffle-shuffle, this-is-killing-me, huff-huff-huff.

“Uh, I think we’d better get to the hospital.”

“What!”

“Yeah. I think we’d better head back and get to the hospital.”

I don’t know if you’ve ever had to hurry a very pregnant woman to the hospital when the only hurrying she can do is a very slow shuffle. I know she was in a lot of pain just then, but I was primed and ready to literally explode. I have never been so juiced up with adrenaline in my life, yet there was nothing I could do. With that much nervous energy banging on every one of my muscle fibers I should’ve been able to scoop her up in my arms and jump to the hospital in a single bound, but that’s Superman’s gig and I couldn’t get in on it. Talk about frustrating. What good does it do to get such a charge built up if you can’t do anything with it?

I was sure I’d have to deliver my own baby boy myself right there in the road in the middle of the forest, but somehow B found the strength to hold him back until we shuffled all the way to our apartment, where I phoned a friend who gave us a ride to the hospital. Only a little more than an hour after we got there, Tim popped out.

Certified | 3:09 am CST
Category: My Darling B, My Glorious Air Force Career, O'Folks, story time, T-Dawg, work | Tags:
3 Comments | Add a comment

Monday, April 25th, 2011

Thoughts that went through my head at 4:30 a.m. after the cat woke me up from a sound sleep by dancing across the bed several times:

Obviously, the first thought was, Aww, dammit! What time is it? Feeling around the top of my bedside bookstand, my fingers found the flap that covers the bright green clock face, lifted it up and read the time, which led to the next thought:

Angel of God, prithee smite mine cat with thy rod and thy staff, repeatedly, until she pesters me no more, amen. In the absence of any smiting I got out of bed to confirm that the robot feeding dishes were full, because nothing’s going to stop Boo from keeping me awake if she doesn’t have her morning kibble. And a good thing I got up, because the tiny little mind of the robot feeding dish thought it was supposed to feed the cat at five o’clock instead of four, the time I originally programmed it to burp up more food. I gave it a manual burp and made a mental note to figure that one out later.

That done, I went back to bed. Three to five minutes later, Boo came back to bed, too, and sat down heavily right between my shoulder blades. Angel of God …

That was at about four-forty. My clock starts bleeping at five. I don’t know what you’re like, but I can’t get much sleeping done in twenty minutes, so I start thinking about stuff, like:

I wonder if it’s raining this morning? I was thinking of biking to work if it wasn’t raining. There was rain in the forecast, but only in the afternoon or evening. I’m only worried about the morning. If it rains on the way home, no big deal, but if it rains on the way to work, I have to sit in soggy clothes all day. Bleh.

I don’t hear water running through the downspout. It could be frozen. It’s not likely, but this is Wisconsin, after all. The guy who announces the weather on the radio in the mornings is still using the word “snow” in his forecast. I think he’s even enjoying it now. He pauses, just for half a beat, to get the right dramatic effect before he says “snow” and there’s a little frisson of glee in his voice as he says it, usually with an exclamation point, like a little kid looking out the window at Christmas. Most other announcers would say it with dread, but not him.

I could stop at the coffee shop if I rode in. Of all the things on your desk first thing in the morning, Is there anything better than a great big thermos full of steaming coffee? Of course there isn’t, don’t even bother to answer that. How do coffee shops make coffee so chocolaty good? I’ve tried all the recommended ways to make good coffee, grinding whole beans, brewing it with a drip cone, and I still can’t make coffee as deliciously yummy as they can at a coffee shop. I suppose that’s why there are coffee shops.

Random | 6:11 am CST
Category: Boo, coffee, commuting, daily drivel, food & drink, O'Folks, play, sleeplessness, work
Comments Off on Random

Saturday, April 16th, 2011

I drove a little Datsun coupe while I was stationed in the United Kingdom. I didn’t intend to get a car but, when I got the chance to move out of the dorms after living there a year I took it, and I would have to buy a car to commute. Riding the bus wasn’t an option; the base was way out in the countryside and the bus ran by it infrequently. So I found my little Datsun at a garage just down the road and paid about $750 for it.

They say you get what you pay for, but that little Datsun was worth way more than $750. I drove it all over England, and the guy I sold it to drove it even more. It never gave me any trouble at all, except for one night on the commute either to or from work, I’m not sure. It was late at night, that I can remember for sure. I was tooling down the road at fifty or sixty miles per, and even with loud music coming out of the cassette player I heard a bang! under the hood. That, and the fact that every warning light on the dashboard lit up made me quickly take the car out of gear and coast to a stop alongside the road. I even managed to make it as far as the intersection with a side road so I could pull off the main road a bit.

When the car came to a stop, smoke came billowing out from under the hood and around the fenders, not a good sign at all. I jumped out and waited a minute or two for the car to burst into flame, but when it didn’t I walked slowly around the front and popped the hood. The smoke turned out to be steam hissing from gashes slashed into the back of the radiator when the fan blades cut into it. When I had more light in the morning I could see that a bearing in the water pump had failed spectacularly, giving the fan enough of a wobble that the ends of the blades could chomp pieces out of the radiator big enough to spray coolant all over the engine block.

I couldn’t drive it without any coolant in the engine, so I had to either call a tow truck to have it taken back to a garage, or try to fix it myself by the side of the road. It seems outrageous to me now that I decided to fix it myself. I had a simple tool kit in the car and a bare minimum of experience fixing cars. At one point, after unbolting the water pump from the engine, I resorted to whacking it with a brick I found by the side of the road when it wouldn’t come unstuck any other way. My tool kit didn’t include a hammer, for some reason. I guess I didn’t think I’d be needing a hammer to work on a car. Why would I, right? Well, here’s why.

I bought a new water pump in town because I had to, but I found a garage that would patch up the radiator on the cheap, a stroke of luck except when I went back to pick it up it no longer had a radiator cap. Jumping off the bus at the edge of town, I walked through the front door of the auto parts store with a radiator under one arm. When the guy behind the counter looked up at me and asked, “How can I help you?” I couldn’t stop myself from holding up the radiator and asking, “Have you got a Datsun that would fit this radiator?” He didn’t think that was funny at all. I think I had to apologize to him before asking help to find a cap.

Back out on the B-road now with a patched radiator and a new water pump, I set to work with only the fuzziest idea how to fix this thing. The mechanic at the garage helped me out a bit: He made sure I had a clean gasket for the pump and a tube of sealant for the gasket, and gave me a big plastic jug full of water to pour into the radiator in the somewhat unlikely event that I should be able to patch the thing together and get it going again.

But you know what? I did it. the water pump was bolted to the engine in just three places. I was very careful to clean off all the gunk, slather lots of sealant on the gasket and turn the bolts tight but not too tight. The radiator was easy to mount and even easier to connect to the hoses. The fan blades were nicked up but still in good shape. After it was all put back together and the radiator was filled up, I took a deep breath and started the engine, ready to shut it town the minute it didn’t sound right or I saw smoke or steam or anything go wrong.

Nothing went wrong. It purred like a kitten and kept on purring. I drove back, stopping off at the garage to drop off the water jug and have the mechanic look over my handiwork, but he found nothing to fault me on, and that little Datsun and I traveled all over England in the year ahead without another hitch. Well, except for one, but that was pretty minor, an oil cap that popped off in the middle of a long trip to York and let the engine burp oil up all over itself. Makes lots of smoke, does no real damage. Not to the car, anyway. Sure frazzled my nerves, though.

Wait, two. Yeah. Just two. But that’s another story.

My Little Datsun | 5:33 pm CST
Category: My Glorious Air Force Career, O'Folks, story time, The O-Mobile, travel, work | Tags:
1 Comment | Add a comment

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

Every so often I like to reach for a volume of the printed-out version of this drivel that I keep on a bookshelf over my desk and flip back to see what I was doing on today’s date five, ten, fifteen years ago. Sometimes it’s worth a laugh, sometimes I gain a little perspective, sometimes it’s just drivel and I don’t get anything out of it at all.

Come along with me, why don’t you, on today’s journey into my past:

Five years ago I was babbling about the virtues of my Volkswagen bug, so that hasn’t changed:

“I would definitely call my battleship the Crushasaurus,” T informed me the other day. He wants a battleship of his very own, at least as much as he wants a car and probably more so, and he’s monumentally bummed nobody makes them any more. It’s sort of the same way I feel about the Volkswagen Beetle, except that his desires work on a much grander scale; money’s no object.

Those new ones are cute, but they’re not the same as the trusty old cans that Volkswagen used to be most well-known for. I was the owner of three different vans, myself, but I bought a bug to drive to work when we returned to the States from Germany, married just three years and so poor we only had one ‘o’ to spell it with. The front fenders were rusting off and the engine hatch was stove-in from when the car had been rear-ended, so the owner let me have it for four hundred bucks.

The gate guard at Buckley air base shook his head when he saw it and told me, “I thought I had the junkiest vee-double-you in the state, but yours beats mine, hands-down!”

It may have been a rolling junk heap, but that bug made it through the worst snow storms Colorado could throw at me. One morning after work, after the snow plows had done their darndest to block all the side roads, I gunned the engine and the beetle nosed up and over every single drift; it was so short from front to back that it never hung up on a snowbank, just tipped right over and kept on going, easily sailing over the deep snow on the unplowed back streets like a skiff over the surface of a calm lake. It was almost magical.

Tim still remembers it as “the blue bug.” He was all of two or three years old and used to ride in a second-hand child seat in the back, but he can easily describe all the goofy rubber monster heads a previous owner had installed over the knobs on the dashboard, and the fossil I found tucked behind an armrest, so he must have been at least as taken with it as I was. Kids love go-karts, and a bug is like the best go-cart ever made. Too bad our roads are just too fast and our cars too big for them any more.

Ten years ago I didn’t have a blog. Instead, I sent an e-mail to a list of about two-dozen people. On this day in 2001 I used it to inform everyone I knew that we would be leaving Digby, England to transfer to Misawa, Japan:

To all relatives and ships at sea:

I’ve been assigned to the 301st Intel Squadron at Misawa, Japan, to report no later than October. Just thought you’d want to know. This finally unties the knot that got all tangled up last October when I tried to start the assignment process by volunteering for a slot at a station in Yorkshire. That got yanked from me almost immediately and I’ve been traveling down one blind alley after another ever since. I was about to start this week a poke and a jab at another sleeping giant, asking for help, when my commander called me to tell me that my rip had just come in. It’s not chisled in stone, but it’s closer than I’ve been in a while. Now we get to start the fun of sorting through all our stuff to find out what we keep, what we sell, and what we just plain trash, working toward the day that it all goes into great big boxes so the movers can bash it into little pieces. Moving is so much fun.

And fifteen years ago I was so wound up about some car trouble that I went on and on forever about it. The car was a Dodge Colt. I remember that, when we took it for a test drive, B didn’t like it. I did and bought it anyway. This was before I knew she was usually right and I should always listen to her:

I’m in a mood, so let’s cut to the chase: car problems suck. They don’t get better, they get worse. You can throw piles & piles of money at your car, but if the car sucks, it only continues to suck, and if your car’s pretty good, it still sucks, but it doesn’t suck as much as a car that sucks a lot. Sucking sucky suck-suck cars. Christ, I hate car problems.

So I already ran down what sucked about the last problem: it wouldn’t run because of a busted wire and a bad sensor in the fuel injection system, but of course it waited until I was two friggin blocks from the shop to stop working altogether, so not only did the shop charge me a pound of flesh, but I had to tow it two friggin sucky blocks and friggin pay the sucking tow friggin truck. Then, to add insult to injury to another injury, or something like that, the mech who got the car running again found a leak in the transmission casing – the “nosecone,” he called it. My transmission has a “nosecone.” It was the mech’s opinion that, when the guys at the other garage installed the rebuilt engine, they shoved the transmission’s nosecone about an inch forward so that it rubbed against the chassis hard enough and long enough to drill a hole or crack it or do something that leaked transmission fluid all over the garage floor. Now my car needs a new nosecone.

In other news, I took my tech test this morning, so that’s over with. I can’t reveal the actual test questions to you, because it’s punishable by having your toes cut off, but a question that could’ve been on the test might’ve sounded like this: “How many total steps are there on the north side of the headquarters building on Randolph AFB, Texas?” The questions were about that trivial. I’m so glad my career hangs on questions like that.

Well, there you go. A reminiscence, a major life change, and a lot of bitching about car trouble. It’s a pretty mixed bag and I’m not sure it showed me anything except tempus fugit with a vengeance.

Time Flies Like An Arrow | 5:30 am CST
Category: My Glorious Air Force Career, O'Folks, story time, T-Dawg, The O-Mobile, work | Tags: ,
Comments Off on Time Flies Like An Arrow

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

My favorite language school story:

As you may or may not know, I learned to speak, read and write Russian at the hands of some pretty ruthless teachers hired by the military to make me learn it or die trying. Or maybe it’s not entirely fair to call them “ruthless.” My teachers were pretty wonderful. I still remember Mister and Missus Makarovski with a fondness so warm that it would melt the ice sheet covering Greenland. But they had just fifty-four weeks to teach us a language most of us had never seen before except maybe in comic strips, so they had to improvise some pretty drastic weeding techniques. After twenty weeks or so the size of our class was cut almost in half, but that was about par for every class. And all that is way too much explanation as to why I used the word “ruthless,” but I felt I had to. Okay, that’s done.

By the time we were settled in and learning how to actually read and write so that we understood it, we had a routine, and part of that routine was the weekly quiz. Thursday or Friday was quiz day, I can’t remember which. Probably Thursday, so we could get the results before the weekend left us hanging. So let’s say that every Monday we started a new chapter with forty or fifty new words to add to our vocabulary, Tuesday and Wednesday were the days that we practiced using the new words and grammar rules, Thursday was quiz day and Friday was our day to depressurize. Maybe I’ll tell some stories about depressurizing later, but I doubt it.

On the particular quiz day that my favorite language school story takes place, one of the questions was obviously supposed to make use of the words that translated as “member of government,” which in Russian would be – if memory serves – “chlen gosudarstva.” These quizzes were all fill-in-the-blanks, and on this particular quiz the first blank was very long and the second blank was very short, instead of a very short blank followed by a very long blank, if the answer was what I thought it ought to be. Odd.

We had practiced the phrase many times in class, so I knew it should be “chlen gosudarstva,” but it wasn’t unusual for them to do something unusual in a quiz to zing us, and I was feeling especially inventive that day, so instead I rendered the phrase as “gosudarstvenny chlen,” which I thought would be a perfectly acceptable way of saying, “governmental member.”

Which it most certainly was not. When Missus M returned the quizzes to us later that afternoon everybody got lots of kudos and good-on-yas – except me! She made a special point of stopping when she got to me, then glaring icily as she slapped my quiz on my desk. “Dayfit!” she snapped my name out in the Slavic manner I normally adored, “why do you write this on your quiz?”

I glanced down at the paper and saw that she had circled “gosudarstvenny chlen” several times in red pen.

I looked helplessly back up at her. “It’s not right?”

“Of course it’s not right! Why do you talk like this?” And then she stalked back to her desk huffily, not waiting for my answer. Nobody else knew exactly what was wrong, but they knew I was in truh-bull!

Later that day, Mister M came in for the hour or two when he taught a lesson we normally really liked because we usually learned a dirty word or joke or something like that. He wanted to go over the results of the test almost right away, and in particular the results of my test: “Mister O,” he began, “why do you write on your test the words ‘government prick?’”

I raised my eyebrows and shot back, “I beg your pardon?”

“‘Gosudarstvenny chlen’ means ‘government prick.’ You didn’t know?”

*sound of nickel dropping* Ah!

Dickishness | 7:50 pm CST
Category: My Glorious Air Force Career, story time, work
Comments Off on Dickishness

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

A story about patience and civility:

While I was living in Bedford, England, about a million years ago, I used to take the train to London just about every chance I got and wander around because, you know, cool! Why wouldn’t I, right? I mean, when was I ever going to get the chance to go to London again? So that’s what I did. And it was dead simple because a major train line ran through Bedford, and the train station was about a fifteen-minute walk from my apartment.

But one day I took the train from Hitchin instead. I don’t remember why. Maybe I missed the last train of the morning commuter rush and I didn’t want to wait for the next one. In any case, I hopped into my little Datsun coupe and drove down to Hitchin, parked in the lot, rode the train down and spent all day wandering in and out of record stores, second-hand clothing shops, probably watched a movie, I don’t know what all. I didn’t come back until very late in the evening, well after dark.

One of the tricks my Datsun coupe could do that made me very proud was get into parking spots so tight that watching me do it would make your eyes cross. The parking lot at the Hitchin train station was full of cars but I’d managed to find one little sliver of space left in a corner and very smugly wedged my Datsun into it. As I was walking back to my car late that evening I noticed what appeared to be a young lady in a business suit sitting on the hood of my car, and I was going to be very cross with her until I got close enough to realize that she was sitting on the hood to her car, which was parked into the corner by my car.

She didn’t tear into me, didn’t scream about how long she’d been waiting, didn’t say a single word until I unlocked the door of my car, whereupon she slid down off the hood of her car and, before turning away, asked me ever so politely, “In future, would you mind not parking so close?”

“Sure,” I answered her, “sorry about that.”

“’S all right,” she said, got into her car, and waited for me to back out of her way. I waited until she was well down the road before I put my car in drive.

In Future | 7:09 pm CST
Category: My Glorious Air Force Career, O'Folks, story time, The O-Mobile, work | Tags:
Comments Off on In Future

Friday, December 31st, 2010

Today’s New Year’s Eve so we get the day off because we’re state workers. It’s one of the benefits that are showered on us like confetti at a hero’s ticker-tape parade. I can’t wait to see how that’s going to change. Watch this space.

But for now, we’re enjoying the day off: Sleeping in a bit, then sitting on the sofa for as long as we damn well want to while we drink our coffee and try to wake up. When we felt we could finally communicate in something more complex than grunts, we threw on some clothes, piled into the car and went into town for breakfast at Lazy Jane’s. My Darling B ordered something called a Chipotle Chili Omelet, which she mistakenly thought was a regular omelet with chipotle chiles, but no. It’s an egg folded over a mountainous helping of chili, more than she could eat in a day under any circumstances. She hardly made a dent in it.

I had a waffle garnished with bananas and walnuts and smothered in syrup. If there’s a better way to start the day, I can’t think of it right now.

We made a quick detour to Mad Cat before swinging back. Boo’s favorite cat toy, a wand with a little poof of feathers on the end, was pretty much worn out. All that was left of the feathers was a little furry stump and one very thin, tired-looking pin feather, so I got her a new one. There are so many feathers I thought it might scare her, but she was very excited to chase the new one even though I woke her out of a sound sleep with it, which is not something I would normally ever do if I could help it. Think of someone you know who’s “not a morning person” and then imagine waking that person up suddenly and rudely, say by throwing the contents of a well-chilled chamber pot in her face, and you’re getting an idea of the kind of “morning person” the Boo can be.

While My Darling B was gathering up the fixings for a shellfish chowder dinner and our New Year’s Eve noshies, I strolled up the street to Star Liquor to ask Adam to recommend a bottle of bubbly that would go with the chowder. He fixed me up right quick and I grabbed a six-pack of Moon Man from New Glarus to go with the popcorn and movies we were planning on watching as we passed the hours until midnight, should we somehow be able to stay up that late.

Then it was on to Batch Bakehouse. They’re closing up for almost two weeks to go on vacation, so we wanted to see what we could pick up from their showcase. Not much, as it turned out. They were being mobbed by a steady stream of people who had the same idea we had, and the showcase was almost cleaned out by the time we made our way to the front of the line. We scored some cookies, a wedge of apple cake and a small loaf of wheat bread, then tried to make our way through the crowd out the door before the ones in the back realized they weren’t going to get any goodies.

Just two more stops after that, at Bongo Video! and the Monona Public Library to pick up a selection DVDs, so many that we’ll almost certainly never get to watch them all, but at least enough that we’ll all be able to agree on something. Movies, noshies, booze and food – I think we’re ready to make it to the New Year!

New Year’s Eve | 2:14 pm CST
Category: beer, Boo, booze, daily drivel, entertainment, food & drink, movies, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, restaurants, television, vacation, work | Tags: ,
Comments Off on New Year’s Eve

Sunday, December 5th, 2010

Grant Barrett started off this morning’s episode of A Way With Words with a tribute to train conductors and the singsong way they rounded up passengers lingering on the platform by calling out the names of the stops along the way, something like, “Anaheim, Azusa, and Cu-ca-monga!” wrapping it up with the still-familiar, “bo-AAAAHHHd!” Grant likened the exaggerated pronunciation their speech to the wordplay of voice caricaturist Mel Blanc.

(This was a replay of a show broadcast on November 9, 2009, so you won’t see it on the home page of the show’s web site, but I found it in the discussion forums.)

Cohost Martha Barnette gave a similar example of a train conductor in New York State reeling off the names, “OSS in ing, poh KIPP see,” and so on with the New York twang I love so much, and they both gushed over the elision of “all aboard” into a single-syllable “BOAR!”

I don’t believe I’ve ever heard a train conductor do this, except in movies. I was, however, once on a train waiting to leave London from Saint Pancras Station when a teenager opened the door to the compartment, stuck his head in and asked me, in his best clipped Cockney, “ask USE me mite, duh CYST rain GOAT uh PUTT uh SPA?” The translation circuits in my brain came to within milliseconds of a truly spectacular blowout before the nickel dropped and I realized he’d asked me if the train stopped at Potter’s Bar, a town along the route.

The only other thing I can compare this with is calling out commands to march troops in formation, something I’ve been trained to do by a professional, believe it or not. It’s supposed to be a bonding experience for airmen in leadership school, but to me it was mostly a glaring reminder of my limitations. As much as I loved to do it, I never could quite get the hang of it.

We were to divide commands into two distinctly separate portions: A preparatory command, and a command of execution. The preparatory command was the verbal wake-up that warned the airmen that we were about to order them to do something. The command of execution told them when to do it.

To make each command as easy to recognize as possible, we were to make them as different from each other as we could. The most common way to do this was to boil each word down to a single, explosive syllable.

A formation of airman is called a flight, and to call them to attention we were supposed to shout, “FLIGHT!” This was both a preparatory command and a command of execution wrapped up in one word, like “At ease.” We barked it out, and a split-second later the airmen did it without any further prompting.

But we were given to understand that correctly pronouncing the word flight or any other word as a command was really very uncool. The closest I could get to the sound that came out of our instructor’s mouth was something like, “FLYeee!” I say it was closest because he didn’t like the way I did it, demonstrating several times. He very definitely didn’t want me to pronounce the “T” on the end, and he seemed to be lengthening the vowel sound while keeping it in the back of his throat, but no matter how many times I tried to imitate his example, I never got it to sound the way he said it should. Eventually I gave up and just shouted, “FLIGHT!” It may not have been right, but it was certainly distinctive, because nobody else was saying it that way.

To get them moving, we commanded, “Forward, march!” Barking it out in single syllables, the preparatory command, forward, reduced it to something that resembled “foe-ODD!” And the command of execution ended up somewhere between “HARCH” and “HOTCH.” Getting it exactly right was really an art. Some guys could affect a very cool, Chuck Yaegerish drawl that sounded just like sergeants in the movies. The rest of us had to make do with a clunky imitation. Even a simple cadence, the “hut, too, tree, far.” we were all familiar with, was quite a trick to pull off well.

I suspect it’s the same with railroad conductors. There are probably some who make it look and sound so easy, and there are quite a few who are, and always will be working on their style but will never quite be able to pull it off.

foe ODD, HOTCH! | 10:58 am CST
Category: daily drivel, My Glorious Air Force Career, work | Tags:
1 Comment | Add a comment

Friday, November 19th, 2010

I stuck my head in Laurie’s cube this afternoon to ask her if she could tell me the name of the tune that was playing on her radio. It turned out to be “Only Prettier” by Miranda Lambert. You’ll have to google that your darned self if you want to hear it. I was going to link to it for your pleasure but every time I tried my computer got snowed under by a blizzard of advertisements. That woman’s got more sponsors than a Nascar driver.

Laurie asked me if I was going to look up the words, and I, being the smartass that I am, said I shouldn’t really have to by this time because they played it three times a day on the station she listened to. “You can hear that from your desk?” she said, not quite believing me until she came and stood by my chair. Yes, I can hear her radio. The angle of the walls of her cubicle are just right to focus the sound of her radio across the aisle at my desk. I can’t quite hear every word, but I can recognize every song when it comes on, and if they don’t play “Only Prettier” at least three times a day on whatever station it is Laurie listens to, I’ll eat my cowboy hat (a safe bet – I don’t have one).

To her credit, Laurie offered to turn her radio down and I had to beg her not to. I asked her only because I wanted to look up the words when I got home.

Pretty Good | 8:52 pm CST
Category: daily drivel, entertainment, music, office work, play, radio, work
Comments Off on Pretty Good

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

I have to tell you I’m still happy to be employed, but I think I sit on this job more than I have on any other job I’ve ever held before. It sounds like a strange observation to make, but at one point this afternoon I felt as if I was literally putting down roots and quickly jumped out of my seat, swatting at my butt, the way I would if I were waking from a nightmare.

Other desk jobs I’ve had required me to get up and go do work somewhere else every once in a while, but at this job pretty much all my work is within just a foot or two of my desk. I rarely have to get up to go anywhere, and on the few occasions that I do, I travel about three feet, grab the files I need, then go another three feet and sit right back down. On a pedometer, it probably wouldn’t even register.

And my breaks are so short I barely have time to get out the door to stretch my legs and get some fresh air before I have to be pecking at my keyboard like an obediently trained chicken again. At lunch I have enough time to walk all the way around the block if I move at a fast trot and go straight back to work as soon as I can.

Seriously, my butt hurts, I sit so much. Yes, I would like some cheese with my whine, thank you.

Sit On It | 6:52 pm CST
Category: daily drivel, damn kids!, office work, work
1 Comment | Add a comment

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

I spent most of My Glorious Air Force Career overseas, but I was stationed Stateside twice, both times in Denver, for a total of about nine years, some of the best years of my career because, among other things, I met My Darling B while I was stationed in Denver. Also, I was part of a crack team that protected the United States against imminent nuclear destruction. Your city is not a smoking crater because we were on the job twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week … not continuously, you dweeb. We worked in shifts. We worked for twelve hours during the day, went home and slept for a while, then watched television for a while before we worked another twelve hour day watch, and so on until we had a break before they switched the schedule around on us and we had to work mid watches for a while.

Mid watches started at six in the evening and didn’t end until six in the morning. The first four hours or so were fairly tolerable. We had plenty of energy and there was always something going on somewhere that focused our energy on the task at hand. The last four hours were completely intolerable because by that time we were so utterly and completely tired it was all but impossible to focus on anything. I have literally fallen asleep standing up, or in the middle of typing a sentence at the end of really bad mid watches. Several times I kept on typing after falling asleep. Didn’t make sense when I tried to read it later, but I could type a whole line up to the point the bell went ding and woke me up. (For those of you who have never typed on anything that went ding at then end of the line, shut up.)

The middle four hours of a mid watch were a strange netherworld, a cross between having plenty of energy to do something while at the same time having practically nothing to do. There was usually some kind of make work, mostly housekeeping, they made us do in an attempt to keep us from hurting ourselves and others, but after we finished that and they couldn’t think of anything else they let us do whatever we wanted so long as we were back in time to perform the next scheduled task. And that’s how we came up with chair racing.

The room we worked in had a central dais with a desk on it where the guy in charge sat, exactly like a crazed megalomaniac. I shit you not. Surrounded by computer keyboards and screens he might have looked impressive, if he weren’t a plain old enlisted joe like the rest of us. And mostly all he had to do was watch us work. It must have been painfully boring.

The rest of us worked in front of long racks loaded up with computerized gadgets that looked eye-poppingly impressive at first glance, but a closer inspection would quickly tell you it was all hopelessly obsolete. Seriously, a lot of it dated back to the 1950s and I think the only reason they kept it around was it was too complicated to replace. There were so many gadgets to work on in each one of these racks that we sat in front of them on office chairs and propelled ourselves from one end to the other by kicking off the corner of the end rack and catching the other end as we went by. We got so good at it that we could make adjustments to the complicated instruments, punching buttons and turning dials, as we coasted past them.

Once the work was done and we had some time to kill, we sometimes kept on kicking off the racks to play bumper cars in the aisles, and then one night we hit on the idea of racing all the way around the raised dias. The aisle wasn’t wide enough for us to race side-by-side so we had to play a game that was a combination of bumper cars and chair racing, sort of a demolition derby played by office workers. Yes, this was the scene in the heart of the electronic nerve center that was protecting your ass from nuclear annihilation night after night. But really, that was nothing.

The place where we worked was at the back of a spectacularly enormous office building, the result of years of adding on to the original building by simply erecting another building right next to the old one and connecting the corridors. By the time we worked there the building had been added to five or six times, and the three corridors that ran the length from one end to the other were hundreds of feet long. And as we were strolling to work one night, during a lull in the conversation, one of the guys said, while staring at the well-waxed linoleum floor beneath our feet, “Man, I’ll bet you could get one of those office chairs going really fast down these hallways.”

We all chuckled agreement, then stopped and stared at each other: Chair Race!

So some time after midnight that night, during a break in the serious work, two or three of us (maybe, I don’t know exactly, and don’t ask me for names, I’ll never tell) wandered nonchalantly out the door, each trailing an office chair behind us, to take up positions in the hallway. On the count of three, we kicked off as hard as we could from the back wall and kept on kicking, and DANG! Dude was right! You get those office chairs going supersonic when you’ve got a long, clear shot and a bare floor to roll on! We could have made it more exciting with rockets, or machine guns or something, but for a while there the middle of a mid watch wasn’t so bad any more.

Chair Races | 10:30 pm CST
Category: entertainment, My Glorious Air Force Career, work | Tags:
6 Comments | Add a comment

Wednesday, October 6th, 2010

Aaron, one of my coworkers, was showing me how to approve course work for continuing education. That’s what I do now; I’m one of the two continuing education specialists in my unit at the Department of Regulation and Licensing, so I’d better know how to do this at least a little better than the guy who’s application I was reviewing. He used the wrong form. Actually, he used an old form, which I guess we let slide for now.

It was also handwritten. “Thanks for typing it, buddy,” I griped as I struggled to decipher it.

Aaron went Pffft! “Who has a typewriter any more?” he asked. I almost told him Well, I’ve got ten, as a matter of fact, but something about the way he farted with his mouth like that prevented me. Instead, I just showed him the next application, which just happened to be typewritten.

I worked my way slowly through the steps to review the application while Aaron sat watching. He’s got to teach me that stuff some time, but nothing’s more boring than watching other people do a job you can do without thinking. I wasn’t surprised when his mind started wandering.

“Can I ask you,” he asked, “were you working in an office before e-mail? Because I just can’t conceive of how that worked.” This reminded me of the time my nephew watched, fascinated, as I demonstrated a typewriter, something he’d never seen before. “It’s like a computer, but with words on paper!” he said, awe in his voice.

Aaron wasn’t jerking my chain; he really couldn’t see how people used to get work done without e-mail. “It was actually a lot easier to get work done without e-mail,” I said, and when he gave me the puzzled dog look, I explained:

“When you get an e-mail, the person who sent it to you expects you to read it right now, right? And if they don’t hear from you in five or ten minutes, they send you another e-mail asking you what’s taking so long, don’t they? You might be right in the middle of answering an email when you see a new e-mail appear in your inbox from somebody else, and you stop and read the new one because you know that guy’s going to be way more pissed if you don’t answer him right away.

“But, back in the day, you had to type up a memorandum that would go into the mail and disappear for days. Which was kind of nice on the receiving end, because you weren’t constantly interrupted by messages coming in that had to be answered right now. The guy sending them didn’t know when you got them, did he? You could open all your mail, put it in a pile with the most urgent stuff on top, and then you didn’t have to worry about any new mail until you got to the bottom of the pile. It was bliss.”

I think next week I’m going to bring in my Remington Portable for show and tell.

Show and Tell | 8:47 pm CST
Category: daily drivel, damn kids!, entertainment, hobby, office work, play, typewriters, work
Comments Off on Show and Tell

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

After a full day at the Department of Administration I am well and truly oriented, I can tell you! Is it just me, or does Department of Administration sound redundant to you, too? Or maybe it just sounds backwards, like it ought to be Administration of Departments. Okay, that went nowhere, didn’t it?

I came home with a backpack stuffed full to bursting with handbooks, leaflets and maps, and a thick stack of forms that I must fill out and return or suffer torture on the rack. I swear I didn’t have to fill out that much paperwork in twenty-one years of military service.

Speaking of coming home, I realized as I walked out of the last orientation meeting that I would have to wait hours for My Darling B to come pick me up, because President Obama came to visit Madison again. Not that I don’t just love President Obama to pieces, but he drops in about once a month to say hello and stop all the traffic. B would never be able to get across town in less than two hours through streets thronged with Obama-worshippers, and after a whole day of sitting on my ass I was not in the mood to park my butt in a coffee shop or even a tavern and wait that long, so I said to hell with it and started hoofing it up Willy Street.

An hour later I’d made it as far as Schenk-Atwood and was starting to wonder if I’d make it all the way home before I saw My Darling B again. Also, my feet hurt and I needed to pee. As luck would have it, at that point I was only a block away from The Victory, a new cafe on Atwood Avenue, so I stopped in to order an espresso. “Getting ready for the rush-hour crowd?” I asked the owner as he worked the various levers of his infernal machine.

“You are the rush-hour crowd,” he answered. “This is the first day we’ve stayed open past four.” Then he opened the display case and offered me a pastry on the house. Caffeine and sugar, just what I needed.

My cell phone bleeped as I was finishing the last of the scone. B was still trying to pick her way through all the roadblocks in downtown Madison and wouldn’t be meeting me any time soon. Maybe I really would be seeing her back at home. I hit the pavement with a spring in my step, thanks to the espresso, and made it all the way to Olbrich Park before B phoned me again to tell me she’d just left the Willy Street co-op and was headed my way. Our paths finally crossed at the East Side Club and I gratefully accepted a ride home.

Hoofing it | 10:55 pm CST
Category: coffee, commuting, food & drink, office work, play, work
Comments Off on Hoofing it

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

Hey! This is my last week of near-absolute freedom to do whatever I want before I start my new job on Monday! Yay, me! I think.

There are still all kinds of things to do around Our Humble O’Bode before the snow flies, but I don’t know how many of them will get done in these last five or six days because I’m feeling a very strong urge to relax and do nothing in anticipation of re-entering the work force, an urge I think I just might indulge at least a little bit.

I spent yesterday morning and a bit of the afternoon tidying up the basement work shop. It didn’t look like tidying up at first. It looked a whole lot more like I was gathering up all the lumber that was leaning against the three walls of the work shop and throwing it all on the floor in a big heap, not an improvement at all. I needed to make some room on the floor, though, so I could knock together a frame that I eventually tipped up and screwed to the back wall, then added arms to so I could pick the lumber up off the floor and stack it on our new lumber rack.

I used to have something like this before I knocked down a wall to make room for a bigger work shop, but as it was part of the wall that got knocked down, I haven’t had a storage rack for months and lumber’s been piling up all around the walls of the room. This sucked in a big way. Every time I turned around in there I knocked something over. Finally, yesterday, I scrounged up some scrap lumber, cut it to fit, cleared a spot on the floor and screwed it all together, and voila! Storage for most of the lumber that was previously clattering to the ground because of my elbows.

It took me a little more than an hour this morning to fax a copy of my military discharge to the Department of Administration. They love to collect documents like that, and now that I’m working for them they’re putting together a file on me. I supposed that should make me worry, but I’m getting old enough that my paranoia doesn’t kick in until the commandos in stealth helicopters land in my back yard. Jane from the DoA doesn’t even register on my paranoi-o-tron.

You’d think the public library would have a public fax, wouldn’t you? I would. You can do just about anything else there: answer your e-mail, write a novel, print a form, and you can even check out books yet. But they don’t have a fax machine. “You could go to Kinko’s on Monona Drive,” the librarian suggested.

I figured I’d need a cover sheet to send a fax, so I sat down at one of the terminals and composed a very simple one when I couldn’t find a free template on-line. The computer locked up, though, when I tried to print it, and the librarian couldn’t figure out why. She logged in to the terminal right next to it (because I was still logged in to the locked-up terminal and couldn’t be logged in on two machines) so I could try again. “Is there a word processor on this machine?” I asked her, after a quick glance at the vacant directories.

“Sure,” she said, then came up short as she poked around in the same empty directories I’d just been through.

I thanked her for her help, jumped in the car and headed for Kinko’s. Did you think there were still places like Kinko’s out there where you could get big print jobs done? I sure didn’t. I was positive that everybody printed everything on computers any more, but no. The Kinko’s on Monona Drive is a classic offset print shop, with three big, stinky lithograph printers visible in the back of the room and piles of print jobs stacked on the countertop. I thought for a moment I’d been sucked through a crack in time to my days working in the basement of the Iola Herald.

“Help you?” the guy behind the counter asked me.

“If you can send a fax for me, yes,” I answered.

“You think we can do that?”

I smiled at him. “You guys have printing presses. There’s probably a fax machine in here somewhere.”

There was, and he did. He even had a printed cover sheet for me. Three minutes later my fax was on its way and I was headed home again. Total elapsed time from the moment I left the house to go to the library: one hour. Wish I’d thought of Kinko’s in the first place.

Time out | 3:20 pm CST
Category: adventures in unemployment, ch-ch-changes, daily drivel, Our Humble O'Bode, work | Tags:
1 Comment | Add a comment

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

There’s just no way to buy pants that doesn’t make it an unpleasant experience, and I can’t figure out why. It drives me crazy because there’s not a lot to figure out. You go to the store, you find the pants, you try on the pants, you buy the pants. There shouldn’t be anything difficult about it. I should be in and out in ten minutes, no more than twenty. It never works out that way. Never. Almost never. Well, okay. Today, it did. Try not to faint.

Since I’m starting my new office job in a week and a half I thought it’d be nice to get some new slacks, the better to look sharp and professional in my new work place. The closest place to buy clothes is at the Kohl’s on Broadway, practically just around the corner, so I hopped into the O-Mobile this morning, hit the gas and went roaring off to my destiny.

What a clod. I’ve been through this so many times at Kohl’s that I ought to know better. They have two kinds of dress slacks: Dirt Cheap and Holy Crap That’s Expensive! And they’re both made out of fabric so shiny I can almost see my reflection in them. I spent exactly five minutes browsing the dress pants at Kohl’s before making a Pfffth! noise through pursed lips, getting back into the car and heading north to East Towne.

(The name of the East Towne mall makes sense if you consider that the West Towne mall was built first and is, in fact, due west of Madison proper. The East Towne mall is sort of to the east, if you tip the map to the right a little bit and aren’t too literal-minded.)

I went to JC Penny’s because I knew where it was and I could go from my car to the Men’s Department in about two minutes. That’s my kind of shopping. As for the pants, they had three kinds: the two mentioned above, as well as Holy Crap That’s On Sale at Half Price! Quite a lot of the pants were made of shiny fabric again – what the hell is that stuff? – but after a short search I was able to find some made of a good-looking poly-wool blend that didn’t feel like plastic cling wrap. I bought three pairs, and a button-down cotton shirt on sale. It was Cheapskate Day at JC Penny’s. I’ve rarely been so pleased with myself.

Nice Pants | 9:17 pm CST
Category: adventures in unemployment, daily drivel, shopping, work, yet another rant | Tags: ,
1 Comment | Add a comment

Thursday, September 9th, 2010

image of blue skies

Yesterday I got the phone call I’ve been hoping for: A manager at the Department of Regulation and Licensing called to offer me the job I applied for in her section. When I interviewed for it a week and a half ago she told me they’d make a decision some time this week, so I’ve sitting on tenterhooks since Monday. I told her I’d be happy to take it. I start on September 27th.

That’s a load off my mind. I haven’t been looking for a job nearly as long as some people, but it’s been nine weeks since my position was eliminated, and when I listen to the news it’s mostly bad: unemployment claims are up, jobs are down and the economy gets worse each day. On top of that, I’m nearly fifty years old and my professional skill set is geared toward office work. I can type eighty words a minute, I’m pretty good at ginning up a spread sheet and I can sift columns of data for eight hours without going blind. Trouble is, the office environment is glutted with college grads looking for work. Confident as I am in my abilities, the trick was to get potential employers to feel confident about hiring a fifty year old geezer instead of a freshly-minted twenty-one year old.

And somehow I managed to do it. Yay, me.

For my next trick, I’ll have to figure out how to get to work. My new day job starts at seven forty-five in the morning, same time My Darling B puts her nose to the grindstone, and, as it turns out, quitting time will be the same for both of us as well. To do that, one of us will have to get to work at least twenty minutes early, then look for something more stimulating that picking his or her nose for twenty minutes while waiting for a ride home.

Buying another car to get around this little kink would be a waste of money, as far as I’m concerned, unless I can convince somebody to part with his Volkswagen Beetle for a thousand bucks or less. I managed to do that once before in my life, and I used up a lot of my charm convincing my new employer to hire me, so it’s hard to imagine haggling a Beetle owner down to practically nothing again. But you never know until you try. Winter has typically been the hardest season in which to sell a Volkswagen, and the snow’s going to start flying in just a few weeks around here. Perhaps I still have a little haggle left in me after all.

Just for giggles, I rode my bike from Our Humble O’Bode to the offices of the Department of Regulation and Licensing, just to see how long it would take me and how hard the route was. The good news: The route’s easy, and it takes only forty minutes even in my decrepit state of physical fitness. The bad news: Remember what I wrote a paragraph before about snow? There are quite a few commuters around her hearty enough to bicycle to work on the bleakest sub-zero days. I’ve seen them pedaling to work when temps dip as low as twenty below zero. I’ve never tried that, but I feel I can say without benefit of experience that I’m not made of that kind of stuff. I might ride my bike to work for a little while yet this year, but by the end of November or the beginning of December I’ll have to find another way to get there, no question.

The only other thing I really need to know about finally accepting a new job is, do I get to keep on receiving unemployment benefits from now until September 27th? What I can find on the state’s web site is that I have to look for work, which seems redundant now that I’ve found a job. I called the state office that handles unemployment benefits claims but, after navigating the phone tree options, a recorded voice informs me that they’re getting more calls than their automated system can handle. Then the line goes dead. No help there today; I’ll have to try again tomorrow.

Employable after all | 11:27 am CST
Category: adventures in unemployment, commuting, daily drivel, shopping, work | Tags: ,
2 Comments | Add a comment

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

image of rough lake

Day after Labor Day, back to the grindstone. Oh, wait. I’m still on seven-day weekends. Never mind.

Or not. I’ve still got some yard work to do before the snow flies, and from the way the weather’s been acting that’s probably going to be at about noon on Thursday. I’ve pledged that I will finish painting the siding on Our Humble O’Bode before winter, for starters. I haven’t ever attached a condition to that – “I’ll either finish painting or eat all the paint chips scattered around the foundation of the house! With milk and sugar!” – but I’d end up eating a lot of crow if I don’t, so the push is on. There isn’t much left. I should be able to finish in a week or so. The soffits and all the window frames need to be painted, too, but I never said anything about those so I think I’m safe there.

Other yard work, such as trimming the overgrown lilac and honeysuckle bushes, will get done only if I can finish painting. In that case, I might end up taking care of that next spring. Care to put any money on that?

The other Very Important Thing I’ve got to do today is return the videos we rented from Bongo Video that we should’ve taken back last night because the late charges are crazy expensive. I don’t know why we don’t just hand them the rental fee plus one or two days’ late charges when we take the movies out in the first place. I can’t remember the last time we rented movies and didn’t pay the late fees. We used to feel guilty about that, but guilt slowly morphed into self-satisfaction that we were doing our part to keep a local business afloat with our very own financial mini-stimulus program.

I picked one hell of a day to return the videos to the store on my bike. All the wind in the world is right here in Madison today – apologies to the folks in Galveston, but it’s one-hundred and one percent true. The wind was even kicking up rollers across Lake Monona big enough to surf on, not that anyone was taking advantage of it.

Honeydew | 11:54 am CST
Category: adventures in unemployment, bicycling, daily drivel, painting, work, yard work
1 Comment | Add a comment

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

Went to my first job interview since I started my adventures in unemployment. Aced it. They want me. I’m hired. I start tomorrow morning.

Kidding. It was an interview for a state job; the state doesn’t work that fast. But I wasn’t kidding about how well the interview went, at least from my point of view. I had a good time, and I mean that in an entirely unsarcastic way. They couldn’t have made it any more comfortable for me unless they’d met me at the door with a chilled glass of beer, seated me in a Barcalounger, taken off my shoes and rubbed my feet while we had a little chat about our pets.

But I almost didn’t make it to my first interview, can you believe it? When they contacted me to set up the interview they told me it would be at the state building on Washington Avenue. I’m well familiar with the state building on the corner of Washington and Webster. I even thought to myself how nice it would be to work on capital square. When I left the house, I figured travel time based on a trip to the square and even had all the best parking spots in mind, which is how I got there with plenty of time to spare.

Then, as I was walking up the street to the state building, I checked my notes – which I wrote myself! – to figure out which entrance to use, and that’s apparently the first time I realized that the address they gave me, 1400 East Washington, was not the building I was walking to. It wasn’t even within walking distance. I had the sinking feeling it might not be close enough to drive to in time to keep my appointment, and that’s why you would have seen me running down Webster to the parking ramp at twenty minutes till two if you’d been in downtown Madison yesterday afternoon.

My lucky star was still burning brightly, though. Traffic was light and all I had to do was go straight up Washington to find the right building, an ordinary-looking office complex just before the bridge over the Yahara river. I even managed to get there with twenty minutes to spare, not as early as I would have liked, but not as late as I was sure I was going to be.

And the rest went smooth as silk. They gave me a copy of the questions they were going to ask me so I could prepare before I went in to see them, and after introductions we all sat down and they read the questions off the sheet to me, word for word. I guess that’s to make sure everyone gets exactly the same interview so we can’t come back to sue the state for preferential treatment. Not that I’m complaining. It gave me a chance to organize my thoughts, make a few notes and sound like I knew what I was talking about, and that’s sort of important when it comes to impressing a potential employer.

One down, who knows how many more to go?

Interview! | 6:47 am CST
Category: adventures in unemployment, daily drivel, work
Comments Off on Interview!

Monday, August 16th, 2010

I totally aced the tests I took yesterday at Job Center of Wisconsin. The counselors I was required to see there if I wanted to continue to receive unemployment benefits, and I really do so long as I’m unemployed, strongly suggested that I should take a series of tests, called Work Keys, to receive a certification telling potential employers I’m so very smart that they should hire me. Since I’m not all that smart, I figured a certificate saying I was could be a big help. Certainly couldn’t hurt, anyway.

So I went to the Work Keys lab yesterday afternoon, or actually I wandered around the campus of the Madison Area Technical College until I could buttonhole a security guard and ask him to tell me where the Work Keys lab was. Turned out I had to exit the building, cross four lanes of traffic and find an obscure entrance on the far side of a completely different building, so right off the bat I wasn’t doing so good. Thank goodness finding the lab wasn’t part of the test.

I was scheduled to take two of three tests, but I blew through them so quickly the proctor let me take the third one, too, so I wouldn’t have to go back. The questions were all multiple choice and the first two-thirds of each test was made up of questions that were so easy I read them over and over again, looking for the catch. “You worked 37.5 hours at a rate of $11.35 an hour. How much did you make?” That’s the question? Really? The last ten or so questions were so convoluted, though, they more than made up for the ease of the first slew of questions.

The first test was reading comprehension and the second was math. I aced the math. I admit I was pretty well chuffed about that, seeing as how I got C’s in math all through high school and college. I could only manage ninety-eight percent on the reading portion, though – bummer. The final test was looking up stuff on charts, tables and graphs. It had a better name than that but I can’t remember what it was. I aced that one, too. The proctor said I was the first person to take all three tests in one day and earn the “platinum” rating; if that’s true, maybe the job hunt won’t be as difficult as I thought it would.

Tried, Tested & True | 8:30 am CST
Category: adventures in unemployment, daily drivel, work
Comments Off on Tried, Tested & True