Saturday, December 21st, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

road trip | 8:22 am CST
Category: travel, work
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Friday, December 6th, 2013

Stopped at a Gas-N-Go just outside Eau Claire. While Mike filled the tank, I went in the store to use the john.

A kid in a beanie cap came out of the toilet stall while I was standing at the urinal. He left without washing his hands. After I was done washing up, I wrapped my left hand in about fifty yards of paper toweling to make a nice, thick mitten I could use to grab the door handle. Still felt kind of squicky about it.

I wanted a cup of coffee and a package of Oreos until I noticed that the kid in the beanie cap was behind the cash register. And all I had was a twenty, so there would be change. That he touched. Oh. Yuck.

employees must wash hands | 6:24 am CST
Category: daily drivel, work
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Saturday, November 23rd, 2013

I’ve been on the road for a couple days in the service of the Great State of Wisconsin, which means that I haven’t had a decent cup of coffee until just this morning. The hotels we stay in on these trips are all the kind that serve a complimentary breakfast of dried cereal or make-your-own waffles, and the coffee they set out for us comes out of a great big stainless steel urn. I was very hopeful the first time I saw that. Although coffee that’s been stewing all morning in a great big urn does not always taste the best, it’s usually strong enough to strip the paint off the sides of a battleship. Alas, chain hotels have apparently figured out how to water down urn coffee so it wouldn’t wake up a light sleeper if you poured the whole thing on his head.

I’m a light sleeper, but I’d like a strong cup of coffee in the morning, preferably two. That’s just not happening, not at the hotel and not anywhere near the hotel. The off-ramp territory where chain hotels are built seems to be the last places on earth where Starbucks fears to tread. I don’t like the coffee Starbucks makes; it all tastes burned to me, but at least it’s strong. I’d trudge a quarter-mile on foot and gratefully slug back a cup of their French Roast if I could just get my hands on one, but no joy.

There’s usually a McDonald’s nearby, but I won’t set food in a McDonald’s again until after the apocalypse.

Which reminds me: Whatever happens, even if the zombie hoards are overrunning the city, do not resort to drinking the stuff that comes out of those toy coffee makers in hotel rooms. Not only is that stuff not coffee, it’s not drinkable. It may even be injurious to human health, but I’m not saying anyone should be forced to drink it just so we can find out.

javaless | 9:40 am CST
Category: coffee, food & drink, random idiocy, travel, work, yet another rant
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Tuesday, November 5th, 2013

At the end of my first day at my new job the boss came around and asked, “So, what do you think? Will you be coming back tomorrow morning, I hope?”

Of course I will. But it reminded me of the guy I hired as a limited-term employee not long ago. He came to work on Monday, which anybody knows is a throwaway day because he had to go to HR to get the introductory talk, then he had to talk to payroll, then I introduced him to everybody, then he couldn’t log on to his computer, then when he could log on we found out his computer wasn’t set up correctly, etc etc etc.

He was off Tuesday for a medical appointment. When he came back on Wednesday he put in a full day of work. It was paper-pushing, mostly, but he knew that’s what it was going to be because I’d made sure to describe the job in some detail when I interviewed him.

Thursday morning he came into my office to say, “Sorry, this isn’t a good fit for me. I won’t be staying.” I got one day out of him, then good-bye. So I guess it does happen.

return trip | 6:03 am CST
Category: office work, work
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Monday, November 4th, 2013

While I was knocking out windows and cutting plywood in the basement yesterday, it reminded me of when I was helping my dad build a darkroom. When he bought the newspaper in Manawa it came with an office building, sort of. There wasn’t much to it. It was just the basic shell of a building with a wall about ten feet beyond the front door to divide the innards into an office in the front and a work room in back. Behind the front wall was what we rather grandly referred to as the bathroom, really a narrow closet with just a toilet in it, and what eventually became the darkroom, where we developed film and printed photographs.

I don’t think it was built to be a darkroom, but I’m saying that only because the walls were full of nail holes. If the previous owners tried to develop film in there, the photos must’ve turned out just awful. To fix that problem, dad covered the holes with dozens of tiny squares of red cellophane tape. You can expose photosensitive paper to red light without fogging it, and even film would tolerate the small amount of light from the constellation of tiny red stars that swam all around me in the dark as I wrapped it around spools and dropped it into developing tanks.

Aside from the old Kodak enlarger and the few other pieces of precision machinery we bought to expose and develop photographs, almost everything in that darkroom was home-made. A sheet of pegboard and an old vacuum cleaner became a rather clever easel for the enlarger. He made a shallow box with the pegboard on top, then drew outlines on the pegboard that were the standard sizes for the photographs we printed in the paper. All I had to do was center the photo in the outline, cut a piece of photographic paper to size, lay it over the outline, cover it with a transparent sheet of plastic and turn on the vacuum cleaner. The hose of the vacuum was connected to the side of the pegboard box so it sucked air through the holes, flattening the photo paper under the clear plastic. Make the exposure, turn off the vacuum, done!

Dad also made a sink out of plywood. We needed one big enough to hold the three wide plastic trays we used to develop the page-sized negatives that the newspaper pages were printed from, so he took a big sheet of inch-thick plywood, boxed it in on three sides and painted it with a couple coats of epoxy. Drilled a hole in one corner, hung a faucet from the back, and voila! A sink.

The darkroom was full of lots of impressively simple stuff like that. Dad could be pretty clever when he got an idea in his head. There was this one time, though, when he tried to ventilate the room through a hole in the wall over the door that he fitted with a squirrel cage fan. For some reason, he didn’t wire the fan to a switch. He gave it a power cord with a plug, as if it were an appliance that he might want to someday take to another room. That baffled me, but I didn’t say anything. There wasn’t an outlet close enough to plug it into, so he replaced the light switch with a combination switch/outlet, but when he hooked the wires up, he connected them to the wrong lugs. Didn’t realize what he’d done, though, until he plugged the fan in and the lights came on. I think I hurt his feelings when I laughed and laughed and laughed, but dammit, it was funny.

plugged in | 5:49 am CST
Category: Dad, O'Folks, work
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Friday, November 1st, 2013

This was my last day working at the offices of the Department of Safety and Professional Services, known as the Department of Regulation and Licensing when I was hired there a little more than three years ago. On Monday morning when My Darling B and I climb into the O-Mobile to start the commute to work, we’ll head straight for Hill Farms on the beltline instead of meandering across the isthmus through town so that B can drop me off at the corner of Dickenson and Washington, as has been our custom until now. B will be pleased that she doesn’t have to drive (I always end up getting stuck with the driving, for unspoken reasons that I don’t clearly understand beyond, “Because I’m the guy and have to do what SWAMBO says”) and her commute will be much shorter.

I am of mixed feelings.

  1. Pretty Damn Happy: It’s a new job! A new adventure with new skills to learn and people to meet. No, really. As cliche as I know this is going to sound, I’ve learned to look forward to a change in jobs because each new job has been packed with opportunities to expand my horizons. Even if I push them only a little bit, it’s still a net gain, right? Right.
  2. Relieved: Learning to do a new job every few years is normal to me. I think the longest I’ve ever been at one office or workshop or whatever has been about five years. This has been going on so long that it’s nearly impossible to imagine what it would be like to work in one office at one job all my life. How do people do that?
  3. Kinda Bummed: Well, more than just “kinda.” I’m leaving behind lot of people I sincerely enjoyed working with, quite a few of whom I came to think of as friends. Even though we worked hard to get the job done, they showed me how to have a little fun with it. I think I respect them more for the having fun part than the getting the job done part.
  4. Ambivalent: In the military incarnation of my life I got used to moving from one job to another every few years, so I’ve never become so attached to a job that I couldn’t bear leaving it.

I’m thinking it’s going to take maybe a couple weeks to sort through these mixed feelings before I finally settle on one that I’m happy with. Until then, I’ll just hang out here in limbo and deal with my transition from one office to the next.

moving on | 8:56 pm CST
Category: daily drivel, office work, work
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Wednesday, October 30th, 2013

cakeThis Friday will be my last day at the office, so my coworkers organized a nice little pot luck dinner as a going-away for me. They booked a conference room and brought plenty of delicious goodies and we sat around the table for about an hour during the lunch break and shot the bull while we noshed.

As delicious as all the dishes they brought were, the best thing about it was the cake. Cindy, one of the women who organized the pot luck, ordered a cake from Hy Vee and when she phoned in the order, she asked them to write “Good luck and best wishes – Later, traitor!” (Because I’m going to work at another state agency.) Here’s an important lesson for you: Never phone in an order when there’s a chance the person on the other end of the line doesn’t know how to spell. Cindy said she picked up the cake with fifteen minutes to spare, but on the way to the cash register she looked down and saw that it said, “Later Trader!” Well, nothing she could do about it at that point, so she just paid and brought it to the pot luck. I’m so glad she did. I’ll get a chuckle out of that every time I think of it.

summary | 7:54 pm CST
Category: coworkers, daily drivel, office work, work
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Friday, September 20th, 2013

I woke up out of a sound sleep, rolled over to see what time it was, got out of bed because it was five o’clock, the time I normally feed the cats, thinking that I’ll just put a dollop of food in their dishes, then go back to bed. I thought it was Saturday. I continued to think it was Saturday as I stumbled back to the bedroom after feeding the cats, and went drifting off to sleep thinking about all the goofing around I was going to do today. And then I remembered the things I really was going to do today – interview about a dozen people to fill a vacancy, put out a couple of fires, talk to customers who wanted to speak to a supervisor right now, etc etc etc – and my eyes snapped open again. And I got out of bed to take a shower and face the day.

Man, I hate it when that happens.

misfire | 5:47 am CST
Category: daily drivel, office work, sleeplessness, work
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Monday, July 22nd, 2013

I forgot to wear socks to work today. The up side is, nobody noticed.

I bike to work in shorts and a t-shirt. Wearing shoes seems a little much in an outfit like that, so I wear sandals, the kind with the little rubber strap that goes between my toes. Couldn’t wear socks with those even if I wanted to, so the only socks I have with me when I bike to work are the ones I pack in my saddlebag with my clothes, except when I don’t remember to. Today was one of those days.

At first I thought everyone would notice and most people would say something, but the reality of the situation was that nobody noticed and I had to finally point it out to get anybody to say boo about it.

Next Monday, I’m not going to wear a shirt and see what happens.

barefootin | 6:24 pm CST
Category: office work, work
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Tuesday, June 25th, 2013

I literally froze my ass off at work yesterday. I feel I can say this and get away with it because, like my father and his father before him, my middle-aged ass is so non-existent as to be missing, so you can’t prove I didn’t freeze my ass off.

But I really was freezing yesterday. Really. Took me until just now for my fingers to thaw out enough to feel the keys on my laptop. Before, all I could type was fdfadoi fewihonf sanvaiof ewiofnan.

I stuck it out until about ten o’clock, when I finally went to the office next door, tapped timidly on the door jamb and introduced myself. Hi. I’m your next-door neighbor and your thermostat controls the temperature in both our offices and I was wondering if you could kick it up a notch because I’m only a little warmer than Walt Disney over there. Turned out she was freezing, too, and had already tried dialing up the thermostat a couple times, but no joy. She had it cranked up to seventy-two, but it was obviously not seventy-two in there. I thanked her and went back to see if I could shiver myself warm. I couldn’t.

frozen | 1:39 am CST
Category: office work, work
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Friday, June 21st, 2013

Oh My God We're All Gonna Die, Aren't We?Not biking to work today. Woke up to thunder and was greeted by spotty rain drizzling down when I opened the front door to let the chipmunks tease the cats. And there was also a monstrous red blob coming in from the west on the satellite map when I checked the National Weather Service. I don’t mind getting rained on coming home from work, but I try to avoid getting rained on when I’m going to work. That would really torque my crank.

Monstrous red blob means probably rain all weekend. So it’s going to be a stay-inside weekend, then. Oh well. I got some more brewing equipment in the mail yesterday so it was already likely I was going to spend a big part of the weekend in the basement making a mess anyway.

monstrous red blob | 6:08 am CST
Category: commuting, daily drivel, random idiocy, work
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Tuesday, June 18th, 2013

Biking home from work I got stuck behind a guy who was showing off to anyone who would watch by leaning way back in his saddle and riding no-hands down the trail. We all felt so insignificant that we would never been as cool as he was.

I would’ve passed him but, just as I approached, he wagged his butt and his bike waggled back and forth across the trail with him. Not wanting to become part of his wish to crash spectacularly, I avoided passing him until I could more completely assess his intentions.

His intentions were apparently to dare gravity to grab him and dash him to the ground. Not only did he waggle his butt again, but he went on to dance a hoochy-koo in his saddle, shaking his ass so vigorously that his chain slapped a back-beat against the frame of his bike.

I watched and waited for what I thought had to be the inevitable jackknifing that would end with his chin shoveling up dirt, but no joy. He remained defiantly upright until he grabbed his handlebars to turn, something even he was not cool enough to do no-hands.

shake ya ass | 8:00 pm CST
Category: bicycling, commuting, entertainment, hobby, play, work
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Biking to work today, I slowed down at the spot where the bike trail crossed Blount because a Budweiser beer truck was coming up the road. He was moving pretty slow but I’m pretty slow sometimes too and I didn’t want to get smooshed like a bug, so I stopped.

I had to wait a lot longer than I thought I would for him to get to the crossing. Just as he got there, he hit the brakes and waved me a cross.

What I should have done then was shook my head and waved him across. Either that, or moon him. But I was in a hurry, so I went.

I’ll have to file that away in my “Just one more reason not to like Budweiser” scrapbook, I guess.

No, after you | 6:28 pm CST
Category: commuting, daily drivel, random idiocy, work
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Thursday, May 23rd, 2013

It’s raining again. I don’t ride my bike to work in the rain because I bike to work in my work clothes and I want my clothes to be dry when I get there. Therefore, no bike ride today. Bummer.

drizzle drivel | 6:40 am CST
Category: bicycling, commuting, hobby, play, work
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Thursday, May 16th, 2013

Yesterday was the first time this year that I was able to ride my bicycle to work in shirt sleeves, and, it has to be said, they were short sleeves. It was about sixty degrees, a little on the cool side of comfortable for me, but the sun was out and I warmed myself up so that after the first mile I wasn’t worried at all about catching a chill.

After I came home from work, I stretched out on a chair in the back yard with a beer and finished about half the New York Times crossword puzzle. When I couldn’t get any farther I put the crossword down, rested my head on the back of the chair and passed a dreamy ten or fifteen minutes just gazing up at the sky through the bright green leaves of the maple tree that grows over the deck.

These are the days I wait all winter for.

shirt sleeves | 5:43 am CST
Category: commuting, daily drivel, work
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Friday, May 3rd, 2013

I like to ride my bike to work, but I’ve always been a little skittish about it. I’m a fair-weather cyclist. I’ll ride when it’s sunny and warm out, but when the sky’s overcast, or the weatherman’s calling for more than a thirty percent chance of rain, I opt for the dry, warm safety of the O-Mobile.

The thing I’ve noticed on the days I pick the safe option is that, nine times out of ten it ended up not raining that day. I’d feel pretty good about my choice as I was driving in, but on the way home when everyone else was walking around in their shirt sleeves enjoying what turned out to be a beautifully sunny day, I’d be kicking myself. Figuratively speaking, of course. Pretty hard to kick yourself when you’re sitting in a car.

And that’s why I chucked the safest option yesterday morning and rode my bike to work, even though the forecast was calling for rain. I believed the forecast, by the way. The sky was thickly overcast with clouds the color of iron, it was cold and I had no doubt that rain would fall at some time during the day, but I was determined to believe that it would not fall during the crucial hour that I rode to work and the hour after work when I was heading home.

I made it to work just fine. Not even a sprinkle to dampen my clothes. And that’s the most critical thing, really. Could there be a a more effective way than getting soaked through with rain to make office work more miserable than it already is? Somehow, I don’t think so.

I thought I was going to be just fine on the way home, too. I had to pick up a few things, but the bakery and the grocer’s were on the way, and I was less than five minutes in each. By the time I got to Olbrich Park, though, it had started to sprinkle, and not the sprinkle of a passing cloud. More the sprinkle of a cloud that is warning you there is much, much more to come. As indeed there was.

By the time I reached Cottage Grove Road, the clouds had finished their throat-clearing and were belting out a bitchen blues tune that made me wail right along with them. The words to the song are not suitable for mixed company and I don’t remember all of them now that I’m warm and comfortable, but I remember that it was mostly just one word repeated again and again. I stuck a pronoun in occasionally just to emphasize that it was my own situation I was very unhappy with.

There was an especially heavy downpour just after I crossed the line into Monona and started down the home stretch, because when the universe flips you off, it figures Go Big Or Go Home. This was about when the river of ice water that was running down my back and damming up behind my belt finally broke through. Some say the devil rules a land of fire, some say ice. I’ve felt the icy cold hand of the devil reach down the back of my pants and grab my man-parts, so I can confirm that he’s not about fire.

I’d been pedaling so furiously through the rain and the wind that when I finally reached the shelter of Our Humble O’Bode only forty minutes had passed, and that included the two stops I made to pick up dinner. I peeled out of my wringing-wet clothes just inside the front door and left them there in a sodden heap until after I took a hot, hot shower.

Could’ve been worse, as it turned out. B said she went through hail on the way home.

great big cosmic f u | 6:23 am CST
Category: bicycling, commuting, daily drivel, hobby, story time, work
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Saturday, March 30th, 2013

It was casual Friday and Cindy, one of my coworkers, came dressed in a baggy t-shirt with day-glo peace symbols printed all over it. When I ran into her at the copy machine I asked her, “Were you ever on Laugh-In?”

“What’s that?” she asked.

Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In? You’ve never seen it?”

“No, what is it? It sounds good.”

“Comedy show. Lots of funny people cracking jokes. Ruth Buzzi. Arte Johnson. Goldie Hawn.”

“Oh, I love Goldie Hawn!”

“But you never saw her on Laugh-In?”

“No, I’ve never seen that.”

Judy, another one of my co-workers and apparently a little closer to my age, was at the mail cubbies nearby and chuckled as she listened in. “I think that may be a little before her time,” she commented.

“You remember Laugh-In?” I asked her. She nodded. And then we did what old people do when they talk about their favorite TV and movie stars: We compared notes to see if we could figure out which of the cast members from the show was still alive. Cindy wandered away during this part of the conversation, proving she really isn’t old enough to remember Laugh-In.

“You know, I can still remember when I was the baby around here,” Judy remarked after Cindy left.

“It sneaks up on you, doesn’t it?” I answered. “The other day, Carolann mentioned that she graduated from high school in 1997. I couldn’t help thinking: By 1997, I’d graduated high school, graduated college, finished basic training, been sent to England, Denver and Berlin, gotten married and had a seven-year-old son!”

Later, toward the end of the day, I was finishing up some paperwork at my desk when I happened to look down and saw something odd in the salt-and-pepper pattern of the carpeting. When I bent down to pick at it, a piece of plastic popped out of the pile, so I picked it up and dropped it into the palm of my hand. It was one of those little black bits of confetti you can buy at a novelty store that says “Over The Hill!” As if my conversation earlier hadn’t already made that clear, the universe had to flip me a great big cosmic F.U. to top it off.

over the hill | 7:10 am CST
Category: daily drivel, damn kids!, office work, story time, work
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Thursday, March 28th, 2013

I suffered the biggest culture shock of my life when the Air Force transferred me from the peace and quiet of RAF Digby in northern England to the ear-shattering jet noise and chaos of Misawa Air Base in northern Japan. The culture of the Air Force in the two places, and the culture of the host countries, were so completely different from one another I was nearly catatonic.

There were about a half-dozen Air Force goobers stationed at Digby, most of them airmen. I was a technical sergeant. But the station and the base were so quiet, dare I say even sleepy, that I didn’t have much to do in the way of supervising anybody, as tech sergeants are expected to do in other places. I supervised a staff sergeant, and he supervised the airmen. Two years of that left me fat, dumb and happy, if a six-foot-tall guy who weighs 155 can even metaphorically be described as “fat.” (Sadly, there’s no question about the “fat” part.)

I don’t know how many Air Force goobers there were at Misawa but I was immediately put in a position where I was responsible for about two dozen of them, and by “responsible” I mean that I was the person whom the mission superintendent yelled at when one of my minions screwed up. My duties, I soon learned, were to then go and find out who screwed up and yell at him or her or them. The mission supe, you see, was too high up the food chain to yell at the underlings directly. It was a game of monkey in the middle, and I got to be the monkey. Also, I got to write everybody’s performance reports. Every single goddamn one. The sergeants who were supposed to do it couldn’t write a bathroom-stall limerick to save their lives, or so they said, and backed it up by not doing it.

And that was just the change in Air Force culture. Going from England, where I could read and write and speak to the local people, to Japan, where I couldn’t do any of that, very nearly drove me crazy. I was literally walking around in a daze for I don’t know how long. I’d been stationed before in foreign lands where I couldn’t speak the language, but I’d always been able to read. Give me a dictionary and I could figure things out. Being stationed in Japan, though, was the first time I’d been plopped down in a country where I couldn’t read. It was like being an infant again.

Culture shock | 5:59 am CST
Category: My Glorious Air Force Career, story time, travel, work | Tags: ,
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Monday, March 25th, 2013

How was my day?

Monday | 8:15 pm CST
Category: office work, work
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Thursday, March 21st, 2013

Out of bed early again after waking up thinking about work. Man, that sucks.

I don’t get why this happens. It’s my damn brain. I should be able to switch off the part of it that thinks about work. Even if that part of it is tangled up in every other part of my brain, I should be able to separate the parts and say to the stuff from the office, That’s enough now, I’ve had plenty of time to think about that and now I want to think about other stuff.

Oh, I see. You’re not at the office any longer. Forgive me. I shall cease and desist processing any thoughts that have to do with office work. Please enjoy the rest of your day thinking about rainbows and lollypops.

That’s what I should be able to do.

Instead, what happens is this:

*doint!* Oh, hey. I’m awake. Is it time to wake up already? Seems like it’s a little early. Crap! It’s four o’clock! Why am I awake at four o’clock?

Because there’s a million things to do at work and here are just a few of them: blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah …

What? Stop that! I don’t want to think about that now! I want to sleep!

… blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah …

It doesn’t even make sense for me to think about that right now! I can’t do anything about it anyway! I can’t even make notes if I somehow happened to think of something useful!

… blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah …

Cut it out, goddammit! I mean it!

… blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah …

Okay, I’m a human being, not a monkey. I have thumbs and a great big brain. I should be able to concentrate on something else. What should I concentrate on? Counting sheep always works for Bugs Bunny. One sheep. Two sheep. Three sheep. Sheep go baaah. Baaah sounds like blah … blah blah blah blah blah blah blah …

What was I thinking? Counting sheep never worked for Bugs Bunny. That was the whole point of showing him counting sheep! One of them would get stuck in the fence they were jumping over, or turn into Hitler and annex the Sudetenland, or a whole flock of them would collect on the other side of the fence and they’d all start going blah blah blah blah blah blah blah …

Oh, for shit’s sake. Honestly, now. Okay, I’m going to think about something mundane, something that doesn’t have anything to do with work. A banana. A banana is yellow. A banana has a peel. A banana doesn’t taste like any other fruit. A banana comes with those stickers that everybody collects on around the edges of their computer screens. What’s up with that? I can’t walk past a cubicle at work that doesn’t have at least one banana sticker stuck to the frame of the monitor. The boss hates that. I had to send a memo to everyone about the banana stickers. Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah …

Kill me. Kill me now.

… blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah …

Oh Come On! It isn’t even interesting! The banana was boring but it was more interesting than making a to-do list of all the work I’ve got at the office! At the very least, I should be able to get my brain stuck on something scandalous happening at the office, instead of the office equivalent of a repetitious pop song!

… blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah …

Sex! Nothing beats sex! I should be able to think about nothing but sex all night long!

… blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah …

Fine. You win. Getting out of bed now.

blah blah blah | 5:06 am CST
Category: daily drivel, office work, sleeplessness, work
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“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:
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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: ,
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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:
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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: , , ,
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Monday, March 4th, 2013

Been there, done that.

lines | 7:19 pm CST
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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
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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
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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
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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: ,
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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:
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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:
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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
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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:
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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
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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
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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
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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:
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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:
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Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

Toward the end of this month I’m going to a clinic downtown to have this certain medical procedure that those of us over-fifties get to have because the doctor keeps bugging us about it every single goddamned time we go in for a hangnail or a bloody nose or whatever. “Have you had your colonoscopy yet?” he’ll ask, and I’ll actually feel a little bit guilty about having to answer “No,” as if it were a badge of shame like adultery, or being a liberal. It’s my colon. I get to say when you’re allowed to scope it. Just sit tight until I feel up to it, okay?

The last time I went in, though, I realized I was never going to feel up to it. I mean, really, is that something anybody in the whole history of the world has ever woke up looking forward to? Gee, what a great day! I wonder what the inside of my colon looks like? Maybe I could ask my doctor to shove a camera in there and look around! I don’t think so.

So I finally caved in and scheduled an appointment. I was going to do it in the spring, to get it over and done with, but the procedure and the anesthetic leave you so wonky that they warn you ahead of time to bring a babysitter with you. My Darling B couldn’t get off from work until later, so I pushed the date back to June. Happy Father’s Day!

About a week later I opened my mailbox and found a fat envelope from the clinic with a letter inside confirming my appointment and instructions on how to get ready. I did what anybody else who was looking forward to a colonoscopy as much as I was would have done with it: I tossed the letter on the desk and ignored it for a month.

But the clinic called last week and left a message on our machine, saying that a nurse would have to interview me before I could have the procedure. I called her back this morning and we had a nice chat that turned out to be a lot shorter than she thought it would be. Apparently, a lot of over-fifties are in much worse shape than I am. They’ve all got allergies, they’re taking half a dozen different pain meds, their bowels are either chronically constipated or they’re constantly trotting toward the toilet on account of irritable bowel syndrome or celiac disease. I’ve got none of that.

I detected a note of relief in the nurse’s tone when I said that I didn’t smoke, and she seemed genuinely pleased that I wasn’t using any “recreational drugs.” I did detect just a note of disappointment, though, when I admitted that I drank. Well, we all have our hobbies. “How often?” was the follow-up question, “monthly, weekly, daily?”

“Daily,” I admitted.

“How much?”

“Oh, one to two drinks a day.”

Funny, I was never a drinker before I started working in an office environment. Oh, I liked to have the occasional beer, and maybe a glass of wine now and then, but never the hard stuff. Didn’t even like the hard stuff. Thought it was like gargling with gasoline. Well, today I can gargle with the best of them, if I may say so myself. I wouldn’t think of turning down a pre-dinner apertif, and an after-dinner nightcap isn’t out of the question most nights, either. And to think I owe this new-found appreciation to the unending joy that is office work. I’m sure there’s an important lesson there somewhere, and as soon as I can lift my face out of this puddle of my own drool, I’ll see if I can work that out, and get back to you as soon as I do. In the meantime, the next round’s on me.

That little digression didn’t make it into the interview, by the way.

Then it was on to the instructions. The whole week before the procedure – that’s starting this Friday! – I’m not supposed to eat anything with any fiber in it. I can’t eat any fresh vegetables. Too much fiber in them. Canned vegetables are okay. Apparently, they’ve had all their fiber removed. I can’t eat fruits, either, except for bananas, and I can’t eat any hulled grains. White bread, white rice, and white pasta are all okay. Looks like the rice cooker’s going to be bubbling away all week long, and you can expect Ragu stock to spike briefly.

The day before the procedure I have to drink some medicine mixed up with a quart of water or Gatorade. They actually recommend Gatorade. I’ll bet the Gatorade people are getting kickbacks somehow. The medicine comes in two separate pouches labeled A and B. It’s way too dangerous to sell it to you already mixed together, and you don’t need to know what it’s really called. A and B. That’s good enough for your purposes. Just drink it.

And listen to this: The normal side effects of drinking A and B are: chills, nausea, and abdominal cramping. Normal! On top of that, if you know anything about this procedure, then you already know that A and B are a powerful laxative, so powerful that the nurse said I’d want to stay close to the bathroom all day long. So I’ll just be camped out on the toilet, doubled up and shivering when I’m not leaning over to retch into the sink. Don’t mind me. It’s normal.

Since that’s going to be my day before the procedure, I asked my boss if I could have it off. She said yes without me having to tell her about the chills, cramps, nausea or retching, which I would have done in a heartbeat if she’d had a moment’s hesitation about okaying the time off.

And then there’s the day of the procedure, which begins at three o’clock in the morning. Three o’clock! It’s normal! I’m supposed to mix up another batch of A and B the night before and leave it in the fridge, because it’s easier to choke it down when it’s chilled – like a fine wine! By this time, the instructions tell me, I will probably want to wipe with moist towelettes and apply ointment between visits to the toilet. It’s Normal!

“After the colonoscopy exam,” the instructions conclude, “you may feel a little bloated for a few hours. This is caused by air that was put into your colon during the exam.” It’s Normal! “You could put it to good use by playing the tuba with your butt, or lining up a row of fifty candles and seeing how many you can blow out. Let your imagination soar!” Okay, I made up that part.

“When you get home after the test you will want to rest and take it easy for the rest of the day.” That’s got to be the understatement of the century. I’m thinking I’ll either want to curl up in bed and cry myself to sleep, or wolf down all the food in the kitchen, and then curl up in bed and cry myself to sleep.

“It’s important to stay hydrated with liquids after your procedure.” Luckily, I’ve got a lot of beer in the basement. That takes care of the hydration and wanting to take it easy.

cocktail | 6:15 pm CST
Category: daily drivel, office work, story time
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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:
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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:
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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:
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