September 29, 2008
I’ve got mine!
Hey Cubs fans! To ensure a stress-free post season, why not do like me and get your unofficial Chicago National League Ball Club pacifier? You won’t regret having the amazing soothing power of a custom-color pacie to get you through those late innings of potential opponent come-from-behind victories. And if the Cubbies do get picked off, you’re right there sucking with them! Order now and get the bonus three-pack in home, away and neutral “O’Hare incognito” colors.
Also available from MLBabies: Dodgers Diapers, Phillies Tippy Sipper and Brewers Blankies.
Still say the things that they're saying right now?
Everyone said I'd hurt you, they said that I'd desert you
If I go away, you know I'm gonna get back some how
Nobody knows what kind of trouble were in
Nobody seems to think it all might happen again
One hundred years from this time would anybody change their minds
And find out one thing or two about life?
But people are always talking
You know they're always talking
Everybody's so wrong that I know it's gonna work out right
Nobody knows what kind of trouble were in
Nobody seems to think it all might happen again
(Lyrics by Gram Parsons)
This bit of satire brought to you by a true blue, born on da nort side, foul-weather Cubs fan, who firmly believes that after 100 years,
IT’S GONNA HAPPEN ! ! please?
September 26, 2008
The latest issue of Rolling Stone (RS 1062) features this article by Matt Taibbi. It is arguably his most caustic, cynical and spot-on writing yet. It's long, but well worth the read.
CAUTION: Rated "R" (which also could mean "Rabid Right-Wing Religiosos Really won't like this")
The Lies of Sarah Palin
By Matt Taibbi
I’m standing outside the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota. Sarah Palin has just finished her speech to the Republican National Convention, accepting the party’s nomination for Vice President. If I hadn’t quit my two pack a day habit earlier this year, I’d be chain smoking right now. So the only thing left is to stand mute against the fit-for-a-cheap-dog-kennel crowd-control fencing you see everywhere at these idiotic conventions and gnaw on weird new feelings of shock and anarchist rage as one would a rawhide chew toy.
All around me, a million cops in their absurd post-9/11 space combat get-ups stand guard as assholes in paper-mache puppet heads scramble around for one last moment of network face time before the coverage goes dark. Four-chinned delegates from places like Arkansas and Georgia are pouring joylessly out the gates in search of bars where they can load up on Zombies and Scorpion bowls and other “wild” drinks and extramaritally grope their turkey-necked female companions in bathroom stalls as part of the “Unbelievable Time” they will inevitably report to their pals back home. Only 21st-century Americans can pass through a metal detector six times in an hour and still think they’re at a party.
The defining moment for me came shortly after Palin and her family stepped down from the stage to uproarious applause, looking happy enough to throw a whole library full of books into the sewer. In the crush to exit the stadium, a middle-aged woman wearing a cowboy hat, a red-white-and-blue shirt and an obvious eye job gushed to a male colleague – they were both wearing badges identifying them as members of the Colorado delegation – at the Xcel gates, “She totally reminds me of my cousin!” the delegate screeched. “She’s a real woman! The real thing!”
I stared at her, open-mouthed. In that moment, the rank cynicism of the whole sorry deal was laid bare. Here’s the thing about Americans. You can send their kids off by the thousands to get their balls blown off in foreign lands for no reason at all, saddle them with billions in debt year after congressional year while they spend their winters cheerfully watching game shows and football, pull the rug out from under their mortgages, and leave them living off their credit cards and their Wal-Mart salaries while you move their jobs to China and Bangalore.
And none of it matters, so long as you remember a few months before Election Day to offer them a two-bit caricature culled from some cutting-room-floor episode of Roseanne as part of your presidential ticket. And if she’s a good enough likeness of a loudmouthed Middle American archetype, as Sarah Palin is, John Q. Public will drop his giant sized bag of Doritos in gratitude, wipe the sizzlin’ picante dust from his lips and rush to the booth to vote for her. Not because it makes sense, or because it has a chance of improving his life or anyone else’s, but simply because it appeals to the low-humming narcissism that substitutes for his personality, because that image on TV reminds him of the mean brainless slob he sees in the mirror every morning.
Sarah Palin is a symbol of everything that is wrong with the modern United States. As a representative of our political system, she’s a new low in reptilian villainy, the ultimate cynical masterwork of puppeteers like Karl Rove. But more than that, she is a horrifying symbol of how little we ask for in return for the total surrender of our political power. Not only is Sarah Palin a fraud, she’s the tawdriest, most half-assed fraud imaginable, 20 floors below the lowest common denominator, a character too dumb even for daytime TV – And this country is going to eat her up, cheering every step of the way. All because most Americans no longer have the energy to do anything but lie back and allow ourselves to be jacked off by the calculating thieves who run this grasping consumer paradise we call a nation.
The Palin speech was a political masterpiece, one of the most ingenious pieces of electoral theater this country has ever seen. Never before has a single televised image turned a party’s fortunes around faster.
Until the Alaska governor actually ascended to the podium that night, I was convinced that John McCain had made on of the all-time campaign season blunders, that he had acted impulsively and out of utter desperation in choosing a cross-eyed political neophyte just two years removed from running a town smaller than the bleacher section at Fenway Park. It even crossed my mind that there was an element of weirdly self-destructive pique in McCain’s decision to cave in to his party’s right-wing base in this fashion, that perhaps he was responding to being ordered by party elders away from tepid, ideologically promiscuous hack like Joe Lieberman – Reportedly his real preference – By picking the most obviously unqualified, doomed-to-fail joke of a Bible-Thumping buffoon. As in: You want me to rally the base? Fine, I’ll rally the base. Here, I’ll choose this rifle-toting, serially-pregnant moose killer who thinks God lobbies for oil pipelines. Happy now?
But watching Palin’s speech I had no doubt that I was witnessing a historic, iconic performance. The candidate sauntered to the lectern with the assurance of a sleepwalker – and immediately launched into a symphony of snorting and sneering remarks, taking time out in between the superior invective to present herself as just a humble gal with a beefcake husband and a brood of healthy, combat-ready spawn who just happened to be innocent targets of a communist and probably also homosexual media conspiracy. She appeared to be completely without shame and utterly full of shit, awing a room full of hardened reporters with her sickly sweet line about the high-school-flame-turned-hubby who “five children later” is “still my guy.” It was like watching Gidget address the Reichstag.
Within minutes, Palin had given TV audiences a character infinitely recognizable to virtually every American; the small-town girl with just enough looks and a defiantly incurious mind who thinks the PTA minutes are Holy Writ, and to whom injustice means the woman next door owning a slightly nicer set or drapes or flatware. Or the governorship, as it were.
Right-wingers of the Bush-Rove ilk have had a tough time finding a human face to put on their failed, inhuman, mean-as-hell policies. But it was hard not to recognize the genius of wedding that faltering brand of institutionalized greed to the image of the suburban American supermom. It’s the perfect cover, for there is almost nothing in the world meaner than this species of provincial tyrant.
Palin herself burned this political symbiosis into the pages of history with her seminal crack about the “Difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull: lipstick,” blurring once and for all the lines between meanness on the grand political scale as understood by the Roves and Bushes of the world, and meanness of the small-town variety as understood by pretty much anyone who has ever sat around in his ranch-house den dreaming of a fourth plasma-screen TV or an extra set of KC HiLites for his truck, while some ghetto family a few miles away shares a husk of government cheese.
In her speech, Palin presented herself as a raging baby-making furnace of middle-class ambition next to whom the yuppies of the Obama set – who never want anything all that badly except maybe a few afternoons with someone else’s wife, or a few kind words in The New York Times Book Review – seem like weak, self-doubting celibates, the kind of people who certainly cannot be trusted to believe in the right God or to defend a nation. We’re used to seeing such blatant cultural caricaturing in our politicians. But Sarah Palin is something new. She’s all caricature. As the candidate of a party whose positions on individual issues are poll losers almost across the board, her shtick is not even designed to sell a line of policies. It’s just designed to sell her. The thing was as much as admitted in the on-air gaffe by former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan, who was inadvertently caught saying on MSNBC that Palin wasn’t the most qualified candidate, that the party “went for this, excuse me, political bullshit about narratives.”
The great insight of the Palin VP choice is that huge chunks of American voters no longer even demand that their candidates actually have policy positions; they simply consume them as media entertainment, rooting for or against them according to the reflective prejudices of their demographic, as they would for a reality-show contestants or sitcom characters. Hicks root for hicks, moms for moms, born-agains for born-agains. Sure, there was politics in the Palin speech but it was all either silly lies or merely incidental fluffery buttressing the theatrical performance. A classic example of what was at work here came when Palin proudly introduced her Down-Syndrome baby, Trig, then stared into the camera and somberly promised parents of special-needs kids that they would “have a friend and advocate in the White House.” This was about a half-hour before she raised her hands in triumph with McCain, a man who voted against increasing funding for special-needs education.
Palin’s charge that “government is too big” and that Obama “wants to grow it” was similarly preposterous. Not only did her party just preside over the largest government expansion since LBJ, but Palin herself has been a typical Bush-era Republican, borrowing and spending beyond her means. Her great legacy as mayor of Wasilla was the construction of a $15 million hockey arena in a city with an annual budget of $20 million; Palin OK’d a bond issue for the project before the land had been secured, leading to a protracted legal mess that ultimately forced taxpayers to pay more than six times the original market price for property the city ended up having to seize from a private citizen using eminent domain. Better yet, Palin ended up paying for the fucking thing with a 25 percent increase in the city sales tax. But in her speech, of course, Palin presented herself as the enemy of tax increases, righteously bemoaning that “taxes are too high” and Obama “wants to raise them.”
Palin hasn’t been too worried about federal taxes as governor of a state that ranks number one in the nation in federal spending per resident ($13,950), even as it sits just 18th in federal taxes paid per resident ($5,434). That means all us taxpaying non-Alaskans spend $8,500 a year on each and every resident of Palin’s paradise of rugged self-sufficiency. Not that this sworn enemy of taxes doesn’t collect from her own; Alaska currently collects the most taxes per resident of any state in the nation. The rest of Palin’s speech was the same dog-whistle crap Republicans have been railing about for decades. Palin’s crack about a mayor being “like a community organizer, except that you have actual responsibilities” testified to the Republican’s apparent belief that they can win elections till the end of time running against the Sixties. (They’re probably right). The incessant pausing about the media was likewise par for the course, red meat for those tens of millions of patriotic flag-waving Americans whose first instinct when things get rough is to whine like bitches and blame other people – reporters, the French, those ungrateful blacks soaking up tax money eating big prison meals, whomever – for their failures.
Add to this the usual lies about Democrats wanting to “forfeit” to our enemies abroad and coddle terrorists, and you had a run-of-the-mill, almost boring Republican speech from a substance standpoint. What made it exceptional was its utter hypocrisy, its total disregard for reality, its total disregard for reality, its absolute unrelation to the facts of our current political situation. After eight years of unprecedented corruption, incompetence, waste and greed, the party of Karl Rove understood that 50 million Americans would not demand solutions to any of these problems so long as they were given a new, new thing to beat their meat over.
Sarah Palin is that new, new thing, and in the end it won’t matter that she’s got an unmarried teenage kid with a bun in the oven. Of course, if the daughter of a black candidate like Barack Obama showed up at his convention with a five month bump and some sideways-cap-wearing, junior-grade Curtis Jackson holding her hand, the defenders of Traditional Morality would be up in arms. But the thing about being in the reality-making business is that you don’t need to worry much about vetting; there are no facts in your candidate’s bio that cannot be ignored or overcome.
One of the most amusing things about the Palin nomination has been the reaction of horrified progressives. The internet has been buzzing at full volume as would-be defenders of sanity and reason pore over the governor’s record in search of the Damning Facts. My own telephone began ringing off the hook with calls from ex-Alaskans and friends of Alaskans determined to help get the “truth” about Sarah Palin into the major media. Pretty much anyone with an Internet connection knows by know that Palin was originally for the “Bridge to Nowhere” before she opposed it (She actually endorsed the plan in her 2006 gubernatorial campaign), that even after the project was defeated she kept the money, that she didn’t actually sell the Alaska governor’s state luxury jet on eBay but instead sold it at a $600,000 loss to a campaign contributor (who is reportedly now seeking $50,000 in taxpayer money to pay maintenance costs).
Then there are the salacious tales of Palin’s swinging-meat-cleaver management style, many of which seem to have a common thread: In addition to being ensconced in a messy ethics investigation over her firing of the chief of Alaska state troopers (dismissed after refusing to sack her sister’s ex-husband), Palin also fired a campaign aide who had an affair with a friend's wife. More ominously, as mayor of Wasilla, Palin tried to fire the town librarian, Mary Ellen Emmons, who had resisted pressure to censor books Palin found objectionable.
Then there’s the God stuff: Palin belongs to a church whose pastor, Ed Kalnins, believes that all criticisms of George Bush “Come from Hell” and wondered aloud if people who voted for John Kerry could be saved. Kalnins, looming as the answer to Obama’s Jeremiah Wright, claims that Alaska is going to be a “refuge state” for Christians in the last days, last days which he sometimes speaks of in the present tense. Palin herself has been captured on video mouthing the inevitable born again idiocies, such as the idea that a recent oil-pipeline deal was “God’s Will.” She also described the Iraq War as a “task that is from God” and part of a heavenly “plan.” She supports teaching creationism and “Abstinence Only” in public schools, opposes abortion even for victims of rape, has denied the science behind global warming and attends a church that seeks to convert Jews and cure homosexuals.
All of which tells you about what you’d expect from a raise-the-base choice like Palin: She’s a puffed-up dimwit with primitive religious beliefs who had to be educated as to the fact that the constitution did not exactly envision government executives firing librarians. Judging from the importance progressive critics seem to attach to these revelations, you’d think that these were actually negatives in modern American politics. But Americans like politicians who hate books and see the face of Jesus in every tree stump. They like them stupid and mean and ignorant of the rules. Which is why Palin has only seemed to grow in popularity as more and more of these revelations have come out.
The same goes for the most damning aspect of her biography, her total lack of big-game experience. As governor of Alaska, Palin presides over a state whose entire population is barely the size of Memphis. This kind of thing might matter in a country that actually worried about whether its leader was prepared for his job – But not in America. In America, it takes about two weeks in the limelight for the whole country to think you’ve been around for years. To a certain extent, this is why Obama is getting a pass on the same issue. He’s been on TV every day for two years and according to the standards of our instant-ramen culture, that’s a lifetime of hands-on experience.
It is worth noting that the same criticisms of Palin also hold true for two other candidates in this race, John McCain and Barack Obama. As politicians, both men are more narrative than substance, with McCain rising to prominence on the back of his bio as a suffering war hero and Obama mostly playing the part of long-lost, future-embracing liberal dreamboat not seen on the national stage since Bobby Kennedy died. If your stomach turns to read how Palin’s Kawasaki 704 glasses are flying off the shelves in Middle America, you have to accept that Middle America probably feels the same way when it hears Donatella Versace dedicated her collection to Obama during Milan Fashion Week. Or sees the throwing-panties-onstage-“I love you, Obama!” ritual at the Democratic nominee’s town-hall appearances.
So, sure, Barack Obama might be every bit as much as a slick piece of imageering as Sarah Palin. The difference is in what the image represents. The Obama image represents tolerance, intelligence, education, patience with the notion of compromise and negotiation, and a willingness to stare ugly facts right in the face, all qualities we’re actually going to need in government if we’re going to get out of this huge mess we’re in.
Here’s what Sarah Palin represents: being a fat fucking pig who pins “Country First” buttons on his man titties and chants “U-S-A! U-S-A!” at the top of his lungs while his kids live off credit cards and Saudis buy up all the mortgages in Kansas
The truly disgusting thing about Sarah Palin isn’t that she’s totally unqualified, or a religious zealot, or married to a secessionist, or unable to educate her own daughter about sex, or a fake conservative who raised taxes and porked up earmark millions every chance she got. No, the most disgusting thing about her is what she says about us: That you can ram us in the ass for eight solid years, and we’ll not only thank you for your trouble, we’ll sign you up for eight more years, if only you promise to stroke us in the right spot for few hours around election time.
Democracy doesn’t require a whole lot of work of its citizens, but it requires some: It requires taking a good look outside once in awhile, and considering the bad news and what it might mean, and making the occasional tough choice, and soberly taking stock of what your real interests are.
This is a very different thing from shopping, which involves passively letting sitcoms melt your brain all day long and then jumping straight into the TV screen to buy a Southern Style Chicken Sandwich because the slob singing “I’m Lovin’ It!” during the commercial break looks just like you. The joy of being a consumer is that it doesn’t require thought, responsibility, self-awareness or shame: All you have to do is obey the first urge that gurgles up from your stomach. And then obey the next. And the next. And the next.
And when it comes time to vote all you have to do is put your Country First – Just like that lady on TV who reminds you of your cousin. U-S-A, Baby. U-S-A! U-S-A!
Taibbi’s loudest thumping dart is how, as far as our political process is concerned, a huge chunk of our electorate practically delights in Palin's lack of intellectual qualifications. At least 29 percent of these folks have a crazy romance with mediocrity, going back at least to the 2000 elections. They are high on the whole “Sarah is an ordinary person!” Yep, she’s a reg’lar gal alright.
As I have on several occasions, I ask how “elitism” has become a bad thing in American politics? Everywhere else it is something to be desired, if not demanded – pilots, research scientists, surgeons, athletes, even our beloved troops. But when it comes to positions where thoughts and actions will affect millions, there are those who quite illogically want someone just like them - down-to-earth but not too intelligent or well educated.
To the question of why one likes Sarah Palin so much, the woman-on-the-street response that really gets me is, “She knows what it's like to be a mom.” If that is not a heinous detachment from the real problems of today, then, arrrgh! The next administration will inherit myriad issues that are perhaps, in a primary leadership / situation room kind of capacity, the furthest things from needing a mother’s touch. Things like war, climate change, nuclear proliferation, a stagnant/shrinking economy, the rise of China, epidemics, education, energy, infrastructure, and Internet security, etcetera, etcetera. In my humble estimation Gov. Palin is not competent to address any one of them.
I leave you with this very interesting list:
The Truth About Sarah Palin
A guide to separating myth from fact
THE MYTH: "She took the luxury jet that was acquired by her predecessor and sold it on eBay. And made a profit!" — John McCain, at a campaign stop in
THE FACTS: No one bought the jet online. It was eventually sold through an aircraft broker — at a loss to taxpayers of nearly $600,000. The buyer, a Palin campaign contributor, is reportedly now seeking $50,000 in taxpayer money to pay maintenance costs.
THE MYTH: "I told the Congress 'Thanks, but no thanks' on that Bridge to Nowhere." — Sarah Palin, RNC speech
THE MYTH: "We ... championed reform to end the abuses of earmark spending by Congress." — Sarah Palin, RNC speech
THE MYTH: "I found ... someone who stopped government from wasting taxpayers' money." — John McCain, introducing Palin at RNC
THE MYTH: "Our opponents say, again and again, that drilling will not solve all of
THE FACTS (?!): "I beg to disagree with any candidate who would say we can't drill our way out of our problem." — Sarah Palin, July 2008
THE MYTH: "We began a nearly $40 billion natural-gas pipeline to help lead
THE MYTH: "She's from a small town with small-town values." — Fred Thompson, RNC speech
THE FACTS: Wasilla and the surrounding valley recently named the meth capital of
THE MYTH: Palin has "taken on the political establishment in the largest state of the union." — Fred Thompson, convention speech
THE FACTS: Served until 2005 as director of fundraising group associated with indicted U.S. Senator Ted Stevens.
THE MYTH: "She's fought oil companies." — John McCain, introducing Palin at RNC
THE FACTS: Collected $13,000 in campaign contributions from oil and gas lobbyists, including Exxon, BP, Shell and Chevron. BP was a sponsor of her inaugural ball.
THE MYTH: "She's been to
THE FACTS: Never had a passport before 2007, when she made a brief photo-op trip to visit troops in
THE MYTH: "I have protected the taxpayers by vetoing wasteful spending." — Sarah Palin, convention speech
THE FACTS: As governor, sought travel reimbursement for 312 nights she spent in her own home.
September 23, 2008
The Monthly Max (Sept. vol. II)
We're back, and we had a wonderful time, if a bit of a whirlwind tour. It's always nice to see family for an auspicious occasion like a wedding, especially with the thought in the back of the mind that inauspicious occasions for family assembly will only increase in the coming years.
The outdoor ceremony was gorgeous with weather that could not be beat, and a good time was had by all at an equally gorgeous reception at a country estate overlooking an estuary of the Chester River. It was wonderful to party with the cousins but sad to leave out the next day without much time for sightseeing.
Max was a pretty good little traveler up until getting to Dulles for the return flight, whereupon he had the biggest meltdown of his toddler career. Poor kid was tired beyond tired. He still recovered pretty quick, but it was touch and go there for a few hours.
I shot more video than I did still photos, so there's not much beyond these:
September 17, 2008
The Monthly Max (Sept. vol. I)
Our apologies in getting back on schedule after our August euro-style vacance. And now further delay, though we think you'll appreciate why. The summer heat must have slowed down our photo desire, so in perusing the archives we found a dearth of cute baby pics, at least that were not rather redundant (stop that snickering). Have no fear, for this weekend we are off to the eastern Chesapeake shore for a family wedding that is sure to provide great Maxly photo fodder. To tie you over until our return, and daddy's unction to post the pics, we have to the left Max's newly installed growth chart. Note the (perhaps freakish) growth between his birthday and its first anniversary, marked in red.
September 13, 2008
Nature Bats Last
September 11, 2008
Shanana-na, shanana-na-na (BAH-OOH)
Financial times being what they are, I started a new career this week. Albeit part-time, the job seems to fill the last piece of career pie with respect to the types of employers I’ve had.
Let’s see if I can remember every ingredient chronologically. If you count lemonade stand, then that’s the first incarnation of Me, Myself & I, Inc., where a number of different hats have been worn over the years. But my first gainful employment was as a paperboy, starting as a rookie afternoon carrier packing about 30-40 copies of the now defunct Chicago Daily News into a canvas bag attached to the front of my Schwinn Sting-Ray. Over time I matured into a salty morning route veteran who whisked out a couple hundred Tribunes and Sun-Timeses (and a few WSJs on the tonier side of my route) via large wagon-wheeled carts, “chauffeured” van or car and even dogsled. Yes, dogsled – definitely a highlight of my as yet unpublished, much less written, memoirs.
Next I was a peon at a country club, specifically a caddy. This was a pretty dang good paying job for a high school kid, and can best be described by saying you should watch the movie Caddyshack (perhaps again), which was released at the height of my looping career with much fanfare amongst my colleagues. Brian Doyle Murray wrote the script based on his experiences caddying at a club just up the road from where I worked, and Bill Murray played at our club on a few occasions. The film is of course exaggerated for comedic effect but the basic elements are spot on. The job was great fun, and had a social subculture all its own with just the right amount of teenage shenanigans and debauchery to provide some hard-learned lessons and lasting memories.
For two summers in college I worked for the United States Postal Service as a “casual” mail carrier. Casuals would start about 10 a.m., taking over for the regular full-timers (which included my dad) who came in at six and cased up the mail going out on their route for the day. A lot of them liked burning up their vacation time with half days like that. I loved it because you worked on your own, got to be outside at different locations almost every day and meet different people, most of whom enjoyed seeing the mail arrive. I suppose if I had to do it year-round, like my dad who endured 37 northern Illinois winters of it, I would not have been as enthusiastic.
Another interesting summer job I held was as the overnight dinghy boy/watchman at a harbor on Lake Michigan. Most of the time I could sleep but occasionally had to ferry drunken fornicators back from their yachts at some ungodly hour. Couldn’t just wait till morning, eh? Well no, she has to get back before her husband wakes up. Your secret’s safe with me, pal, and even safer with that fin tip, wink wink. Each morning I had to haul a pack of burly dudes who worked from a barge at the mouth of the harbor. At sunrise they’d pile into the little 12-foot dinghy, causing displacement to the gunwales so that I sweated every turn of the outboard rudder. As a solo occupant I would have a blast cruising around the harbor doing donuts and chasing ducks (yes, I am ashamed of that) and a few times I motored out to open lake in the still of the night to have a smoke and watch the city lights in the southern distance.
My next job came after moving to California, where my brother had been living for a few years. We became roommates - I provided a reason for him to move out from a relationship that had run its course and he provided me with a job at the roofing company he worked for. This was real labor, especially working as a tear-off peon on the hot tar crew. Although I toughed it out for about a year and a half, I had no stomach for showing the initiative to move up into comfier and higher-paying ranks like where my bro was as a skilled roofer installing cedar shakes (the official roof of California). Class establishment that it was, the company ended up laying me off just before Christmas bonuses were to go out.
After some time suckling on the state teet I procured a job at a startup courier delivery company that covered the entire Bay Area. They normally didn’t hire anyone who hadn’t lived in the area for at least five years, but I am a map freak and so was able to prove my navigational prowess to get hired on. I started out as a shuttle driver, which doesn’t deliver on a route but runs between drop boxes all up the Peninsula from Santa Clara to the city (despite San Jose having long since passed San Francisco in population, the latter will always be “the city” of the Bay Area). This job was so simple and required no personal contact other than the radio dispatcher, so I frequently got stoned to the bejeezus (one of the dispatchers was my dealer), captaining my own little starship Enterprise up and down the 101. I gave up that on-the-job habit when I became a route driver, though. There was a bit more paper work and customer service involved - didn’t figure being spacey, scary red-eyed dude was so cool going in and out of all those Silicon Valley offices.
The courier job ended with my exodus from the Golden State. A brief sojourn in New Mexico had me working as a carpenter’s helper before moving on to Georgia, a place I vaguely recalled from traveling through to Florida on a couple of family trips as being hot, green and hilly. Georgia was a place that my formerly long-haired self had never considered to be a viable place to reside, but here I have now been for nearly half of my life.
My first job here was also my first foray into the retail world - a brief stint as a K-Mart cashier. It was also my first major foray into the world of southern accents, to which my attunement was directly proportional to the amount of teeth in the mouth speaking to me. At this time in my life I had, to make a long story short, renounced Christmas (still not gaga over it), and so I had the opportunity to work at the closed store on Christmas Day with a couple of other fellows straightening up and getting rid of all the X-mas displays and décor. The manager let us in and said he’d be back in a few hours, and while we performed our assigned duties we also enjoyed a boom box loudness contest and some BMX racing. Who knew rubber skid marks were such a bitch to get off linoleum?
As even Rain Man knows, K-Mart sucks, so when I heard that the Red Lobster in town was hiring wait staff trainees I made that my next pursuit of a living wage. Here another Hollywood product, Waiting, serves as a fairly accurate, if only humorously mediocre, portrayal of the waiting scene, right down to the busboys sucking all the nitrous oxide out of the whipped cream canisters. The money was decent, but in that podunk micropolis there were too many cases of the “redneck tip,” whereby leaving a dollar per person at the table was deemed generous, never mind that you politely ran all-you-can-eat shrimp and light beer to these cretins for an hour and the checks for the two couples well exceeded $100. The camaraderie at RL was great – we cut up like crazy and made up silly, Weird Al-type songs about the restaurant business. My faves: one to the tune of Sade’s Smooth Operator titled “Ooh I’m Your Waiter,” and “Fry Guy,” fashioned after Mary Wells’ 1964 Motown hit. Once a month we were required to come in at 9 a.m. on Saturday for a wait staff meeting, only getting paid our paltry sub-minimum wage for the time. We often showed up in bathrobes and pajamas in protest, and then would commandeer the kitchen after the meeting for gourmet breakfast preparation by one of our colleagues who was a Le Cordon Bleu dropout. I worked this job for a few years before deciding to head into my next incarnation of self-employment.
My house painting concern was mostly just two guys and some ladders, brushes, drop cloths and other “accoutrements decoratif” packed into a 1978 Dodge pickup, a vehicle so wide that cell phone service varied between the driver’s and passenger’s sides. Things started out pretty well for two reasons. First, my partner and I had a good connection with a local contractor who fed us a lot of jobs. Second, we started up in spring just as the outdoor painting season gets into gear. Add to it our bachelor status and the modest income was plenty on which to enjoy life. So things hummed along for a while - we even survived the first winter slow season - but the following year our contractor wasn’t in need of near as much decorating work. We were also pretty clueless about self-employed income taxes and ended up going in the hole to the IRS for a few grand. The final straw was seeing that outside our original friendly contractor, two yankees weren’t particularly welcome in the old boy network of the construction trades. My partner bugged out first, and I followed a few months later to the same place he went.
That place was a very small art foundry, and the steady paycheck was welcome mainly for my new status as husband and provider while Jen was in school. The product was handcrafted bronze sculpture, mostly working editions of several hundred to a couple thousand but occasionally doing some custom work. It was neat stuff except that the metalworking aspect of it turned your hands green from the copper. I don’t imagine it was great for the lungs, either. It is still the only practical application of my “college education” as an art major. I started as an entry level metal finisher and worked my way up to management, which at a firm this small meant I had to do my job and keep an eye on everyone else. That job was primarily TIG welding, a very marketable skill, and after seven years of basically stagnant pay with bronze I left to take on work in steel fabrication for heavy equipment.
This medium-sized company was Japanese owned, which provided some interesting perspective into the differences between East and West in both industrial and corporate endeavors. Part of the production system required specific adherence to puzzling rules, such as only transporting certain parts on a cart of a certain color. This may have had more poignant management usefulness on the day shift, but I worked the much more lackadaisical night shift, where “dishonor” was much more frequent.
Jen graduated and began teaching at a school fifty miles away, so we decided to move to a rural area about 20 miles on the other side of her work, not far from her old stomping grounds near Chattanooga. In fact we rented a house from an old family friend, a place we loved and would have bought if he’d been inclined to sell. It is set in the middle of a few acres, and you couldn’t see a neighbor’s house when the leaves were full in summer. I looked for work other than welding because I was getting kind of burnt out with my fish-out-of-water status of being an erudite blue-collar worker.
Alas I was destined once again to eat my yogurt and read my Vanity Fair in the corner while all the cool kids smoked their menthols and talked about NASCAR. The new job, boiler tube fabrication, had me starting just above entry level until I earned my ASME certification, at which point my pay greatly increased. This kept me going for a few years, even in the face of some pretty shitty corporate actions, like having to work on New Year’s Day (but then not the following weekend, which would have been preferred), and the enforcement of petty rules that made the Japanese look mellow. I stayed in good graces with the owner, a fellow yankee, and actually took on my department’s foreman position. But once again the good old boys did me in by choosing to stand by and watch me fail rather than lend a hand of expertise to benefit me and the company. I gladly went back to minding my own business under a welding hood after fourteen months of being chief. Still, after five years my attitude had slipped enough to get me on the short list for the next round of layoffs, and when the time came for the ax to fall I put my head on the block without much regret.
After a period of unemployment I came across an ad in the local county rag that said they were looking for reporters, experience not necessary. I sent off a “what the hell” letter with some writing samples and forgot about it. About a month later the publisher calls me in for an interview, gives me a hokey AP writing and grammar test and shoots the shit about politics with me for about half an hour. After he hired me he showed me some of the other applications and we had a good laugh with a few. Seems several others also had a “what the hell” inclination but also the education to go with it. My pay would be about forty percent less than a certified welder, but my happiness would increase five fold.
It didn’t take any fancy book learnin’ to do the job, just some good social skills, an inquiring mind and a flair for writing stuff that could keep the average eighth-grader interested. I took on feature (aka fluff) stories, covered the business community (aka free advertising) and government (aka BS). In the 3-plus years I worked for this company that owned a dozen or so small papers, I interviewed people from a sixth grade history essay winner to the governor, earning three state press association awards along the way. It currently qualifies as the best job I’ve ever had (paid job, that is – nothing beats stay-at-home daddy).
So, at last we come to the new one, which, while I am quite appreciative for it in these times of increased unemployment, I don’t think it stands a chance of winning the title I just gave my last job. But now, after forays into small, medium and sort of large companies of every stripe, I enter the world of the humongous multinational corporation. Evenings and weekends I will be the cookie man, aka merchandising rep for Nabisco, owned by Kraft, which employs more than 98,000 people in 70 countries. I’ll count ‘em, order ‘em and stack ‘em at various grocers in the area, humming a tune that only a tiny cog in the corporate wheel can:
September 03, 2008
In my time of dying
My sister e-mailed me the other day to inform me that one of our uncles had died. He passed away peacefully in his sleep. He was my dad’s sister’s husband. They lived in a nearby suburb and I remember many holidays spent visiting them or vice-versa. Although we were not very close, I remember him well as a very kind man with a good humor about him. He was 84, just a couple of years older than my dad, and so his death is yet another signal that I should be prepared for my parents to go at anytime. That will be sad but I don’t expect it will be very hard, especially in the case of my Alzheimer’s-ravaged mom.
Relationships with my extended family have been fairly tepid if not totally non-existent. Some aunts, uncles and cousins I have not seen since I was a child and would not recognize them on the street, while some others I may get to visit on trips back to the stomping grounds if time permits, though it usually does not.
Since I have lived in the south I have had occasion to witness some contrasts in family dynamics, particularly with regard to death. The ancestry of my midwestern clan is Scandinavian, hence rather stoic and often bland, whereas much of the native southerners (which includes my wife) are descended from the more jovial Scots-Irish. And boy can you tell it from the funerals. In both regions the grief of the immediate family of the deceased is kept fairly private, but a brave face is soon put on amongst southerners because, well, there’s some celebrating to do.
Out of financial and scheduling necessity, I won’t be returning for my uncle’s funeral this week. I imagine it will be a tame affair with baleful hymns and rice pudding. By contrast, when my wife’s father died recently, and also when a family matriarch of her mom’s side of the family passed away last week, relatives from all over the lower 48 poured in. And when all the funereal business was complete, it was family reunion time. Barbeque, beer, bourbon - we’re not talking frat party here, though alcohol consumption is generally robust. But the fellowship is one of happiness and remembrance, and I for one think it ought to be so.
When my time comes, hopefully from natural causes at a ridiculously advanced age, I will expect my survivors, descendants and friends to gather one last time in happy memory of me. Drink some and laugh a lot. The only tears I want at my after party are ones of laughter from stories like how grampa got arrested those few times or lost all bladder control during a particular concert experience. Hopefully there won’t be too many sour glares from the lutefisk crowd at the other end of the room.