Thursday, November 26, 2009

A Death on Red Bird Lane

The young creature lay in the muddy ditch, her last few breaths painful and labored.

I was only surprised that this had not happened sooner and more often. Sure, I’d taken lives before, twice intentionally, but those were old, bitter chickens. (It’s harder to kill a chicken with a .45 Colt M1911 handgun than you might imagine.)
This time it was just another vehicular tragedy, one car vs. one young whitetail doe.
I’ve lived in the country most of my life. I see live deer at least a couple of times a week. I have always been watchful and cautious especially in the morning and in the evenings when deer get brave enough to roam. But it’s still pretty much a numbers game, drive enough miles amongst that many deer, it’s bound to happen eventually.
I’ve had a few close encounters. Several years ago I was taking my morning walk down a country road as I did every morning for several years. The road was lined by old cattle fencing which was overgrown with various tall and climbing weeds in most places. I heard a queer noise. (I’m taking that word back) from behind the brush. It was as if someone were coughing; short, sharp staccato coughs into a large steel barrel. At the time I had no idea what it was so I went ahead and wet myself.
Within seconds a large male whitetail leaped over the fence right in front of me, hoofs clattering onto the rough pavement. I froze. The buck didn’t. He was braver than I in this situation. He took a couple of quick steps then launched himself over the fence on the other side of the road. I took a moment to reflect on what I’d just witnessed. Though still slightly shaken, I did absorb the event. As I was absorbing there came a rustle to my right, then a whoosh as five females, moving as if connected, leapt in turn over the fence, onto the road and over the fence on the other side, no more than five feet in front of me.
Then they were gone. All turned quiet. I quivered, marveled and stood awe-struck for a while. I had noticed something disturbing. They did not look both ways before crossing. This simple lesson usually honed into preschool human children was completely unknown to these fair creatures. They did not look around; they merely followed the buck and each other blindly.
This was the first of a couple of deer-related lessons I have learned, and taught to some of my children.
1. Where’s there’s one deer, there are probably more, and they aren’t paying attention to you.
I recall telling my story to others at work that day, each and everyone I told it to had their own story of deer and roads, occasionally ending in disaster. It seems everyone I know has had close encounters or been the son, daughter, sister, brother, spouse of someone that did. The stories usually involved vehicles and tragedy.
I thought about this a lot, especially as I drove past that very spot twice a day, at sunup and sundown. I always slowed down near the area, expecting history to repeat itself in a bloody and metal mangling way. I thought about what to do if it indeed happened, just casually driving home from work then WHOOSH! a gaggle of deer leaps over the fence into my path. I studied the area. It wasn’t that different from any of the other country roads I drove, blind curves, narrow, shoulder-less stretches, fences, fence posts, utility poles, trees, and always sharp, deep, rock lined ditches. My options would be limited should nature ever attack unexpectedly. No matter which way I veered I would not fare well. The ditch would bend the frame of the car, the fence posts, poles and trees would certainly crush the front end as well as deploying the airbags into my beautiful face. Crossing over to the other lane would risk a head on from some redneck hauling ass in his mammoth rusty pickup truck.
I decided then and there on lesson number two.
2. Don’t swerve, ever.
This rule applies for squirrels, dogs, cats, raccoons, koalas, and flamingos as well, depending on where you live. Swerving is far more likely to get you mangled or killed than just hanging on and punching through. Apply brakes of course, but if I recall correctly it takes a 40MPH car about six miles to come to a complete stop. You aren’t going to be able to stop in time in most cases, but you can try to minimize the damage; the damage to your car that is. A deer’s spindly legs weren’t built for lateral assaults by Oldsmobiles. The animal is most likely going to die.
Does that sound sad and heartless? It shouldn’t, everything dies eventually. Death is just a part of life; well it’s the very, very, very end part of life, but still a part of life. Deer used to have natural predators in these parts that took care of the dirty work. Bear, wildcats, saber tooth possums and giant carnivorous frogs.(trust me on the frog thing) We’ve all but eliminated those natural predators, in fact we’ve pretty much replaced them. We have become the deer’s only remaining living, breathing predator except for fleas and ticks, and those tiny things take forever to take one down.
Out in the country where I live the number one killer of deer is starvation, disease and freezing temperatures. Okay, okay, that’s more like the top three killers but you should get my point. Nature itself kills more deer than all the rolling steel that Detroit has managed to put out. It is our solemn duty to take on the serious and somber reality we inherited by eliminating the other predators.
3. Deer are stupid, or evil.
They aren’t wise and lovable furry pets as depicted by that mass murderer of animals, Walt Disney. His classic cartoon ‘Bambi’ was no more about wildlife than Spongebob Squarepants is about cleaning supplies. ‘Bambi’ was just another animated metaphor about a coming of age youngster that just tragically lost a parent. (Walt killed off lots and lots of parents, especially moms. Just think about it. Even Nemo’s mom was sacrificed for mere entertainment purposes.)
Deer are basically rats with bigger eyes and longer legs. They are not sweet, affectionate, gentle creatures. You’ve seen the video of the deer brutally attacking the innocent hunter haven’t you? They are wild creatures with no manners and no respect for boundaries or authority. They may appear cute and timid, but they are no more innocent than the perfectly harmless blacksnake you hoe in half in your garden or the mice you trap and poison in your attic.
Tens of thousands of years ago (or six thousand years ago depending on your belief system) early humans domesticated wolves to become their best friends, not deer. Why is that? Because wolves could put two and two together and deer could not. Not literally, true mathematics still seems to elude dogs, but what I’m trying to say is that wolves/dogs figure things out, they learn from past experiences. Deer just don’t seem to. (Also deer could probably never successfully intimidate cattle enough to be able to herd them, the cattle would probably just snicker)
Also to that point, my brother’s old small pickup truck was attacked by a crazed covey of deer just a few months ago. Four of them leaped right into the side of his truck as he was innocently driving to work. The damage to the truck was significant and expensive. Two of the deer died immediately of snapped necks, the other two ran away, limping and cursing. This example points out that deer are either A. Stupid, or B. Vicious, suicidal terrorists. I’m actually cutting them some slack by calling them merely stupid.
This morning started out no more dramatic than the previous thousand or so. The sun had been up for mere minutes, I left the house at my usual time, ready for the long commute. Klondike road to Red Bird Lane, to Hillsboro - House Springs Road, to Hayden, to Highway 21, then on to St. Louis’ own modern version of the Trail of Tears, I-270. This morning’s run ended early on Red Bird, no more than three miles from my house and just around a gentle curve. Directly in front of me stood a doe, a deer, a female deer. She bolted, as did the two behind it. Unfortunately that move put the lagging two directly in my path. No road shoulder, a deep ditch, trees, all the pieces I had imagined were in place. My self training and indoctrination kicked in. I applied earnest braking, non-skid, and hoped for the best. In those mere nanoseconds of rapid brain activity I saw it all. I calculated that the third deer was simply not going to make it, it would clip the passenger side of my small car with its full broadside, and there was no way around it. I even envisioned the possibility of it crashing through the windshield into my lap as noted in some of those stories I’d heard.
It was over very quickly; I pulled to the side of the road, engaged the emergency flashers and examined the damage. The deer was in the ditch, totaled. I didn’t approach it because that would be stupid. You’ve heard the stories. It was either dead or dying or just waiting for me to get close enough to her to attack. It was either the deer or me, today was my turn to survive. I had no gun or long knife to put it out of its misery if it was suffering. It lay lifeless in the ditch, not even a flinch.
The car fared slightly better. The headlight cowling and the hood took the brunt of the impact. No mechanical damage, but the hood was dented and pushed in and up a few inches significantly reducing its otherwise near-perfect aerodynamic profile.
I drove home to use the phone to call the insurance company; there was no cell phone coverage on Red Bird. Within fifteen minutes of the accident, I again passed the spot where it had occurred. Sitting there were three large pickup trucks idling and flashing. Four or five overall and becapped men stood by the trucks starting longingly into the ditch. The animal would be turned into food for these men’s families; the purest, earliest form of recycling.
Yes, it bothers me that I killed a deer. I like animals and usually go out of my way to avoid hurting them. I anthropomorphized the deer and its family and friends. I then realized that this was just silly. Her family and friends did not even slow down or look back. Deer lack sympathy, compassion and grief.
I reviewed my self-taught lessons, don’t swerve, deer are stupid, where there’s one there are more. I still stand by them. I’m sorry that a deer had to die for no better reason than being in the wrong place at the wrong time. But then again, that’s how they all die.

Part 2, the sequel, some days later.

My car is in the shop, possibly for quite a while. The deer damage requires a new hood and a new headlight assembly and maybe some tweaking to the front quarter panel. Parts availability is an issue for a ten year old Oldsmobile.
For the first two days I drove Angel’s 2005 Trailblazer SUV. I had never driven it before. It’s big and large and huge. My 2-door Olds Alero is tiny in comparison. The Trailblazer’s ride is very smooth and it runs very quiet. My Alero handles pretty good; it’s low to the ground and holds the road pretty tight. The Trailblazer is a cruise ship by comparison. Its brakes are exceptional, by which I mean in better shape than the Alero so I made a LOT of jerky, erratic stops in the big SUV.
I suppose I could eventually get used to it.

This morning I left the SUV since Angel needed it to transport some dogs. Instead I took Adam’s car. It’s a ‘99 Cavalier with one hundred and seventy thousand miles, large primer spots and only three hubcaps. It was never intended for anything other than getting him to class and work. He has taken it down to Springfield a couple of times though.
I started to take it yesterday but got worried. First the check engine light was on, that didn’t bother me too much, but the radiator light kept coming on and going off. I turned around after a couple of miles and took the SUV instead.
It was just a month ago that I lost the main fan belt on the Alero. I was on the Trail of Tears (I-270) when lights started popping on, the steering got stiff and the temperature started rising. I was able to eventually coast it into a gas station where I spent the next couple of hours in the rain watching a local mechanic fix it right there in the parking lot. I shelled out nearly three hundred, cash (no checks or credit cards please) and lost a couple hours of work. When the Cavalier’s dash started blinking I had flashbacks and decided I did not want to deal with another car crisis this soon.

I called home later and asked Angel to get Adam to check the fluids, etc. Turns out it was just a little low and that everything else was either a known problem or not a problem.
So this morning I crawled in and decided to not worry. It started just fine though with a little puff of dark smoke and a few rattles. It smelled like hot oil and old age. Unmistakably this car had been around the block more than once. The steering was stiff and not quite centered, the wind whistled through the dried and cracked door seals. The interior lights were dim, the stereo was knobless. The worn cloth seat fit somebody like a glove. I could hear every piston stroke of the small engine. Once on the highway I threw caution to the wind and opened it up to 65. It purred along nicely. In a way it felt comfortable, familiar, the stiff steering was actually a good thing, it was responsive not squishy.
This car seemed oddly familiar, it rode, smelled and sounded just like my old Mazda.
Five or six years ago in Maryland, I decided to get a project car and fix it up Those of you who know me can stop laughing any time now, I’ll wait.

I paid six hundred dollars for the 1985 Gen 1 RX7. A two seater with a rotary engine, a leaky oil cooler and virtually no paint left on it.

I spent an additional thousand bucks to get it to pass the state inspection; tires, alignments, rocker arms, brakes, and a few other parts I’d never heard of and to this day am unsure if they actually exist. I spent several weekends chasing down electrical issues. The original wiring harnesses had been spliced and rerouted several times in the 20 years since originally installed. Nothing ended up being where it was supposed to be.
It took two solid weekends just to solve the puzzle of why the stereo fuse would blow every time I turned the headlights off. (False ground).
I drove this car as my daily commuter for nearly two years. I never did get it painted and I never trusted it enough for cross country cruising. But for going to and from work, it was just fine, almost fun and fearless. A couple of trim parts did fly off in a high wind once, but other than that and the ever-present trail of oil, it did it’s one and only job quite nicely. I sold it for slightly less than I paid for it not feeling bad about that. I’d had my fun, and was ready to slip back into practicality.
Adam’s car got me to work in plenty of time, no fuss, no muss. I remembered to turn off the headlights (the headlights in the Olds and SUV are automatic) and left it in the parking lot, unlocked, heck, I could have just left the keys in it.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Viral emails, life lessons finally challenged, innocent lemmings being murdered by Walt Disney. . .

We all get these emails I believe, no not those, the others. You know, someone reads something they find interesting, amusing, or inspirational and forwards it to you and about eleven thousand other people, half of whom will also send it to you.
Often these things are distributed blindly. Many of these ‘viral’ emails contain misattributed works or outright falsehoods. This should not be news to you. I decided to go to and check this one. * ( the * indicates a footnote.)
Well, well, well. It turns out that indeed Regina Brett is a columnist for the ‘Plain Dealer’ and she did compile this list. HOWEVER… She’s not ninety, she’s only in her early fifties. That’s right; she’s the same age as me. Which means that I am potentially just as wise as she.
When I said she compiled the list, I chose that word carefully and with some malice. None of these are her original thoughts or words. This infuriates me, and I assume (hope) it bothers her. This is her most popular column ever and she didn’t even write the nut of the thing. She collected a pile of bumper stickers, church signs, Hummel figurines, kitten posters and 'Family Circus' cartoons and found some homilies she liked and then made a list of them. Wow… what a great gig that would be.
Just for grins, I decided to challenge her entire fluffy philosophy, line by line. Below is the article as sent to me, with my commentary added in italics (the slanty letters).

Written By Regina Brett, 90 years old, in the "The Plain Dealer" newspaper, Cleveland , Ohio :
"To celebrate growing older, I once wrote the 41 lessons life taught me. It is the most-requested column I've ever written. My odometer rolled over to 90 in August, so here is the column once more:"

1. Life isn't fair, but it's still good. Correction… Life is not ‘good’ it’s just assumed to be better than death … by how much is always debatable.

2. When in doubt, just take the next small step. What? Step into even more certain uncertainty? I don’t’ think so... Stop, drop and roll! Duck and cover! Retreat! Your next small step may be the last one the lemmings took! ** ( See note below!)

3. Life is too short to waste time hating anyone. Unless they really, really deserve to be hated.. then it’s better than candy.(ex's anyone?)

4. Your job won't take care of you when you are sick. Your friends and parents will. Stay in touch. You obviously have never met my friends or family. At least my job pays for part of my health insurance.

5. Pay off your credit cards every month. The only way I could do that is by paying them off with other loans or credit cards. I’m sorry, but I learned financial management form the government. I just hope I'm deemed too big to fail.

6. You don't have to win every argument. Agree to disagree. I disagree, vehemently and so should you, so there.

7. Cry with someone. It's more healing than crying alone. Crying isn’t about healing. Only time (and maybe money) heals.. crying only gets you made fun of by other dudes. It also makes your face all red and puffy. That is just not a winning look in my world.

8. Save for retirement starting with your first paycheck. Gee thanks, NOW you tell me.

9. When it comes to chocolate, resistance is futile. Chocolate is a only a flavor. Easily enough resisted if you just put on your big girl skivvies and act like a responsible grownup.

10. Make peace with your past so it won't screw up the present. I choose to not only make peace with my past; I completely ignore it at every possible opportunity. However my ‘present’ still gets screwed up anyhow. Whats up with that?

11. Don't compare your life to others. You have no idea what their journey is all about. Yet you seem to know 41 secrets that will make my life better… hmm… your hypocrisy (or merely flawed logic) is showing.

12. If a relationship has to be a secret, you shouldn't be in it. That sort of takes all the fun out of it. What a buzz kill. It also makes me suspect that you’ve never actually had a secret relationship, or you’d know better. I encourage everyone to form some type of secret relationship!

13. Take a deep breath. It calms the mind. Even better than just air, take a deep toke on a certain controlled substance, that’ll really put your mind at ease. (so I hear)

14. Get rid of anything that isn't useful, beautiful or joyful. I did, that’s why my family and friends won’t be around to bail me out. Make up your mind.

15. Whatever doesn't kill you really does make you stronger. No, it just makes you not dead yet. I’ve been near death a few times, and I’m still an overweight, out–of-shape couch potato.

16. It's never too late to have a happy childhood. But the second one is up to you and no one else. Happy childhoods are vastly overrated. It’s what you do with whatever shambles were handed you that truly defines your character.

17. When it comes to going after what you love in life, don't take no for an answer. Unless that thing you love is socially awkward, or even unacceptable, like fondling strangers… I would really, really love to fondle certain strangers… should I take ‘no’ for an answer?

18. Burn the candles, use the nice sheets, wear the fancy lingerie. Don't save it for a special occasion. Today is special. Today? Not so special, I’ve got a headache.

19. Over prepare, then go with the flow. This is silly, going with the flow completely negates the need for preparing and planning. I say, why expend the frontend effort?

20. Be eccentric now. Don't wait for old age to wear purple. You don’t remember the seventies do you… ‘Purple’ was quite the thing…

21. The most important sex organ is the brain. But even that organ tends to be premature or hopelessly flaccid a lot more than it once was.

22. No one is in charge of your happiness but you. Never, ever, ever put me in charge of anyone’s happiness, especially my own.

23. Frame every so-called disaster with these words ''In five years, will this matter?". I said that very thing during Hurricane Katrina, and my first marriage… turns out that the answer is quite often ‘Yes”

24. Always choose life. Unless you are buying food. Dead food tends to take a lot less preparation.

25. Forgive everyone everything. But forget nothing…

26. What other people think of you is none of your business. "I think you are a lazy, incompetent idiot…So you’re fired." Hmmm, maybe sometimes it IS your business.

27. Time heals almost everything. Give time, time. Just ask any lawyer, it isn’t always TIME that heals best … quite often large sums of money work just as well.

28. However good or bad a situation is, it will change. Or not… If all things change then surely the validity of this statement will as well.

29. Don't take yourself so seriously. No one else does. You’re kidding right?

30. Believe in miracles. Miracles are like luck, there’s no real harm in believing in or hoping for such things, just don’t count on them.

31. Don't audit life. Show up and make the most of it now. Don’t take stock of your life? Wow, who’s the underachiever now?

32. Growing old beats the alternative -- dying young.... I don’t think you are qualified to make that assertion. I’d like to actually hear from some dead people, old and young as to which is preferable.

33. Your children get only one childhood. And they only get one liver, stomach, brain and nose as well. I’m not sure of your point.

34. All that truly matters in the end is that you loved. Really? Living in a box on a cold street corner addicted to crystal meth doesn’t really matter in the end? Your crimes against humanity don’t matter in the end as long as you loved?

35. Get outside every day. Miracles are waiting everywhere. But only outdoors?

36. If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else's, we'd grab ours back. Not on your life. I’ve really, REALLY boofed the pooch a few times…

37. Envy is a waste of time. You already have all you need. Wanting something we don’t have is exactly how we evolved into the fine creatures we are. We are born completely helpless and must rely on others for everything. The shrill cry of a hungry baby is completely selfish. It demands unashamed and unapologetically to be fed and tended to. Is this form of envy a waste of time? No, it’s how we survive and thrive. To stop reaching for more, to stop wanting more or better is to settle for who, what, and where we are as the best it can possibly be for ourselves. H.G Wells described people like this. They were called the Eloi in his book: 'The Time Machine'. ***

38. The best is yet to come. Man, I certainly hope so…It's been a real all-uphill roller coaster ride so far..

39. No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up. Unless of course you feel like you have H1N1… then please, please stay in bed.

40. Yield. You are saying do not lead, do not set goals, do not strive for your own better wants and needs, let everyone else go first? Really?

41. Life isn't tied with a bow, but it's still a gift.. Life is not a gift, it’s a result. Your parents… well you know what they did.. and you were the result. They didn’t even know what you would turn out to be. And yes, sometimes life isn’t pretty.. duh. It took this lady 90 (53) years to come up with that nugget of wisdom? Man, I 'm way ahead of her on that curve...

Feel free to email this article this to eleven thousand people.



** Lemmings do not actually commit mass suicide.


There, I’ve beaten her word count, used original thoughts, conducted actual research, included references and footnotes. I’ll sit back now and wait for MY Pulitzer.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Reluctant Doorman

I love my new job, I really do. It’s challenging without being overwhelming. I like the people I work with and they pretty much leave me alone.
When I first started here I was located with my five immediate co workers, in a small, secluded office area with twenty desks. Only about half of the desks in that office were occupied. The desks were vintage 1970’s wooden office desks with typewriter trays intact. (remember those?) One of the trays still held a typewritten 1975 office directory held on by cracked, yellowing cellophane tape. We think everyone on that list has since passed away.
The desks were scratched, stained, missing hardware, and I suspected, somewhat moldy. For the two months I sat in that office every time someone rifled through a drawer my sinuses would launch a red alert. This was followed by an immediate and violent evacuation of all head fluids. I sneezed at least a couple times per day. Not cute little wheezy sneezes either, these were supersonic, geyser-like neck snappers. Within a few minutes of leaving the office each evening my sinuses would clear and would be just fine until about eight fifteen the next day. So when we were told that we would be moving to a more modern area closer to our cousin-teams, I was quite relieved.
Last week they moved us to ‘temporary’ desks/cubicles in the newer area. The cubes / desks were nowhere near each other; they simply had us fill whatever empty accommodations there were. There are two distinct cubicle areas sharing one large, L-shaped open office space. In the middle, at the intersection of the two areas is the main entry door. There are other exits, but this central one is the only one leading to the elevators and restrooms. As we are on the third floor and are by far mostly over the age of forty, the elevators and restrooms are crucial and busy.
The door is card-activated. Everyone has a key card and has to swipe it in a finicky card reader to get into the area. (All card readers are finicky in my opinion.)
At this narrow intersection are two cubicles all by themselves. They are arranged so that whoever is unlucky enough to inherit one of these cubes has their back to both the door and the voluminous foot traffic. The two large sections are home to perhaps seventy five people and one shared break room which is also nearby.
So in the course of a normal day, whoever is so richly blessed to have one of these two orphan cubicles gets walked behind by everyone, often several times a day. So forget about napping, web surfing, staring off into space, belching, or discreetly scratching one’s self.
Of course with these less than ideal seating arrangements, those lucky two are interrupted several times per day to answer the timid knocking on the door of those poor souls that forgot, lost, or are having trouble swiping their key cards.
You guessed it; I inherited one of these two prime cubicles. I was told it would be temporary, but in a nearly two hundred year old company time has its own, slightly different perspective. My previous desk you may recall, was thirty five years old. What do you have in constant use around where you work or live that’s thirty five years old? So I don’t have a lot of comfort with the company’s concept of ‘temporary.’
As far as the foot traffic, that’s just a minor annoyance that I can often tune out. (Ask my former co-workers about my uncanny ability to tune things out, including them!) Having my back to everything is much worse. I hear the footsteps and feel the breeze but I don’t know if the person behind me at any point in time is the vending machine guy, the boss, HIS boss, or just one of my fellow worker bees. Often there are footsteps, a breeze, and then the footsteps suddenly stop right behind me. About once per week it’s someone coming to talk to me, the other ten thousand times it’s just someone pausing at the door. This morning some guy paused long enough to noisily throw his pop can into the garbage bin under my desk… while I was sitting there, without uttering a word, as if it were a public park receptacle and I was just another bum sleeping on a bench.
The lady in the adjoining cube is a programmer. She doesn’t talk much, doesn’t get a lot of visitors and seems to work shorter hours than I do. She’s not a problem at all. I’ve been working on improving her sense of humor though. I need someone nearby to laugh at something I’ve said at least a couple of times per day or I just don’t feel like I’ve accomplished anything. I don’t think it’s too much to ask, after all I politely pretend to not eavesdrop the ten times per day she’s on the phone with her family members. (Her teen-aged daughter is home with pinkeye, the medicine seems to be working better now, but they are now out of pudding cups, so yogurt will have to suffice till after work.)
Tap, tap.. Someone else forgot their key card. That’s okay, I’ll get it. I just hope they don’t explain in more than enough detail WHY they don’t have their badge. As the reluctant, de-facto doorman, I can assure you that I really don’t care. I already know it’s a simple mistake to make, and everyone does it once in a while. I really just don’t care to listen to feeble, forgettable and irrelevant excuses, it’s simply unnecessary. I sit by the door, I answer the door, that’s just fine by me, and it all pays the same.
Which is the only cool part; whether I’m troubleshooting a German language error message on a massive business-critical database, or simply answering the door, I get paid as if I’m troubleshooting a German language error message on a massive, business-critical database. So go ahead, be my guest. Those ships, trains and barges at the grain mills in the Ukraine can surely wait to be loaded or unloaded.
“Okay Comrade Grohenikivovski, I’ve just about got the problem solved, we should be able to start reprocessing your offloading documents again in just a moment or two I just need to clear up one more…. Oh, sorry about that, someone’s at the door, I’m going to put you on hold. . . So you’ll be listening to some decadent, capitalist, country-gospel music by a group called ‘Heavenly Banjos. ’ ” . . .while I take care of this more pressing matter.” (Long pause). “I’m back, who is this again please? Oh yeah that’s right comrade, and what were we talking about?” Those Ukrainians can be so impatient. “Oh, of course, sorry for the very expensive delay and I certainly hope it does all get offloaded before it starts rotting, but Janie from desktop support didn’t have her key card since she left her adorable brown jacket, the one with the belt, in her husband’s car and he left for work before she did, but she’ll be sure to have it tomorrow. She’s been just so darn forgetful since her mother’s been in that horrible new nursing home and calls like ten times a day, ALWAYS at the worst possible time.”
Then there’s the other thing; visitors to the area looking for someone specific. Now recall that I’ve only been working for this company for three months, and I just moved into this new office area last week. There are about seventy five people in this area and I know about eight of then by name or job. But since I sit right inside the door I am always the first person that a visitor sees and that absolutely MUST mean I know where David Johnson sits. Well lady, today is simply not your lucky day, ‘cause I’ve never heard of David Johnson, I don’t know what he does or who he sits near or who you might talk to from his team since I don’t even know what the 'GTR Team’ is, and in fact I don’t even know who WOULD know.
The visitor’s reaction to my sincere apologies and understandable ignorance? Disgust, anger, fury.
My neighbor, the programmer, and I discussed this during one of the three actual conversations we’ve had. (Since I moved in she’s been wearing a noise cancelling IPod thingy and no longer hears the knocks at the door. She claims de facto seniority.) I told her I should get a couple of little ‘go away’ signs made up that say “NOT a Receptionist” or “These desks reserved for people that are currently under criminal investigation for heinous violent acts.” or “We apologize for the inconvenience, but just because you don’t know where you are or where you are going does not mean that we are required to either know or care.” or “My third grader is selling wrapping paper!”
But it’s all okay, it’s just petty work stuff, and in this economy a good job is a very precious thing. And if there is one, even more valuable thing that I’ve learned recently it’s that. . . . hang on, someone’s at the door.

Friday, September 11, 2009

A simple Indiscretion or a subliminal message; How are we to know?

It was another beautiful late summer day. We've really lucked out this summer. Temperature around seventy five at noon, a few small clouds snailing by, threatening nothing. I took my cheese crackers, pudding cup, bottle of water and a fifteen year old suspense novel outside to the building's picnic tables by the pond, under the large trees.
This is my daily lunch ritual, though most days I don't have a pudding cup, just the crackers. I sit in the shade, read a couple of chapters then stop ten minutes early to take a brisk walk to stir the circulation a bit before returning to the cube. As I exited the building I had to step around a couple of people, but only a couple.
There are large stone steps that lead down to a gravel path toward the tables. Sitting on one of the steps was a twelve year old girl. Actually she's probably in her mid twenties or older, but not much. I wouldn't have given it another thought other then the fact that she was sitting there bent forward talking on her cell phone. It's not the cell phone that drew my notice, those things are beyond ubiquitous. Her shirt had ridden up a bit and her jeans were pulling in the other direction, not much, but certainly enough. It was as if a universal guy alarm was going off:
THONG!!!!!!!!!!! THONG!!!!!!!!!! THONG!!!!!!
I looked around and noticed that a couple of other guys had seen/heard it as well. They didn't have to tell me as much, I could just tell by looking at what they were looking at. We nodded in silent acknowledgment of each other, but said nothing. Strangers, perhaps even workplace rivals in a spontaneous shared, unifying awareness. It was kind of like that cold, miserable Christmas day at the Battle of the Bulge in WW2. From all corners of all fronts there was an impromptu upwelling of simple Christmas song, sung in German and English in unison. No shots fired, simply a shared, almost magical moment that momentarily overshadowed all else.
I'm nobody's prude, nor do I feel it is any of my business to judge what another person's underwear choice is. This is America; I served proudly for nine years in this nation’s military precisely to protect a person’s right to choose their own underpants. Well, that among other things anyhow. Bottom line (snicker) is I simply don't care what a person wears under their pants. Nor am I offended or morally outraged when I happen to get a sneak peek occasionally. Hey, I'm a nice, decent guy, but I'm not dead yet.
There is a serious double standard that I will admit to though. I don't care to see ANY dude's underwear, at any time. I especially don't want to see three quarters of a pair of boxers above an impossibly low belt line as some of the kids are inclined to wear. That's just awful. However, if the ladies were to adopt that style I surely would not complain as much . I admit it; I'm still a bit of a chauvinist that way.
Be it as it may, I did notice the thong for a few seconds, and maybe again for a few more. This is not avoidable. I cannot speak for most men on many subjects so I can't say that we're all like this, but in casual conversations with the few guys I actually have ever casually conversed with, this seems to be nearly universal. If we can steal a peek at a lady's undergarment, very discretely of course, we will. We might feel guilty, we might not, either way we're going to look.
Ladies, please just accept this knowledge and do not hate us for it. It seems to be the way we are wired, we can't help it. The same goes for cleavage, but that's another story. Just know this, hate it if you like, but seriously just know this. If a lady's undergarment is visible, we will look. We will even enjoy looking. We didn't write this genetic mutation, we just exist within its stringent, incomprehensible boundaries.
Also ladies, don't take from this that we are necessarily interested in any shape or form in the actual person wearing the scanty threads. Just because we can see a thong, or an ample perky bosom, does not mean we care a wit about the lady displaying such things. Most likely once the chance viewing is over we will soon forget them entirely. We mean no harm nor do we necessarily desire them, love them, or dream of marrying them just because we smile when we see something we like to see. We're men, we are indeed ‘pigs’, this should not be news to you.

Back to the thong episode. As with many other unimportant, trivial things, I've given this sort of thing a lot of thought, a LOT of thought, and not just the bad kind. I often ponder the sociology and psychology of this sort of thing. Was this young lady, otherwise a bit sullen and unremarkable aware that her lingerie was smiling at us behind her back? She made certain conscious choices to be sure. 1. Low cut Jeans, no belt 2. A top that barely met the jeans in the middle. 3. Bending over and staying bent over. 4, this is a workplace, not a discotheque, and 4.Did I mention THONG!!!!! ?

I've also pondered extensively the mechanical structure of the thong vs. more 'traditional' underpants. Thongs will, because of the very narrow vertical attachment to a much wider ( I almost wrote 'much, MUCH wider', but thought that might appear insensitive) horizontal support tend to cause the sides of the horizontal structure to rise up on the sides or stay put and only pull down at the middle. The narrow stress point at the junction will be supporting the entire load, the sides are simply too far away to help with the struggle. Unlike traditional briefs where the load is more evenly distributed across a broader ( once again, edited for sensitivity) support area, the rearward thong junction forms a sharp 'Y' when under strain.
More evenly stressed jeans (and traditional underpants) will slide down only a modest, virtually unnoticeable couple of inches having distributed the load more evenly, vertically and horizontally while sitting or bending, but only PART of the thong will. It will appear to all those watching, and yes we are watching, that the thong is leaping at us out of your pants.
So my somewhat rhetorical question is this ladies... Are you aware of this? Are you aware when you choose to dress this way that it will be noticed? Not just by your dream guy, but ALL guys? I'm just curious.
Also what if anything are we, the other guys, supposed to do or think? It has been my decision to notice, remain discrete, perhaps appreciate for a moment, then move on as if we never had this encounter. Is that okay? I mean, you don't really want a short, out - of - shape, middle aged guy with ZERO fashion sense (though very well endowed with more ethereal cerebral charms) coming up to you and mentioning it do you? Surely you don't. You might say that if we were proper gentlemen we would just look away.
Sorry precious princess, that's just not rational, that simply is never, ever going to happen!

You've been warned. I, and others just like me are watching.

By the way ladies, you are NOT completely off the hook. Several women saw it too, even some that stopped for a familiar chat with thong-girl. NONE of them said anything to her about it. I KNOW they noticed, and I KNOW they didn’t mention it because I could easily see and hear them. I was a mere few inches away, discretely crouched behind a shrub.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Of Mice and Tea

“Do you hear that?” Angel asked. I listened. “That scratching sound?” I answered. “There it is again.” she started scanning the kitchen. It continued to scratch, not from above, not from below, but at just about ear level. Our moderately powerful binaural sense of hearing able to locate the direction of the sound had us both looking directly at the oven. Our oven is a built-in, the top at chest level. It’s a fairly old one, maybe from the early eighties. The dials and always-incorrect clock are analog, nothing fancy at all.
The scratching was definitely coming from the oven. I prepared to open the door to see what charred food bits had perhaps come back to life when Angel let out a giggle. I followed her eyes to see what would cause that reaction. Above the oven door and below the controls is a vent built in to the face of the appliance. It’s about one inch tall running the entire width of the face, nothing more than small slits cut into the steel. A small pink hand reached out from one of the slits… a few whiskers and a pink nose from the one beside it. Angel was now giddy with delight.
“How did he get in there?” I asked no one in particular. Angel was of course trying to calm it, or pet it. The mouse was not as amused, sniffing, retreating then quickly returning. We pulled at the oven, it did not budge. I examined the top and bottom and discovered about a hundred screws, a few dozen of them probably to hold the unit in place, the others serving no apparent purpose whatsoever other than to add a sense of symmetry.
It was late on Friday night, about eleven thirty, and we had consumed our evening wine. We were in no shape to be undertaking a rescue mission involving live rodents and sharp tools.
“We’ll get it in the morning” I announced. “He’ll either still be there or will have found his way back out by then.”
Many years ago Angel and I agreed to not say anything important, make big plans, or bring up any new business after nine or ten at night. The reasoning being quite solid, we don’t always remember what was said after a glass or two of our favorite fine boxed chardonnay at this late hour, just moments before slumber. This rule generally keeps us out of trouble with each other.
In this case it meant that by Saturday morning, we had completely forgotten about the mouse in the oven, completely forgotten.
We went through our normal Saturday routine, Angel starting around seven thirty with the inevitable harmonious howling of the dogs in the basement. ( at which time I grabbed her pillow and put it over my head to block out the insidious sunshine that dares to burn through my eyelids) I slept until eight thirty or so. Angel had a ten o’clock class and spent the morning rotating our four permanent dogs, the one long-term foster, Brady, and the large bloodhound, Howie who was in for a week of basic training . By ten o'clock all had been fed, allowed playtime and were back in for a nap. Though I had been up for over an hour by then I really was not quite my normal, charming and brilliant human self yet.

I made lunch. Ten A.M may sound early, but you’ll notice I didn’t mention having any breakfast. On weekends I tend to have two meals per day, one at ten A.M. and dinner around five P.M. Call the first meal whatever you like. Sometimes it’s waffles, pancakes or other breakfast fare, most of the time it is much more lunch-like. This Saturday morning I cleaned up some leftovers; Enchilada salad with catfish and hushpuppy croutons. Basically a small salad of lettuce, tomatoes, shredded cheese, onions and bell peppers serving as a bed for a thawed out and re-heated homemade enchilada form earlier in the week, and sprinkled with the crumbles of two small catfish strips and two hushpuppies left over from Thursday’s, or Wednesday’s dinner. There was not enough fish to make a sandwich, and nothing else Mexican leftover. Of course I made my fabulous iced tea.
A few months back we were celebrating something, the refinance or the new job, I don’t recall, but we decided to celebrate in style. I declared that I wanted a good steak. We were in Festus (so it must have been the re-fi) and looked around at our options. There overlooking the interstate and just a quick drop down from Lowes was a ‘Ruby Tuesday’s’. I had never eaten there, Angel said she had and though she never had the steak she insisted that they looked very good.
I scanned the menu and chose the combination that I have had several times since. A nine ounce sirloin, RARE, or as I have been known to order it ‘Barely Legal’. With this they offered Broccoli which I completely and with stoic malice rejected, and demanded they replace it with something actually edible, like green beans (with onion straws). The creamy mashed potatoes sounded just fine, and of course, unsweetened iced tea.
For the past few years I have only had tea in restaurants. At home a pitcher of unsweetened (as I like it) tea goes cloudy and sour before I can drink it all and with our heavily mineralized well water takes on a peculiar, almost unpleasant taste (our water is also largely responsible for having eliminated coffee from my daily life).
The salad bar was well stocked and fresh. It was all I could do to not gorge myself on its offerings alone, but I moderated. Angel and Adam fought and fussed over the dark squishy croutons that I did not find the least bit appealing.
The tea arrived. It was lovely. It was so clear it actually seemed to sparkle. The brandy brown color was perfect, the taste, oh the taste was heavenly. I remarked on this point several times, apparently to the dismay of my family. “It’s just tea dad.” Adam would say repeatedly.
“This is not ‘just tea’ son, I’ve had plenty of ‘just tea’, and this is something altogether different!”
Angel lowered her head into her hands as she does when she is very, very proud of me. Adam stared at me with his mouth hanging open in what I assume was awe and reverence. He knew I was right, he also knew I was not just making a deal over something inconsequential.
The tea was spectacular, truly wonderful.
The steak arrived, still mooing as I had ordered it. The potatoes turned out to be exceptional, and the beans, pan fried to a perfect al dente with just a few slivers of crispy onion straws. I absolutely loved this meal, savoring every bite, but it was the tea that I thought about and talked about for several days. (and sent an email to the company about)
Angel suggested that even though she was not capable of actually discerning its specific grand wonderfulness with her obviously inferior and unrefined taste buds, she did at least think it was Luzianne rather than Lipton or some other low class swill. I demanded she purchase some immediately. She laughed of course as she does when she is cowering in fear at the forcefulness of my commands.
She did get some at her next grocery run. I pulled out the dusty tea kettle and rinsed it out. Then instead of just filling it at the tap I had a revelation. I dried the kettle out, popped open a bottle of water (which we keep at all times due to the unfortunate taste of our well water) and poured it into the kettle.
I let the kettle whistle just long enough to drive the family and dogs insane, and then looked around for options. Yet another brilliant thought occurred to me. I reached up into the cupboard and found my long abandoned French press. It was dusty as well. I cleaned and dried it and dropped one teabag into it, then poured the whistling water on top. I pushed down the plunger enough to completely submerge the bag, and let it set until it took on a color just darker than perfection. In the other cupboard I found a large beer glass, tall, thick and wide. I filled it to the brim with ice cubes and poured in enough of the steeping tea syrup to fill the glass. Much of the ice melted quickly, the rest cooled the tea to a brilliant frosty temperature. I sipped, and sipped again. “Eureka! I’ve found it! “ I shouted.

“Eureka?” Adam replied “Eureka? Seriously dad?” I started to think he didn’t understand.
“Mom, Dad’s shouting Eureka again!” He called out to Angel who was just at that moment coming in from doing something with some dogs.
“I take it you found the tea.” She said.
“I love you more than life itself, more than is possible for someone like you to ever possibly understand!” I hugged her; she pushed back a little I suppose to be sure I really meant it.
I then explained to them the pursuit, the process and the balance of ingredients and physics that had produced this holiest of nectars. They listened intently even as they walked away.

Here, a couple of months later I made my perfect tea for my Saturday morning enchilada salad with catfish and hushpuppy croutons. The great thing about this tea is that it makes every meal, even a bologna sandwich or a bowl of slightly enhanced canned chili* into a luxurious feast.
After the meal I rested for a while delighting in the after-tea, the second glass that is possible from this process. At some point I did something, checked email and Facebook maybe, responding with cleverness and wit as always. Then I think I did something else that doesn’t require a lot of effort, as that is my style. After all of this and after I had made sure Angel’s class had adjourned I took Bailey out to the woods for a walk. Bailey expects this of me on evenings and weekends and I certainly know better than to disappoint her or throw her schedule off. On our return to the house Angel intercepted me. Curiously there was not a dog in her shadow as there usually is.
“We can leave right now or wait until the two fifty showing, whichever you prefer.” She offered. I looked at her with calm and contemplation pretending to know what she was talking about. “I prefer two fifty.” I answered, though still unsure. Given the choice between right now and a couple of hours later I’ll almost always go for the later time as I generally don’t like doing things ‘right now’.
“You don’t know what I’m talking about do you?” I shook my head and said “The ‘showing’ right?”
“The movie, Dennis, the movie, the one you said you wanted to see this weekend” She answered with love, respect and devotion in her voice.
I nodded my head, and kept nodding till she finally filled in the blank. “Inglorious Basterds!” She shouted. (She thinks I am going deaf, so she tends to shout when she talks to me, it’s really kind of cute).
“Of course! I knew what you were talking about.” I answered laughing.
"Two fifty it is then. That means we’ll have to leave here about two to get there in time in case it’s crowded.” She added “That means you won’t have time for your afternoon nap though.”
“I won’t need a nap, I slept until eight thirty.” I replied, my eyes already getting heavy.
We went into the house and I led Bailey out to the back yard so she could get back to her job, dutifully barking at squirrels, ATV’s and motorcycles.
I sat down in my well deserved recliner and looked at the clock. It was around noon. Angel stared at me, as if she were expecting me to say something. I sat, looked at the clock again…..“I think I’ll go lay down for a bit now if you don’t mind”
She smiled that adoring smile and even giggled a little, that’s how much she loves me.
I awoke from my meditation period around one forty five. I immediately took Bailey out for another walk since I knew she would want one and would be missing a couple later. Bailey was, as always momentarily appreciative. I met Angel in the kitchen as she was repacking her purse. Adam was standing in the living room, just standing. I threw back a swig of cold bottled water just as Angel shrieked and pointed. “He’s back!”
Sure enough the pointy little pink nose and the tiny whiskers were protruding through the vent. A tiny paw grabbed for freedom. Neither Angel nor I admitted to having completely forgotten about him, but we each were silently relieved that neither of us had a more ambitious lunch.
I dashed out to the garage and grabbed a screwdriver. I began loosening screws around the upper face plate. Though the screws came loose easily, seventy of them I think, the oven’s knobs were left holding the cover plate on. We wrenched them off one at a time. The mouse scurried about in fear or anticipation. We struggled for several minutes until we could pry the mouse side of the cover open a few inches. Angel grabbed a hand towel and tried to grab the mouse. Apparently the mouse was not aware of humane rescue techniques and took the gesture as a threat. It retreated back into the bowels of the vent. We looked at the clock, we looked at the vent. I reached into the drawer and grabbed a pair of tongs. My plan was to reach from above while he was focused on that cursed hand towel. They didn’t reach. The mouse did come to the front again, perhaps more afraid of being trapped than being slaughtered and eaten by us. Angel swept the towel over him again which merely knocked him down into the open oven. This was good for us, not so good for the two-inch long rodent. Unlike him, we knew that he didn’t have any other way out so he scrambled to the rear where he was trapped and snared easily by the hand towel.
If you assumed Angel would rush him out the sliding door to the great outdoors, you would be wrong. Instead she opened the door to the garage and set him free there.
What can I say, she’s an animal lover. The garage is rather porous, there’s tiny openings leading to the great outdoors aplenty. Her thinking, as I understand it is that if taken directly outside that a hawk or other predator would quickly snatch it up and devour it. In the garage, it could choose its own escape. She had given it a rational, responsible, humane opportunity to survive.
We made the movie on time, cheering as the Nazis were slaughtered by a ruthless band of Jewish soldiers. Afterwards we decided to go ahead and get something to eat. We were in the less familiar town of Fenton. There was no Ruby Tuesday’s in sight but there was a knock-off called O’Charleys in the same shopping center as the theater. We decided to give it a try.
I personally was very disappointed. The salad was premade and the cucumbers and tomatoes were too big and had to be sliced. The lettuce was also chopped too roughly. I don’t like fussing with a salad, cutting up a cucumber slice into five more manageable bits, carving tomatoes, hacking through iceberg lettuce, I much prefer to enjoy my salad without having to examine each nugget for fit. I like to mix the different pieces together rather than use up an entire bite for the one and only cucumber slice. I like to be free to think grand and pure thoughts as I eat a salad, not waste time playing human weed whacker.
The steak and catfish arrived shortly. The steak was rare as ordered but hidden within the crust were deep and overpowering pockets of black pepper. None in some bites, an entire overdose in others. This required examining each bite rather than savoring it casually. This was made even more disheartening by the fact that either the steak was of poor quality or our knives were simply too dull, it proved rather tough to cut. The catfish was crispy, but the cost of that crispiness was the fish itself. Too dry. Also a bit too salty. Between the salty breading on the fish and the pepper pits on the steak, my taste buds were soon overwhelmed. The baked potato was no relief. Though perfectly cooked and generously drowning in butter and sour cream, the peel for reasons I can’t possibly fathom was encrusted with salt making it inedible. By the end of the meal all I could think about were my overwhelmed taste buds. (Don’t worry I went online earlier and sent a message to the franchise headquarters outlining this all in great detail, so maybe, just maybe they will change their horrid ways.)
And oh yeah, the tea. It was cloudy, a bit flat, and was apparently not Luzianne. It was like drinking dull, brown, lifeless water. No sparkle, no zip, no taste, no pleasure whatsoever.
I of course fervently and repeatedly mentioned all of this to my family on the way home. They were in complete agreement I assume, though I didn’t ask. In fact they found my detailed critique so alluring they decided it needed a billowing and blaring soundtrack to accentuate it. They turned the stereo up. “Louder, louder,!” Adam cried out. As I once again mentioned the many problems with the tea they even grabbed their heads in sheer delight as the music blared and I loudly declared “We shall never again return to that hideous place!”
We returned home. Outside the garage there were no signs of a struggle, there were no sounds of owls belching, we were satisfied that the brave little brown mouse had successfully escaped and rejoined his little mouse family, and was probably at that very moment telling them all about his high adventures, perhaps even embellishing the tale a little here and there. . .

*Slightly Enhanced Canned Chili recipe available upon request.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

On Being Tested

I'm changing jobs, as most of you already know. This is only slightly about that.

Part of the process at this level is a mandatory drug test. This is fine with me as I've been clean and periodically tested my whole adult life, starting with the Air Force in the 70's. Most often it has been 'golden flow' , a urine sample, though a couple of times it was nothing more than a snippet of hair.

The form I had been given this time was in code, I couldn't decipher what drugs they were testing for or the methodology that was to be utilized. This was of no real concern as neither method requires the labs to stick something into me. I have plenty of hair and plenty of urine and usually just dispose of the excess when I have more than I need.

Being rather new to this city I had to Google the addresses of the lab locations to find the one most convenient. The pamphlet attached to the form said I could make an appointment online. I tried.

I was okay with 'Preferred Location', but stumped at the specifics of my needs. There was a highlighted choice 'pre-employment drug test.' I tapped it, but instead of saying 'thanks!' it expanded into a list. The list contained several latin-ish words and phrases that meant absolutely nothing to me. I scanned over the form but could not find any semblance of correlation. There were words on the screen but only codes on the form. I picked one, which only made it angry. It evolved into an even longer list of words that had no meaning in the small, non-medical, somewhat encapsulated universe I live in.

I gave up on the web site, I would have to talk to a human to sort this out.

I tore my cell phone out of it's nerdy holster and punched in ( I so wanted to say 'dialed') the number.

Thank you for calling Plaximox Labs, you're call is very. . .” come on, come on, get on with it!

You have reached the Tesson Ferry Road Laboratory of Plaximox Labs, if this location is acceptable please press one”

I did.

Thank you” the friendly but caffeinated male tenor replied, as if I had done him a great favor.

To make an appointment press one”

I did.

Thank you.” followed by a pause reminiscent of the old eight track tape players switching tracks, without the 'ker-thump' but with the obvious change in pitch of the background hiss.

Your call is being forwarded to Plaximox Labs's automated customer service line”

Oh crap.

A short sentence in what I believe was Spanish followed, I recognized only the word 'nueve' (nine) at the end.

I resisted the temptation to make this even more difficult. It paused for a few seconds and finally concluded that I was not interested in pressing 'nueve'

The new voice was generically feminine and confident, probably pretty.

If you would like to make an appointment please say 'make appointment' .

Make appointment”

I'm sorry I didn't understand that, please try again.”

Now I'm getting angry. Cell phones are not Hi-Def audio devices, there''s modern static, that distortion caused by digitizing and un-digitizing audio information, switching delays, and of course the physics of using a gnat-sized microphone to capture the fat low frequencies of the human voice.

Make appointment!” I whisper-shouted.

Thank you, I understand that you wish to make an appointment, if this is correct please say 'yes' or press one.”

I pressed one.

Thank you”


Please enter or say your five digit zip code so we may find the nearest location”

Really?” I asked aloud by mistake.

I'm sorry, I didn't underst. . .”

I tapped in the zip code of the Plaximox Lab location I thought I had just called.

Thank you, please stay on the line while we look up a location.”


We have found twenty five locations near you, please listen as I read the list to you. Press one to skip to the next listing, two to return to the previous listing, three to jump ahead in the list, six to return to the start of the list, seven to return to the main sub-menu. Or just say 'make appointment' if the location I am reading to you is acceptable.”

My god, is THIS the drug test?” I asked aloud, by mistake, again.

I'm sorry I did not understand your response, please listen as I repeat the instructions.”

Fortunately the location I dialed was the first on the list. Fortunate primarily because I could not recall one third of the navigation instructions.

I understand that you wish to make an appointment at the Tesson Ferry Road location for Plaximox Labs. If this is correct please say 'yes' or press one.

Ass” I replied. I understand machinery and technology.

Thank you, the next available appointment is at (change in tone) four (change in tone) twenty (change in tone) five (pause, change in tone) P.M. (change in tone) July ninth, two thousand and nine, (switch back to original tone) If this is acceptable please press one or say 'yes'”


I'm sorry I didn't quite understand your response, please press one or say 'yes' to accept the appointment time”


Thank you” Your appointment has been reserved, now if I may get some information about you to confirm the appointment”


Please state your first and last name, starting with your first name and spelling, followed by your last name and spelling”


I'm sorry I did not understand your response, Please state your first . . “


I'm sorry, I did not understand that spelling.”

D, E, N, N, I, S!

Now please state your first name.”

Dennis, for god's sake!”

I'm sorry but the spelling doesn't seem to match your stated name, please state your name again”

Dennis.” (sheepishly)

This miserable cycle repeated for my last name.

Thank you (change in tone) Dennis (change in tone) Bentley, (change back), your appointment for . . .has been confirmed”

I looked at my watch, four P.M. This stupid fake conversation had tied up twenty minute of my valuable life and left me with just enough time to get there.

Jacked up with a roaring case of phone rage I trotted to the car and sped away at or near the posted speed limits.

I arrived at the lab at four-fifteen. Made it.

According to the directory in the hot, empty and unremarkable lobby, Plaximx Labs was sandwiched between 'for lease' and 'for lease' on the second floor. I located the only elevator and climbed aboard. Limited options 'one' or 'two'. I pressed 'two', feeling as if I were manually gesturing the overtly obvious.

I don't think the elevator took the most direct route. Calculating how long it should take to rise the ten or twelve feet to the second floor I could only imagine that we must have made a couple of detours along the way. That or cruising speed for this 'pride of Otis' was somewhere between one inch per second and backwards.

As the elevator doors opened the Plaximox Lab sign fell right into view.

I entered the busy waiting room, half filled with a dozen or so people, some wheezing, some reading age-faded magazines, and a couple of small children I hated immediately.

Please sign in” begged the sign over the empty reception desk. I did.

I sat down in one of the pink plastic chairs designed for immediate and optimum discomfort. I scanned the room looking for visual entertainment. None, just uncomfortable, restless people. After about five minutes I started to frustrate. No one had been called, no one had even exited the lab area.

I glanced at the reception desk and noticed another sign; “ No drug tests after Four P.M”


I approached the desk and cleared my throat in an angry way.

Did you have a question sir” asked a srubs-clad lady in the general vicinity.

Why yes” I smiled.

She approached obviously wanting to be near me.

When I made my appointment for four twenty five I was not made aware that there were no drug tests after four P.M.” I tried to sound naive and ignorant, which was not difficult at all in this case.

We stop drug testing after four P.M.” She replied.

I didn't know that when I made the appointment, and your charming machine did not mention it.”

You have an appointment?” She replied.

I made an appointment for four twenty five not knowing about your policy, and I was not informed by your charming machine that there was such a policy”

What time was your appointment for? “

What is this, an Abbott and Costello bit? “Four (change in tone) twenty (change in tone) five (change in tone) P.M.”

She looked at the sign-up sheet. (which would tell her nothing more than that I had an appointment at four twenty five)

Oh, well we'll have to take you then, even though we don 't do drug tests after four.”

That would be very nice of you” (don't burn bridges, yet)

I sat and waited for only a couple of minutes, till Amber (name tag, not magic) approached the window and called my name. I approached the window, she had already moved to the door that I had just walked past.

Hi” I said into her immediately gorgeous blue eyes.

We don't do drug tests after four”

So I hear, sorry about that but your machine didn't tell me that”

Come on back.” she stated with a tired sigh of disgust obviously aimed at the gross ignorance and arrogance in front of her. She led me into a large restroom and pointed at a metal box bolted to the wall.

Empty all your pockets and place everything in the lockbox.” She uttered without enthusiasm.

I did, my keys, a Chapstick, a soft and warm cough drop, some change, my billfold, and a small zip lock bag containing three thumbtacks and a paper clip, that suddenly looked terribly suspicious to me.

(I have been sporadically posting ads for my wife's dog training business on public bulletin boards as I come across them.)

Amber didn't seem to be suspicious, probably since she spends her entire day (until four P.M) doing drug tests, not all of them of the pre-employment kind and was probably well aware of the difference between legitimate office supplies and legitimate drug paraphernalia.

She closed the box, once again grumbling about the four P.M policy.

It wasn't my intention to violate your rules ma'am, I simply called and made an appointment, there was no mention of any such policy, I do apologize.”

There should be.”

But there wasn't, I assure you that if there had been mention of it I would have simply made an appointment for a more convenient time”

Here, open this” She handed me a cup-sized plastic cup topped with sealed foil, much like a yogurt cup and sealed as tightly.

I struggled with the foil, I had trimmed my nails earlier in the week and had little sharp edge to work with. “Hey, is this part of the drug test?” I teased.

No” Her blue eyes suddenly appeared less beautiful to me, now they just seemed cold and bitter.

She emptied the cup's contents; a smaller cup, a sealable bag and a couple of labels.

She had me wash my hands (without soap) then handed me the larger cup and pointed to a black ink line near the bottom.

Fill it above this line, and do not flush the toilet when you are done”

No problem”

You have four minutes”

Still not a problem!” I over-smiled into a non receptive abyss.

She closed the door, though I could see her shadow under it.

I looked at the line. It didn't seem like a lot, but I couldn't really judge. I don't keep keep close tabs on how much flow I have, but it really didn't seem like they were asking for very much.

I complied, and when finished, with three minutes or more to spare I can proudly claim, I opened the restroom door. She was right there, facing me.

I handed it to her proudly, she looked at it much the way I might look at a sprig of asparagus, which is to say completely disinterested, and poured about half the contents into the smaller cup. (for a moment I felt the awkwardness of watching a pretty young woman handling my urine so carefully and deliberately.)

This methodical routine was followed by opening the lock box, filling out forms, initialing labels and my swearing to the nation and several important gods that this vial indeed contained my urine and nothing but my urine.

The reason we have the four o'clock cutoff is that if a person can't present enough urine by five thirty we have to start the paperwork all over again the next time they come in.”

Geez,can't she let this go already? Then the new concept unwrapped in my head, a man/woman trying for an hour and a half to work up a tablespoon or two of pee. I could not quite come to grips with that. It had just been minutes since I made my modest but legally sufficient donation, and I was already fully recharged and ready to go again. One of the advantages of middle age and drinking water all day I guess. I'm not ashamed to say I can go pretty much any time, and have learned not to ever wait until the urge is overwhelming. Frequency and moderation is the key to a healthy urinary tract. If I have learned nothing else about my health, and I assure you I have not, I have learned that much.

As you can see that was not a concern with me.” I boasted. She said nothing, displayed no change in that jaded expression. My usually infallible rapier wit and dazzling charm had failed to win her back from the dark side. It was hopeless, she was tired, her routine had been needlessly, foolishly shattered, she was obviously, utterly and irreparably, (do I dare to so blatantly pun?) pissed off.

I bet she never gets tired of that one, eh?

** Names and locations have been deliberately changed to avoid lawsuits. No actual automated customer service systems were harmed during this episode, though they certainly should have been.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Cell phone tales

I have a cell phone. I don’t use it very often since I’m just not much of a phone guy. I may use it ten or fifteen minutes per month. Most of the cell calls are from my adorable wife, with whom I am madly in love. “Would you please pick up some dog food” is the second most common phrase uttered through my phone.(the first being "yes dear") I don’t even bother answering the land line at home since it is so rarely for me, what with Angel and her dog-people network of frequent callers. Even more rarely do I use my cell phone in the car. I am just not gifted with that sort of coordination, nor do I ever seem to have anything that urgent to discuss with anyone. I don’t deny that many people can use a cell phone safely while driving, I’ve seen them. I’m just not one of them. I once worked with an amazing lady. She was small yet charismatic, personable, smart and classy, not at all the type of person I usually associate with. All that self confidence is rather off putting to the socially diseased among us. I was heading to my car for lunch, or maybe it was the old truck, (do you care?) Anyway I was heading out to my vehicle when this lady, all five foot two of her, raced through the parking lot. She was driving a charismatic and classy Chevy Suburban, a full sized SUV as big as my first apartment. She was moving it along at a fair clip faster than my conservative bones would ever allow me to go. She was in perfect control though; I could see it on her face, confidence. She approached a too narrow space, stopped just past it and proceeded to back the tanker into it as gracefully as a swan on water. I watched, amazed. I have never backed into a parking space, much too risky considering my near complete lack of hand-eye coordination. What I saw next shocked and amazed me. She was flawlessly performing this maneuver while talking on her cell phone. I stared in stark amazement and raging jealousy. How was such a thing humanly possible? That would have been enough as it was, but she went even further. As she was mid sentence on her phone, halfway into the parking space, she saw me. With her hand never leaving the steering wheel or the phone leaving her ear, she waved at me. She didn’t skip a beat. The SUV was immediately perfectly aligned in its space, the phone call uninterrupted. She gathered her belongings and headed into the office building still talking. Of course she smiled and winked as she walked by me, that’s just what people like her do. It was then I realized that some people are just more gifted than others in the realm of physical multitasking. Because of this I am generally against cell phone bans in cars. I certainly can’t do it myself, but there are many people like this lady, movers and shakers and positive thinkers that CAN do this. They are probably in their cars right now, zooming along in snarled traffic, adeptly avoiding mishaps while chatting with others about cures for cancer and world peace. Who am I to deny them the right to solve the world’s problems on the go just because some of us knuckle - dragging apes can’t manage the feat? ______________________________________________

I was eating dinner last night, a home-made hamburger and some pan-fried crinkled taters and reading my book when I heard Angel call out from the back of the house; “Riiiiinnnngg!! Riiinnngg!!!” After a moment of this she walked up to me with my cell phone just as it went “Riiinnnggg!” to which she added “Riinnggg!!” This rarely happens as I said, much less so when I am at home. I don’t carry it around with me since it virtually never rings. And yes the ring tone is an old fashioned Bell Telephone “Riiinnngg!!”. I have tried other ring tones, but in my rigidly structured little brain anything else just doesn’t quickly register as a phone ringing. I was too late. It had already gone to voice mail by the time I remembered how to answer it.
“I missed it” I opined.
“Was it important?” Angel asked.
“It’s that lady, Sarah. I’ve been trying to get in touch with for a couple of days now, about that thing.”
“Oooh you should call her back!” Responded Mrs. Obvious.
“I’m eating my wholesome and perfectly prepared dinner and I’m in the middle of a paragraph. She can wait a few minutes.” I scolded.
Angel wandered off to resume her infinite chores with the dogs. I finished my dinner and the chapter in the book. I dialed Sarah’s cell number. It rang about eleven times and then quite annoyingly went to voice mail. (Is there anyone out there that still needs to be reminded to wait for the beep?) I don’t like voice mail with even more passion than I don’t like talking on the phone. If all I needed to do was ‘leave a message’ I would have written an email. Email, of course is nature’s most perfect and natural form of communication. It allows one to construct and edit sentences, organize thoughts, and even spell check prior to delivery. Voicemail and telephony don’t allow this. With a telephone whatever spills out of your face goes through regardless how crude, poorly enunciated or inarticulate. Mangled words, mumbles, clicks, snorts and wheezes all publicly bare themselves. Who wants that? Give me the pure white page, let me see my thoughts before they are broadcast. Let me clean it up just a little first. No ‘uuuuhs’ or tongue-ties or inappropriate pauses, just pure, clear words and sentences. I pushed the red ‘go away’ button on the phone before the voicemail machine started recording. I’d try later. In fact I decided that I would wait an hour or so. I didn’t want to catch her while she was driving in case she was more like me and less like that other lady I told you about. On the second try the phone rang three, maybe four times, I was ready to push the red button again when the sound changed. It was that sound you hear in that mere second after a phone connects but before the person you called says ‘hello’; a low rush and rustle of ambient white noise. I waited for the salutation, but it never came. After a pause, I called out “Hello!” in a friendly voice. Nothing changed. I waited, I could only hear what sounded like a very, very distant and muffled voice, two voices maybe. It sounded like a very distant conversation, but I could make out no words. More rustling, whatever the phone was being carried in was being handled clumsily, or worse, it was being handled by a toddler. (Not a big fan of toddlers either) “Hello!” I called out again, this time more annoyed. Nothing, just more rustling and muffled sounds. In my mind I tried to transport myself into that phone to try to see what was going on. Where would I have to be to be surrounded by these particular noises? If I were a cell phone that had just rung, what situation would cause these sounds? “Hello!” I shouted, because shouting into a phone solves all kinds of problems. After about two minutes I finally recognized the problem and the futility of waiting it out. I had recalled a situation with my own lovely wife. She was driving us somewhere and from behind her seat came this terrible sound, the theme song from some loud, inane, and intellectually insulting cartoon. It didn’t register to me immediately what it was.
“My phone” Angel said.
"What about it?” I replied.
“My phone is ringing.”
“It’s in my purse behind my seat.” Her arm was flailing behind her.
“Okay.” I answered, still trying to figure out where that infernal music was coming from.
"Could you get it for me please?” She seemed to be annoyed at something.
I reached behind her, picked up the weighty bag and started rifling through it’s dozens of buckled, snapped and zippered compartments, Dick Cheney didn’t have this many hideaways. I continued the struggle if only to put an end to the hellish noise. The music stopped, though I continued ransacking the purse for a minute or so more to find the phone. It was at the bottom of the largest compartment buried in a pile of those various little things women seem to need to loosely stuff in their purses. Somehow in all my struggling to find it, I had actually activated the phone. There was a faint voice calling out “Hello!” I handed it to Angel and she began chatting with her doggy-network-friend. At least that song had been silenced.
Returning to the present, to the rush and rumbling white noise, I realized I was stranded, just out of reach, in Sarah's purse. I was embarrassed. I felt the guilt of a cat burglar or peeping tom. This was just too personal, too intimate. I didn’t know this lady well enough to be eavesdropping on her purse. I blushed and disconnected.