Tuesday, May 22, 2007

home again, home again, jiggety jig

Laura is back, exhausted! She traveled all day Saturday and slept half of Sunday. Yesterday her sinuses started a revolt, they apparently aren't pleased at their return to the land of pollen.

A few anecdotes from her trip:

They got locked in the Louvre. It was Friday and they were to leave on an afternoon train to return to England. Their only activity that day was their visit the Louvre. Having wandered through the museum for several hours time was drawing near for them to leave and they were making their way out. There were a few stragglers and they began to run behind schedule. Finally, everyone caught up and they were in the entrance area about to walk out the front doors when - the gates came down, locking them (and everyone else) in! No one could tell them why they were locked in nor when they would be able to leave. 30 tense minutes later they were released, facing a cross-city trip on the metro - in rush hour. They barely made their train.

They were touring London. They had just left the Tower of London and everyone was getting hungry. Laura was trying to convince them to cross the Tower Bridge, there were bound to be places to eat there. Nope. Everyone was dithering. Maybe they should go back to the tower grounds, there was a place there to get snacks. No one could make up their mind, no one would cross the bridge with Laura to look there, and after way to long Laura remembered a restaurant recommended by Antonia and she put her foot down - they were going to Chimes Restaurant. She wouldn't hear any more blather, she forced them to go. So after quite a trek (and a bazillion tube stops later) they finally arrive, tired and hungry. It was closed.

There were lots more stuff to happen, (apparently they severely flustered an english taxi driver (with an off-color joke) and several french youth almost lost their heads spinning 'round to see an ill-advised, form-fitting , cleavage displaying top Laura's sister wore to Versailles.) We are working on recording it in some form or fashion, pictures are forthcoming. While I didn't get the beefeater hat (nor a bearskin) I asked for, I did get a toby mug of a beefeater - so I guess I really did get my hat.

Meno had asked previously how I felt about being apart from Laura while traveling. I missed her terribly. Laura and I discussed this after she got home and we agreed that it is easier on the one traveling than the one staying home. The one traveling is outside of their normal environment, so the missing spouse - while not forgotten - is one more thing mixed in with the differences in the traveler's life. The spouse traveling is busy with whatever took them away from home, living in a temporary room, eating at restaurants, and either sightseeing if on vacation or working all day. I find if I'm the one gone I miss my wife mostly when I am eating (alone, usually) or going to bed (alone always!) . The spouse at home, however, is missing a large part of their daily existence. The traveling spouse is the only thing different, and so maybe the loneliness is magnified. While Laura was gone I found I thought of her more than usual during the day and the house seemed empty when I got home after work. Even though the kids were home ( my son works swings and is only home in the evenings for dinner or on the weekends, and while my daughter was usually there she was frequently in her room or gone to visit friends) it still felt wrong. This is our home, not just mine.

I am usually the one gone, but this isn't the first time Laura has been. Last year she spent 3 months in Missouri taking care of her mother. I had put that time behind me, but was reminded of how tough it was when Laura was in England. Maybe this time would've been a little easier if we hadn't spent that time apart last year. This trip has also made me much more sensitive to the effect my traveling has had on Laura. I went through a period from '96 through '98 where I was frequently gone two weeks, home two weeks, gone two weeks, etc. The kids were in grade school and one of them would usually sleep with Laura. I now understand why. It is hard getting into the bed alone that you share every night with your spouse.

I will soon be leaving for my own trips overseas, probably a month each. I have been eagerly anticipating going somewhere I've never been, experiencing cultures I've had little or no experience with. I am a bit less eager now, knowing what Laura will be feeling. I wish she could go, but I realize at a practical level that it wouldn't work. Being apart a day or two can be good, everyone needs a break every so often. You would think that the longer you are married, the older you get, the easier these separations get - and to a certain degree they are. But really, it doesn't get any easier to be apart from your life's partner.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

confessions of a closet dramatist

They say that depression is suppressed anger. If that is true, then it is amazing I am still alive. 'Cause I do love to get angry. And I keep it deep inside. I don't mean that I harbor all of the ills done me (real or imagined) - although I can still remember the doozies - it's that I don't express my anger. Instead, when someone says something or something happens that makes me angry, I will later construct these huge arguments inside my head, building one statement on another, imagining the responses from the other party and then constructing counter arguments to those. This will go on for 5, 10, 15 minutes, or so, depending on what touched it off.

And it is stupid. I read something today that ended with a statement to the effect that (what was being written about) showed almost as much bad taste as eating at olive garden. I went nutso. I ranted in my head about how not everyone is lucky enough to have a restaurant nearby that can serve authentic italian dishes (not that olive garden doesn't - I haven't been to italy to know what authentic italian food tastes like), or that some people really like the food served by olive garden and whats wrong with that? I then broadened the argument in my head about big box, chain businesses that may be someone's only place to shop. I don't like what Walmart has done to the retail environment but there is NO OTHER PLACE TO SHOP for clothes or electronics in the little town I live in, and many other people live in similar places. And the nearest town that has alternative shopping is 20 miles away and who can afford to blow 10 bucks in gas in addition to paying higher prices just on principle when they are just barely making ends meet and anyway the shopping alternatives are other big box retailers anyway, who has locally produced goods of sufficient variety today that they can even have an alternative to the big box boys, I mean who has someone in their town that makes cd's or clothes or furniture and not all hand made furniture is of a quality to become antiques, some of it was crap and until ikea came along and offered decent - I mean it won't be antiques either but it'll stand up to wear for as long as I need it and is of a decent price, and, and, and

you get the idea. This kind of thing goes on in my head, and sometimes I restart the argument trying to come up with better arguments if my line of reasoning fails! WHAT is this vitriol doing to me? I don't share this with anyone (or rarely do) as I have a hard enough time making friends without subjecting them to this stuff. (and if only a hundredth of this makes it out of my mouth just think what those around me must endure!) So, all of this stuff turned inward, suppressed - is it any wonder I have a difficult time being happy? I don't know how to stop it. Some of the stupid stuff (like above) I get over pretty quickly - and if I ever speak about it, it turns into something like, well everyone is different and people make the best of their opportunities and so do I. But the crap I go through to come to that decision - argh.

I commented (kinda negatively) about teen-aged angst yesterday and the lack of maturity it shows, but am I any more mature for going through the same angst but keeping it inside? A lot of nice things were said about the lengths I went to so that Laura could go on this trip with her sisters, but inside OH GOD HOW I WISH IT WERE ME WITH HER and what if we never get to go together, yada yada yada - how mature is that?

So - how many of you are internal drama queens too? (how sexist is that of me? maybe I should say drama royalist - is that a good neutral term, would anyone get drama royalty without this diatribe, maybe I should delete this.......)

Monday, May 07, 2007


The other day I ran across a blog where this guy described all of the jobs he had had in quite some detail - a post per job. While I certainly don't intend to bore all of you with that level of detail, I thought it might be interesting (at least for me - as a memory exercise if nothing else).

Here's a list of the things I did that might be considered jobs, but I either didn't have to apply for them or I didn't get paid for them:

worked at my granddaddy's store (free candy, cokes, and anything else I could sneak)
mowed lawns (just a few up & down our street)
babysitting (our next door neighbor's kids a few times, fell asleep listening to their partridge family records once)
worked at a fishcamp (peeled 50 lbs of shrimp and set up tables when some help didn't show once)
cleaned out boxcars (Mr. Y.T. would let me drive his truck (I was 10 or 11 at the time))
worked on my granddaddy's farm (breaking ground, plowing, harvesting, mowing, all things involving driving his tractor over endless rows of peanuts & corn)

This is a list of the jobs I had to actually apply for and earned a paycheck doing:

1. Worked in the fine arts department of the public library.
I was in high school and this was my first real job. It included checking materials in/out, reading the shelves (putting everything back in order), cleaning & inspecting films that had been returned, and a few other odds & ends. I worked every other weekend, Saturday & Sunday. One Saturday, the library was involved in bringing a group to town to perform at the local theater. I was to usher (hand out programs) and was emergency pressed into service on stage as a page-turner for the harpsichordist since I knew how to read music. This indirectly led to me loosing my virginity that night. In somewhat unrelated events, the fine arts director was later involved in a scandal which involved, among other things, him making anonymous harassing phone calls to the director of the library.

2. college tutor.
When I was a senior in high school I went to college in the mornings. One of the classes I took was a basic/fortran programming class. I did so well during the first half of the course, and there being a dearth of programming tutors, that I was hired by the college tutoring program to tutor. I don't think I did very well. I understood the subject but had an extremely difficult time explaining programming concepts to people who had never seen a computer, much less programming one.

3. Worked for a tree service.
The son of the lady my mom worked for ran his own tree service. It was a small operation, sometimes just him and me, no fancy vehicles (cherry-picker, stump-grinder, etc) just an ancient dump truck (that I drove) and his el comino that he used to haul equipment around in. This was a summer job between my freshman and sophomore years in college. He was a bit careless (he dropped a piece of trunk on an air conditioner once, and limbs on a few other things occasionally) and he and I parted ways the day he hit a jaywalker with his car (I was a passenger) and ran from the scene.

4a. Worked in the college dining hall.
I worked here for most of my freshman and sophomore years in college. If you need someone to cook spaghetti for 800 people, I'm your man. Start with 80 lbs of ground beef..... About twice a quarter I had to cook 400 steaks for the weekend crowd - and wrap 400 potatoes in tin foil to be baked. You start as a general gopher for the ladies that ran the dining hall, and this included cleaning dishes, and progressed upwards to cook and the epitome was backing the serving line. This involved managing the serving line, keeping it stocked with food and calling in orders for more food to be cooked depending on a good many variables - the goal being to serve the last serving of each dish to the last person to eat - which rarely happened.

4b. Farm laborer.
again for the college. It had an agricultural school with a dairy program and a lot of acreage mostly devoted to silage. I spent the summer between my sophmore and junior years at college working for the farm shop. A good bit of that summer involved stringing barbed wire fence. Other parts included cleaning out the dairy barn (oh. my. god. the. stench.) and any other little shit-job the full-time workers didn't want to do, so get a college part-timer to do it.

4c. physical plant laborer.
once again for the college. We were pretty much gophers for the guys who kept the facilities repaired. Replaced broken windows, fixed doors, fixed plumbing, fixed holes in the roof, trapped possums (I helped make the trap!). The BEST job was inspecting and refilling fire extinguishers. This job involved signing out a truck and driving all over campus, to each building, and checking each fire extinguisher was full, and replacing those that weren't. It was a given that the water extinguishers in the dorms would be empty (butt-slide contests were very popular). Water extinguishers were refilled by the college (2.5 gallons water, 100 psi compressed air). The chemical extinguishers were refilled by the fire department. I had this job for most of spring quarter. I also got to roam the normally off-limits girls dorms. primo job.

4d. butcher.
I spent one quarter cutting beef carcases. The college farm would have it's cattle slaughtered commercially but processed on-campus. It was primarily for the dining hall, but would sell quarters and halves to faculty & staff. I would occasionally sneak a couple of steaks for a weekend cookout, but by the end of the quarter I swore off beef for a month or so.

5. UPS driver-helper.
At this college we got a 6 week break between fall and winter quarters. UPS would come around recruiting for the busy Christmas season. The first year I applied I had long hair and a beard. I read through their appearance guidelines and told the guy I interviewed with I would shave and cut my hair if I got hired. I didn't get hired. The next year I had shorter hair and no beard. I got hired. I rode around with the driver making deliveries for the 4 weeks preceding Christmas. Those guys earn their money. The guy I worked with didn't eat lunch, preferring to work through it and finish early. HAH. We literally didn't stop from 9:00 AM until the truck was empty - and the last week I worked it was between 9:00 and 10:00 PM before the truck was empty. (he did have pity on me and let me get a coke and an candy bar if it looked like a long day.) In 3 1/2 weeks I made, after taxes, $1600. I didn't paid that well again until after I had been working in this job for a few years. I don't know if it is still true, but at that time UPS drivers were the best paid of all the teamsters. They earn it.

6. pizza and short-order cook.
When I transfered to large university, large city school, I got a job cooking pizzas at a local eatery. We made chicago-style deep-dish pizza. We also made sandwiches, spaghetti (not for 800) and lasagna. Next door was a bar & grill owned by the same people, so I would work there occasionally cooking bar food (burgers, nachos, fried mushrooms, sandwiches). The work was much more hectic, but when they closed the doors we would get a free beer while cleaning up. There was one manager I worked a lot for that would open the taps after we were all done closing. I spent many a late night/early morning getting either drunk or high at this place.

7. Assembly-line worker.
Just before joining the Air Force I worked for a temp manpower agency doing almost anything. after 3-4 jobs I got sent to a grill manufacturer who needed some seasonal labor and worked on a packing line. This job lasted a month and was THE. MOST. MONOTONOUS. JOB. I have ever had. Sometimes I would get a different position on the line, but the novelty went away after an hour or two. The better jobs were for permanent employees and were bid on. If I hadn't been waiting for my delayed enlistment into the AF to end I would've been hired full time. Not on your life. If you ever want to teach someone the value of a college degree, get them a job on an assembly line.

8. Cryptologic Linguist.
I blogged about this job here.

9. IT Project Manager.
This is the current iteration of the job I've held for the past 17 years. I began as a programmer-trainee and worked my way up. I've supported the same processes since I was hired, but on different computer systems, written in different languages. At first I supported hardware as well as software. When you support hardware, you learn to ask stupid questions. (the majority of the users I supported worked in the mills and were not used to computers of any kind.) Someone would call and tell me "my computer don't work". I would remotely log on to their system and everything would be fine. At first I was confused, but soon learned to ask a series of questions. "Is the screen dark?" I would ask. "Is the screen plugged into the computer?" I would ask. "Is the switch turned on?" I would ask. "Is the screen plugged into the wall?" I would ask. "Does anything else work when plugged into this outlet?" I would ask. Only then would I take them a new monitor. I learned the meaning of patience doing this.

The last two jobs were professional in nature and lasted 6 years and 17 years (so far) respectively. The other jobs lasted anywhere from a month to 2 years. With the dickey state of textile manufacturing in the US I don't know how much longer I will be here. If it will hold on another 18 months I might get a job bolting on bumpers at the car plant being built a few miles up the road. And probably make more money doing so.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Ye Olde Countrie

Laura is in a minor panic. She leaves Saturday morning for her trip. One minute, she's ready, the next, she'll never be ready on time. Par for the course. She has her wardrobe planned, but not packed. Shoes selected (comfortable for walking long distances, something nice for special occasions). Since she hasn't practiced using her new camera hardly at all, I will sneak the instruction manual into her suitcase. We ordered pounds and euros from our bank, I picked them up yesterday. With apologies to our cousins across the ocean, it looks like monopoly money. (it sure as hell costs more, though. The exchange rate is kicking our ass. Good ole' US dollar.)

Antonia (bless her pea-pickin' heart) has prepared a few sightseeing suggestions for Laura and her sisters and has posted it for everyone's edification. Laura is now officially excited. Outside of London, they are planning to go to Bath and, come hell or high water, Stonehenge. There is a 3 day trip to Paris which is to include Versailles, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, and what ever else can be done in 3 days (which probably isn't much).

Laura is collecting addresses for postcards and requests for items to bring back. If she doesn't watch out, all she'll be doing while there is buying tourist trinkets and writing post cards. (although that does sound a lot like the family vacations I've been on in the past). She's asked me at least 5 times what I want her to bring me, so far all I can think of is a beefeater hat. I don't think it'll fit in her carry-on, though. So, I guess she'll have to just surprise me. Having her home safe, sound, and happy will be gift enough.

While there, Laura has promised to go to a pub and drink a beer - for me. She CAN'T STAND beer, but knowing my penchant for it she will have one and I will have to enjoy it vicariously. There is also the promise of having some "traditional" English food. Bubble & squeak, toad in the hole, fish & chips, bangers & mash. I don't know if (some of) these are really food eaten by the indigenous population or a practical joke on visiting Yanks. Food in France is a no-brainer. A chocolate croissant & cafe-au-lait for breakfast; a baguette, cheese and wine for lunch; and something fabulous for dinner. (Laura looked up horse in her phrase book, it wasn't even in there. She's a bit worried that their trying to hide something.)

So, she'll be gone two weeks and I will be......mowing the grass, feeding the cats, playing with the dog, trying to keep the plants alive until she gets back. Last year while Laura was in Kansas City nursing her mother most of her plants, well, didn't to so good. But this year I have the incentive of fresh tomato sandwiches, fresh sliced tomatos with mozzarella and basil and a touch of olive oil, fresh tomato in my salad, bruschetta, (sense a theme here?) so I will assiduously water and weed the garden, the first crop should be ready when Laura gets back. Kris is taking classes during the summer semester, but since classes are only two days a week she'll be living at home - so no bachelor parties for me. (right. these days I have one beer and I fall asleep watching TV.) Since Zack works swings, I never see him until the weekend anyway, and then he's usually going somewhere. I am working on relearning arabic anyway, that'll keep me out of trouble during the evenings.

So, keep your fingers crossed for safe, on-time flights, no missed connections, sunny MILD weather, no snooty french waiters, and a minimum of misunderstandings (have a fag? no thanks, I'm straight - and married).

Cheers & bon voyage.