Dough Management and Dianetics

December 24, 2006 at 1:13 PM | Posted in Journal | 2 Comments
Twas the Night before Christmas,
And all through the Blog
Not a Blogger was Surfing,
They were drinking eggnog

If I had more time, I would add more to it.  I know everyone is busy, and can’t come by to visit.  Your missing some great stuff, but also making me feel a little lonely and discarded.  Don’t you all realize how needy I am?  This is something I wrote that has nothing to do with Christmas. . .so–yeah.

 

  I’ve worked in a few restaurants, but mostly Domino’s Pizza.  I’ve worked at Papa John’s, too, but I haven’t talked about it much.  I suppose I should string together some anecdotes and call it a day with Papa’s.  I worked there from basically. . .hmmm. . .want to say roughly November of 1998 to April of 1999.  I left Domino’s and went straight to Papa John’s because the Domino’s franchise I worked at had lost so many people to Papa’s that they made a new rule:  If you quit and go to work at Papa’s, you can never come back to Domino’s.  Ever.  Never, never, ever.  For keeps.  Promise.  Cross their heart, if they had one.
  Or until they change their minds, which would be less than two years, because I did go back to Domino’s, although at that point it was just part-time driving.  A friend of mine from Domino’s, Jim Krenning (I should really look him up now; it’s been a few years–) knew some people at Papa’s. 
  In fact, we all did.  Hard to consider them "the enemy," or "the competition" when the crew and management seemed interchangeable.  The guy you were in dire competition with one week could be working for you the next.  Or vise versa.  The adversarial relationship the owners had never trickled down to middle management.
  I knew the jig was up, in fact, when I heard the news about this:  There is a guy, and I am so sorry that I can’t remember his name, who had worked for Domino’s Pizza for 30 years.  I had met him when he had been working there for 27 years.  He was a personal friend of Tom Monahan (founder of Domino’s), and instrumental in the development of the dough formulas and many of the pie making techniques.
  He was in St Louis, teaching all of the managers advanced pie making techniques, technology, tips, tricks, and cheat codes.  By way of establishing his credibility with us, he had us all raise our hands.  He said, "Okay, now as I call out, drop your hand if this no longer applies to you:  I have been making pizzas for 3 months–"  Of course everyone still had their hands up; we were all managers, supervisors, and franchisees–experienced in the trenches.
  "Four months.  Six Months.  One year."  A few hands came down.  This was about a hundred people, the entire St Louis DMA.
  "Two years."  More hands dropped.  "Three years.  Four years.  Five years."  Hands dropped at every milestone.  "Seven years."  Mine came down at that point.
  "Ten years."  Very few were left at that point, a few of the franchisees and supervisors.  Although, they were filthy fucking liars, if anyone of them had made a pizza in the last year.
  "Fifteen years."  All hands were down now, except his.  He kept his up.  "Twenty years.  Twenty-five.  Twenty-six.  Twenty-seven.  Twenty-eight."  At that, he dropped his hand.
  "Twenty-seven years–"  he had been doing this, making pizza.  At that point, you had better be pretty good.  The whole point of this class was to show us the latest advance, the newest thing, the new and improved technique which we would now use to make pizza.  It was going to revolutionize everything.
  Pizza places do their dough in different ways.  Domino’s (and Papa’s) use a commisssary set up, where dough is mixed, balled up, and trayed.  Trays are frozen then refrigerated.  The formula for the dough, the mixture, is adjusted seasonally as well as by region to allow for weather.  At Domino’s, the dough was five-day.  That means that under refrigeration, the dough would expire after the fifth day.  The first day, it was unusable.  It needed to proof.  Second day was okay, but small.  Third and fourth day were optimal, and by the fifth day, you better handle it carefully or you are going to have a handful of goop that smells like bad beer.  We got deliveries three times a week, so there was a lot of planning involved to get the dough order right, to make sure you had the right amount at the right age at every day.  Papa’s used 6 and 1/2 day dough, same concept but it lasted longer–but the first two days it was unusable.  They got deliveries twice a week.  Because of their formula, the dough bubbled more in the oven, and required alot more babysitting.
  Previously, the pizza dough was done this way:  Scrape out a patty from the tray, drop it in the flour.  Smack down on it with your palm, generally digging your heel into it.  Slap it to and fro with vigor, flip it down onto a screen.  Sauce it-cheese it, make it a pizza.
  Domino’s Pizza, in those days, had the thirty minute guarantee.  Speed was everything, and we tried to make the speed in the store.  From order to when the pie came out of the oven we tried to keep under twelve minutes.  Since it only takes six minutes to cook, that gives 6 minutes to make, so even if you have several, or have to answer the phones or whatever, you can still get it done.  Git er done.
  We had competitions for pizza making.  Timed for a large pepperoni, start to finish.  You need to be able to do it in under a minute.  My best time is 32 seconds.  Anybody doing it in less than 20 seconds is a freakin liar, or making a shitty, shitty pie.
  But the big event is the two-tray.  A tray of large, with six patties, and a tray of medium, with eight patties.  From scraping them out, slap them, screen them, sauce them, and push them over the line.  This was to test real world speed, because during a rush, that’s what the dough guy does, and then it gets slid down to the next guy.
  Doing dough this old way, my speed is about 4:02 on a two-tray.  The world record holder, Wahid Assim, is at 1:58.
  But when they changed how we did the dough, it changed everything, including the two-tray.  Judging became harsher, the times were slower, and methods were different.  Instead of smack it, slap it, flip it, this is what we had to do:
  Roughly half an inch from the edge of the dough ball, work your fingers in, making a trench all around the edge, spinning the dough as you go.
  Flip the dough ball over (Must be flipped!  You have to work the bottom–this will become the top of the pizza crust.  It is softer, more pliable, and the slightly crustier top that is now the bottom cooks better) and work your fingers and edge of your palm into the trench, spreading.  This is called edge-stretching.  The whole purpose, diametrically opposed to the old method, is to keep the middle from becoming thin.
  If your dough is properly warmed up–and this is something there has always been a battle over–you can edge stretch to the proper size without slapping it.  The desired temp is 55°.
  It’s hard to work with warm dough:  it’s way too pliable, like a drunken sorority girl, and anything you do to it makes it big and stretched out (I don’t really want to return to that metaphor…).  Most people prefer the dough cold, or at least slightly chilly.  As long as it is proofed, you can slap it, abuse it, and it will hold it’s shape.
  A schism developed within Domino’s pizza over these techniques.  No one wanted to change their ways.  They old way was quick and easy.  The new way took longer and was difficult to remember how to do, and difficult to remember TO do.
  But it made a better pizza.
  I was known, in these circles, as one of the better pie makers, in terms of quality.  I’m fast, but not the fastest.  But in terms of taste and quality–and believe me, although I am bragging I am not *just* bragging, I have facts and witnesses to back me up on this–"I make the best pizza in the world. . ."
  The best pizza that can be made at Domino’s Pizza, that is.  That restricts you like you wouldn’t believe.  But it’s true.  People can tell when I make their pizza.  More importantly, people can tell when I didn’t.
  So, people were looking to me, and I decided to make the leap.  If I am one of the best pizza makers, then I can and should be able to improve.  I adopted the new methods, made them my own.  But, even with the old way, my middles weren’t thin.  However, with the new method, some people still had thin middles, because they are retarded.
  We would bake a test pie, cut it, then take an exacto knife and cut a slice in half, turn it on it’s side to examine the cross section.  This way you could view the cross-section, how even (or uneven) you were making the dough.  The reason, with pizzas, and with the ovens we use, is that you don’t want to the middle to be thin, is that these conveyor ovens, like Middleby-Marshalls (the best), Lincolns, or–God help us, Master-Therms–cook from the top as well as from the bottom.  Thin dough means they over-cook in the middle.  Pools of grease collect there as well.  Overcooked, thin dough with burnt cheese and hot rancid grease in the middle.  Yum.
  So I became an early adopter, and I would like to say that I was good enough that the company had me teach a few classes in it.  Not exactly so.  But I was recognized company-wide for my pie quality, and I trained everyone that came to work for me, and they were better for it.  And we had a manager meeting a few years later, and each manager was asked to speak for a few minutes on some topic.  Most picked business-related items, or food cost in general.  I picked dough quality.  I killed, by the way.
  So after we had been doing this new method for a while, they wanted to have a two-tray competition.  I’m in.  My time is about 4:42.  This is good enough to go the the Midwest Regional competition, where I tanked.  Turns out, though, that 4:42 is not a bad time.  The winning National time was 3:30.
  Hmmm.  Look at that.  I must have gotten alot better, because although I added a little over 30 seconds to my time with the new method, the fastest guy in the world added a minute and a half to his.

  In the meantime, the guy who developed this method defected, and went to Papa John’s.  I don’t know what sort of falling out happened in the upper eschelons of Domino’s, what late night drama unfolded.  I felt betrayed by him, initially.  Turns out he was right, and I was actually betrayed by Domino’s Pizza.  I went straight to Papa’s out of spite, but I liked it there.  They actually cared about pie quality. 
  It was refreshing, and at the same time, a nostalgic return to a simpler time.  Domino’s had added so much crap to their menu, in direct opposition to founder Tom Monahan’s vision.  Keep it simple.  Pizza.  Soda.  That’s it.  Domino’s had added a variety of crusts, breadsticks, cinnamon sticks, salads, wings, and flirted dangerously with sub sandwiches.  All of these things complicated operations exponentially.
  Papa John’s was a refreshing change.  For a while.  Of course, the spectre of corporate oversight was lurking in the shadows, and it wasn’t long before I found that they were basically same shit- different uniform.  Other than their concern for quality, which I respected, much was the same.
  I worked in a fairly high-volume store, and was deemed ready to be a manager in about a month and a half.  I hope so, I had done this shit before.  Then I transfered to another locale, closer to the city.  It was still fun.  I actually only left because of the opportunity at my friend’s restaurant.  Turns out I quit, kind of with no notice, the same day another assistant manager quit with no notice.  Can you believe the nerve of some people?  When I came to pick up, my last check, the manager was all shitty to me, but I had brought him a card, kind of like a "miss you" card or something like that.  On the inside I wrote, as sincerely as possible, "Sorry I fucked you in the ass."
  So, yeah, that was the end of that.
  But I had made some friends there, and I liked the people there.
  At the first Papa’s, we had a wildly diverse crew.  The manager and assistant were wife and ex-husband.  The boyfriend was a driver.  There was a Japanese driver, and two Chinese drivers.  One of the Chinese guys, I swear his name was Chang, couldn’t understand much English at all.  He would rewrite his tickets in Chinese so he could understand them.  And he delivered.  There was a Russian guy who was a true entrepreneur.  Or at least he thought he was.  He was more like Borat in his understanding of economics.  And a Pakistani, Mohamed.  Isn’t that like naming your kid Jesus because you like the name?
  Mohamed was a worker.  He drove nights for us, five days a week, right at forty hours.  He also drove for lunch at a Chinese restaurant.  Mohamed actually loaned money to the manager so she could put a down payment on her mobile home.  The one younger Chinese guy we had said his parents owned a Chinese restaraunt (I asked him, what other kind would they own?), but he didn’t want to work for them.  "I live with them, and that’s more than enough."  By the way, have you noticed that often times there are Mexicans working in a Chinese restaurant, and Chinese working in a Mexican restaurant. . . ?
  I did enjoy my time at Papa’s, and I was able to slide in and fit right in.  Made some short-term friends there, as well.  So one day, one of the younger dudes had a small crowd gathered around him.  He was showing off his body art.  "Yeah, I have my eyebrow pierced, and my nose pierced, and my tongue.  And I got these extra piercings in my ears, and I just recently got my nipples pierced.
  As everyone around him "oohed" and "aahed,"  I called out from the across the store, "Is your wa-hoo pierced?"
  The silence was a couple of seconds too long, and then he answered, "That’s. . .personal."
  I replied quite casually, "Well, that ma be true, but if the answer had been ‘no,’ you would have just said ‘no.’
  There was a young woman there who was a closeted lesbian.  The tell-tale signs were there.  She oft talked of her "roommate," who was a truck driver.  Occasionally she would go "over the road" with her.  I have no idea what *that* is slang for.  She liked me–I don’t think she was used to, or had even meet a guy like me.  If I had had more time, I’m sure I could have converted her.  Her and her girlfriend could have patty-caked me. . .that would have been nice.
  I transfered to the U-City (University City) store, closer to the city, but also in the hip, hot, happening, college area of town.  The people that I left behind at Dorsett felt a little betrayed, and hurt, that I left.  I didn’t–you know. . .I felt ah–aarrgh.  I came from a culture (at Domino’s) that you didn’t question, you didn’t have a choice, you just went.
  At Papa’s, it was offered to me.  I didn’t have to take it.  They told me that, and I never felt pressured to take it. . .but I did anyway.  I don’t know why.  I just did.
  In a way, it was a promotion.  At Dorsett, I was the bottom guy–and you all know how painful that can be.  At U-City, I was directly under the manager, and the manager was "weak," so I was able to be in charge.  He was a nice guy, a poet at heart, and wrote cliche-riddled songs to prove it.
  As an assistant at Papa’s, I was on salary, which was strange to me–used to be just the GM being on salary.  But in being on salary was the implicit understanding that I would work at least 50 hours a week.  Hard to do working all nights when the store closes at midnight–you need to work some days, or some splits.  But we needed a dedicated night manager, and that was what I wanted to work.  I ended up working a little over 40.
  Add to that what my salary was.  At this time–’98?  Geez, it seems so long ago now–I had been hired by my friend’s friend, and then right as I start, he gets a promotion from DM to Regional, out in Colorado, and a new DM rolls in, Hasan (another Pakistani dude.)
  The deal me and the previous DM made for my salary was 400 bones per week.  He paused, thought a moment, then said yeah, we can do that.  Never realized it was a big issue–that is not big money.  Plus, I brought a shitload of experience to the table.  He actually did my paycheck as 350, and then a 50 dollar bonus every week, so that in-store it didn’t look like that if someone got to snooping.
  Hasan thought that for the amount I was making I should be putting in more face time.  I said, "Look, I am making costs, even with the shorter hours.  I am running my nights very effectively, very efficiently.  By making me want to work more hours, you are devaluing my personal worth.  I am worth what I make, at the hours I put in.  If you want me to work more, you have to pay me more."
  Apparently I was one of the higher paid assistants?  I didn’t believe it, I think he was trying to be a tight-wad.  The GM worked all days, and that was a 9AM to 8PM shift.  That is going to fuck with your whole day.  I didn’t need that shit.  I liked going in a 4, working till midnight.  I could sleep in, till 9 or 10, and still get up and do things before I went to work.
  Hasan was mostly a good guy, although he did seem to strangely disappear before 9-11.  Hasan was a short, slightly dumpy guy with a mustache.  He and Mohamed, back when I was at Dorsett, had the Pakistani version of People magazine, or whatever it was.  I couldn’t read it, of course, but there were lots of pictures.  The upper crust of society, stars and royalty.  I asked Hasan once, "Hasan, how come all of the women in your country are startling beautiful, and all of the men look like you?"
  Maybe that’s why he had a problem with me.  Never thought about that before. . .
  At U-City, on one of the occasions where I was working either days, or a split because of a school order, he was there, and we were all working on the line together.  We had briefly had a religious discussion, and he had the traditional Muslim party line about the similarities and so forth.  But it had been a good talk.  And somehow we had gotten on the issue of age, and we discovered that he was about two years younger than me.  He said laughing, "Oh, that’s why you don’t respect me!"
  I laughed right back.  "Oh, Hasan!  Don’t be silly!"  Pause for comedic timing, then:  "That’s not why I don’t respect you."
  There were a few girls working there, college age, and one was a cute little chubby blonde girl, and her tongue was pierced.  This was much less common eight years ago than it is now.  I have the ability to get people, especially young women, to open up.  It’s my gift as a pervert.  As we were talking about her piercing, she explained that her boyfriend *really* liked it.  I looked at her with a knowing smile.  She added quickly, "But that’s not the only reason he likes me!"
  I said, "You’d be surprised.  Guys are pretty shallow."
  There were these other two guys, these two drivers, probably mid to late 20’s.  Isaac and. . .who the fuck knows?  Robert.  They were both into Scientology.  There was a big church of Scientology right there in the neighborhood.  The one guy, Robert, had aspirations of riches.  He wanted to be an auditor.  In the world of Scientology, an auditor is the guy who takes your money and gives you endless sessions of pseudo-psychotherapy to find the root cause of your problems.  Kind of a double-edged sword, because one of your problems is that you have been duped by and sucked into Scientology.
  But Isaac and I have had some good conversations, although I am sure that he has lied to me on numerous occasions.  I get the general sense that pragmatism is at their core:  Whatever it takes to get the end result.  The goal is more members, so they lie to you at the outset about things, like a)it’s okay to be a member of another church; b) our current leader is actually a Mormon; c) it doesn’t cost you anything, just a little for the books.
  He brought me the Dianetics book, a used one.  And charged me for it, about 2 bucks, I think.  I humored him, and paid it.  I never read the whole thing, but I read enough to know that it is pseudo-psycho-babble of the highest quality.  The circular logic and subliminal hypocrisy can best be explained by this anecdote:

  It seemed that everyone at Papa’s smoked except me.  So they all smoked in the store, in the back–which I’m sure was not allowed, but they did what they wanted, and I respect that.  I was checking Isaac out for the evening, and he was smoking, politely blowing the smoke away from me.  I had been on my feet all night, and took some aspirin before counting his cash.  He said to me, "You should stop taking those.  They’re bad for you." 
  "Oh really?  Oh is it?"
  "It’s bad for your system.  Honestly.  Try it.  It might hurt for a while, but once your system is clear of all of these impurities, you’ll be healthier and feel better, and the pain will go away…"
  I looked right at him.  "But Dude–you smoke."
  "That’s different and irrelevant."

Merry Christmas, Can I Get A Ride?

December 20, 2006 at 8:55 PM | Posted in Journal | Leave a comment
  Sleigh Bells ring, are ya listenin?
  In the lane, the snow is glistenin
  A beautiful sight, we’re happy tonight
  Walkin in a winter wonderland–
  Cause the car has been repossed.

  Detroit, my beloved, arose early for work one frosty winter’s morn and ventured out to find the exact opposite of a present under her tree.  A reverse present.  Instead of someone leaving a present, someone took a present.  Took her car.  Well, care to give the very best, I suppose.
  We progress quickly through the stages of dealing with a loss:
Shock, anger, blame, and calling the 1-800 number to bargain.  Well, you try to call them to bargain.
  There are, of course, several layers of buffer betwixt us and any actual help.  First you call GMAC, who offers you several options, many of which are in English, and eventually you get directed to the most helpful of automated voices that tells you another number to call.
  So you call that number, and it is slightly sterner in tone, because to get here, you have had to be very, very bad.  Bad, bad, bad.  It leads you through several automated options as well, having you repeat lots of personal information, until you finally get a live person to whom you repeat all of the information you entered through the automated system. 
  I always wondered about this.  Is there no communication between the machines and the people?  Do the people even know the machines are asking questions?  What if–what if the machines aren’t supposed to be asking us questions, the people have no idea, and the machines are just doing it to build their own database of information on the humans (us) in order to infiltrate and eventually take over our society?  Has anyone every thought of that possibility?
  We’ve got to stop this now, people!  We’ve got to fight back!

  WOLVERINES!!

  Anyway, when we finally get a human on the line (so they say) they inform us in a condescending manner that *of course* they are no longer dealing with our account because of the excessive delinquency, and referred us again to another number.  Whatever.  I had excessive delinquency as a juvenile, they can’t fool me.
  So we call the other number.
  "Merry Christmas!  If your car has been repossessed, press 1."
  As helpful and friendly as the automated system was, my diagnosis was that they are basically passive-aggressive.  It would do anything and everything except connect us to a real person.  All we wanted was to get our shit out of the car, give them the keys, and tell them to kiss our collective and individual asses.  It took several days of many attempts to find out where the car was.  They were sticking their tongues out at us, taunting us–kind of a "Nyah-nyah!  Got your nose!"–but when we told them they could have it, they acted like we were going to quit and take our ball and go home.
  And we were.
  We had toyed with the idea of getting it out of hock, but I thought that maybe it was a bad idea.  The monthly payment was pretty high.  Before, Detroit had a reasonably well-paying job and could afford it, but what with the move and being out of work, and then getting a job in a rural area where everything was cheaper–including salaries–we would continue to be in the hole on this.  And not in a good way.
  But I said nothing.  It was her car, and her ultimate decision, and I would support it no matter how wrong she was.  But I did send strong psychic vibes which she seemed to pick up on.  See me squinting and grunting, like I’m trying to take a crap?
  She said, "You know, we could just take the money I was going to pay to get my car, and fix Nigel (my little green foreign car, remember him?), and just let them keep the Aztec."
  Big sigh of relief.  I love this woman, and not just for the wild monkey sex.  Once again, we are on the same channel.
  Meanwhile, it took us several days to find out where the car was, and then to come to this decision, and then to get ahold of the mechanic, and then to order a part and get it. . .so today has been two weeks with one car.  I thought, and Detroit had hoped, that we might have the car back last night.  But–

  She:  What’s up with the car?
  I:  Well, I have some good news, some bad news, and some worse news.
  She:  God, I hate when you do that!
  I:  That’s kinda why I do it.
  She:  Well, I don’t want to hear any of it.
  I:  Okay, the good news is, only fifty bucks to fix the car.
  (I pause for dramatic effect as she waits, saying nothing.)
  I:  The bad news is, it needs another part, 30 bucks.
  (Again I pause, and again she waits.  I pause, she waits.  I pause, she waits.  It is a complicated dance of seduction and power.
  Finally, I break her.  I win!  HA!)
  She:  What’s the worse news?
  I:  That part won’t be in until Friday.
 
    There we sit–with her son’s impending arrival, odd work schedules to maneuver around, and Christmas looming large on the horizon, like the mythical planet X, bearing down on us and about to destroy us all, spinning chunks of the planet as well as most plastic and fiberglass out into the icy void of space, never to sing "Silent Night, Holy Night" ever again–with all of that going on. . .
  At least we have each other.

Everything I Need to Know I learned in Kindergarten

December 17, 2006 at 12:12 AM | Posted in Notes on Society | Leave a comment
I remember when this first came out, it was cute (the original version), and then everyone started to make up their own lame shit, like "Everything I need to know I learned in–" The Lord of the Rings trilogy, or from Star Wars, or from porn, or whatever. But I’ve had some time to reflect, and I realize that the original statement was true, I did learn important things in kindergarten.

I think I just learned different things.. .

Everything
I Need to Know I learned in Kindergarten.

If you look innocent, you can get away with lying.

If some one picks on you and you tell on them, they will
beat you up later.

The rules are different in other places than they are at
home. Remember the difference.

Girls do things differently than boys and no one knows
why.

Kids have nap time so adults can rest.

If you have to share your toys, share ones that you don’t
care about, cause they’ll get broken.

You don’t need an excuse to drink chocolate milk.

Put on a different shirt if you’re going to do something
messy. Otherwise, you’ll get in trouble.

Standing in the corner really sucks.

Getting hurt on the playground is better than sitting at
your desk.

You don’t have to share if no one is watching.

Beating up a girl is more trouble than it’s worth.

Even if other kids have peed their pants, they’ll laugh
at you when you do it.

That strange attraction you have to your teacher will
only intensify as you get older.

Don’t
hit people when other people are looking.

You can get it over with quicker if you just say you’re
sorry, even if you don’t mean it.

Never threaten to have your brother beat somebody up,
because he probably won’t do it. And if
he does, you’ll owe him.

Legos and Lincoln Logs don’t mix.

Your Mommy loves
you, but she has a breaking point. Know
when to stop.

Say it with crayons.

Learning to read and spell is important, because that’s
how grownups keep secrets.

You have to do things at work or at school that you don’t
have to do at home, like leave your clothes on.

Walking In A Winter Wonderland

December 5, 2006 at 5:53 PM | Posted in Journal | 1 Comment
  A co-worker, a very nice lady next to me, came by and offered me some chocolate banana nut bread she had made.  She is quite the kitchen maven, always cooking or preparing some wonderful, bizarre, different foods.  Me, I’m a meat and potatoes kinda guy.  For a change, give me potatoes and meat.
  It’s quiet in this end of the office, so about half a dozen people can hear this exchange.

  Diane: Would you like to try my chocolate banana nut bread, it’s very good.
  I:  Uh. . . no.  I have this "thing" about bananas.
  Diane:  Oh.  Is it the taste, or the texture, or what?
  I:  (preparing to go into a monologue)  You see, in a previous life, my mom told me that I had been shipwrecked on a deserted tropical island, and all I had to eat were bananas and coconuts.  And beetles.
  Diane:  So you don’t like coconuts either?
  I:  No.
  Diane:  Wait.  A previous life?
  I:  Yes.  Sometime in the 16th or 17th century.
  Diane:  One would think you might be over it by now.
  I:  These things leave a lasting impression.  Have you read "Dianetics"?

  I’m sure at some point cabin fever will set in.  I already have cubicle fever.  Any unwitting victim who chances by my cube has a good chance of being sucked in by an impromptu monologue.
  I had forgotten how much I missed this, and how much I loved it.  The cold, the bitter cold.  The sting in the air, the crispness of everything, the very defining of everything by weather.
  When the weather is nice, you barely notice it.  If it’s 71 degrees and mild, you can go about your business as if there is no weather to speak of, because there isn’t.
  But when it is cold, everything is defined by the cold.  Turn the heat up, it’s cold.  Warm the car up, it’s cold.  BUndle up, it’s cold.  Where’s my gloves, it’s cold.  Scrape the windows, they’re frosted.  It’s not rain, it’s ice. . .because it’s cold.  When else can you perform the miracle of walking on water?
  There is something special about the night in winter.  We almosst have it now, but starting in January, it’s better.  The night is calm, and still.  The clear, cloudless sky even seems crisp and more defined.  The stars in the winter sky are full of. . .
  Life?  Hmmm.  I don’t know.  But they shine brighter, they seem more accessible, they beckon.  They call me.
  The snow is stiff, and it crunches loudly underfoot.  No one else is around, and the quiet seems amplified, so that any noise has a resounding definition.

  In the olden days–and I mean the mid-1970’s–the winters were colder than they are now.  In the tiny village I lived in, with a population of less than 200, the grain elevator in town was the big concern for the farmers, the big business in town, and the source of most activity and any attention.
  On the property of The Mill was The Mill Pond.  Probably about the size of your typical yard, and no more than three or four feet deep in the middle.  Spring and summer we fished –someone stocked it with blue gill and catfish–and in the winter, we had sometimes two months worth of ice on it, to skate.  I swear I lived in Norman Rockwell-ville. I told you before that I had a pony, right?
  Our kids today don’t have the same life that we had growing up.  Our own parents might say the same thing.  But we still had–I don’t know–an innocence?  The 70’s were probably the sunset of innocence in this land.
  We could rise up early in the summer, and leave.  Go off and play, do God knows what with God knows who, and God only knew where we were, and not come back until the street lights came on.  In the summer, that was almost 9 PM.  Later, as teens, my friends and I would sneak out of our houses in the middle of the night during the summer, and meet up at The Mill Pond, make a small fire, and generally goof off.  Good times.
  In the winter, we camped out a few times at The Mill Pond.  Never any camping gear.  A hatchet, a bunch of old blankets, some food snagged from the kitchen.  We were set.  Other times, my friend and I would go bird hunting.
  He was in FFA (future farmers of america, but we sometimes called them future fags, because teens are hilarioius and original), and they had all kinds of interesting contests and incentives.  We would go bird hunting in the winter, for sparrows, spattsies, and starlings, and collect the heads.  Bring the heads to school.  Tell me that wouldn’t raise the ire of someone in today’s enlighted PC world.
  So, we would suit up for the cold weather–layers, coveralls, caps, gloves–get our BB guns and pellet guns, and hit the streets.  We started at Vernon’s family’s farm, walking the exterior of the sheds, looking in the eaves for birds nesting.  Usually this involved a stop at The Big Shed, where the adults would be gathered, drinking beer and skinning other animals, or maybe working on a car or a piece of farm equipment.
  Then we would move on to the other sheds, then the barn.  After doing recon on the lower level of the barn, we would move to the hay loft.  If it had been a fairly unsuccessful night, we might take out some aggression by finding duck eggs (ducks roosted in the hay loft for some reason) and winging them down at the pigs, there being the pig pen attached to the barn behind it.
  After that, I thought we were done, but then we always went to The Mill after that, the final leg.  In this tiny town it was more or less right across the street.  In any other place, any other day and age, the place would be fenced and marked as private property, no tresspassing.  We just walked on up, armed with air rifles, walking around the various mill buildings, silos, and storage, as well as the original mill, a hundred and fifty year old brick building of menacing size, straddled by shiny steel silos.
  Finally, we would be done.  We would head back to The Big Shed once more, to count our take and cut the heads off.  Vernon was in FFA, not I, so all of these were for him.  I was just in it for the fun.
  I remember a time a few years later, I was about 17, and my friend Chaz was back from the Army on leave.  Right around this time of year, in fact, it might have been New Years’ Eve.  He had the equipment, so we rapelled off the tallest tower, about 130 feet tall.  It was close to midnight, and everything was dark, and despite it being New Years’ Eve, most people were in for the night.
  From the top of the tallest structure for miles around, in the middle of the night, in the middle of winter, a clear sky all around. . .it was magical.  Then we rapelled down.  I felt like a spy.  Until we got caught.
  Dwight Schuetz (this is a very German community) was standing at the bottom, hands on his hips, waiting for us.  Wishing we would hurry, so he could get back across the street to his beer and Schnapps.
  Chaz got to the ground first, because he was guiding me, and when I dropped, rolled clumsily, and struggled to my feet, I was right in his face.
  He said, "You boys need to clear out of here, now.  No need to be messing around here in the middle of the night.  Get your shit and get home, before I call your dads."  There was no police force, sheriff, or anything like that around here.  Just the local citizens watching out for each other.  We went home.

  All of these thoughts flowed through my mind at breakneck speed, the speed at which my tires spun.  I was stuck in the parking lot, right where I had parked the night before.  Again.
  This rural podunk Hooterville I live in has some positive attributes and some drawbacks.  You can pretty much do whatever you want.  But so can everybody else, including cheap lazy property managers. 
  Our apartment is one of several buildings, and access is uphill via a one lane alley.  We got 6 or eight inches of snow, but we got ice first.  I had to shovel the sidewalk from our building to the parking lot myself.  The guy who cuts our grass came in with a four-wheeler with a blade on it.
  Look, there is ice under there.  He’s not getting it.  He plows the snow away–my last chance for traction–leaving just the smooth, clear ice.  Thanks, dickhead.
  Detroit had gone to work early.  Dad was 45 miles away.  My older son was probably not up yet, and I would have to get through the Storm to get to him, anyway.  It was not quite 6 AM, and it was dark, and I was alone.  And fucked.
  As I sat and stewed, pondering my options, a man came from another apartment building and went to his car to start it.  I walked over to him, asked if he could give me a hand.  He said sure.  He pushed and I pushed as I gave it some gas, we rocked the ol’ truck and finally got it out of the little ice patch rut it was in.  "Thanks, I appreciate it."
  "No problem."
  Perhaps Norman Rockwell still lives.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.
Entries and comments feeds.