How It Really Goes

December 23, 2010 at 3:20 PM | Posted in Journal | Leave a comment
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Well, we usually get some Halloween decorations up.  Carving pumpkins is just messy, honestly.
We used to have a tradition–for three or four years, anyway–of going to Six Flags for their Fright Fest in October, sponsored through work so it was cheaper.  Really, though, I feel like I’m getting to old to ride some of the rides…
We never have made it to the apple orchard.  I wonder why.
We get the Candy, but I haven’t been home to hand it out.  I’m usually working my second job, delivering pizza, and these holidays that everyone gets to enjoy I just can’t take off for.  Halloween is one of the busiest nights of the year.  I’m working.
This year, Kim was just out of the hospital, so no decorations.  Just barely had candy, and I worked.
Thanksgiving usually goes okay.  If I can’t get my daughter the night before, I’ve picked her up early that morning.  Last year Mike took some of his kids, so we all went together, and Miranda rode back with them.  The food thing works out okay–but this year, I was in the middle of a construction project (Hell, I still am) so we decided to go out to eat.  Everyone seemed to like the food–but I really didn’t.  I did not have a good Thanksgiving.
Besides that, we thought there was going to be a snow and ice storm, and so we cancelled going to the parade.  Miranda was disappointed, and I was too.  We never got the ice–
But it did rain all day.  No, I don’t want to stand and watch a parade in the cold rain.
Usually we get some decorations up, but we decided not to this year because of the construction.  I don’t know what the hell I was thinking.  I do take Miranda shopping and get something for her mom and her brother.  And I do usually get something for Kim, even though we didn’t–
I did the gift exchange this year, badly.  And I didn’t bring any food in.  No Christmas parties this year.  Usually not.  But we did have a funeral, and I did make a lot of trips to the hospital.  Does that count?
We usually do find a way to meet up with my brother’s family, but I’m not sure about this year.  Not with Kim in a wheelchair.  I wanted to see other friends, too–
I did get to go to Miranda’s Choir Recital.  I wish Kim could go to those, but the ex wife is a bit of a bitch about that.  This town ain’t big enough–
This damn job is pissing me off.  I have to work Christmas Eve and the day after Christmas.  When and how am I supposed to have any holiday time?  When?  I’m going to go see my kids the day after Christmas anyway, and then come back and go to work.
New Years’ Eve I work–I usually have.  I’ve been off for just a few, and they’ve been nice.  In a way it sucks even more to know what I’m missing, versus my younger years when I always worked and remained oblivious.
I like New Year’s Day, or I used to.  I would be off, I could sleep late, have no real agenda, get up and eat some leftovers, have a drink, watch a movie–probably not even get completely dressed that day.  It was a good day.
I like the idea of Kim’s party, though.  I just hope I get to go.  I asked off for it–we’ll see if that happens.
This year we had special circumstances that got in the way of the holidays–namely Kim’s four trips to the hospital in as many months.  But I still feel that if I wasn’t working a second job, I could have–we could have–had some holiday enjoyment.

This is not a resolution, this is just something I’m contemplating.  I wonder if I can make enough and save enough throughout the year that come the middle of October I can take a leave of absense from the delivery job for about 11 or 12 weeks–and then come back in January.  I need to figure out how much money I would need, and how much to save, and how it would go when I got close to my goal–
I would take my vacation from my day job as well, in October.  So I can enjoy the weather.  I could be off on the nights and the weekends, and see people, and shop, and go to parties, and have parties, and make food, and visit, and make with all the traditions–
I think this is one of my traditions, actually, where I bitch about not being able to participate in any of the traditions.


Holiday Traditions

December 23, 2010 at 3:17 PM | Posted in Journal | Leave a comment
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I realize that nothing lasts forever, and traditions are subject to change without notice, but I like to have some stability in my life.  My personal culture.
When you’re life is in order, these are the kind of Holiday traditions you should have.  Or–these are they kind I would like to have…

Around the beginning of October, we put up the Halloween decorations, including lights.  You don’t put the pumpkins out yet, though.
Some weekend in October, we go to the apple orchard.  Get some cider.  Pick up some pumpkins.  Go on a hayride.
Sometime in October, we go to a haunted house.
There is the fall festival in Old Town Florissant.  I like to go to that.
Closer to Halloween, we carve the pumpkins, and buy the candy.  We try to watch some scary movies that month as well.
Maybe we get invited to a Halloween Party.  We come up with a great couples theme and work on it halfheartedly in our spare time, and then the day before the party we put in several stress-filled hours trying to finish it up.
The party is either before Halloween or Halloween night after trick or treating, so it doesn’t interfere with us giving out candy.  We go to the party, have a good time, meet some different people, and have a few drinks.  We never seem to win the contest.
For trick-or-treaters, we sit in the driveway with a fire pit and a cooler, and chat with people as they come by.  The children I tease, or I quiz them before giving them candy.  I hit on the moms.
We always make sure we have some candy left over for ourselves.

By the next weekend, in November, the Halloween decorations come down.  A few fall and Thanksgiving-themed items go up.  Some day in November is Closet Day, when we pull out the winter coats and other clothes, find the hats and gloves, and arrange the closet so we can use it for the winter.
The week before Thanksgiving is the dreaded Shopping Trip to the grocery store.  List in hand, we buy everything, just like everyone else.  During the week before Thanksgiving, we make stuff–deserts and side dishes and appetizers and things–and put them in the spare refrigerator.  I buy some nice liquor and a few good cigars.  The house gets a good cleaning, and the table and chairs are arranged.
Wednesday night, I go get my daughter and maybe a friend, and maybe some grandkids, and they spend the night, sleeping on the floor.  Thanksgiving morning, we get up and go to the parade.  We bundle up and dress warmly, and get in the van.  I stop at the convenience store, and we get donuts and hot chocolate, and I make them all go to the bathroom.  At the parade, I take some pictures and buy some trinkets for them as we watch.  Once the parade is over, I trek back up to my ex wife’s to drop off the kids, and then come back home.
By then, someone has gone to pick up my fiance’s sister, and my sister shows up as well.  Dinner is almost ready.  We eat and talk and sit around, and maybe play a game.  I take a short nap, and then it’s time for desert.  My sister leaves, and we drive Kim’s sister home.
Back at home, it’s time to eat again, some leftovers–this time with a big bourbon and coke.  We watch a movie and enjoy the quiet time.  Actually–why don’t we go for a walk–at least around the block?  Or drive down to St Ferdinand Park and walk around the lake?  But then later, yeah, we do enjoy the quiet.
The day after Thanksgiving, we don’t–we probably don’t go shopping.  Maybe, unless there’s something we really need to get for someone, in the midst of all the sales.  But we do get out the Christmas decorations, because it’s time.  It is time.  I’m putting up lights on the outside of the house, and a few yard things, while Kim puts up the tree and other things inside.
And we do the holiday thing.
I have a gift exchange at work.  Kim bakes cookies.  We do some shopping, and wrap presents.  We buy little things for friends and co-workers.  We have a Christmas slush fund that we get into, just for this.  Someone, somewhere, is having an adult holiday get-together.  If not, we’ll have one.  Just a cocktail party type of affair, holiday themed.  With appetizers and alcohol.
Some evening we take a nice drive and just look at houses with Christmas lights.
I go to my daughter’s Christmas choir event.  When she grows out of it, I’ll go to my grandkid’s.  If not, I’ll go to one locally, with kids in the neighborhood.  The Christmas pageant is the true meaning of Christmas.
I take my daughter shopping, so she can buy something for her brother and her mother.  I need to find small gifts to give the adults, and then figure out something for the grandkids.
Whenever there is a big office day for food, I bring in my world famous deviled eggs.
Make some calls to some friends and family, and see how they are this holiday season.  Be merry and bright with people I meet.  Sing Christmas carols.
Closer to Christmas, we always have to figure out what the schedule is going to be.  Ideally, for me, it goes like this:
Christmas Eve, we either go to my brother’s or they come up here.  Christmas Day, I spend at home.  I’d like to get up and make a breakfast on Christmas morning.  Later, we do the presents.  I guess we go over to see Kim’s sister, or we bring her over.  Christmas night, mayhaps we go over to Kim’s house.  The Day After Christmas, I go see the kids.
The Christmas Tree stays up through New Years’.  It just does.  That’s how it is.
Sometime over Christmas is a good time to go to the movies.  I also want to go visit some other friends and things–even a short trip out of town.
For New Year’s Eve, we go to either a friend’s house that is having a party, and arrange to stay the night, or go out with friends to a party at a hotel and get a room.  Or stay at home and have a few drinks, and some fancy food.  It’s supposed to be seafood time.  Shrimp, of course.  Some king crab would be nice.  Even that imitation crabmeat, with melted butter, and then other appetizers and finger foods.
We stay up til after midnight, set off fireworks at the appropriate time, then go to bed.
New Years’ Day, we wake up, and find our way home.  It’s a lazy day–eventually we make it to Kim’s house.  That’s what she said.  Casual hang out and Cajun jambalaya.
The first chance AFTER New Year’s is when the decorations come down.

All year ’round, we should always have candles lit…

Living The Dream

December 20, 2010 at 10:56 PM | Posted in Riding In Cars With Pizza | Leave a comment
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My one consolation is that he’s lost more on the value of his house than mine is worth.  Serves him right.

Whitmore Country Club.  Really?  Country club?  It’s just a high-priced subdivision with an intrusive and poorly designed golf course built in and around it:
“The third tee is a stunning par five with a dogleg across the pool and through the common area, and some of the hazards are the parking lot and the over-privileged teens.”
And don’t get me started about how special they are that there is a gated entrance that you can’t get through because they won’t give you a code.  Because of this, you have to drive–and I’m not kidding here–about 4 miles out of your way to go in through the back entrance.
It especially pisses me off when where I need to go is by the front, but I still have to go in through the back, and then go back the same way and come out the back as well, because you can’t even exit the gated area without a code and they won’t give you one, so you can go as much as 6 miles extra, out of the way, for a two dollar tip.
Yeah, two bucks.  These assholes in their 658k dollar (and falling) houses will order 40 dollars worth of food and have the trophy wife come to the door with a two dollar tip.  Two bucks is five percent, by the way.  Tips are the reason I’m good at math, and bad tips are the reason I bought the Anarchist’s Cookbook.    And since the economy is so bad, trophy wives aren’t as hot as they used to be.
Twenty years ago, two bucks was a good tip.  Twenty years ago, for two bucks I’d fondle your balls.  Maybe it’s the same today but the grip is slightly different.

I wrote that piece a while back, intending to go back and finish it.  I’m sure it was the start of a rant about some wonderful night I was having, but I don’t remember the specifics now.  They all seem to run together.  Like Sauce through the hourglass, so goes the slice of our pie…
I did think, though, that as much as I have seen and heard and done and had done to me, I thought I might be more jaded than I am about the people.  And not the customers.  The marks–the marks are all the same.  I’m talking about the people I work with.
Since I’ve been trying to remember the past and write it down to fill in the holes I need to fill for this book, I’m in the state of mind where people from the past come up in my memory.  I wasn’t going to get into specifics here–but man, have I worked with a ton of people.  I don’t think I’ve fired as many as I thought I had–but I have “encouraged” many to quit.  I have hired over a hundred, I’m sure.  And I’ve worked with thousands, because there is so much turn over in the food industry, people can come and go before you realize they are gone.
And because I’ve worked with so many, I thought that I would be…I dunno–bored with people, maybe?  But there is so much of an infinite variety of personalities, that even if I see something in someone that I may have seen before, it’s interesting to see it play out differently.
The job is the same, always.  Take a pizza.  Give it to someone, take their money.  Come back.  Repeat.  Clean.  Do prep.  The last 25 years have been a blur of that entire short list.
But the people make the difference.

Dead Space

December 20, 2010 at 10:48 PM | Posted in Computers and Internet | Leave a comment
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When you come across a website or a blog, or something on the internet–and you can just *tell*.  It has that look.  It could be an obvious sign, like a comment that says “Last updated April 17, 2006.”  Or it could be really old HTML.  Or references to President Bush in the present tense.
But whatever it is, it just makes me sad.  Sometimes it’s eerie and a little creepy.  What if…what if the blog you are looking at is no longer being updated because that person has died?  It’s happened, you know.  I have a few friends online–or had–and they disappeared.  One came back after over a year, just to say she wouldn’t be back…
And another, my favorite, this sweet, young, but sophisticated and artistic Lithuanian girl named Aurora has disappeared forever.  If I had a last name, or something–anything to go by, perhaps I could find her.  I just want to know that she’s okay.
When you stumble upon a website that the owner is obviously deceased…it’s strange.  Morbid.  It’s almost like sneaking into the funeral home at night, popping open their casket before the funeral, and rummaging through their pockets.  What are you going to do, leave a comment?  What can you do?  What are you supposed to do?
For some people–people that are afraid to die, or want to live forever or be remembered, or are just so egotistical that they want their memory to be enshrined (and, by the way, all of those statements do apply to me) forever–maybe the internet is a good thing.  In virtual space, everyone lives forever.  Of course, there are always the sites that are just abandoned because they are no longer hip and trendy.  One of my favorites was a Buffy the Vampire Slayer site.  Well, the show has been off the air for some years.  How often do you think the site gets updated?  2003 was the last time.

So the Internet is an immortality, in a way.  Unless the server crashes without a backup.

Santa Baby

December 20, 2010 at 10:36 PM | Posted in The Corporate World | Leave a comment

Jamily is the marketing director at the bank.  The other day she sent this email to three people, and I was one of them.

From: Jamily M
To: Carrie S; Greg H; Bryan B
Subject: Santa costume
Does anyone have a Santa costume I could borrow for a Marketing thing we’re doing?
I need it for Dec. 17 and Dec. 20.
Jamily M
Marketing Director – Mortgage Div.
From: Bryan B
To: Jamily M
Subject: RE: Santa costume
You sent this to a pretty limited group of people.  Do you want me to list some other fat people for you?
Merrily Christmas-y Yours,
Bryan Bushong
Shipping Department
From: Jamily M
To: Bryan B
Subject: RE: Santa costume
Not to fat people–I sent it to Fun people who dressed up in the past. And I thought Carrie’s church might have a costume.
I didn’t want to send to the whole building.
Already to sent the loan officers. If you know a few people, only send to them?
Jamily Maloney
From: Bryan B
To: Jamily M
Subject: RE: Santa costume
Good save.
I was hoping something like that was the reason you sent it to Carrie–You can’t do that to women, it’s not polite.
The closest thing I have to a Santa costume is red boxers.  I could wear a belt with it…
Merrily Christmas-y Yours,
Bryan Bushong
From: Jamily M
To: Bryan B
Subject: RE: Santa costume
Please don’t wear that.
And that wasn’t a save—it was the truth. I’ve taken pix from events we have here before, and I remember who dressed up and who didn’t!
Jamily Maloney
From: Bryan B
To: Jamily M
Subject: RE: Santa costume
I have to wear the belt or the boxers will fall down.  I don’t want to get in trouble.
Merrily Christmas-y Yours,
Bryan Bushong

Oddly Enough, I never heard back from her after that.

The Four Horsemen

December 20, 2010 at 10:15 PM | Posted in Journal | Leave a comment
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After my Aunt Gloria’s graveside service at the family plot in Mount Vernon, Illinois, the family gathered at the Eagle’s Lodge.  Many family members are members of the Eagles, and they gather there like flies on shit.
So we were there, Detroit and I.  We talked to some family–actually talked to my cousin Skinny for some time, something I never really did.  He and his brother and my brother are the oldest ones of our generation, so they remember the 70s more vividly than I do.  At one point he started to tell a story, but then said, “You know, you really need to hear Uncle Joe tell it.  He was there.”
I told you that for me as a young child, it was more than a golden age:  I was spoiled.  For one or two summers we even had a nanny, in the form of my mom’s Great-Aunt Ermal.  Yes, Ermal.
As children, my sister and I even had ponies.  Oh yeah.  I knew that we had them–I remember that.  What I never knew was the story of how we got them.  Several of us sat around a table and gave Uncle Joe our full attention as he recounted the tale.  Since he told me, and now I’m telling you, a third party, I decided to go with 3rd person.  I don’t remember all of what he said or how he said it, and some of the dialog is fictional, but the events–
The events really happened.

It was a regular day in the late summer of 1973.  The small, ramshackle farm was quiet.  Three cows in the pasture stared at each other and chewed.  A few chickens milled around the barn door, and a dog lay on its side sleeping on the porch.  There was no sign of people.
Abruptly, a bright orange pickup roared down the gravel road and into center stage, in front of the barn.  Four men drunkenly got out of the truck, and two of them fell, one landing on another.
Bud was the driver.  “See?  Tol’ you I’d fin’ it!”
Joe said, “No, you said you knew where it was.  You said you been here before!”
Bud took a draw from the whiskey bottle and wiped his mouth before answering.  “I was–”
Jim Andy said, “Bud, we drove past this place about 30 times.”
Jewel was still picking himself up off the ground.  “We even pulled in here once.  Twice!”
“Yeah, well, we still had whiskey left, so I couldn’t stop.”  The two brothers, Jim Andy and Jewel, nodded in agreement.
“Yeah, okay.”
“Makes sense.”
Joe said, “Do we even know if they’re here?”
“Yeah!  Hell, yeah!  I recognize the place now,” Bud said, as he walked towards the barn door, stumbling once.  The door was wide open, and sunlight lit the interior well enough.  “Yup!” he yelled out.  “They’re here.”  Bud looked around.  I don’t see the old farmer.  His truck his gone.”
Joe said, ‘Do have to wait for him?  Or–”
Jim-Andy smacked Joe on the shoulder as he walked by.  “Shit no, Joe.  We got this.  I worked on a ranch ‘afore.  Bud, turn the truck around an’ back up to the barn.  Let’s get us some ponies!  Yee-haa!”
The other three let out their best cowboy yelps.  Bud hopped in the truck and turned it around, knocking over a large errant milk jug.  Chickens squawked to get out of the way.
The dog looked up, then lay his head back down.
Jewel looked at Jim Andy and said, “How we gonna do this?”
Jim Andy looked at Joe.
Joe said, “Hey, I’m from the city.  Y’all are the country boys here.”
Bud just walked up from the truck and snorted.  “Joe, you ain’t from the city.  You been in town ten years.”
He looked at the other two, and put out his fist.  Rock-paper-scissors–Jewel won.
“Alright.”  He rubbed his hands together and walked into the barn.  They heard whinnying, and then cussing.  Then a crash as Jewel’s body came partially through the wall of the barn.  The three stood their ground and watched patiently, handing the last of the bottle around while Jewel got himself out of the wall.  He walked out and snatched the bottle from his brother’s lips.  “Your turn, asshole.”
A minute later, Jim Andy was pulling himself out of the hole in the wall.  It was easier, because the hole was getting bigger.  Joe just looked at him.  “Rope?”
Jim Andy’s eyes lit up.  “Shit yeah!  Why didn’ I think of it before?  I used to do this all th’ time.  I need rope.  I need to make a saddle.  Or a bridle.  Or whatever you call it.  The thing.”  He motioned inexplicably with his hands.
Bud said, “Fine.  You get the rope.  I’ll get the horse.”
“Shut up.”
When the boys had left on this adventure, they weren’t as drunk, and had planned ahead.  There was rope in the back of the truck.  Jim Andy was trying to tie the rope into something useful, but his hands kept getting in the way.  Joe said, “I didn’t know you were a Boy Scout, Jimmy.”
“Piss off.  This rope is–”
They were interrupted by the familiar whinnying, but instead of a crash they heard a rhythmic thumping sound.  Bud and the pony came out of the barn.  Bud had the pony in a headlock.  “I got him!  I got him!”
It wasn’t clear who had whom, exactly.
Joe said, “Get the rope, get the rope!”  Jewel tried to help, and Jim Andy slapped him away.
“I got it, I got it!”  He put the rope quickly around the pony’s neck and yanked it tight.
The pony’s eyes bulged, and it let out a shriek and brayed up on its hind legs.  Jim Andy flew into Jewel before spiraling to the ground.  Bud still had a lock around the animal’s neck and hung on while the he was bounced around.  The loose end of the rope whipped around and smacked him, then got under his leg and tripped him.  Bud let go and went down.
Bud rolled out of the way and Jewel made a futile grab for the rope.  Somehow, they got the pony again, and tried to get its two feet to the tailgate of the truck.
Jim Andy pulled the rope while Jewel and Bud pushed and pulled the pony.  Joe was supervising.  “Hey, this ain’t right!”
The pony and the scuffling and the banging on the tailgate made him hard to hear.  “Something’s wrong!  The horse can’t breathe!”
Bud managed to get the pony’s front legs up on the tailgate, and Jim Andy had scrambled up to pull the pony up.
Joe yelled, “He can’t breathe!  The rope is too tight!”
“Pony!  Wait, what?”  Jim Andy looked at the rope in his hand, and followed it with his eyes to the pony’s neck, where it was tightly wrapped.  The animal had a look of wide-eyed terror.  In a desperate attempt to save itself, it followed and jumped onto the truck.  The front wheels bounced off the ground slightly, and the momentum caused the pony to seem to lunge at Jim Andy.  Joe would later describe Jim Andy as “screaming like a little bitch.”  Bud jumped up onto the truck and–using the only tool he had in his personal toolbox–punched the pony.
The animal collapsed into unconsciousness, and slid backward.  Its hindquarters and legs were off the truck.  Jewel went to the cab of the truck and quickly found an old, rusty, jagged knife.  He handed it up to his brother.  “Here, cut the rope!”
After twenty minutes of pushing, they got the unconscious animal all the way into the bed.  A new rope, with a little slack in it, was around its neck.  The other end was tied to the top post of the side rail.  Slowly it started to stir.  “Well,” said Bud, sitting on the tailgate to catch his breath, “that’s one.”
That was the signal for the pony to stand up.  He started to buck and bray, but he couldn’t go anywhere.  He raised up high on his back legs, and planted his front hooves into the roof of the cab, making two perfect hoof-shaped dents.  Bud said, “Son of a bitch!  I’ma kill that horse!”
“Fuck you!”
Just then, a beat-up old 58 Ford pickup rolled up.  The old farmer nodded to them, then got out.  Without saying a word, he walked over.  He noticed the pony, of course, in the back of the truck having a fit.  He saw the four men, tired, dirty, and sweaty, and smelling faintly equine.  He saw the used rope on the ground, roughly cut and unraveling, and the rusty knife near it.  His eyes strayed upward, and he saw the hole in the barn that was not quite big enough to put a man through.
He spit some tobacco out.  In a gentle voice, he said, “You know, them ponies never been anywhere.  Never been in a trailer or nothing.  Thems was foaled here; this here barn is all they know.”

He hopped up onto the bed and went to the pony, and spoke some soothing words into its ear.  It quieted down.  The four men watched silently as he did this, then watched as he got down and walked into the barn, and moments later led the other pony out.
But the pony saw the people and the truck and ran back into the barn.
The old farmer said, “Well, this might call for harsher measures.”
He had the men help him get his block and tackle and rig it to the back of his Massey Ferguson, which he had pulled in front of the truck.  The long rope was fed from the back of the tractor, over the truck, and into the barn to the pony.  The farmer had a bridle and put it on the animal.  Then he tied the rope to it.
“Now, just guide the pony in the right direction.  We’ll get him on the truck.”  Joe and Bud looked at each other.  Maybe they were drunk, but this old man was crazy.
However, the plan worked.  The tractor pulled forward slowly, and the slack tightened up.  The pony had no choice but to go where he was led.  Jim Andy and Bud helped the kicking animal get his legs up–he was on his knees–and the tractor drug the pony up.  Once up on the bed, the animal stood up.  The men looked on in amazement that it worked, and Bud thanked him.
The old man said, “Now you boys take good care of these horses.”
Jewel said, “Ponies.”
“Thank you sir.”
They finished securing the railing, the rigging, and the truck.  They now only had one usable piece of rope, so Bud had one end around one pony’s neck, then wrapped it around the top rail, then put it around the other pony’s neck.  “That should do it.”  And it did, for most of the hour-long drive through unknown country roads.  Once they got to the highway, however, one of the ponies started to panic.  Quickly they pulled over, but by then, one of them had broken the rope.  They didn’t have anymore rope, either.
Bud had an idea sprung from desperation.  It was going to be dark soon, and they were nowhere near home–at least it seemed that way.  He salvaged what was usable from the rope and tied the horses–
–ponies.  He tied the ponies *together*.  They were now one Siamese pony, joined at the neck, and tied to the rail.  Whether by fear or fatigue, there were no more incidents.  The ponies and the people made it back to Bud’s house.

It was almost dark when they arrived at Bud’s.  His kids were excited–the ponies were for them.  Jim Andy and Jewel were quiet and subdued.  Joe had a headache.  Bud backed the truck up sideways in the street, and ran it to the tall ditch, making a natural ramp to egress the ponies.  The neighbor, Mac, had horses–real horses–and was going to board the ponies until Bud could fence an area for them.  Mac came over with leads, and after the appropriate amount of gushing by the kids, he took them to his pasture.
Little Bryan was eight years old, and he had watched the unloading with interest.  He saw how his dad had smartly used the terrain to make a ramp.  “What took so long, Dad?  We’ve been waiting *forever*.  How long does it take to get a pony?”
“All day, son.  It takes all day.”
Little Bryan didn’t see the expression of the three other dirty, sweaty, hungover men as they got into their car and drove off.

The Year Of Living Dangerously

December 20, 2010 at 9:45 PM | Posted in Journal | Leave a comment
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2010 has a been a rough, rough year on us here at the homestead.  I’m not complaining, I’m just going to enumerate them.  I’m not blaming anyone–whose fault would it be?  And I’m not looking for sympathy, either.  Not for this devil, anyway.
We started off in January–New Year’s weekend, in fact.  That was when our beloved dog Mac died.  That was hard.  The first dog I ever really liked, the one that showed me what it was to have a dog.
Shortly after that–and this ran all the way through the spring–Kim was having a problem with her shoulder.  She went to physical therapy, which didn’t work.  So she had shoulder surgery, and then more physical therapy after that.
I’d like to say it was an uneventful summer…oh, except I got my car repossessed.
One of my good friends had a death–her fiance committed suicide.  Worse for her, I know.  But it was a tragedy, and it continues to touch our lives, as I help her cope, give her a ride to work, and hear people talk behind her back about what a whore she is.
In the fall, we were going to go to a memorial service for one of her uncles up in Michigan.  However, that was Kim’s first Crohn’s flare-up and her first time in the hospital.
A few weeks later, she was in the hospital again.  This time it seemed worse, the flare-up.  This was all September-October.
In November, Kim’s boss died in a car accident.
In December, the same night she went into the hospital again, my Aunt Gloria died.
And now this.
Kim fell on the ice yesterday and broker her hip.  She had surgery, and she’ll be off her legs for 6-8 weeks.
Of course some little things–I started a part time job and quit, and started another one.  Always a little stress there.  My oldest  granddaughter moved to Texas.  At first she thought she was pregnant, but she’s not.  She’s still getting married.  My oldest grandson is in drug rehab.  Another grandson broke his jaw in September.
My daughter was having anxiety problems, and chipped a couple of teeth–we just got those fixed at the dentist.
I have some financial problems and some tax problems–the usual–  Hell, I had to make the decision to let the car get repo’d in order to keep the house.  I’m trying to get some answers for my sister about a judgment against her and filing for bankruptcy.  Et cetera, ad nauseaum, ad infinitum…

On the one hand, there’s not much else that can go wrong this year.  On the other hand, there’s still time left…

Cage Match

December 13, 2010 at 10:42 PM | Posted in The Corporate World | Leave a comment
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With all this going on–

The Title Company was having a silent auction, with the benefits going to Lynn, one of their employees.
Lynn is a nice lady; I’ve worked with her and for her.  She generally goes to the City and County Government offices to take care of the recording, and I went with her a few times to learn how. I covered for her earlier this year when she was out sick briefly.
But she’s been out for a while and I didn’t know it–they got someone else to do the recording.  Lynn has cancer.  I don’t know the details but she is not working right now because of it.
Having spent some time with her, I know she has a boyfriend (which is odd to say when you’re in your fifties) that is in jail.  He is serving time for a DUI, or repeat offenses of that nature.  Maybe he is a good guy, with a bad turn of luck.  I’m not judging.
He’s supposed to get out of jail in January, after serving something like two or three years.
Because she gots no man around, I worked on her car this summer, doing her brakes for cheap.
So with all that going on, and then with the cancer, she’s been in a tough financial situation–hence the charity auction.
I’m not the most charitable person.  In fact, I’m kind of selfish.  But this is for Lynn, someone I know and someone who genuinely needs help.  I go check out the goods.
Some are decent but most don’t appeal to me.  But there is one basket I like.  It has a gift certificate to the theater, a DVD I’d like to have, popcorn, and various theater-style candy.
Opening bid, 25 bones.
I saw it up to thirty-five.  I want to help out Lynn, and be a good guy.  I write down fifty.  That was around noon.  I figured my chances were pretty good, but then again I don’t really know how these things work.
The auction ends at 2pm, so about 130 I make a circle and check it out.  It’s up to 75 bucks.  Shit.  Man, I can’t afford much more than that.  The last two names on there, of course, are Loan Officers.
If you don’t understand how this works, I’m not going to start at the beginning and explain it all to you.  Just understand this:  LOs have all the money.  They are super-salesmen and they sell loans.  In addition to making an ass-load of cash for themselves, they keep all the rest of us working.  LOs are gods.  They are The Rainmakers.
Several different LOs have the highest bid on most of the items.  Crap.  This is how it always–
I leave, and come back with about 6 minutes left.  I hover and check it out.  The movie package I want is up to 100 dollars.  Fuck.  I’m in over my head.  I could barely afford the fifty.  I was going to wait it out and raise it from 75 to 80.  I *was*, anyway–but that ship has sailed.
One hundred dollars.  The clock is ticking away.  How much is this about me not wanting to lose?  Most of it?  Does it matter what the motivation is if the money goes to a good cause?
That right there is a riddle for the ages.
A couple of other LOs are rolling around, checking things out.  Expensively dressed and perfectly coiffed–this is the office-wear of an LO.  I hung back against the wall in the small conference room near the movie package.  Four minutes.  At two minutes till I look for my opportunity–two male LOs are brandishing their penises in a mock power play of homoeroticism.  I casually grab the pen and take a breath.  I write down “105.”  We just got paid today, and I get some cash, and kind of tighten up over the next week.  I might be all right.  And I might eat ramen noodles for a while.
Just then Carol comes in, the manager of the title company and the one running the auction.  She says, “One minute left, guys.”
Upon hearing that, the latest LO to enter the room went over to the bid sheet for the movie package.  He looked at it and let out a condescending, dismissive chuckle and wrote down his name and his bid. “150.”
He’s laughing and joking with his compatriots, all made of money.  At six-three and well over 300 pounds, I don’t see how I could be invisible to them, but I was.
I just walked out.  At the reception desk, there was a fishbowl with about 7 dollars worth of ones in it for the small candy and banana-nut bread someone had brought in to sell for the event.  I just took the money out of my pocket–ALL the money I had in my pocket–what I had left from tips from the previous night, and tossed it in the bowl.  It was probably forty bucks.

What is a hundred dollars?  What is a hundred dollars to you?  I’ll tell you what a hundred dollars to me is:  I would have to work harder, pick up an extra shift or two, and smile and hustle more on my second job for a hundred dollars.  I have to work a second job for there to even be a goddamn hundred dollars that I can’t afford to give.
What is a hundred dollars to a loan officer?
“Oh, crap.  I accidentally tipped the valet with a hundred dollar bill instead of a ten.  Oh, well.”
That’s what a hundred dollars is to a loan officer.  That goddamn 105 that I was going to give sure as shit meant a lot more to me than the 150 does to him.  I was making a sacrifice.  He was making a selfish “I want it” decision, knowing his name was going to be on the list showing what a great guy he is.
I threw my forty bucks in there anonymously–and I’m telling you because I’m not sure who I’m telling so it is more or less anonymous.  I’m not bragging.  But basically I’m pissed because I didn’t win, and because of how I lost.  I was just swept aside and my paltry bid was just laughed off.  And maybe it doesn’t make me a good person to be upset about it.  Hell, I’m over it now.
What does a hundred dollars mean to you?

Adventures In Babysitting

December 13, 2010 at 10:31 PM | Posted in Riding In Cars With Pizza | Leave a comment
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I wrote this about two weeks ago.  It’s not as rambling as it seems–in other words, there’s a point to it.  I swear to God there is.

This was my night Sunday at Pizzarama.
When the manager is working, the place is a barely contained disaster.  When he’s not working–like Sunday night–it’s a clown car with no wheels.
I was scheduled for six instead of five as usual, so when I got there I was thrown right into the middle of the rush.  Nick is a driver/shift runner, or a shift runner that drives, or a wanna-be assistant manager–I’m not sure which.  He sets me up with a triple.
One of the runs is missing.
It’s not on the rack, and the slip is not on the cut table or the makeline.  Did someone take it already?  It seems that their system of creating busy work for the manager didn’t stop this one from slipping through the cracks.
You see, the way Pizzarama operates–and I don’t know if it’s a conscious desire to do things in the most inefficient way possible, or merely a stubborn refusal to adapt to new ways of doing things when those new ways are discovered and developed by competitors–but some of the things they do there are just downright stupid.
Say what you will about Domino’s Pizza, but many of their processes are damn efficient.
They even have a name for it that I’m wondering if Pizzarama even understands:  operations.  Operational excellence.  Operational efficiency.  Domino’s is one of the best at it, and I improved some of the processes when I managed there.  It’s a philosophy–
–that Pizzarama doesn’t buy into.
But what Domino’s has done–what they are the industry leaders in as far as pizza goes–is speed and efficiency in the area of operations.  Hell, I’m not even sure Pizzarama uses the word “operations” to describe the day-to-day work and processes that get the food to the customer, from prep to makeline to oven tending to delivery.  If they have a word for it at all it might as well be “sheep-herding” for all the good it does them in their thumb-fingered effort to get the pizza out the goddamn door.
Now Domino’s isn’t perfect, of course, and your mileage may vary, but here are some of the key differences between Domino’s Pizza (especially the ones I ran) and Pizzarama):
Pizza makers at Domino’s are trained for speed, first and foremost.  Of course they have to be accurate, but that comes with time.  At Pizzarama (and Papa John’s was like this as well) they use measuring cups on all the toppings on every pizza.  There is a complicated chart and a dozen color-coded cups for use with the toppings and they are used consistently, even during the rush.
Oh, the rush.  That’s the big difference.  At Pizzarama, it’s the rush.  At Domino’s, it is THE RUSH.  I’ll get to that.
At Domino’s, we were trained for speed.  I’ve talked about this before.  How fast can you make a large pie?  How fast can you slap out the dough?  How fast are the pies rolling out of the oven?
We didn’t weigh every pizza, not by a long shot.  And we sure as shit didn’t use a cup on every pizza.  Grab the cup, fill it with the topping up to the appropriate line, maybe shake it to level it off.  Then look at it.  Okay, good.  Now take it and dump the topping into your other hand and unevenly spread it around.  Drop the cup in the bin so you can use both hands to move the toppings around, because they are lumped up in one spot when you pour them from the measuring cup.  No, it does take as long as I am describing it.
At Domino’s, we would weigh toppings on occasion, when we were slow, and match them up with the pictures on the wall.  If you weighed a few and had a good idea of what it was supposed to look like, you would then be able to “eye-ball” them, estimate them, and then once in a while (as in every few weeks or months) weigh them to recalibrate your internal scale, as well as feedback from your manager–that would be me.
And proportion and distribution were important as well.  “Itemization” is a Domino’s word, which means the toppings are well-distributed across the body of the pie, as well as being the correct amount.  And you always made sure you had toppings out to the edge of the sauce-cheese border of the crust.
Because of the emphasis on speed, sometimes things got messy.  When you made pizzas on the makeline, you scooted them along the grates, which covered the catch trays.  With catch trays, accuracy didn’t matter–although precision still did.  Whatever didn’t land on the pizza fell through the grates and went in the catch trays.  Cheese especially–
And even our cheese was designed for speed and efficiency.  Our cheese was diced–individual pieces were cubes.  Perfect cubes.  Places like Imo’s used a shred.  It was fine, small pieces, but still–a shred is inefficient.  It would clump, and you would get more in some areas and less in others.  At Pizzarama, they used a dice, but the pieces were elongated.  They were rectangular-shaped boxes.  That leads to inefficiency and over-lap.
At Domino’s, you would reach into the cheese bin, grab two handfuls of cheese, raise your hands up about a cubit above the pie (what’s a cubit?) and sprinkle the cheese.  Maybe “sprinkle” is too delicate of a word.  Starting with your palms up, you shake your hands with fingers open, causing the cheese to rain down on the pizza, casually turning your hands over in the process.  You get a fairly even distribution of cheese, and what doesn’t go on the pie goes in the pit–the catch tray.  You generally get a pretty even spread.  To make it more even and to shake off any excess, pick it up and give it a quick spin-and-drop.  Excess flies off, into the catch tray.
Too much detail?  It’s an artistic technique, similar to making pottery.  Except the art we are making here you can eat.
The cheese catch tray is dumped back up into the cheese bin fairly often; it doesn’t sit.  All of this is perfectly acceptable and food safe, and passes health department code.  You slide the pie down to put the toppings on, so it’s over another catch tray.  After the rush, some lucky soul gets to “pick the pit”–piece by piece pull the shit out of it and toss it back in the right bin.  Mostly just the meats and large pieces of veggie, unless you work for an anal-retentive manager that wants it all picked clean.  But it is done this way so you can make pies fast, and then clean it up later.
At Pizzarama, the makeline is a flat table.  No grates, no pits.  Of course, there is no flour or dough table, either.  The dough is prepped into the pan already, from frozen.  It thaws, and is just adjusted to fit the edge and is used.  So you take a pan with a dumb ol piece of dough in it, stretch it a little and place it out to the edge, and you’re ready to make a pizza.  Sauce it?
First, you grab the right-sized plastic ring (think Frisbee golf) and place it over the pie.  This is your “template.”  Obviously, idiots, morons, and piemakers can’t sauce a pizza and stay inside an imaginary line without a plastic guide–Yet I’ve been doing it for years, and have personally trained several dozen people to do the same.
Leave that ring on; you’re making the rest of the pizza with it in place.  I know there is some system with the cups, but so far I haven’t bothered to learn it.  The piemaker takes a cup of cheese and tries to run it through their fingers in a futile effort to spread it evenly.  Not only is it not even, but it is definitely not covering the edge where the sauce is.  That is a big no-no at Domino’s:  cover the red edge.
The toppings are going to be like that as well, and it is completely antithetical to all my previous training.  Distribute the toppings evenly, for God’s sake.  And get them out to the edge, or the edge of the sauce.  Drop and scatter.  spread it out.  Doesn’t matter if some falls off the edge.  Get it made, and get it made *fast*.
Pizzarama has this new pizza now, some gimmicky thing.  Amber, our main pizza maker, made one for me a few weeks ago, and I saw what was involved.  Christ, it takes like five minutes or more to make this ridiculous thing.  They really don’t care about time.  And I can tell, too, in their whole attitude about service.  At Domino’s Pizza, when we got busy, we worked harder and faster, faster.
At Pizzarama, they simply tell people it will take longer.  The other night I happened to look at the ticket while I’m waiting for the customer to open the door.  The promise time was 7:09, and I was there before 7.  Cool, I’m early.  Above that was the order time:  5:39.  I can’t believe the customer said, “Sure, no problem.  I’ll wait an hour and half for a pizza.  I have brain damage.”
At Domino’s I used to say that as a manager I was just a glorified pizza maker.  Well, is there any other option?  Yes.  You can do things the Pizzarama way, which is to create inefficiency that makes busy work for manager.
At Domino’s, when a driver comes back from a run, the first thing he does is make a drop:  whatever excess cash you have goes into an individual drop box for safe keeping.  Make sure you hang onto enough to make change.  Then you go to the rack and see what’s up.  If it’s obvious, you assign them on the computer and go.  If you have a question, you ask it.  The manager is on the line making pizzas, but knows what is going on and can answer a question.
So you take your run, with minimal-to-no manager interaction unless necessary; it doesn’t disrupt the flow.
At Pizzarama, when you come back from a run, the first thing you do is wait for a manager.  They may be cashing out a carryout customer or a driver, or they may be on the phone.  Hopefully you are no more than fifth or sixth on their list of things to do at the moment.  While you’re waiting, you can run any checks through the check verifier.
So the manager is ready for you.  After every delivery–every time you come back to the store–you cash in from that run.  Instead of waiting until the end of the shift, you do it every time you come back.  He checks you in, you deal with the exchange of money and so forth, and then he personally checks you out on your next runs.
There is a bit of logic to this, I admit–but the control is unnecessary and too much.  When I was a manager, I would control what the drivers took, especially when we were busy.  And the experienced ones could make their case if they didn’t like my routing, and I could change it up.  But I didn’t have to physically take them by the hand and punch it up on the touch screen for them.
And cashing out after every delivery is a ridiculous waste of time.
And time is what it’s all about, especially in the pizza business.  A good 50 to 60% of any given day’s business is going to come in a 2-hour window–5 to 7 pm.  That’s dinner time.  That’s THE RUSH.  And often, 50 to 60% of a store’s business for the entire week is going to come between 5 and and 7 on Friday and Saturday night.  That is THE RUSH.
Your business can pretty much break down into three parts:  prepping for the rush, handling the rush, and cleaning up after the rush.  Those are the basics of the restaurant business.
The basic premise of prep is this:  What can we do to help speed things along?  This lays the framework for everything we do.  One of the basics is folding boxes, of course.  Drivers can do it in between deliveries, phone people can do it between taking orders.  During a slow day shift, the driver can get a lot of boxes folded.  In a Domino’s you’ll see a corner filled with several stacks from floor to ceiling with boxes.  This makes it much easier, and it’s a fairly logical conclusion–fold boxes in advance, so they are ready when the pies come out of the oven.
Unless you’re at a fucking Pizzarama.

It’s a Sunday night, and it’s a busy Sunday.  Late November is football season.  The Rams won, and with a 5-6 record they stand as much chance of making the playoffs as anyone right now.
I came in at six, the height of the rush.  Nick gave me a triple, but the first one is gone.  They don’t know where, it’s just gone.  He said, “Don’t worry; we’ll find another one and still make it a triple.”
Fine.  He sets me up, but the the third one isn’t ready yet.  Okay–
Taking it all in, I see that the oven needs tending…
Almost 30 minutes later, I take my runs.
I was stuck there; my sense of duty and realization that things would come to a grinding halt if I left kept me chained to the cut table.  Amber and Ryan were on the makeline.  It must have been busy for a manager to be there.  Tom was the other manager, and he and Jorvice played tag with the phones, the carryouts, and the wings, and Tom was cashing drivers in and out.
I couldn’t go anywhere.  I kept pulling pizzas, throwing them on the paddle, cutting them, and then–oh, yeah–
How can you not have boxes folded for a dinner rush?  Just–how does that shit happen?
Part of it is the poor design and layout of the store.  There is simply no room to put a stack of folded boxes.  It’s not normally my problem, but right now it is.  However, if I was the manager–
I’d find a goddamn place for folded boxes.
I tried to get Jorvice’s attention a couple of times, because he would have had time to help, but he was busy fucking around in between jobs.  I like the kid, but–
Hell, I like most of them but they’re just kids.  Including the manager.  I mean, he’s in his mid to late 20s…
And I know I was a child then as well.
I know he means well and he tries.  I wonder if I was like him when I was a young manager.  Part of me wants to be a manager again, to show them how it should be done.  Luckily, the larger part of me doesn’t want the hassle at all.  Of course, I know if something happens to my day job, I’m very likely to end up there.  Again.
The other two assistants, Ryan and Tom, are really young.  Ryan is in his 20s, and Tom is 19, I think.  Ryan has a sense of responsibility, I think.  To Tom, this is just a job, and a shitty one at that.  I won’t disagree with him.
It pisses me off though, that as jaded and bitter as I am, they are forcing me to care more about the job than I want to simply because they don’t.  Dammit!
The Dude was working that night also.  He came back from a run in his usual laid back style.  He came over to say hi, and I handed him a stack of boxes.  “Can you take these carryouts to the warmer?”
He protested.  “Well, man–Dude–my–I have a run up.”
“Dude, I have three runs up.  And I can’t get off the oven.  Suck it up.”
Finally, my third run of three is up.  Actually, it had been up, I had just missed seeing it.  Finally, though, Tom checked on it, and then took over the ovens for me.

I took that triple and did okay on it, but I was livid from the time I wasted on the ovens.  I felt like I had a clock nipping at my heels, and I was in a hurry after that.  I was in so much of a hurry that on my next run–a double–I forgot a pizza on one order.
Well, fuck me.  I was at the customer’s door and I had already knocked when I figured it out.  I looked at the ticket and the price was kind of high for one pizza.  I could tell by the weight that there was just one in the bag.  Instead of listing each pie individuall, there was a “2” next to it because they were the same.  Shit-crap. I need to suck it up.  The guy answered the door.
“How ya doin?  Listen, I’m sorry about this.  I just realized I had only one pizza here.  You ordered two.”
He seemed confused.  “One pizza?
“Yeah.  I don’t have it.  Sorry about that.  Let me give you this one, and I’ll be right back with the other one.  You aren’t too far away, so it won’t take long at all–”
He finally catches up, as I give him the pie.  “Okay.  I’ll pay you when you come back.”
On the way back to the store, I call the store and explain what happened.  I did that to stall any confusion and keep the pie I need from getting eaten or given to another customer, but I wasn’t hopeful.  However, when I got back the pizza I needed–
–was coming out of the oven.  That’s a bit odd.  There are a variety of reasons that could have happened, but I don’t stop to ponder the beauty and synchronicity of it all.  I cut the pie and go.
Back at the guy’s door, I knock and he answers.  Again I apologize.  “Sorry about that, man.  But this pizza is hot and fresh; it just came out of the oven for whatever reason–”
He gives me a “Hm-hmmf,” in an unconvinced tone.
“No, really,” I said, and I open the box to show it to him.  I never do that.  Never.
Maybe not physically, but metaphorically, his hands were on his hips.  He said, “That’s not what I ordered.”
Uh…  “Are you sure?” I asked.  “I just–”
“–And you forget my red sauce,” he said, as he backed into the house.  I was still holding the pizza; he didn’t take it.  He said, “You know what?  Don’t worry about it.”  He closed the door.
It was about then that I realized what was going on.  Son of a bitchin fuck.  Shit.  I walked back to the van, cursing him.
Back at the store, I had to wait for TOm to cash me in.  I didn’t say anything, however, until he got to the screen and started to punch it in.
“Wait a minute.”  His fingers stopped.  “That guy–the one that I forgot the pizza to–he didn’t pay.”
“He didn’t take the second pizza, either.  But he kept the first pizza and he didn’t pay.  He just refused the second one and closed the door on me.”
Tom just looked at me.  “Okay…”
“And I stil have the other pizza, and I’m keeping it.”
I’m keeping it out of spite.
We asked Jorvice if he remembered taking the order, because his name was on it.  Yes, he did order two of the same pizzas, which is not what he claimed.  And no, he didn’t order any red sauce, either.  So he’s a fucking liar, and a thief.
I guess because he had time to think about it, which is never a good thing to do to customers.  Him and his buddy sat there, watching the game, and big ol’ fluerescent bulb slowly lights up over his head.  “Hey, you know what?”
“We done ate one pizza.  Are you full?”
“I reckon so.”
“So am I.  I don’t think we need that other pizza.  I know how we can get this one we just ate for free–!”
Bastards.  You shouldn’t piss of the pizza guy, because he knows where you live…

How upset should I have been about all of that?  What is the right level of irritation?  Not only did he not pay, but he didn’t even tip me.  The thing is, I have a new, higher dose of my ADD medication.  One of the side effects is irritibility.  But is irritability really a side effect?  I think that before, I was just happily oblivious to everything.  Now I’m just more aware of how things are.  Irritation is a natural reaction to the world around me.  What part of how I feel is drug reaction and what part is a natural reaction to the fucked up world around me?
Little things have been bothering me at Pizzarama over the last few weeks as well.  Mostly little things, like a lack of leadership and an overall sense of impending disaster that is the signature for most shifts.  Most people just fuck around and do what they want, and eventually get around to doing their job at the bare minimum level.  That’s why I couldn’t get any help from anyone when I was stuck on the ovens:  they were too busy doing as little as possible to avoid working hard.
Except Amber, the piemaker.  She is an unassuming, cute but slightly spread in the ass young girl about 19 years old.  Mostly she is quiet, but if you ask her a question or talk to her about something, she starts to gush and open up.  She’s a nice, sweet girl.
Before I left the other night, I went over to talk to her quietly.  I didn’t want anyone else working to hear it, because it certainly wasn’t meant for them.  I came up to her and said, “I want to tell you something.”
She looked at me, then turned back to her work, cleaning the makeline.  But I had her attention.  I said, “I’ve been in the restaurant business for 25 years.  I’ve been a manager for a good 16 or more or those.”  I put my hand on her shoulder.  “You are the hardest working person here.”
She smiled.  “Thanks, I appreciate that.”
I said, “I don’t know what they would do here without you.  You keep everything rolling when everyone else is dicking around.  Without you, I wouldn’t have deliveries to take.  And I appreciate that.”
And I meant it.


December 4, 2010 at 6:23 PM | Posted in Journal | Leave a comment
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Everything happens when you’re a kid when you’re twelve years old.  Except this happened when I was ten and eleven, I think.

I grew up in the country, in a small town.  However, for reasons I’m not entirely clear on (because I was ten) we moved to town for a few years.  Collinsville is a larger town in Illinois than where I grew up, and closer to St Louis.  A suburb on the Metro-East side, if you will.

Aside from everything being bigger, and there were more people, one of the big differences for me was school.  In the country I rode the bus.  In Collinsville, I walked to and fro. (Uphill.  Both ways.  In the snow.  For miles.)  Actually, on a nostalgic return visit, I realized that it wasn’t as far as I remembered–but I was littler then.  The distance was about half a mile.

And it wasn’t a bad walk, either, except for one time.

One time, in the winter, my older brother was visiting us.  He was recently returned from the Navy, and he was a MAN.  He was a stranger, as far as I knew–he was eight years older and we didn’t have much in common.  During this visit in the winter, he was up early with dad in the kitchen.  I got up for school, and the weather was bad.  It was icy outside.  Cold and rain and turned into freezing rain, and every surface was slick.

I was sure–or at least hoping–that there was no school.

There was no indication on TV–I checked all four channels.  Dad was ready to let me stay, but my brother–being the big, dumb ol’ bully that he was–made me go.  I bundled up and made the walk.  It was slippery, and I had to plan every step.  It was cold and a little rain was still coming down.  I finally get to school…

And no one was there.  I was angry.  The doors were open, and I walked all over, looking for answers.  I made it to the junction between the old school (my elementary school) and the new part, which was the junior high.  There was the office, and I trudged in to find a lone secretary sitting there.

“Is–is–isn’t there any school today?” I stammered.  I knew the answer.

“Oh, no, sweetie.  School’s been called off because of the ice storm.  You can go home.”  She turned back to what she was doing.  It never occurred to me to question what she was doing there.  This was about me.  And the ice.  And my brother.  And him making me walk in it.

I stormed home.  I started to storm home, but I fell, on the ice, several times.  I was heartbroken, angry, and feeling unloved and sorry for myself.  The last fall was near the graveyard, right behind the school.  I pulled myself up and sat on a tombstone to collect myself and cry a little.  It was cold on my butt.  The sky was grey and everything glistened with ice.  There was no one around.  Why didn’t I notice this on the way to school?  Why didn’t I see that there were no other kids walking?

Finally finished with my fit, I got up and wiped my nose and face on my damp coat sleeve and walked home.  I planned what I was going to say, knowing I would get an apology and receive retribution.  I came in and slammed the door.  “CARL!”  I yelled at him.  “There’s no school today!  I didn’t have to go out in the weather!”

There.  That should make him feel bad.  He just started laughing.  “I know.”

What a bastard.

But actually what I meant to write about was something else.  I walked to school, and most of the kids did.  Some road a bus, but they must have lived very far away.  The walkers would come to school from all directions, and leave that way as well.  And so we had crossing guards.  The crossing guards were actually students.  The older ones–fifth and sixth graders.  In the fourth grade I saw the power they wielded and the prestige that came with that calling.

Plus, at the end of the year there was an awards ceremony in the auditorium, where kids got all kinds of awards and recognition.  Most of it was for athletics, and I knew I wasn’t going to see any of that.  There were other things as well, though, like recognition for academics (ha!) and art (double ha!) and even attendance.  I don’t have a chance at any of this.  But they also gave out little trophies for the kids that did crossing guard duty.

That was an activity that I felt was in my wheelhouse.  You stand there, you stop the little kids from going into the street until you say.  After carefully examining the road way and making a judgment based on all of your knowledge and experience, you let them cross.  I’m in.

The following year was my fifth grade year, so I could finally join the service.  The school probably put out a notice or a reminder for people that would be interested.  I talked to the teacher that sponsored the effort, Mr Dresch.  He was one of the sixth grade teachers.  I had to come to a meeting of their little cabal during my free time in fifth period.

There was more to it than I might have imagined.  I know I went through some type of training, and received my crossing guard belt-sash combo (whatever that is called) and my badge.  I know, right?  I had a badge.  I had power.  I had authority.  I had rank, too–and I was the lowest.

Along with the other fifth graders that were new to the company, we were “patrolman.”  The sixth graders that had done it the previous year were promoted.  There was a Captain, a Lieutenant, and two Sergeants.  Then us four patrolmen, the grunts.  It even had our rank on our shiny badges, so everyone knew.  We needed eight in our squad because we had eight intersections to man.  The Captain made the rotation schedule.   In the back of his Dukes of Hazard notebook he had the official schedule.  We rotated to different spots during the week.

I didn’t realize we got certain luxuries with this duty.  We got to leave a few minutes early at the end of the day to get to our posts.  We were even allowed to be a few minutes late after the bell in the morning, because we were there in the morning as well.

Of course, it wasn’t all Skittles and rainbows.  It might have been the standing in the rain, or it might have been ending up with the crappy post too often (the stoplight, or “SL” in the Captain’s book, was the furthest post from the school, and communication was sparse.  How did you know when time was up and you could leave?) but during the fifth grade year, I quit the safety patrol.  I guess I made it about half the year.

I was surprised and a little hurt that at the end of the school year, I didn’t get recognized for my valiant yet halfhearted effort.  I received no trophy.  It really stung me.

The next year, I joined again.  I received no promotion, because I hadn’t finished the previous year–I hadn’t put in my time.  Geez, I figured I should have at least made corporal.  But I sucked it up, and I was the only patrolman that was a seasoned sixth-grader.  I stuck it out this time, and learned some kind of valuable life lesson that escapes me at the moment.  But the important thing was, at the end of the school year, at the big presentation ceremony in the auditorium, I FINALLY got to walk up and get my trophy.  It was the proudest moment of my entire 12 years at that point.

I still have the trophy.

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