Maybe It’s A Metaphor

June 5, 2011 at 8:51 PM | Posted in Journal | Leave a comment
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I went back to school in 2001.  It seemed like a good idea at the time.
In the fall, I hemmed and hawed and finally got around to it, thinking I was too late–
But there was a Saturday class, Intro to Computers, that I needed to take before I took anything else.  And it hadn’t started yet.  Oh.  Okay.  I guess I’m in.
It was an easy, easy class, a perfect way for me to get back into the school groove.  And it paved the way for other classes I wanted to take for my degree.  Starting in January of 02, I took 12 credit hours.
Keep in mind that I was working two jobs at the time.
Two of the classes were fairly in line with each other, and these were 100-level computer classes.  One was Hardware and Software Support–essentially the knowledge for an A+ certification.  The other class was Software and Hardware Concepts.
Think of it as “Turing meets Buddha.”
Maybe it wasn’t supposed to be this way, but the instructor who taught it was a PhD in–God, I *hope* it was Computer Science.  I never asked.
In this class we got a brief rundown of all computer topics.  Starting with math, we went from binary to octal to decimal to hex, with explanations on why and how.
We also learned how computers thought and made decisions, using Boolean algebra.  And we learned a little of the various layers of communication between a computer and a human:  machine language, assembly code, command line basic, and up into C++ and VB–Visual Basic.
I really felt that we were–or I was, anyway–learning the deep secrets of the inner workings of the machine.  Kind of like Tron.
So, this was a 100 level class, like IS 110 or something like that.  Pretty basic stuff.  The class began with about 24 students, a pretty good turnout.  By mid-term, there were about 18 of us.
After the mid-term, there were 12.
Nine of us passed the class.
Bob, the instructor, was a nice guy.  I liked him.  He was obviously smart as hell, too.  Although he didn’t show it, I imagine he held stupid people in contempt.  I respect that.  He had a fairly simple two-step process for weeding out the idiots:  the mid-term and the final.
Okay, the rules were the same on each test:
1) multiple choice
2) take home
3) use any resource whatsoever that you want, but no collaboration between students
Wow!  This was great!  This was going to be one of the great blow-off classes of all time!  How hard can it be, if it’s multiple choice *AND* take home?
I’ll tell you how hard it can be:  They were hands-down the hardest tests I have ever taken in my life, and probably the only time I EVER did any real thinking.
What made them so hard?  Well, it wasn’t a traditional multiple choice test.  The first pages of the test were just the questions, fifty of them.
The last page was the answers.  Twenty sets of A-B-C-D.  The answer to a given question could be ANY ONE of the 80 answers on that page.
The midterm was handed out on a Wednesday, and we had until Monday.  It wasn’t enough time.
It’s a bit blurry for me now–I wish I had the test still.  I don’t think Bob wanted it to get into the wrong hands, though.  If I had known that, I would have made a copy of it.
However, we turned them in, and then when we got them back graded, we went over them question by question.  Bob was willing to make concessions based on valid arguments and vague wording of questions.  I know that I initially got a B on it, but we successfully argued some that I got wrong, and worked my way up to an A.

By the time the final came around, we were less enthusiastic about the “easy” take home test we were given.  Same deal, just as hard.  Maybe harder, because we hoped at this point we would have an understanding of the style and that would give us a small step up.
No, it didn’t.
As I said, we lost students throughout the semester.  On the day we turned in our final, three guys just dropped it off on his desk and then left.
Bob graded them all quickly–about 12 tests–then handed them back to us for us to go over and argue.
Again we were able to successfully make our case on about a dozen questions.  I gained a few points, as did everyone else.
Of course, the students that dropped and walked did not partake of that luxury.
Yes, the moral and the object lesson contained herein are left as an exercise for the student.  You will be graded on your answers.  In fact, you always are–but this time I’m telling you.


Jacob’s Ladder

March 20, 2011 at 11:19 PM | Posted in Riding In Cars With Pizza | Leave a comment
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April 2009

It was like some kind of horrible Vietnam flashback—
But I didn’t have to go.  I had immunity.  I had…a day job.
Still, I felt compelled to attend this “mandatory” manager’s meeting, for three reasons.  I’ll start with number two if that’s okay with you.
2.  Curiosity.  It had been a while since I had been to one, and never had I been to one with this company.  I wanted to see if they were everything I remembered.
1.  The bosses knew I had a day job and I was excused—and I was the only assistant with this affliction.  They didn’t like it; they wanted me to have “both feet in or both feet out.”  Logical, from their vantage point:  how can they control me and inflict harm and punishment upon me if I can just bow out, like the second string at a gangbang?  How could they squeeze all of my hopes and dreams and aspirations from me?
Too bad I had none left at this point.  Sucks to be them, doesn’t it?  Still, I didn’t want to throw it in their faces.  Absence may be the better part of valor, but it would actually be easier for me to be invisible if I showed up.  That’s irony right there, I don’t care who you are.
3.  I had loyalty to my team—the management at the specific store I worked at.  It would be a show of solidarity as well as—perversely—a bit of spying on the enemy.  And by enemy I meant upper management.  If you don’t understand that calculating mindset or the skewed reality behind it, you’ve never been in management.
At my day job, I made arrangements to be off for the meeting.  Actually, all I did was take some time out of my day, as for a doctor’s appointment.  The meeting was at 9am, so I went to work at my usual 7, left about 830, and got back around 11 because it was over at 1030—everyone had to get to their stores to open them.
Subdued surprise that I showed up—
Shaved, clean, dressed well, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.  For most of them, this was too early in the morning, and on average they had been awake for 43 minutes.  I had been up almost three hours and had had two cups of coffee by this time.
There in the big conference room of the home office, the tables were set at the perimeter and we took seats like it was a UN function.  Coffee and donuts were had, and handouts and booklets were passed out.  In the middle of the room, center stage, Supervisor Tom and Director of Operations John tag-teamed us on the important items.  That is, they read the pamphlet to us.
It wasn’t a meeting in the sense that you might think there is a give-and-take and an even exchange of ideas and balance.  No, this was more of the Moses-hands-down-the-new-commandments-of-pizza-making type of meeting.
I wanted to remain low-key; I am not always the seeker of attention that many of you may believe.  However, once the floor was open, if someone among our ranks spoke and I had something to add, I would.  Overall, I was fairly quiet.
Except for this one time that makes me sound like an arrogant ass.  In other words, I showed my true colors.
Tom was speaking, and talking about product quality and consistency.  I sat with Dina and Stan, my people.  Tom said something about the irregular pie quality he has seen in the stores.  “I should be able to look at a pizza and not be able to tell the difference.  I should not be able to tell who made it.  Everyone should be making pizzas the exact same way.”
I snorted quietly to myself, and whispered something to Stan.  He let out a chuckle.  Tom heard.  “What?  What is it?  Is there something you’d like to share?”  Seriously, what was this, sixth grade?
“Well?”  I guess it was sixth grade.
Stan was still laughing.  “Tell him.”
I said to the whole group, “I’m not going to lower my standards.”
There was a mixed reaction from the crowd.  Some laughed, some oohed and aahed at the perceived challenge.  Who was this guy, anyway?  They didn’t know me.  They had no idea that I had made more pizzas than probably all two dozen of them combined, or that I had been doing this for as long as the average age in the room.
Tom said, “Really?”
I shrugged.  “You’ve seen my pies.  I’m just sayin.”
So much for invisibility.

About A Girl

March 20, 2011 at 4:36 PM | Posted in Riding In Cars With Pizza | Leave a comment
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I don’t remember if I posted this or not.  For continuity’s sake I will.  This happened about May of 2008, right before Scooter’s closed.

Christ in a fucking sidecar.  That’s the only way to start this.  Let me tell you about my weekend.
I worked Friday night at the restaurant for Scott, the owner, and my usual Saturday night.  He had to work his church’s (actually his wife’s church) parish picnic, working the grill for their food.  The same amount of business that 5 people can’t handle without getting bogged down he or I can do easily–if they would just get the fuck out of the way.
So I agreed to work.  Friday night is a bit much for the new young-fuck Matt to handle by himself.  I get there, and Megan, a cute little 20 year old driver, is trying to convince me I should let her off that night, there is a concert she wanted to go to that she had asked Scott off for but he had never given her an answer.
I thought about it a bit.  That would leave me with three drivers–kinda tight, but it should be manageable; the nice weather should make it a little slower.
I said, “Okay, sure…But I need you to wear those shorts the next time you work.”
She bubbled.  “Okay.  I can do that for you.”  She smiled and sashayed off.
I love college-aged chicks.  Firm, tight bodies, perfectly shaped asses.  Perky tits.  Naivete.  And inexperience in realizing what, exactly, constitutes sexual harassment.
“That’s what I like about high school girls.  I keep getting older, and they stay the same age.  Oh yes, they do.”
Meanwhile, before I even get there, Matt is working, and he’s called me twice already wondering when I’ll be there.  Fuck, shithead.  I get off work at 4:00.  The 24 miles in traffic takes close to an hour.  I’m scheduled at five.  I’ll be there at five.  He wants to leave.  He always has some lame kind of excuse, problems with the car, car got impounded, car on the side of the road, or he has to go do something for his mother.
I’m starting to realize, after these events transpired, that I’m probably being take for a ride; I think his actual excuse is the drugs that he needs to go take.
But when I get there, I don’t let him go.  He wants to skate without doing the two most important and time-consuming pieces of prep:  weighing out the tips, and pounding out the burgers.  This may not mean anything to you, but what it means to me is that on a Friday night, the busiest night of the week, I was going to have to do this shit on the fly.
“Matt, you need to finish this shit.”  He stays an extra hour, at the most, and gets it done while bitching.  The place is still completely trashed, dishes piled high, prep tables piled and covered with crap, trash and boxes piled up, grinders and slicers filthy from use and chunks of meat and cheese and other foodstuffs scattered about wildly.  But I can deal; we’ll have three drivers.
But my third driver, Jody, never shows up.  Matt is a friend of hers, so he goes over to her house.  She calls and says she’s on her way, then calls back about half hour later and says she’s not coming in.
Many of the details I’m a little sketchy on, and most of what I’ve heard I tend not to believe, because it comes from primary sources trying to paint themselves in the bestest light.
The long and short of it is this:
Matt goes over, says he tried to get her up, says she was wasted or hung over or both, and says Jody punched him repeatedly.  He left.
My Friday night was one of the worst ever.  Mota’s wife Becca was working and she was a hero, the champion, of keeping it together for me.
Saturday, Everyone comes in who is supposed to.  Matt worked during the day, and left before Jody showed up.  Then, after they are all working, Matt shows up–with Jody’s…girlfriend.
This has become the fucking OC, or some other retarded modern teen night time soap opera.  Jody likes this girl, Janna.  But she cheated on Janna–with Matt.  To get back at her, Janna cheated on Jody.  With Matt.
Now Matt apparently likes Janna (good head goes a long way), but is friends still (supposedly) with Jody.  Matt continues to recount stories of how Jody–a little firecracker–keeps hitting him and inflicting other violence on him, for no reason.  “Why does she keep hitting me, Bubba?”
I had enough of this.  I had been close to boiling over all night, having this story inflicted on me.  I had heard all sides of it, including the stuff that he didn’t think I knew.
The kid is completely irrational.  First, he’s in denial about it being about this stupid love trapezoid, or triangle, or octagon.  Pick your favorite polygonal icon.
Then he gets mad, and yells at me about how I don’t understand.  Of course I don’t understand.  I don’t understand how he can be this stupid.  If it’s NOT about this, then what exactly is it about?  Ask yourself that question, shithead.  He had left, by the way, gotten drunk or high or something, and then came back up to the store.  I had to keep the two separated.  Meanwhile, the mousey little Janna acts like an innocent victim in all this.  I’ve actually come to believe that she is a passive-aggressive manipulative cunt:  She knows what is going on.  She wants to have her dick and her pussy too.
I believe Matt may know as well, but if he acts like he doesn’t get it, he can get more sympathy, more ear time.
Lots of ridiculous things happen, and I don’t care to recount all of them.  Matt leaves because I make him, but he takes the girl with him.  He completely misunderstood.  “You told me to get the girls out of here.”
“No, dipshit.  I told YOU to leave.  I will get the rest of them out of here.”  He completely fails to realize that he is part of the problem as well.  But then he comes back–again, like a fucking herpes flair up, and this time he is lamenting his sad life, and talks endlessly of driving his truck very fast into a wall.
At this point I’m willing to point one out for him.  People who talk about suicide like this don’t mean it; it’s a cry for attention.  “Woe is me; I’ve nailed two hot chicks but I can’t seem to get that elusive threesome lined up.  Woe is me!”  Hard for me to muster any sympathy.
Although, his mother kicked him out of the house (again), he gets in trouble with the law repeatedly, having his car impounded once or twice, tickets and so forth, and he needs to pay for a lawyer.  His mother may be an alcoholic, I’m not sure.  He’s 18, his life is in turmoil, he has no one, no place, nothing…
But, he’s fucking moron.  He’s completely stupid.  He’s made bad decisions, and he’s made them poorly, and executed them in the most ridiculous manner possible.  I completely resent the fact that he is trying to cling to me like I am his father figure.  I don’t need this.  I have–

My own shit to deal with.  In addition, I have an 18 year old son of my own that I hardly get to see.  I don’t need this pathetic reject as a surrogate.  My son is smart, drug-free, moral, and a good decision maker.  Artistic and talented.  He has a future.  And he’s not a complete fucking drag to be around.

Plus all of this is happening late at night when I’m trying to get the place cleaned up and get out of there.  Matt’s out of it, drunk and drugged up and binging on self-pity, so he has no recollection of time.  He merely sees a group of people that he can suck the life force out of.
I had to go outside, and get between him and Jody.  The girl in question merely stands by, no expression on her face, not understanding, like Matt, that this is all about her.  Only Jody gets it, and that’s why she has become violent.  I make Matt leave.  I tell Jody to go check out, clock out, and leave.
Finally, it’s over.  Or is it?  After they have all left and we are doing the real closing work, trying to get done and get out, Matt comes back.  He has no place to go, no place to sleep.  He wants to sleep in the store.  No, that will not happen.
Mota makes the mistake of offering him a place to sleep.  Fine, you do that.  Then Mota and his wife ask if we want to come over to their house, party a little–
Are you sure?  We have a pool, and a firepit–
Not a chance.
Is it because Matt is going over?
Bingo.  I’m done with the pity party.  Any conversation is going to be monopolized by his constant woe-is-me desire for attention.  He drains me.  I just want to go home.
Detroit came up to work to see me that night, by the way, and I’m glad she did.  For one, she may not have believed everything if she hadn’t witnessed it herself.  For two, she thanked Megan for wearing the shorts that night–I needed that kind of thing (of course I told her.  She knows me so well.  “You are such a pervert,” she said.  Hey, if they’re over 18, technically, I’m not a pervert.)
For three, she knew and understood exactly the stress that I had had inflicted on me that night, and said, “I will [take care of you] tonight when we get home.”
God, I love this woman.

The Case For Tipping: A Rebuttal

May 7, 2010 at 5:21 PM | Posted in Riding In Cars With Pizza | 1 Comment
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  Because, you see–Tipping is not a city in China.
  I have worked in food service since 1986–24 years.  About half of that time has been in management, and the other half has been as a delivery driver.  Therefore, I have seen this world from all sides, including from the point of view of a customer.
  Now, pizza delivery is a little different from being a waiter, but there is a relation.  As far as the customer is concerned, there is no difference.  All the differences are "inside" and fairly transparent to them:  They both bring you your food.  The rest is details.
  My brethren in pizza delivery will say that driving is just as hard as being a waiter.  However, I have done both, and being a waiter is harder–for a few reasons.
  Waiting (serving) is physically more demanding.  More running back and forth, more time on your feet, and generally more time spent cleaning and prepping.  Also, you have more face time with the customer.  Any time you can minimize that, it is a good thing.  With pizza delivery, if you have to talk to the customer for more than twenty seconds, something is wrong.
  That doesn’t mean driving doesn’t have its own difficulties.  While you do get to ride around in your car and listen to your stereo, driving is treacherous.  Delivering pizza is lumped in with other driving jobs such as truck driving and taxi driving, but it is one of the most dangerous jobs.
  Waiters seldom get robbed at gunpoint at the table they are serving.
  A waiter will not die in a car accident on the way to a table.
  A waiter won’t have to walk a quarter mile in the dark in the snow to bring your food to you.
  A waiter typically knows where you are, and doesn’t have to try to find you.
  I have been robbed.  I have been beaten.  I have had a gun in my chest.  I have also seen everything you can imagine–and things you can’t possibly.  I have drudged through snow and ice and mud. I’ve been attacked by dogs.  Fallen on ice?  You bet.  Soaked to the bone in the rain?  All the time.  I’ve delivered during tornadoes.
  I’ve also been tipped with things other than money.  Further I shall not say on this topic.
  Drivers still have some prep and cleaning to do, but typically servers work in restaurants that are not fast food, so there is more prep, prep of practically everything.  So, while serving is more physically demanding, there are other aspects to delivery that make it difficult.  
  Delivery, like serving, is not for everyone.  To drive, you don’t have to be a genius, but idiots don’t last long.  You have to be able to get around, find your way, improvise, and think on your feet.
  I worked at Domino’s Pizza.  When we had the thirty minute guarantee, you had to do all of that fast.
  There are two different ways drivers are paid.  In the big places, like Domino’s, Papa John’s, and Pizza Hut, the drivers are paid by the hour–generally minimum–plus a per-delivery stipend to cover gas usage (it was fifty cents, but with gas prices it’s around a dollar now), and then they are tipped.
  The other method, popular among smaller chains and mom-and-pop operations, is to pay the driver a cash bank at the beginning of the night, usually fifteen to twenty dollars, which they get to keep.  Then they get a higher per-delivery fee (2 or 3 bucks), and also tips.  Essentially these are non-employed, sub-contracted individuals.  
  The second group is more dependent on tips–similar to servers making 2.13 per hour and then making the rest up in tips.  But the first group still needs them; that small fee for gas doesn’t always quite cover the actual gas used, not to mention wear and tear on the vehicle.  Plus–does anyone want to make JUST minimum wage?  So for all of these tipped positions, tips are important.
  For instance, right now, I drive two nights per week, averaging eight hours per shift.  Sometimes it’s busy, and sometimes it’s slow.  On a slow night, I made 30 bucks in cash, including my mileage.  That’s 3.75 per hour; with my hourly it’s 9.25.  Not great, but not bad considering the job.  My worst night recently I made 14 dollars.  Divide that by the five hours I worked, it’s 2.80, or 8.30 with my hourly.  On my best night so far, I made 90 bucks in cash.  That’s 11.25 per hour, with my hourly, 16.75.  Not bad.  More than the job is worth?  What’s it worth to you to not have to put clothes on, start your car, clean it off, warm it up, drive through the ice and snow in the dark…to get a pizza?  What is avoiding a DUI worth by not having to go out when you’re drunk?  What is the convenience worth?
  (And I just had a flash of insight; my own ADD moment:  Whenever I order concert tickets, my 40 dollar tickets always end up costing me 52.75.  Why is that?  Convenience charge?  Doesn’t seem terribly convenient to me.  It’s like they are not giving me a choice and forcing me to tip them.  That’s fascist.)
  But that’s the high end.  Let’s go with the average.  I average 50 bucks in cash.  That’s 6.25, with my hourly, 11.75.  That makes it a decent job in fast food.  Plus, that’s mostly cash, so the equivalent is probably a job making 15 bucks per hour.  Not too shabby.  But this is all dependent on tips.
  Some people have intimated that (because they don’t understand how this part of the economy works–and hey, there’s no shame in that unless you spout off a bunch of ridiculous ideas about it) maybe…. maybe employers should just PAY their employees more, and eliminate tipping.  And then charge more for the food.
  But you are wrong about this, for several reasons, which I will explain in excruciating detail, and I might even include charts and graphs.
  Eliminating tipping is anti-American, anti-Capitalist, and stupid. And socialists.  "Let’s eliminate all competition and pay everyone the same, no matter what."  I think that’s a quote from Stalin.
  Let’s examine what would happen if we raise wages.  Let’s take a. . .Let’s take a Steak n Shake, because I worked there also.  This Steak n Shake does 40,000 in sales per week.  It has about 60 hourly employees.  Twenty of them are back kitchen, making roughly 8 bucks an hour.  The other 40 are servers, making 2.13 per hour.  To make things equitable, they are ALL going to make 8 bucks an hour.  How much do you have to raise the prices?
  This where my experience as a manager comes in:  Food and labor are the big numbers.  You want food to be around 25% of costs, and labor to be around 20%.  So 20% of 40k is. . .8 thousand dollars.  That’s with 2/3 of your staff at tipping wage.  So let’s bump that up.  My complicated formula for that is:

(Well, 2/3 of the staff is making 1/4 of what 1/3 of the staff makes, and this is your hourly people)

    40*2*x + 20*8*x=8000
    240x= 8000
    x= 33 hours average each works.  This lets me calculate the new formula.

So now it’s (40*8*33)+(20*8*33) which equals 15840

That makes more sense than my original calculation.  Originally my number tripled the labor dollars.  That was silly.  This only doubles it.  So–In order to keep the labor percentage the same, what do we have to do in sales?

15840/20%=79200.  That’s almost double.  So–
  You know, Steak n Shake is already really expensive.  It’s three dollars for a tiny cheeseburger; four dollars for a double.  Six bucks for a platter, two bucks for a drink.  I can’t afford to eat there much.  But if I did, my fiancé and I would get two platters and two drinks.  6, 12, plus 4–16 bucks?  I seem to recall it being closer to 20.  We’ll go with 16.  I’m going to throw down a twenty-dollar bill, because I’m a good tipper–most people who have worked in food are, while doctors and lawyers and professional people tend to be bad tippers.  There is research and anecdotal evidence to back that up.  But that’s a 25% tip.
  But in the new world where no one tips, prices had to go up to compensate.  This 16- dollar meal now costs 32 bucks.  But I feel better, because I didn’t have to tip, everyone is treated equally, and no one’s feelings are hurt.
  The reality is, if everyone is making more money, then fewer of those "everyone" will have a job.  As owner or manager, if I can cut my staff, I will.  Service will suffer.  You won’t get a refill as often as you like–If ever.  But that’s the reality of business.
  Maybe some of you can pay 32 bucks for a dinner for two at a glorified fast food restaurant masquerading as a crappy diner . . . but the rest of us can’t.  And what will then happen to that business?
  So the economy will suffer a bit–Quite a lot, actually.  It will hurt people on the lower end.  These are the people typically working these jobs.  It’s not all high school and college students.  It’s mothers and fathers trying to make ends meet.  People who have fallen on hard times because their job was shipped over seas or downsized.  So they did what they had to do–adjusted.  Moved to the service industry.  Instead of good benefits and decent hours, they are working all hours of the day and night, and weekends.  Missing their kids’ games and homework to put food on the table and keep the lights on.
  Oh, sorry…I got all emotional.  I figured it would appeal to you, since you want to essentially socialize the hospitality industry.  And we know how much liberals are long on "feelings," and short on substance.
  Yes, of course, no one “has” to work there.  But the tips make the job a draw; without them, it just might be another job Americans won’t do.  Not everyone can have a union job.  And if everyone did, America would burn to the ground from the inflation.  For those of us who actually live in the real world, our choices are limited.  Go back to school, get re-educated?  Sounds a little like Nazi re-education camps to me.  Not only that, but listen—really:  Not everyone is smart enough.  Hell, not everyone is even smart, period.   Situations and circumstances are different for everyone.  Your sweet, cute waitress may also be dumb as a box of rocks, or just have an LD.  She’s not going back to school.  This is the job where her strengths—being cute and friendly—work for her.  She doesn’t have to know math beyond counting cash.  She’s saving up her money to leave an abusive boyfriend—and you want to take that away from her?
  There we go with the emotions again.  I’m not stupid, either.  I have a ridiculously high IQ, and wasted my education in my youth with a drug problem.  I’m clean now, but my life is a product of my mistakes.  But—never mind.  My point is this:  for everyone to have some level of success (and success is defined differently by everyone) tipping is a real, tangible measure of that success.
  There are groups who want to unionize the pizza delivery industry.  Without even knowing the details, I’m sure you can guess that it’s a bad idea.
  And one thing they want to do is what you suggest—raise prices and eliminate tipping.  This is because it’s hard to get union dues from cash.  And it’s always for everyone’s own good, isn’t it?   
  (Another of my own ADD moments:  This won’t work for all industries.  Just how do you expect a stripper to get paid if there is no more tipping?  Those tattoos and piercings and waxings aren’t free, brotha!  Do you know what high heels go for these days?  Not to mention crotchless—anything . . .)
  At least one good thing will come out of it:  Currently, employees who make tips declare them as income.  Of course, they declare as little as possible, hitting the threshold of barely acceptable.  The employers appreciate this, because they have to match Social Security and some other things, like unemployment tax.  So a server making 2.13 declares enough in tips to make it 5.50 or 6, when in fact he’s probably making 9 or 10 bucks an hour . . . or more.
  Why, that is cheating the government out of valuable tax dollars that they need to give to Africa to piss away.  So, businesses will probably both raise their prices AND cut people, to avoid paying as much in taxes.  Plus, having more sales dollars affects the taxes they pay as well.  It’s a win for everyone–because the government wins and gets more tax revenue.  This will go to government programs to help those who lost their jobs when employers cut their labor.
  This is a rough estimate, but a server who makes 10 bucks an hour in tips makes more versus someone who makes 10 bucks an hour on a check.  Obviously, they aren’t paying taxes on all of that money, or FICA, or SUTA, or SS.  Maybe that’s wrong, and they should—
  Or maybe people being paid some of their wages in cash is a way for them to stick it to The Man.  Don’t worry; they still pay taxes on a portion of it.
  On a personal note, back in 1992 the company I worked for got audited.  The owner rolled over on the drivers as part of his plea, so we got audited.  I felt that you should be as honest with the government as they are with you, so I declared nothing in tips for that year.  Including late fees and penalties, I had to pay back 2600 dollars, which became over four grand before I was through because the fees and penalties don’t stop accruing.  
  They had a formula for figuring out what my tips were, basically amounting to one dollar per hour.  It looked like a substantial amount. My wife at the time said, "There’s no way you made that much–"
  I said, "Remember how during most of your pregnancy you weren’t working?  We always had money, we always had food, and we paid our bills.  Just from what I made from tips.  You have no idea how much I made.  None.  My tips kept us afloat."
  Lastly, this is about our culture.  May I remind you that the commie pinko socialists in Canada don’t tip either?  Yeah, they don’t tip in a lot of other communist, totalitarian countries also.
  Tipping is a pillar of our culture and economy.  It is a trademark of capitalism.  Of course there are good and bad parts to this; no system is perfect.  Tipping the guy who hails me a cab because that’s the rule?  Not bloody likely.  Tipping the cute waitress who was cheerful and kept my drink full?  Absolutely.  There is also survival of the fittest involved here.
  Good, quality people who work hard, have a good attitude, know how to hustle and take care of the customer–they are going to be rewarded with cash, and better opportunities for jobs where the tips are even better.  The surly, slothful, and lazy will still get tipped…but not as much.  The good jobs will weed them out, and they will get sifted to the bottom and end up working at crappy ghetto diners.
  Sure, sometimes you tip when you don’t feel it’s necessary.  Sometimes you can see the larceny in their hearts.  Capitalism isn’t a perfect system.  I personally don’t like what WalMart has done to the economy; while conservatives continue to sing its praises and worship at the altar of their cash register, I search for signs of the Number of the Beast there.
  But I still shop there.
  Like I said, tipping isn’t a perfect system.  Neither is capitalism.  But it’s still the BEST system–and by that I mean both capitalism, and the tiny artery of capitalism called tipping.  It allows people on the lower rungs to compete among themselves and get a leg up.  If you, on the other end as a customer, see disparity, try living on my end.  Do your job for tips, and see how it works out.  
  For the longest time now, I’ve been in management, and there’s been some disconnect between me and the customer.  But recently I had to return to delivery, part time.  Who says the economy is tanking?  I have three jobs!
  But since I work for tips now, my attitude is better.  I used to be bitter, jaded, and resentful.  But now I pour it on thick.  I flirt with everyone, even the men.  It’s professional flirting.  I’m nice, I joke, I compliment, and I’m prompt and friendly.  It’s purely pragmatic, but it’s made me a better person because friendly equals cash, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  Tipping isn’t required.  It’s customary, that’s all.  However, I do recommend that you tip the Pizza Guy.  He knows where you live.


July 8, 2007 at 10:01 PM | Posted in Journal | 1 Comment
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And when you say “Daimler-Chrysler,” don’t say it like you say “Chocolate pudding.”  Say it like you say “You son of a bitch!”  Cause that’s what they are, that’s what they is, that’s what it be.My son, as a rite of passage in the world of angst known as Being a Teenager, got a car.  The car was promised unto him by me, conditionally on the sale of another vehicle.  That occurred, and this money was burning a hole in his pocket, even though I actually had the money.
He found a car.  Decent enough it seemed,  and big enough for him to get his six foot eight retarded mass into.  He checked it out, I checked it out.  It seemed okay.  I bought it.
Children, it’s a 99 Dodge Intrepid with the 2.7 liter engine.  If I had any way of
knowing–if there was some device or some service whereby I could search vehicles by make and model and find out more information about them–if there was some way to do research before hand, from the comfort of my own den. . .
If only.  Woulda-shoulda-coulda.
I’ll finish in a bit, when I come back.  I have to run to the store.  But Christ, not in THAT car–
I ain’t a mechanic.  But I have to work on this thing.   I have names for all of my vehicles.  My truck is Fred.  Solid. Reliable.  American.  My little Mazda, a foreign car, needed a foreign name.  He’s Nigel.  This car–right away it started causing me problems, I know I’ll never get out of it what I put into it, and it
seems to require constant attention.  I get a sense of impending dread just thinking about it.  I named it after my ex-wife.  Linda.
I borrowed it from my son to take care of the licensing and inspections and so forth.  On the way to take it back to him, it breaks down.  I have to have it towed back to the house.  By the time I have it towed, it starts, of course.
My next door neighbor, a real mechanic, explains the issue.  Ugh.  In a nutshell, for all you non-technical types, the guy who had it before fixed it, but tried to find a cheap way out.  The replacement part is not the same apparatus as the original.  So get one from the junk yard, fill with putty, and serve. .
.Meaning, sell to the first sucker that appears.
He explains what part I need–a dealer part, of course–and it takes a few weeks to get the money for it. I get it, finally, yesterday.  I spent all day today
trying to get the old piece out to get the new one in.  The problem is, the design of the car.  High-tech, cab-forward, blah blah freakin blah.
Makes for clean lines and tidy styling, but if you want to have to work on it, anything simple requires stripping down the entire fucking engine to get to this ridiculous piece.
As I said, I’m not a mechanic.  Sort of a jack-of-all-trades, master of none.  My dad taught me to work on cars, and the importance of regular maintenance, which falls on deaf ears until you’re my age.  I do my own brakes, always, and most things I can handle.  I changed the engine in my 4WD Jeep about 10 years ago.  So, I know my way around a tool box.
I work on it, I take a break.  I go back and work on it again.  I take a break.  I’m in the garage (my dad’s garage), and using his tools and mine.  I guess their all mine now, but I still know whose are who’s.  My neighbor comes over, checks on my progress.  Not bad.  He explains a few things, tells me to call him if I have problems.
I end up calling him three or four times, to have him talk me through some obscure procedure.  The last time I called him, it was to tell him I got everything out of the way, and still can’t get the fucking part out–can you please come have a look?  Not today, or tonight, but tomorrow, the next day, I don’t know–
He said sure.  All I have to do is get the old one out, put the new one in. . .and then try to remember how it all goes back together.
This thing made me feel stupid (again with the wife metaphor). . .and it made me miss my dad.

And the fucking thing still isn’t fixed.

Happy Birfday To Me

February 20, 2007 at 4:49 PM | Posted in Personal | 3 Comments
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I think my attitude towards my birthday is best described in this one word:
I’d really like to feel bitter and cynical about growing old, but I can’t muster that emotion.  Don’t get me wrong:  growing old and dying scares the living piss out me.  But I feel pretty good.  And today–today is just another day.  And age–age is just a number.  That determines whether or not you can be
arrested for statutory.
I may, in fact, feel better about my birthday this year than I have in some years;  despite the impending divorce and all the signs and portents of looming tragedy, I feel pretty good.  I’m happy, I’m in love, I’m in fair health,
and I feel I have a direction to go creatively.  Not bad.
Even though–
Even though my mom died last week.
Okay, not really “last week,” but three years ago last week.  It occurred to me around Valentine’s Day that I wasn’t really sure of the date.  In fact, a few months after she passed I wasn’t sure.  All I know is that it was between my dad’s birthday (the 6th) and mine (the 20th.)
I still remember the events leading up to her death fairly well:  the sickness, the relapse, the operations, the return to the hospital.  Talking with my brother and learning things about my family that I had never known.  The nightly visits, going to see my dad and take him something to eat–otherwise he wouldn’t.  He stayed, dutifully, by her side.
And then she was going to come home for in home hospice care.  I was there at the house, waiting for them to come home to help set everything up, when we got the call. . .
And then the funeral, if you can call it that.  My mom was unapologetically a heathen, and there was no service, no body to view (cremated), and I even missed the scattering of the ashes, because my brother called me while I was at work–when I couldn’t leave–to tell me they were going to scatter them in the bayou near the casino.
I was left with a horrible, aching gap, a supreme lack of closure.  Later I had the chance to. . .get over it.  Of course, the burning pain I feel in my chest right now reminds me that I’m not over it, not really.
I’m a little surprised at how much I still miss her, especially in view of the fact that we weren’t very close.  Her choice or mine?  I don’t know.  She was a little distant and hard to get close to.
Detroit has met my father, and things I am “just like him.”
But she has never met my mother, so she wouldn’t know. . .but I have alot of her in me.  Mom was a reader.  Voracious.  Me too.  I think she wanted to be
a writer when she was younger, but never pursued it.  Work and family took too much time–
She worked hard at work, but found it easy to not do to much around the house.  Housekeeping was that thing that other people do.  She never communicated much, but when she did, she meant it.  I guess that
part isn’t so much like me.  She had opinions–about life, the universe, and everything.  God, the heavens, the afterlife.  Strongly held opinions, I found out, but she had the quiet wisdom to not share them with people she knew wouldn’t understand.
Mostly, she was quiet, and kept to herself.  I didn’t know what “introvert” meant as a child.
So. . .I don’t know the exact date.  I’m sure I could look it up, but I don’t want to.  Like the day my granddaughter died:  I think I know the exact date, but don’t want to give it too much.  I know approximately when it is, because we spent our wedding anniversary in a funeral home.  Life, that’s the important part.  I don’t want to celebrate or remember the day they died.

I catch myself doing something my mom used to do, which I never understood as a child, but now I do.  We would be driving together, or she
would be puttering around the kitchen, or whatever.  But she would be quiet, lost in thought, with a smile on her face.  She was completely gone, in her head.  Her imagination was in control, and there was no telling what was going one.  You may as well have hung a sign on her that said, “Be Right Back.”
I do that.  I do that alot.  Even just briefly, I can completely leave.  I can’t explain where I’ve been. I can’t describe what I was thinking, I can’t remember what I was feeling.
But it was good.

When You Wish Upon A Cyst

January 18, 2006 at 10:45 AM | Posted in Journal | 2 Comments
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And thank all you guys for caring and responding.  Okay, both of you.
So, I went to the doctor.
My boss, my friend, Kim, came into work, stopped by my cube yesterday morning, discussing the hill climbing that is the stairs.  I agreed, saying I never take them in the morning, I have to wake up and warm up first.
She looked right at me.  “What’s wrong?”  I hesitated, then pointed to her office, which is where all private conversations take place.  I think it is amazing, and wonderful, that we know each other that well, that she can tell–or maybe I just wasn’t concealing it well.  Nevertheless, I told her what I had found.
I don’t remember the exact conversation, but she told me the things necessary to calm me down and make me feel better.  She told me about her lump, which turned to to be just a cyst, and about her spastic reaction, thinking about wearing wigs (because of the chemo) and whatnot.  I had been thinking the whole time about dying, and she was talking about the survivability.  It was coming at me pretty fast, it seemed like.  I was overwhelmed.  Then she said, “Have you called your doctor?”
Well, no.  I mean, I meant to.  I was going to, as soon as I was done freaking out enough to pick up the receiver.  “Call your doctor.  Tell them what’s going on, and they will see you today.  You may need an MRI or CAT scan, but get in today so they can take care of it.  You caught it real soon, it can be taken care of.”
So I called.  They said this morning, or this afternoon.  I went with afternoon, still don’t know why.  But I left early enough to go by school and register (late) for the class that started that night, made sure the bookstore would be open later, then went to my appointment.  I held onto the idea that, if I’m dying, I’m going to get my money back for this damn class.  I am not going to waste my time on this.  I would take an art class, instead.
When I saw him, we talked about a few different things, my diet, my weight, was I exercising, was I taking my meds.  Yes, yeah, and yea.  “Okay, good.  When do we need to see you again–” and he headed for the door.
I said, “That’s not why I came in.”
He raised an eyebrow, the way doctors do.  I explained, he grabbed the gloves and said, go ahead and drop your drawers.  Apparently, the equipment down there is more complicated than I thought.  It is definitely big.  –Shut up.  Just–shut up.  He was feeling towards the back, and I was directing him towards the front.  Finally, he finds it.
He straightens up.  “I gotcha.  That is not in the testicle, it’s in the skin.  It’s an oily cyst.  Nothing to worry about.  We can take it out if you like.  Local anesthetic and two stitches–” he saw the expression on my face “–your choice.  I want to see you again in three weeks to make sure there’s no change.  It’s harmless, but like I said I can take it out.”
I felt a couple of different emotions at once:  relief, and embarrassment over how terrified I was.  As I drove home, I reflected that none of that has really changed.  I still felt that I didn’t want to die, and I felt that being that close to it made me aware of how precious little time I have left.  Even if it’s 40 years.  I haven’t done the things I wanted to do.  It wasn’t looking like I was going to.  And it occurs to me while I write this, that I remember a movie, High Fidelity, where John Cusack made a lot of lists, like top-ten lists.  One of them was top ten dream jobs?  May be I should make a list of my dreams, things I wanted to do, and see how well I fair towards making them come true.  For this to BE a life-changing moment, I have to MAKE it a life-changing moment.  But I’m not climbing Mt Fucking Everest.
When Grow Up, I want to–
1.  Be an astronaut.  Go into space.  Go to Mars.
2.  Live a long, long, long-ass time.
Time to get real.
3.  I want to write.  I have easily 30-50 story ideas in my head, screaming at me to get out and get on paper.  Some of them might be good.
4.  I want to get back to creating my comic strip, and be confident enough to submit it for publication.  Same goes for the novels if I ever finish one.
5.  To continue with the writing theme, I’d like to publish some of my articles and essays.
6.  I want to get to a point in my job where I don’t have to work a second job.  This is actually related to the last three items, so I can spend more time doing those, or doing whatever I want.
7.  I want to take a vacation either on a cruise or to one of those all-inclusive resorts.  Like to plan this for our 20th anniversary, which is in 2 years.
8.  I may still want to try to get my blackbelt. . .
You know, I don’t have these finished, and I think that’s okay.  It means I still have room and space for more, new dreams.

We Had Joy, We Had Fun

January 17, 2006 at 10:17 AM | Posted in Journal | 3 Comments
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  Well!  Let me tell you about my weekend!  It was pretty exciting!
  Let’s see. . . Well, I don’t actually remember what happened on Saturday.  What did happen?  What the hell. . .I think I laid around played a video game, cleaned up in the basement a little.  That was it.  Hmmm.  Okay, maybe not so exciting.  Sunday, I did what I was supposed to do on Saturday, which was, work on my wife’s car.  Problem with the windshield wipers.  When I got to the heart of the problem, and I knew it was going to come to this, I made a trip to the junk yard.  I want to know when, and why, did junk yards become so sensitive and politically correct?  They want to be called "salvage yards" now.  "Junk yard" has a bad connotation.
  Whatever, dudes.  It’s down in the city (about a fifty mile drive for me), in the worst part of the city, it’s scary to get to and even scarier to go into.  A place where you can be offered drugs or sex for sale in between the rows of cars, where people will ask for 2 dollars to buy the part they need, where you better not need anything out of the trunk of a car, because those are urinals now.  Junk yard may not be a strong enough term.
  So I took care of that, and it was good to have a sense of accomplishment.  Monday, I was off, and paid for it, which was nice.  I bought a heavy workout bag from someone at work a few days ago, something I have wanted my entire adult life, and I finally got one.  My son and I built a support and hung it in the basement, and cleared some space near the weights.  We have an actual workout place now.
  Oh, but I did work Monday night, at my second job.  Starting this week my schedule changes because school starts.  For the next 16 weeks, it’s going to be Monday night, work, Tuesday night, school, Wednesday night, school, Thursday night, work. And Friday night, I’ll probably go to bed early.  But at least I still have my weekends free.  Which, I have been on this job almost a year, and I am just starting to get used to having the weekends off.
  But I like working Monday, because it’s generally slower and easier, and my good friend Karl works on Monday night.  Since I switched up jobs, I haven’t been able to hang out with him as much.  So this is a good change.
Let’s see–what else happened?  Well, I went home Monday night, took a shower, went to bed, and woke up about 4 am, for no apparent reason, with my hand on my nuts.
  I felt a lump.
  My life didn’t flash in front of my eyes, but lots of other things did.  I managed to go back to sleep somehow, or maybe I just lay there, I’m not really sure.  I thought about my future, and not having one.  I thought about my children, and my wife, and life insurance.  I thought about my unfinished projects, and what plans I had made.  I thought about a song I heard on an infomercial for a Time-Life set set of CD’s from the 70’s,
 "We had Joy, we had fun.
 "We had seasons in the sun,
 "but the hills that we climbed
 "were just seasons out of time."
  Good Lord.  I remember this song.  With a vengeance.
  My wife got up and got ready for work, I said not a word.  This is not something you lay on somebody early in the morning.  I got the kids up and got them ready for school, and wondered who would make my daughter cereal in the morning–and quickly pushed the thought out of my head.  I don’t want to cry, not right now, not to have them ask questions, not in front of my young daughter and jaded teenage son.
  I got them out the door and to their stops, and settled into the car for quite possibly the longest drive to work, subjectively, that I have ever had.  I turned the radio on, turned it off, turned it on, put in a cd, changed tracks 8 or 9 times, put it back on the radio, and left it, but didn’t really listen.
 "Goodbye Michele it’s hard to die
 "When all the birds are singing in the sky"
  I was thinking about my life, and all the things I wanted to do, and all the things I wouldn’t get to do, because now I was going to die.  I thought about leaving my children, and it made me sad.  I thought about the fact that I figured I would last longer than my wife, and this was God playing the irony game with me.  –Your roll.
 "But the sun and the fun
 "like the seasons have all gone"
   (It’s even worse when you have the melody and some of the words but not all of them.  It keeps playing over and over, trying to get it right.  Stupid brain.)
  And then I thought about my wife’s older brother, diagnosed over a year ago, and given a year to live.  He was a normal, quiet guy, now living with my older daughter.  He seems adjusted, and mostly happy, and at peace.  And he does what he wants.
 "Goodbye Pa-pa it’s hard to die–"
  Arrgh.  What is the next line?  Make it stop!
  But he also let it go when he got sick, and didnt go to the doctor for, well, a few years, and that’s how it got bad.  Maybe–maybe, this doesnt have to kill me.  Maybe I can be one of those brave cancer survivors, and write a book, and be on Oprah, and be inspirational.  Didn’t that bike guy–Lance Armstrong–he had it, and he’s okay.  Plus he has a hot wife.
 "We had joy, we had fun–"
  Christ.  Does that mean I’m going to have to take up some kind of dangerouse hobby, or adventurous sport, or travel the world, or some live-changing thing like that, to prove something?
  "But the hills that we climbed
  "Were just seasons out of time"
  To prove what?  And to whom?  I’ve already had my live changing moment.  It was this morning, about 4 am.  It was when I realized, dully, not fully awake, but the thought fully formed, although not completely put into words.  Just the sense that I realized very clearly, how little I wanted to die.
  And how little I wanted to die with that fucking song stuck in my head.
PS–Yes, I’m going to the doctor.  This afternoon.  I’ll keep you posted.  I was too freaked out to even form the thought rationally.  My friend actually helped me, gave me some clarity–enough to call the doctor, at least.  I couldn’t even remember the name of my insurance without looking at the card.  But I called, and explained ever so briefly, and I got in right away.  I could have gone this morning, but I took this afternoon.  Why?  Why not go as soon as possible?  Well, this new feeling I am having, this emotion called terror, is completely new to me, and I want to savor it and enjoy it, that’s why!
Hell, I don’t know.  It’s just a reaction.  Scared to know, scared to not know.

Beaten Like a Dog

November 30, 2005 at 12:19 AM | Posted in Journal | 3 Comments
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I don’t really know where to go with this, or where it will end up.  I feel…done.  I’m just done with it.  I’ve been beaten and broken.  I give up.  Oh, Christ, where do I begin? 

A guy I listen to on the radio,  a good guy–Glenn Beck, have you heard of him?  He’s on a political station.  He actually doesn’t talk politics too much, which is nice, I need a break from it.  But he does take on some social issues, and he is religious, and right-leaning.  He is very, very funny.  Anyway, he has a one-man stage show that he does around Christmas, about the true meaning of Christmas.  And he was touring, and coming to our town.   Humorous and serious, light and at the same time, heart- warming.  Feel-good kind of stuff, for most people.
Most people.  Aaaarrrggh.  I want to get this across with the right tone.  I love my wife, and we have been together for almost 18 years now.  That’s a long freakin time, nowadays.  How do I put this?  She is a cast-iron four-door bitch.  I swear, nothing pleases her, and if she’s unhappy, which is usually, she loves to spread the bad mood around to everyone, so they all know how she feels.  For fuck’s sake.
I hear about the show, and hear lots of good things about it, and decide this is the things I want to do, to help get the whole family in the Christmas spirit.  Last year, I felt a little left out of it all (see September archives, “The Week After Christmas”) and had worked this season on making things work out better.  I have a different job now, better hours, more family time, as well as participating in the holiday things, I cooked a lot of different dishes on Thanksgiving, which people liked, and over the holiday weekend, we put the Christmas lights up on the outside of the house.  I thought this would be a good thing, to add to the overall holiday spirit.
Well, when we get in, the first thing we hear is a song that He had redone, a Christmas carol “O Holy Night.”  To show what political correctness would do, and how the ACLU has filed lawsuits to remove any and all mention of Christmas from our society, he parodied the song, taking out all religious reference, or reference to anything special or holy, to show, to make a point, of how ridiculous it is.  I had heard the song on his radio show, as had many in the audience, so they knew what to expect.
My wife was ready to walk out of the theatre when she heard the song. She was pissed.  She was extremely upset that this song, above all others, had been treated in this sacrilegious manner.  She is a singer, or was, and this was one of her favorites.  From that point on, it was a losing battle.  He was funny, but she wasn’t laughing.  Although he wasn’t being political, the occasional aside he would make just made her boil up again.  She wasn’t willing to give him a chance at all, and instead felt the best thing she could do for everyone was sit there, angrily, and shake her head.  She would occasionally say things like “That’s not funny.  That’s stupid.”–Just loud enough to embarrass me.  My son tried to reason with her, and she just got louder.  I tapped his shoulder to indicate “leave her alone so she shuts up.”  She would occasionally spout off about how this was not “her” kind of humor, it was mine and his, it was “juvenile.”  That really wasn’t the case.  In fact I saw her smile a few times, and then quickly force it away.
Everyone has been enjoying themselves so far, everyone except for my wife.  I feel a kindred spirit, a connectedness with many of these people.  The show starts back up, and takes a different turn.  The first half was all comedy, telling stories about Christmas and his family. The second half started with a salute to our country’s men and women in the military, and she did clap and stand appropriately for that.
But the whole point of the show was the true meaning of Christmas, and so he took a somber, religious bent.  He is an excellent orator.  He related the story of his sordid  past and eventual redemption, and his belief in Jesus.  He told of his daughter, who had cerebral palsy, and her triumph over those struggles, and there was not a dry eye in the house.
Oh, yeah–one.  Guess who.
Sitting in stony silence, occasionally she would sigh, look at me, and give me a long, cold look followed by the slightest shake of her head before turning away.
It was a great presentation, meant to fill everyone with hope and a warm heart.  I wish I could have enjoyed it more.  As it ends, we get up to leave, and she says to me, “Don’t make me go to anything like this again.  I don’t like it.”

Believe me, I won’t.  And that’s what I said to myself over and over again in the car on the long drive home, never again.

Mid-Life Crisis for a Theme Park

October 17, 2005 at 4:59 PM | Posted in Journal | 1 Comment
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Kim, if this comes out the way I intend, you may appreciate this, so I will try to get it right.  Much of the time, writing takes on a life of its own.  I try to direct it, but sometimes what I intend and what happens diverge.  It’s similar in function but different in origin to someone trying to draw a picture.  What you want to draw and what ends up on the paper is different, mostly because you don’t have the talent or experience, or control over your hand.  But in writing, for me at least, it’s very stream of consciousness, where it flows I have no control.
Six Flags. .. ..
  The name itself, like Disney Land, evokes a set of images and memories.  I seem to recall Six Flags Over Mid-America opening in the early-to mid-seventies.  In fact, In 5th or 6th grade our WHOLE SCHOOL went on a trip there.  I was going to Collinsville at the time, and it was 1975 or 1976.  The park was still fairly new.  I dont recall if I had been there prior to that or not, but I definitely remember this trip. It might have been a Saturday, and up at the School, 20, maybe 30 buses lined up, and we ALL went.  This is the best age to go to an amusement park:  12.  You are young, you have lots of energy, everything is fresh and new and exciting.  The park was MADE just for you.  The sites and sounds, colors and smells. 
  The emerging interest in girls.
  Especially Donna.  My first crush.  She acted like she hated me, and I hoped she secretly liked me, because I really liked her.  I never found out, although on rare occasions we found a common connection. But the mind of a twelve year old girl is a mystery to most, and doubly so to a twelve year old boy.  In a way, I suppose, it was the perfect relationship.  I never had a chance to disappoint her, and she never had the chance to break my heart.
  At Six Flags that fateful day was when my interest went from casual to pointed, after a fashion.  Her and some of her friends had gone on the Log Flume (still a classic–I recommend you try it) and had somehow managed to tip their little boat, or whatever it is, over.  Her and her friends, dressed in shorts and t-shirts of the standard ’70’s flair, where completely soaked.  Her hair was wet and straight down, her clothes were wet and clinging, Her face was wet and glowing. She was beautiful.
  Also completely ignored me, too, but I didn’t care.  I ran into her a dozen times that day, in passing, and it just thrilled me. One of my personal best days in that decade. I managed to go to Six Flags several times over the next few years, but none were as good as day.  Going with parents, who lag behind, and a younger sister, who wants you take her with you. . . .I was completely shackled.
  Once I got my driver’s license, however, it was a different story.  I then discovered the *other* best age to go to an amusement park:  17.  Probably the main reason is girls.  Older girls.  Girls our age.  A buddy to go with makes the difference, too.  Nobody goes by themselves, unless they are freaks or perverts.  But a couple of teenage guys, middle of summer, with wheels. . .The world was OURS.  And Six Flags was several sorts of playground.
 Of course, we never got any further than chatting or flirting with some chicks, but we really thought we were the shit.  One time, there was going to be a concert there.  Old Glory Ampitheater.  It’s not there anymore, I think.  The band was called Head East.  They had about 2 songs, one was a hit.  "Never Been any Reason."  Album called "Flat as a Pancake."  After this, they became a metal band.  This was, after all, early 80’s. 
  They had aspirations of being a hair band.  Long wavy hair, shiny clothes, hairbands–they looked very cool.  I can’t believe that look is no longer in.  We saw the show, at least 2 or three songs worth, then continued with the park attractions.  But later, the park was about to close, and we were in line to ride the Screamin Eagle, the big roller coaster of the time. 
  We are about the last, and these two girls asked if they could switch with us so they could go with their friends.  We said yes, and they went, and then we realized, "Fuckin Aye! We are going to be the last to ride, and we get to ride it by ourselves!"  And then, as we are waiting, the band and their babes came up, led by a park employee.  They want to ride the coaster.
  So it was very cool.  We got to ride with the band, and with their hot, unattainable babes, and, because they wanted to, we got to go on it twice.  And we chatted with the band for a few minutes, and then got to walk out of the park, in the dark, the last people there.  For a couple of young dudes, it was a very
rebel kind of feeling.  We glowed with internal coolness. 
  As I grew up, went away to college, flunked out, came back, moved, moved in with some different girls, and experienced a falling out with Six Flags through no fault of my own.  Or, to be fair, Six Flags either.  I mean, I don’t blame them.  I had no more than a passing interest in the Theme park, it was going
through adulthood pangs, as was I.  I followed with a mild disinterest the changes in ownership, additional rides, rides that changed, rides that disappeared because they killed too many people. 
  (And just how many is too many?  I think they follow the rule where, if just one person at a time dies, every 2 or three years, then the ride is okay.  Percentage-wise probably better than the airlines, considering the volume of butts in the seats.  But if a ride kills, say, 4 to 6 in one fell swoop–"fell" being the operative word here, then ix-nay on the ide-ray.  I am speaking of course, of the skylift.  The tram car that went from one side of the park to the other.  Like the train on the ground that stops at half a dozen places around the park, the skylift’s only real purpose was as a shortcut to get from one side to the other.  Apparantly that is not good enough for some people.  People who want more adventure in their lives.  People who rock a tram car until it slips off the wire supporting it and it plummets 200 some odd feet to the ground.
  (Here is my PC disclaimer:  I’m sure there was screaming on the way down, and I don’t mean to diminish the pain and suffering felt by the families of the victims, blah, blah blah.  But if there was one person in there, with a personality like my wife, it wouldn’t be enough for the guy who rocked it to die with
you.  He was going to get the living shit beat out of him on the way down.  One person screaming, the rest of them beating him until they hit the ground.)
  And then, of course, I get married, and have kids.  Dangerously approaching adulthood myself, Six Flags has matured and grown.  Added a waterpark, changed themes around, added more rides, got rid of others.  With the kids we already had, and the young one we just had, I would be returning to the park.  Much like an old girlfriend at a high school reunion, it was exciting and awkward all at the same time, at first.  Then after the initial getting re-acquainted, the discussion was mostly about the kids.  And then the fun is more vicarious.  Watching your kids have fun.  Being in the role of MY parents, seemingly holding
my kids back from having to much fun.  Fun is meant to be regulated.  Not too much, not too little.  Too much fun, all hell breaks loose and pretty soon you have anarchy.  Too little fun and no one will come to the theme park, because it JUST ISN’T FUN.  In fact, that is why, I believe, they have signs all over each ride, "No gum or candy on ride."  Because, especially when you are young, gum and candy can be equated to "fun."  And rides equal "fun" as well.  Therefore, if you have gum ON A RIDE, it is conceivable that you will experience TOO much fun, and completely explode into an orgy of fun-filled anarchy and disrespect for authority and ride rules, and they will have to sweep you up with one of those broom and butler things..  It is imperative to maintain the correct fun level. 
  Probably the purpose of parents at the park, too.  So I fell easily into the role of walking slowly, sitting down alot, denying money requests, and just in general saying "No," whenever a question was asked.  Just doing my part.  But the trips to Six Flags became sporadic at best.  Once one year, then not for two or three.  Busy in adulthood.  Much like myself, Six Flags became busy and burdened as well.  And then they added the Fall hours and the the Halloween season, we rediscovered each other, like old friends.  Autumn is my favorite time of year.  It is much cooler, and consequently, attendance is down from the summer peak.  Two BIG reasons why I like it more.  It actually seems more personal, and more personable, and the attendants could take a little more time with you when you need something.  But as the season so signifies in life, thusly, I suppose, it does with a park. 
  This last visit, this was the one that was like seeing an old flame from long ago.  We knew each, and both noticed that we had aged.  In some places, not well.  But we we both accepted each other.  I could no longer fit on some of the rides I used to fit on, the hills were long, and steeper.  The punks were more punkier, if that’s a word.  For Six Flags’ part, it seemed not as well kept, a little dirtier, a little run down, and the staff a little. . .lost. 
  But all in all it was a good time, and wistfully satisfying, like one last fling before I had to pick up my wife at the airport, and then get back to my regular life. . . .
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