Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Ghosts of Easters Past

Happy Easter to you and everyone that celebrates this occasion as a religious holiday, or just another opportunity to eat eggs and candy.

As you may guess, I'm in the latter category, only without the eggs.  And the candy part really begins on Monday when jellybeans and Easter candy goes on sale.

We always celebrated a big Easter when I was a kid though, so I figured I'd dig up some old relics of Easters gone by.  And this has nothing to do with my not being able to come up with something I wanted to write about this morning.  Ahem...

1966- Pittsburgh
My brother Ed and I, in our new Batman shirts, about to embark on  the Easter egg hunt.  Looks like we had to start in the basement.

 Tiring of the hunt, we played on our trikes instead.

 Now  sister Ann is in play, who refuses to play nice for the camera.

Mom and Dad, before church.  Judging from Mom's caption, Holy Thursday and Good Friday was followed by Besotted Saturday. 

 Mom's parents came to visit after church (judging by my untucked shirt) as we commenced an Easter Pose-a-thon.  Sister still not looking at the camera. Brother seems alarmed at having to hold her hand.  I just want to play on the swings already.

 Grandma: happy. Mom: eyes closed. Me: choking Ed. Ed: Grabbing Ann.  Ann: Squawking.

Finally! The grownups leave us alone so we can play!  Ann still not looking at the camera.

1970-Glen Ellyn IL
Annie and I, in the back yard before church. This time SHE's looking and smiling and I have my eyes closed.

1971-Bexley OH

Not that you can see it, but we're decorating our eggs, under the watchful eye of Simon, our Siamese.

1973/4-Columbus OH
 Annie, finding an egg and perfecting her anti-paparazzi, "Get that Camera Out of My Face" look.

2008-Catonsville MD
I know... big leap in time.  Shouldn't be a surprise that as we got older, there was a lot less to take pictures of on Easter morning.  So now it's up to those of us that have reproduced, to carry on the tradition.  That means it's up to Ed to carry on the tradition, with my nephews Daniel and Sammy.
Sammy, on The Hunt

 Daniel and Sammy, all dressed up!

2009-Catonsville MD
Hard at work, dying and decorating the eggs.

2011-Gulf Breeze FL
 Easter with my parents... Trust me, the Easter egg hunt is a lot more fun when it's 70 degrees out.  Meanwhile, Sammy is All Business... One egg down and dashing for more!

Nice haul for Daniel and Sam.

You know, McDonalds is missing out on a great Easter promotion.  I'd totally go out for multi-colored Egg McMuffins.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Institutionalized Discrimination

If you've been on Facebook lately, you've probably been seeing a lot of “=” signs in people’s statuses.  No, it’s not a countrywide celebration of mathematics.  People are showing support for marriage equality, meaning the right to same-sex marriage.

My blog sister, Cassie, have already weighed in on the matter, as did the Carpetbagger on Facebook.  I’ve been on the fence (regarding blogging the topic) because I’ve trod this path quite a few times before.

I’m sure you know where I stand on this.  While the issue doesn’t affect me directly, it affects a number of friends and acquaintances, and thousands of good people that I don’t know.

I’ve obviously been following reports on the dual same-sex marriage cases before the Supreme Court, to overturn California’s Proposition 8 (banning same-sex marriage in the state) and the Defense of Marriage Act or DOMA (banning federal recognition of same-sex marriages, regardless of legality in any particular state).

It’s funny to me, the lengths the opponents of same-sex marriage will go to make their case, while avoiding the obvious reasons for their opposition: Religion and the Ick Factor.  In the California case, they made it about childbearing, saying that since same-sex couples can’t “accidentally have children,” there is no compelling reason they need to be married.

Seriously.  That’s what they’re hanging their hat on.  And it’s no wonder, because they cannot win this fight with any rational argument.  Religion?  Gone… this country isn’t governed by the Bible, (or any other holy book) and if it was, there are a ton of other Biblical assertions that no one would ever conceive of adopting, (like pretty much all of Leviticus).  That leaves the “gay sex is gross” argument, to which the obvious solution is “Then don’t have any.”

To me, there would need to be a compelling, nation-threatening reason to deprive a percentage of our population the right to marry (or any other right the rest of us have).  Being uncomfortable is not one of them.  I’m uncomfortable with calling strangers on the phone, but you don’t see me protesting outside Verizon. 

Again in the Prop 8 case, Chief Justice Roberts mentioned something truly appalling to me.  He was quoted as saying that marriage has been limited to a man and a woman “since time immemorial.”  What this means is that he is hesitant to remove this institutionalized discrimination because it’s been around for a long time.

I would ask the Chief Justice how long corporations weren’t people, before he granted them full 1st Amendment rights in the Citizens United case.  He didn’t seem too concerned with precedent then, did he?  No, just like most Republicans in charge, they’re only for full freedoms when it suits Republicans.

Same with “State’s Rights.”  The GOP is all for State’s Rights in restricting abortion, installing voter ID laws, or teaching Creationism.  Why are they not in support of State’s Rights in permitting same-sex marriage?  What’s different?

So what if we’re entering “uncharted waters?”  Everything we take for granted right now was in uncharted waters at one time or another… slavery, segregation, women’s rights, the world being round and revolving around the sun… all of it was unheard of at one time or another.

And it’s not like we’re just talking about semantics with this issue.  There are over 100 federal effects and benefits that hinge on the definition of marriage.  It’s a big deal with tangible and often very expensive ramifications.

It always kills me when I see the opponents arguing that no one group (meaning the gays) should be singled out for “special rights.”  That makes my head explode.  Since when is ensuring that one group has the same rights as everyone else considered “special?”  One right, applied to all, period.  I guess if one group is going to receive “special” persecution, then they need “special” protection.  When the former goes away, so does the need for the latter.  But as we know, the Civil Rights turmoil took place in the 50s and 60s and we’re still waiting for the prejudice to die out.

Unfortunately, those that read the Supreme tea leaves seem to think they will rule narrowly, overturning Prop 8 in a way that the fallout is limited to California, and possibly ducking DOMA on a technicality.

The key to the whole thing is Justice Kennedy.  He stands between the 4 hard-core conservatives and the 4 raging liberals.  Kennedy has ruled in favor of gay rights twice before, and the State Supreme Court Judge who overturned Prop 8 wrote his opinion in a way designed to appeal directly to Kennedy. 

This country is based on the principle of equality for all.  And that has to extend to everyone, not just to people that think and act like the majority.  There is no valid reason to deprive citizens of common rights based solely on the characteristics with which they were born.  Now would be a good time for our highest court to remind everyone of that fact.

I would really like to see the Supremes drive a stake in the ground here for marriage equality, but I’m not optimistic.  Even if 58% of the country is ready for it, at least 4 people on the bench are not.  I don’t think they want to history to look at them as social revolutionaries, but I’m afraid, instead, that they’ll be viewed like those who ruled on Plessy vs Ferguson (creating “separate but equal”).

In other words, in 50 years, people will be wondering what the hell was wrong with us, back in the early 20-teens. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Doin' the iPod Shuffle Part 2

A couple years ago, I did a post where I put my MP3 player on “shuffle,” and wrote about the first 25 songs that came up.  At the time, I thought I’d do that again intermittently, but never did.  (I never got hard-up enough for ideas, I guess.)

Anyway, for the last couple of weeks, the radio morning show I listen to (as my alarm clock) has been doing this with the iPods of various staff members.

Most of it is completely depressing, because I don’t think I heard a single song that I recognized, nor any that I liked.  Lots of artsy-fartsy plinky-plunking, or just a backwash of guitar noise, accompanied by atonal yowling.

Even at 51, I like my music loud.  But folks, it’s gotta have a hook or some kind of recognizable melody.  It’s got to have some musicianship behind it.  So to show everyone how it should be done, I now present, “Doin' the iPod Shuffle, Part 2.”

1.  “I Got the Six,” by ZZ Top, from “Eliminator.”  Deep album cut from one of the best albums of the 80s.  With a refrain that goes, “I got the 6, give me your 9,” ZZ Top has never been subtle.

2.  “Take me in Your Arms (Rock Me),” by the Doobie Bros, from “The Best of the Doobie Brothers.”  Not my favorite from them… sounds kind of AM Radio-ish to me now.  (AM Radio-ish for the 70s, anyway.)

3.  “Alone,” by Heart, from “Bad Animals.”  Huge vocals from Ann Wilson on this 80s ballad.  I don’t think I even have this album… I ripped the cut from a promo CD-single.  It would be the perfect single for my line of work, with just a small tweak to the lyrics… “How do I get you a loan?”  I should write this up into a full song parody.  I used to love doing those, as a kid.  I totally should have been Weird Al Yankovic.

4.  “Cold Shot” (live), by Stevie Ray Vaughan, from “Live Alive.”  Love this song, although I probably like the studio version better, because SRV bungles the verses on this live cut.  He makes up for it later, though, when accompanied by his brother Jimmy, he rips through “Love Struck Baby” like the Free World depended on it. 

5.  “The Only Good Thing You Ever Said was Goodbye,” by Joan Jett, from “Notorious.”  Kind of sounds like “I Hate Myself for Lovin’ You,” turned inside out.  It’s a great Eff-You song.  “Notorious” was probably her best album that nobody heard… Hard guitar crunch, big fat hooks, sparkling production and meaningful lyrics.  Should have been a huge hit, but there’s no accounting for taste.

6.  “Blue and Evil,” by Joe Bonamassa, from “Black Rock.”  My buddy John recommended Bonamassa to me, because he knows I like hotshot guitarists.  And hey, it only took me 6 songs to find a cut that wasn’t from the 80s!

7.  “Johnny B Goode” (live), by George Thorogood, from “Let’s Work Together.”  OK, NOW we’re talking.  In the introduction, George calls this the “Rock and Roll National Anthem,” and he’s right.  Accompanied by Chuck Berry’s peerless piano player, Johnny Johnson, George tears through this rock classic with amazing passion.  I get chills just imagining George up there wailing away on his big white Gibson, while a stately old black man in a captain’s hat bangs out the accompaniment on piano, as well as a solo or two.

8.  “Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through” (live), by Meat Loaf, from “Hang Cool Teddy Bear” (bonus disc).  This is another of those Meat Loaf CDs I have that most people have never heard of.  It came with a bonus disc of live cuts and this is one.  It’s a song that first appeared on Jim Steinman’s “Bad for Good,” back in the 80s.  (That album was meant for the Loaf, but Steinman recorded it himself while Meat was having voice problems.

9.  “Petal to the Metal,” by Roy Buchanan, from “Dancing on the Edge.”  Guitar slayer Roy Buchanan gets down with the slide guitar in this instrumental.  I’m always amazed whenever I hear a particularly wicked Buchanan cut, because I know that he was in his 60s when he recorded it.  That’s the kind of senior citizen I plan on becoming.  (Only I’m more likely to play the song on the stereo, as opposed to the guitar.)

10. “Monolithic Oil,” by the National Lampoon, from “That’s not Funny, That’s Sick.”  It’s funny how this “mock” oil company commercial from the 70s holds up just as well today.  Their conclusion:  “Because the blame for today’s energy situation is on your shoulders, and your conscience, and not ours.  Monolithic Oil Corporation… we want you to… pay.”

11. “The Rising,” by Bruce Springsteen, from “The Rising.”  Title track from one of the best albums, ever.  “The Rising” was Bruce’s 9/11 album.  I remember avoiding it because I didn’t need another reminder of that day.  But then I saw a Springsteen concert on TV where they were playing songs from it.  A couple of them, namely “Into the Fire” and “You’re Missing,” brought me to tears.  I bought the CD online that night.  It’s still hard to hear sometimes, but I never tire of “Further on Up the Road,” which was Bruce’s “revenge” song.  The theme of that one is like, “Watch out, motherfuckers, ‘cause we’re coming.”

12. “Sodomy,” from the “Hair, the Original Broadway Cast.”  Yes, this is the one that my mom swears she heard her little children loudly singing on the front steps.  I still claim that we didn’t really know the words, (and certainly didn’t know what they meant,) but I’m sure it was alarming, none the less.  I mean, this is the first line (of a 2-line song)… “Sodomy, fellatio  cunnilingus, pederasty… Father why do these words sound so nasty?”  Can you imagine YOUR little angels harmonizing to that one?

13. Sound byte from Ghostbusters about “crossing the streams.  Classic definition of “bad.” 
Bill Murray: I’m not clear on that whole good/bad thing… what do you mean, “bad.”
Harold Ramis: Try to imagine all life as we know it, stopping instantaneously and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light.”

I love mixing movie dialog, comedy bits and other random nonsense in among my music.

14. “Wild Thing,” by Sam Kinison, from “Have You Seen Me Lately?”  This was a song stuck on the end of Sam’s 2nd comedy album, and was backed by an all star team of rock guitarists of the 80s.  Sam took a few liberties with the lyrics though:

“Wild thing, I think you move me / But I wanna know for sure
Every time I kiss you I taste what other men had for lunch
The only thing that can get you off it to see me in pain, but I think I love youuuuuuu…”

15. “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” by Bonnie Tyler, from “Faster Than the Speed of Night.”  I also have a version by a group called The Dan Band, where they do the version from “Old School,” with all the F-bombs included.  I only have the Bonnie Tyler version on my player to compensate for songs like Sam Kinison’s “Wild Thing.”

16. “The Elements,” by Tom Lehrer, from “An Evening Wasted with Tom Lehrer.”  This is simple, but brilliant.  Lehrer plays a song that he calls, “completely pointless,” but is deceptively tricky.  In it, he sings the names of all the elements on the Periodic Table, set to “The Major General’s Song,” from "Pirates of Penzance."  It’s a real tongue-twister.  My favorite line is at the end: 

“These are the only ones of which the news has come to Harvard,
And there may be many others but they haven’t been discaaaahvered.”

17. “Piece of my Heart,” by Melissa Etheridge, from “Greatest Hits.”  Etheridge is the only one I know of that can reasonably cover this Janis Joplin classic.  Like in most of her songs, she totally sings her ass off.

18. “Go Home,” by Joan Jett, from “Pure and Simple.”  Another Eff-You song from one of her later albums.

19. “Money for Nothing,” by Dire Straits, from “Brothers in Arms.”  Remember how huge this song was when it came out, with its new-fangled computer-animated music video?  That was all fine and all, but just I loved that rough guitar sound (and that wild-ass drum intro).  In an interview, guitarist Mark Knofler said he was trying to get the sound that ZZ Top had on “Eliminator.”  He even contacted ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons for some advice, but Billy wouldn’t tell him anything.  Trade secret...

20. “No Man’s Land,” by Billy Joel, from “River of Dreams.”  Billy Joel’s best song that no one knows.  It’s uncharacteristically hard-rocking for Billy Joel, but he made it Track 1 on “River of Dreams,” and opened his show with it during that tour.  And I should know, because I was there.  It was really something…

Lights are out, the band comes on the stage and starts up this pounding, rocking song, and you’re thinking, “Am I at the right show?

Then there was the Piano Man, wearing dark 50s sunglasses out at the end of the stage, in a single spotlight, in front of a mic stand, stomping his foot with the music and just bringing it.  He had this black female percussionist whose backing vocals on the chorus cut through the hall like a knife. 

The song is about the suburbanization of his Long Island home, with all the local color getting washed out by malls and parking lots.  He practically spits out the words as he laments the loss.  Here, see for yourself…

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Odd Bits - The Little Biscuit Edition

Time to clean out the litter box that is my mind.

Cafeteria Comedy Hour
Friday is Pizza Day at my company’s cafeteria, where you can order a personal pizza with anything on it, for one (very good) price.  It’s the lunchtime highlight of my week.

When I went for lunch last Friday, I found my boss’s boss down there waiting for her pizza.  It was a good chance for me to get a little informal face time with someone who’s pretty high up on our food chain.  As we were chatting, it became my turn to order, and I stepped up to the counter.  There was a new ingredient among the selections, so I asked the chef what it was. 

Immediately, I foresaw the possibilities here, and engineered the following exchange:

Bluz: What’s that?

Chef: Fish.

Bluz: Hmm.  And I assume that’s chicken right there?

Chef: Yes.

Bluz.  Those sound very good for me.  [pause]  I’ll have pepperoni, bacon, ham…

Chef and Boss: [Loud laughter]

Bluz, for the win.  I totally set the whole thing up and it worked perfectly.  Although there may be a downside to the Boss thinking I’m about one prime rib away from a massive heart attack.

Corporate Health
Our company is always pushing all these “health initiatives” at us and it drives me nuts.  If I wanted to be nagged about my health, I’d stay home all day and listen to Pinky.  (Someone has to look out for me.) 

This week, they sent out this chart that shows the calorie counts of some common food items, and how long you would have to walk or jog to burn it off.  Suffice to say, I’m in serious trouble.

For example, a backed potato with a half-teaspoon of butter is 245 calories, requiring an hour and two minutes of walking to burn it off.  A plain bagel is 270 calories, which requires an hour and 8 minutes of walking.  A 2.5” by 4” slice of lasagna is 336 calories, requiring an hour and twenty-five minutes of walking.

I tell you, after one of my lunches, by the time I get done walking, I’ll be 7 miles away.

I don’t have the time or patience for that much walking, especially when the weather is only habitable outside for a couple months a year.  Why don’t they provide some realistic exercise alternatives?  Like, what I want to know is, how long will it take to burn off my lunch via bobbling my leg up and down at my desk?  I can do that all day long.  Sure my cube-mates think it’s a prolonged earth tremor, but I have my health to think about…

How many calories does tossing my Koosh Ball up to the ceiling burn off?  I like to try to see how close to the ceiling tiles I can get it without hitting.  I used to try to get it inside the grill of the light covers, without touching the bulb, but decided it would be too hard to explain how I smashed the fluorescent light bulb all over me and my desk.  Still, it really works the triceps.

Bahrain is Play’in Again
I got word from a reader from Bahrain (which was confirmed by my StatCounter, if not the country listing at the bottom of the blog), that he has been able to access my site.  So maybe I’m no longer banned!  Or, maybe I was just banned by Bahrainian Facebook, which was how my prior reader knew I was banned.

Anyway, that meant I had to make some changes to my header picture, which you might have noticed.  It’s kind of sad… I liked thinking I was subversive enough to require banishment from an entire country.  However I’m comforted that any twisted malcontents that find themselves living there now have an outlet to a twisted malcontent of the outside world.  I do what I can.

As you may recall, I blogged earlier this month about my problems with Spam Comments, and how it’s taking more and more of my time to keep them off this site.

You’ll be happy to learn that the figurative coconut of an obvious solution finally fell out of the tree and conked me in the melon.  Now whenever I receive the email notifying me of a possible bullshit comment promoting some bullshit link, not only do I track back to the post to delete the comment, but I also turn off comment capability for that post.

Since they’re almost always posts that are a more than a year old, the net effect to you should be zero.  I get practically no legitimate comments on old posts, save for my “Hives” post.  You can see the effects of this action by noting the Top 5 Posts section, and how that they now mostly consist of newer posts, instead of ones that are years old.

And by only turning off the comments on a case-by-case basis, I don’t have to wade through an enormous backlog of over 650 posts.  I can just do the ones the spammers are hitting on.

So, it only took me a couple of months of suffering to hit upon the painfully obvious solution that had been staring me in the face the entire time.

Maybe I should have had fish on my pizza.  I can obviously use more brain food.

It’s Wahoo Time Again
Pinky and I are heading to Florida in early May, to go visit my folks.  As I wrote during my last trip there, their local AA baseball team is called the Pensacola Blue Wahoos.  We had a chance, back then, to wander around their brand new ballbark.  Unfortunately, tickets for the season were already sold out.

This year, I planned ahead and bought tickets online to see the Blue Wahoos play the Montgomery Biscuits.

I’ll let that sink in.  Montgomery, Alabama has a team called the Biscuits.  It makes me wonder if the team is bankrolled by Pillsbury.  Maybe they play in Pop’n Fresh Park.

The best part is the logo.  Get a load of this:

This is “Monty,” the Biscuit.

Apparently, this is the logo for their alternate “away” cap.

Is that not the wildest ball cap ever?  I must have one.  If I didn't already have a Blue Wahoos cap, I’d probably buy this one and wear it to the game.

The Biscuits also have a cool “home” cap, with the same character.

This one’s a little too “bright” for me, plus it’s too close to University of Michigan colors.  I think I prefer the Full Monty.

But you have to love the inventiveness of minor league teams.  I wonder if any other teams will bite on the food theme… The Chicago Pizza?  The Panama City Pepperoni?  The Macon Bacon?  The Parma Pierogi?  The Sausalito Sausages?  I can just see the come-on for that one…

Come to Sausalito, where every game is a Sausage Party!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

15 Years

This Saturday, I will hit a milestone with my job.  It will be my 15-Year Anniversary with the company.

How in the hell did that happen?  You know my background… I was a long-time retail troll.  How did I end up working for a financial services company when I had zero finance or accounting experience?  What a trip…  And it all started with getting fired.

OK, actually, it all started with my deciding to leave Albany NY in November of 1997, and trying to start a new life here in Baltimore, where my brother and sister lived.  My brother Ed offered to put me up while I got back on my feet.  I hated feeling like I was sponging off him and his wife, so I threw everything into getting a new job as soon as possible.

I managed to get hired by a mortgage company, by mid December.  Their ad said, “No experience necessary, will train.”  Now, I had absolutely no background for this, but I knew I could learn.  The job was compliance-oriented… mostly making sure every loan file had the required paperwork and signatures.  I was used to that sort of thing from my retail jobs, but it was tough, because it was like learning a whole new language.

They sent me to train for a week at their office in Virginia.  That was fine, except when I came back, I found out that they hadn’t even finished building their Baltimore office yet.  I basically had to sit at a desk and do nothing for a couple of weeks, while they built the place around me.

On the bright side, I had a PC and unlimited free time, so I was able to teach myself the basics of Outlook, Excel and Word.  Prior to that, I’d never even used a mouse before.

Once the building was done, it still took them another couple of weeks to get their business license.  So by the time I needed to start doing actual work, my training was but a distant memory.  I needed a lot of help to get re-started and I don’t think they liked that.  So right before the end of my 90-day probationary period, they let me go.

It pissed me off because things were finally beginning to click.  I was caught up on everything to date and was keeping up just fine.  I guess they didn’t have faith that I’d be able to amp it up.  I got even though.  As I mentioned in my Obituary post, this company want bankrupt within a year or two of my leaving, ending up as one more pile of wreckage I left in my wake.

But I was pissed at the time because I was totally screwed.  I’d just moved into my apartment in mid-January and was on my own.  I remember going home and calling my brother and asking, “So, are they hiring down at your place?  Because I just got canned.

It was funny because my sister also got fired the same day at almost the same time as me.  From then on, we referred to that day as Black Tuesday.  Anyway, Ed said he thought there was an opening in the department run by a friend of his.  I told him that I appreciated the help, to let me know what’s up, and now I was going to get hammered.  And I totally did.

Cut to the next morning, about 9:30.  The phone woke me up from a painful sleep.  Head pounding, I answered the phone to receive an invitation to come down for an interview that afternoon.  I was like, “Damn, that was quick.”

I called Ed and he couldn’t believe it.  He said, “I just got back to my desk after asking him…”

So, I went in and met with Ed’s friend, Neil, who was the department VP, and then with Neil’s department manager, Kathy.  Somehow, I tricked them into hiring me and now here I am, 15 years later.  I started on March 23rd, 1998.  Unreal.

Before I even started, Neil relocated to the west coast, so I never worked with him.  I was assigned to report to Mary, who then went out on maternity leave two weeks after I started, so I was on my own pretty quickly.

Kathy ended up doing a lot of my training, which was funny, because once Mary came back, she then had to re-train me to do things right.  You can’t trust the executives with the day-to-day stuff, as I came to learn.

I started by doing a lot of data entry, entering retailer information into our brand new database.  This was some good luck, because the database and I kind of grew up together.  I worked closely with the app designer to come up with improvements as our business grew and changed, and we needed the app to do more things.  I helped figure out the best ways to use the tools we had to do what we needed to do.

Within a couple of years, our department grew from about 10, to about 30 of 40.  Before long, they put me in charge of 3 or 4 other people, to Team Leader of our “Dealer Setup Department.”  I was like, “How the hell did I just end up in charge of people?”  But I knew the database, and the best ways to get the inputs done.  And obviously, I’d spent a great deal of my career managing people in my record stores.

The influx of personnel changed our department, because that’s when all the fun people showed up.  That’s when my friend Jenny and my work-wife Sunshine joined, as well as a number of other young people.  Suddenly we had a regular crowd for what we called our Tuesday Night Wing and Beer Club.

Thing started going south, before too long.  The more people you have, the more opportunity there is for infighting and backbiting, and our department was no different.  Plus, there was a group from an office in another state who were constantly trying to take over our duties, so there was a constant sense of siege.  A lot of my favorite people began to jump ship.  I also had a steady stream of ingoing and outgoing supervisors.

In 2005, they decided to pull me out of my Team Leader role and have me concentrate on writing procedures and handling projects for our boss.  They sent me to classes where I learned how to write procedures (in their preferred format).  Again, this was a good break, because it also taught me to be a much better writer; like I was taking a Grammar Refresher Course.

Then in 2006, I found out that the head of our unit decided to stop fighting the out-of-state people for control of our processes.  That was when I knew I had to start looking for another position.  Once your boss stops fighting for you, the game is over.  It would only be a matter of time.  (In fact, the department folded completely by the end of 2010.  It took longer than I’d anticipated, but still, if I hadn’t left, I’d have been laid off with everyone else.)

Again, I consulted with my brother, and he mentioned an open position in another department, the Director of which was another long-time friend of his (who I’d also known since I came to town).  The position involved emergency planning and disaster recovery, which again, was something I didn’t know beans about.

The manager of that department wasn’t impressed with my resume and hadn’t intended to pursue me, but the Director asked him to interview me anyway.  Once we met, I sold him on my adaptability and track record of learning whatever job I was given.  What really sealed the deal was that I had the procedure-writing background, which was something the prior guy in the job lacked.  That meant he could shuffle all his procedure writing over to me.  Bingo!

During the course of working in Disaster Recovery, aka Continuity of Business (or COB), my boss picked up responsibility for managing our fleet of cars.  (Our people whose job entails going from branch to branch all day, are all assigned company cars.)  So before long, it became my responsibility as well.  I handled the day-to-day stuff and he took care of the big picture items.

Then in 2011, the Director came to me with an “offer I couldn’t refuse.”  She had an opening and told me she was rewriting the job description so that she could give it to me. She wanted me to take over as sole Fleet Manager, as well as write the procedures and departmental communications.  Obviously, you can’t turn down a position your boss’s boss is designing for you.  And that’s how a guy that doesn’t know jack about cars became the manager of a whole fleet.

It’s funny how we end up in the places we do.  Do you think anyone could have predicted, back in 1983 when I was coming out of college with a degree in broadcasting, I’d be working for a finance company?  And after starting out doing data entry, I’d be managing a Fleet of cars, and writing memoranda for the whole company to see?

The best parts of running the Fleet are the titles.  Last month, my old COB boss referred an errant caller to me, saying that I was now the “Czar of Cars, the Regent of Rides, the Ayatollah of Autos, Viceroy of Vehicles,” and the Sultan of Sedans.  Personally, I prefer Admiral of the Fleet.  It makes for a pretty snappy business card.  And when I sign off on my procedure or memo-related emails, under my name, I list my positions as “Departmental Scribe.”  Now, even my boss refers to me as her “Scribe,” when she’s talking to others.

Fifteen years… it’s the longest I’ve been with any company.  I love my job and the people with whom I work.  I could never have predicted the path I’ve wandered. 

I wonder what I’ll be doing in another 15…

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

We Five

This weekend, my buddy Rik’s younger brother found some old pictures and posted them on Facebook.  When I saw them, I almost couldn't breathe.  It was a shot of me and my four best buddies, goofing around in front of Rik’s house, back in the summer of 1979.

There were 3 shots in total.  Two of them showed us in, shall I say, “less than dignified” poses, so this is the other one.
L-R: Billy G, John, me, with Brill in the Star Pose in front.  Special guest star: Jaundice, my family’s Jeep Wagoneer, which squired us about on our various adventures.  Rik must have ducked out of this shot, probably to chase after some babe walking down the street.)

Anyway, the thing that shook me up was that I have absolutely no recollection of this event.  It was like I woke up in the middle of “Hangover 3.”  I don’t know where we were going or what we had been doing.  I can only be sure of the timeline because 1979 was the only summer that A) we all hung out together and B) we were still that skinny.  By September of that year, Bill’s family moved out of state, so it was a pretty big deal when we got together.

Rik thinks we just finished dinner at my house, and my dad got us all liquored up on gin and tonics.  That would explain my memory loss.  Maybe it was graduation night, because I don’t know why else we’d be posing for a series of pictures for Rik’s mom.   While I might not remember what I had for lunch on Monday, I thought I remembered all of our youthful exploits.  It makes me wonder what else I’m missing.

Director's DVD Commentary: I just referred to some other pictures from graduation afternoon, and Brill and Bill are wearing the same shirts, and I have the same hat.  Date confirmed!

One thing I most definitely remember is how good it felt to have such a close group of friends.  Don’t we look like we’re having fun?  When I look at the 3 shots as a set, all I can think is, “These guys are tight.”  And we were… for a bunch of knuckleheads.

It still hurts, seeing Brill there.  He passed in January of 2001 and I think of him all the time.  But it’s good to see him clowning around and full of life.

I wrote a bit about our group dynamic before in my early Barn posts.  We were a group that never should have worked.  I was a quiet kid in honors classes, who told bad jokes and made horrible puns.  Brill was quiet, sly, and ever easy-going.  Rik and John were hellions, who liked to drink, fight and chase girls.  Billy was the last piece of the puzzle, a real wise-guy with peerless comic timing, a sense for pranks and adventure.  He could get us to do anything, no matter how ridiculous.  There was something about the combination of these 5 personalities that clicked, knitting us together like the five fingers of a fist.

Bill came up with things to do, whether it was some stupid stunt, or just sitting around shooting the shit, with a tape recorder rolling.  Rik and John were the motors that drove our partying.  I was a very inexperienced drinker, so I took my training from them.  (I took to it pretty well, no?)  But I also made sure we didn’t do anything too outrageous (or illegal) so we mostly stayed out of trouble.  Brill?  Well, Brill was just Brill.  He went along with just about anything we wanted to do, and did it with surprisingly pointed humor.

If I could ever return to a specific time, I’d go back to the summer of 1979 and enjoy that post-high school, pre-college slice of footloose and fancy-free.  But I remember it being such a kick in the gut when we heard that Bill’s family was moving to Georgia in the fall.  It seemed most unfair… he’d only joined our group near the end of the school year, so we hadn’t even had a full year together.

That September, we had our first official Barn Party, for Billy’s send-off.  Early in the festivities, we posed for our formal portrait.  I came to think of it as our We Five pose.
Standing L-R: John, me, Rik. Seated L-R: Billy G, Brill.

We didn’t really have any rhyme or reason, we just threw it together and got it snapped.

It was at least 5 or 6 years before we were all together again.  Bill had come back to visit a couple of times, and some of us visited him, but there was always someone missing.  With Bill in Georgia, Rik in the Navy, and John married with children, getting everyone together was complicated.  I don’t remember what the occasion was, but there we were, back together again for a Barn party in 1985, when we decided to do the same pose.

Already you can see that we were no longer the stick figures of our youth, and my hair was in full retreat.  Rik’s sporting his Navy ‘stache, and I had contacts and a beard.  John looks like a grownup though.

Time marched on, as it is wont to do.  We could gather four of us together from time to time, usually if I went back to Ohio.  But Billy was out in Oregon, I was in Cleveland or Albany, and all of us were out living our lives.  We were not able to get everyone together again until 1993, when I got married. 

One of my primary goals of the night was to make sure I got the wedding photographer to take the We Five shot.  I’m sure you’ll agree; we cleaned up pretty well.  I felt bad that Bill and Brill had to sit on the ground in their nice pants.  I’m in my special Wedding Hat.  (I wore it to Brill’s wedding too, a few years later.)  I love that hat.  I need to go to more fancy occasions.

That’s us in our early 30s, in our so-called “primes.”  I have this one framed.  I really have to re-scan that one with a better scanner.

The last time we got together was for our 20th high school reunion in 1999.  It was absolutely thrilling for me to walk into that hotel ballroom with my 4 best friends, the same way we’d walked out of our graduation hall.  To me, it was a statement: “Yes, fuckers, we’re still tight.”

People actually commented to me, “I can’t believe you guys are still friends!”  I was like, “Why wouldn’t we be?  We chose our friends wisely.”

The next day, we got together at Rik’s country estate and took the last We Five shot. 
Dorian Gray, we ain’t.

I call this the Older, Balder and Fatter edition.  Except for Billy… he was rockin’ a nice, graying George Clooney cut, which was a distinct trade up from the Arnold Horshack Mop he used to have.

And that was it.  Two years later, Brill left us for good.  I figured we’d retire The Pose.  The only way I’d even consider doing it again is if somehow, we could get Brill’s son to take his place.  It worked for Led Zepplin, when they had Bonzo’s son sit in on drums at Live Aid.  The problem is that we’re still all over the country and are unlikely to ever all be in the same place again.

But that’s OK because we still have the memories.  At least until the next mysterious picture shows up…

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Son of Obituary

I saw an article in the news from Mississippi, where an obituary has gone viral.  In it, the deceased’s daughter wrote a funny, and very true-to-life homage to her father.  Typical of the write-up:

His signature every day look was all his: a plain pocketed T-shirt designed by the fashion house Fruit of the Loom, his black-label elastic waist shorts worn above the navel and sold exclusively at the Sam's on Highway 49, and a pair of old school Wallabees."

I thought this was a fantastic idea.  When was the last time you laughed at an obituary?  I know if it’s me that’s being written about, I don’t want a bunch of wailing and moaning.  (OK, maybe a little.)  But I’d much rather provide one last chuckle, or maybe a guffaw or two.  If I get someone to blow their coffee out their nose, I win.  So I took the opportunity to write my own obit, which you will find below.

The funny thing is that this isn't the first time I've written my own obituary.  In college, I took a class on Death and Dying, where doing our obituary was an assignment, along with determining what we’d want on our headstones.  (I would go look for the old notebook it’s written in, but that sounds like a lot of work.)

So without further ado, may I present my mock obituary…

Local town crank known as “bluzdude” died last weekend, of acute heart failure.  He was 86.  In retrospect, he probably should have seen a doctor, instead of relying the healing powers of his favorite Pittsburgh Steelers game jersey.  His last words were reported as, “Gaah!  I should have worn a Mario jersey. Let’s go Pens.”

He is survived by “Pinky,” who after putting up with his nonsense for the last 41 years, is finally able to take the posters down off the walls.  The ball caps are reportedly coming down as well.

Born in Pittsburgh, he was so painful to look at that upon delivery, the doctor slapped his mother (who promptly smacked him upside the head with her wooden spoon).  After leaving the family nest, he was kicked out of several other Midwestern cities before finally settling in Baltimore. 

He took great pleasure at tormenting the local Ravens, or “Ratbirds” fans, as he called them.  He became quite wary, in his later years, fearful that one of them might slip a little something into his bacon double cheeseburger. 

Before finding a meaningful career in Baltimore, Mr. Dude had a checkered past, meaning he wasn't smart enough to beat anyone at chess.  He worked for a record store chain, which eventually became obsolete.  He worked for another music store, which closed within 2 years.  He then went to work for a craft store, that soon filed Chapter 11.

Upon moving to Baltimore, he found job with a mortgage company, which also filed for bankruptcy.  Realizing he might just be jinxing everyone for whom he worked, he decided to seek the stability of a Fortune 100 financial company.  His strategy proved unsuccessful, as in 2008, that company had to receive TARP bailout money from the government.

He spent his later years being paid to stay out of the workforce. 

He requested that his body be donated for research, although he took care to specify it wasn't to take effect until after his passing.  But at this moment, his liver is being used as a briquette by the 2048 Summer Olympic Games, to keep the torch lit.  Firetrucks have been on call 24/7, to ensure the subsequent inferno is kept under control.

Director’s DVD Commentary: I realize that it could be considered bad luck to write about such things, but I am the type to “whistle past the graveyard.”  I cope by calling out exactly what I don’t want to happen.  Besides, I’m wearing my lucky Pens jersey.  What could go wrong?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Odd Bits - The Papal Edition

There are a couple of things spinning around in my head today…

Best Traffic Ticket Ever
In this home-grown story, a Maryland woman was given a ticket for going 2 miles under the speed limit, doing 63 in a 65.  The problem?  She was on I-95, camped in the left lane.

My reaction?  “It’s about fucking time!” 

The ticket is valid because it’s a safety issue.  When someone is going slower than the prevailing traffic, it’s just plain dangerous, even if you don’t count the road rage it generates.

The driver stated that it was windy and she was trying to keep the car under control.

I say that there’s a place for nervous and safety-conscious drivers, and it’s called the RIGHT LANE.  No one has the right to bottle up the passing lane; that’s why it’s called the Passing Lane and not the Drifting Along Until I Eventually Feel Like Moving Over Lane.

The next person I want to see is ticketed is someone driving on a highway directly alongside another car, at any speed.  That’s just another reason for installing the hood-mounted water cannon I want.

Raising Pope
Up until now, I’ve stayed out of the whole Pope Saga.  And yesterday, as everyone knows, we named a shiny new pope.  Well, as shiny and new as a 76-year old guy can be… 

It didn’t really surprise me that Pope Ratzo retired.  This is a guy with a complicated situation.  As the recent HBO special, “Mia Maxima Culpa” showed, every case regarding pedophile priests during Pope John Paul II’s reign went across his desk, before then going… nowhere.  He allowed these predators to remain out in the public, with the full faith and trust of the Catholic Church behind them.  The subsequent actions of every one of those offenders remain on his conscience and that should be enough to rattle anyone, especially now that the details have become so well publicized.

So yeah, claim “health issues” when you become the first pope in 600 years to resign… what’s not to believe?

Now we have Pope Francis, the first non-European pope since a Syrian in the 6th century.  While it’s good they’re trying for some “new blood,” and he seems to be a humble, decent man, I’m not expecting anything resembling a change of course from the Church.  You have to remember that these Cardinals are the same guys that elected the conservative, bloodless technocrat before him.  All of the tenets that are causing the deterioration in the numbers of US Catholics are still there, and will be for the foreseeable future.

That’s probably why they went South American, this time around.  It’s a pretty shrewd move to shore up your core support area.  It’s good PR in a contracting environment.

And from now on, whenever the pope releases a statement with which I aggressively disagree, I’ll have this to fall back on:

The whole thing puts me in mind of a favorite old song from the 60s.  After completion of the famed ecumenical council known as Vatican 2, satirist Tom Lehrer released the infamous “Vatican Rag.”  His point was that since they were trying to update the liturgical music into something more relevant, why not go all the way and bring in some “pop” music?  (“Pop” for the early 60s, anyway.)

“Do whatever steps you want if
You have cleared them with the Pontiff.
Everybody say his own
Kyrie Eleison
Doin’ the Vatican Rag!”

Check it out… it’s totally worth a minute and a quarter out of your day, just for the rhymes alone.

Lastly, consider these words from the late George Carlin: "I have as much authority as the pope; I just don't have as many people that believe it."

March of the Penguins
My Pittsburgh Penguins have been on quite a streak lately, winning their last 6 games, and 8 of their last 10.  Last Tuesday, they played like dog shit for two and a half periods, falling behind 2-0 to the Bruins, before scoring 3 goals in the last 7 minutes, to win.

Personally, I dismiss reports of newfound offensive confidence and defensive prowess.  I think it’s my shampoo.

I’ve developed a new mojo correlation, where whenever I use my “alternate” shampoo (from a little hotel bottle) on game day, the Pens win.  I’m also honing my jersey rotation.  I’ve had a couple of hot streaks with particular jerseys, but never for more than 3 wins.  If I wear a jersey a 4th time in a row, they lose.

Tonight should be a good test for that theory.  Three games ago, the Pens won at Toronto, while I was wearing a white Mario Lemieux jersey.  Normally, that means I’d wear the same one tonight, when they play at Toronto again.  But I’ve had that jersey on for the last 3 “away” wins, so it’s due for a loss.  I’ll probably go with the white Crosby jersey tonight.  I should know how it goes in a couple of hours.

Speaking of equipment changes, it was in the news today that for tonight’s game, Pens defenseman Brooks Orpik may, for the first time, wear a helmet with a clear, Plexiglas visor.  A week or so ago, Rangers defenseman Mark Staal got messed up pretty good when he took a puck to the eye, while wearing a helmet without a visor.  That got a lot of the players thinking about donning the visor, as well as talk around the league to require it.  I’d guess that between half and three-quarters of the league wears the visor.

I think the league should treat them the way they did treated helmets back in the 80s.  They required all players entering the league to wear them, and let existing players choose for themselves.  Eventually, as the players aged out, everyone left were in helmets.  And the thing is, visors are already required in the minor leagues, so everyone coming up is used to them.

Back when I was playing pickup hockey in upstate New York, I started out with a thin, visorless helmet.  Most of the other players used either the visor or a full cage (like a catcher’s mask).  Then in one game, as we were scrapping for a puck in front of the net, the puck got chipped up in the air, like when you flip a coin.  On the way down, it clipped me on the chin.  Even that little brush with the puck was enough to give my head a pretty good jolt.  I could only imagine what it would be like to get hit with a puck that someone shot or deflected.

That night, after I got home, I was like, “Honey, I think I know what I might want for my birthday.”

Because at that time she still liked me, and certainly didn’t want me any uglier than I already was, she bought me a helmet with the clear visor.
Visor is in the "up" position.  Don't worry about the blood, it was Halloween.

It wasn't too long after that when after a collision; I notice a big black smudge of tape across my visor.  It had obviously come from an opponent’s stick.  I hadn’t noticed it at the time, but if I hadn't been wearing the visor, there would have been a big red smudge across my face that I definitely would have noticed.

So, NHL players?  Wear the visor.  Trust us, everyone will still think you’re tough.