Slow Burn to Lame Duck-ness

Thursday, September 3, 2015

You don’t hear too much about lame chickens or turkeys, and I’m pretty sure that there are only scattered footnotes (if any) regarding other types of fowl.  No, ducks seem to have cornered the market on lame-ness.  But what is a lame duck anyway?  Is it a duck that can’t walk?  Is it a duck that can’t fly?  Or is it an employee of a company that has just been told that his presence will no longer be needed and the smart money might be to start to looking for a new job.  Just for today, the last definition seems to ring truer to me than the ones involving the actual ducks. 

Was I really just fired?  I think so. Well, sort of.  It’s so hard to tell, because I’m still working.  I am on a countdown timer though, so that’s where the lame duck-ness truly comes in to play.  What’s even more interesting is that no one at the company even knows about it, except of course for the three people who were involved in making the decision.  So, I go along, talking to and emailing my co-workers every day. I also email and speak to my customers every day.  It's almost an out of body experience.  Except for the part where I have to look for a new job daily - a search that right now feels more like I’m blindfolded and trying to pin the tail on a donkey. 

Oh, if I could just be a real lame duck right now.  That doesn’t sound so bad.  I could limp around when on land, and float effortlessly when on water.  I would be able to eat, enjoy my surroundings, swim around and do the daily duck things that ducks do.  I’d be a responsible duck.  I wouldn’t bully the other lame ducks or hoard the breadcrumbs that humans would inevitably throw my way.  Of course, I wouldn’t have health insurance because… well, you know, the duck part; but I’ve got a high tolerance for pain, so I’m sure I’d be OK. 

They (the company that I still work for) told me that I could take another position in the company if I would be willing to uproot my wife, daughters, dogs and hermit crab from here and move 2,678 miles away to the home office - but I think they may have just been trying to be polite.  Even if I were willing to do that, I’m sure that I’d be outnumbered when it came time for a family vote.  My two dogs alone could win that election. 

They (the company that I still work for) didn’t even tell me of their decision to let me go.  They told a person that is very close to me, and that person thought I should know and told me a few days later.  It wasn’t for about another three weeks before the company’s president saw me in person, at the end of the last day of a sales meeting, when he casually slid it into the conversation. 

“You probably know what this is about,” he started.

“Finally!” I thought to myself.  “I was beginning to think that I was dreaming this whole thing up, or perhaps they had changed their minds.” 

He was very pleasant about it.  I suppose I can be thankful for that, except it would have been nice for someone in management to speak with me directly from the start.  They have offered a severance package – allowing me to transition at my leisure to whatever donkey tail my blindfolded self happens to successfully pin. 

So, for the time being, it will be me limping around nibbling on breadcrumbs.  I guess I’d rather be a free range lame duck than a fully processed turducken.  There’s no future in that.


NWA - Not Weally A (Movie Review)

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

I'm not going to say that I was forced to go.  Nor can I say that I went against my will.  This wasn't the first movie on my watch list for the weekend; but my wife wanted to go, and she did buy my favorite candy as a bribe, so I said that I would tag along.  I'd heard of the group NWA, and even knew what the initials stood for.  I have to admit that I knew nothing of their music - other than it's not likely that any selections from their catalog would ever hold a spot on my Mp3 player.  My expectations, you could say, were not very high when I sat down in the full theater.

After having seen the film, along with seven movie trailers, I can confidently say that I recommend it.  Sure, the strong language, nudity and sexual innuendo made me question our decision to bring our 16 year old daughter along for the ride, but after a little explanation of what AIDS within heterosexual relationships and Suge Knight's violent tendencies were (really, I don't think any of those are spoilers) I left the theater with a desire to learn more about this group and their significance in the history of rap music and their struggle with the right to free speech.  When a film leaves you with a feeling of wanting to explore a subject in greater detail, I have to say that it has succeeded on many basic levels.

There were three main characters that carried the film: Dr. Dre, Ice Cube and Eazy-E.  Through different scenes, each character was developed adequately to highlight their strengths, weaknesses and flaws.  One character dies (you can do the math on that one) and poor Paul Giamatti - well, let's just say that he's not cast as the same character you know him by in Sideways or, in one of my favorites:  Big Fat Liar.  The Suge Knight role is memorable, and for anyone that may have had any doubts about whether or not he ran over that guy at the liquor store recently in the news... well, lets just say that if you happen to be called for that jury, if you've seen this film you should recuse yourself in front of the judge.

The movie ran about two and a half hours.  My daughter felt that it was a little long, and my wife agreed.  I understand that in order to wind the movie down and give the dying character (see math problem above) respect, it takes time and that may have contributed to the slightly stretched ending.  I didn't run out of Sno-Caps, so the length of the film didn't bother me.

In light of heightened security, I should note that the theater employees didn't inspect our bags or run wands over our bodies for this film, as they did last weekend for Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation (I'm not judging, just reporting our experience).  There were two long lines for the next screening after ours, so I can vouch for the accuracy of the $60.2 million draw on the opening weekend.

As I've said, I would recommend this movie to a friend.  You don't have to be familiar with the gansta rap music of NWA to enjoy the film, although I was definitely in the minority when it came to singing along with the musical score.  If you're easily offended by harsh language, poolside nudity and the suggestion of sexual activity, you might be a little more comfortable looking up the group NWA in Wikipedia and starting there.  It is an interesting story and proves the old adage that if you believe in yourself and follow your dream, you can become the person you were meant to be. 


Missing My Father Day

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Here we are again - Father’s Day.  I still think about my Dad almost every day, but on this day of the year the feeling is a little different.  I’ve already been alive on this Earth longer without a Dad than with one, and the missing connection is still raw and intense.  

Memories of parents, loved ones and even brief acquaintances are cast in stone.  The sands of time may alter some of the realities.  But the lingering memories, which remain in our minds, create the icon that we look to when reminiscing through our archives.  

My Dad was a consummate entertainer.  He was a ladies man and a man’s man.  He was also a salesman’s salesman.  His very presence in a room was captivating.  He told stories like nobody’s business and could easily reduce even the most staid person into a fit of uncontrollable laughter and happy tears.  He was equally comfortable in large groups as he was in intimate settings, a valuable character trait that even some famous personalities today would envy.

I have mostly positive memories of him, and still look up to him as a key role model.  Were he still around, I would be the first one in line to ask him for advice about all of life’s questions that keep tripping me up.  Yet, I don’t mind telling you that for a lot of my life, I was terrified of the man.  He had a commanding voice and, real or imagined, I sometimes felt scared and not quite good enough when he spoke to me.  As I got older and slightly more mature, I felt a closer connection to him.  It may have been my youthful insecurities that instilled a false sense of fear in my mind.  But toward the end, even when he was lying on a hospital bed in our dining room, unable to speak, I always wondered if he would just sit up in the bed and get agitated about something.  

There was such frustration on his part throughout the illness.  Brain cancer, late diagnosis and a brain surgeon who was missing the gene for good bedside manner – you couldn’t concoct a more tragic outcome.  One day he was lucid, literate and eloquent.  Then, post-surgery, his gift of speech and reasoning had been repossessed.  He hadn’t been told that he had cancer, so I can’t even imagine what he might have thought when he finally awoke from the surgery.  He was unable to speak coherently, eat by himself, or even move the right side of his body.  He was also not aware of his projected limited lifespan.  It soon became our family’s experience that whatever “it” was, it was always the worst possible version of “it”.  

These days, I have strange triggers for remembering him. When I am working out on the elliptical machine at the gym, and the ‘calories burned’ number gets to 419 (his birthday, April 19th) I think of him and smile.  He had invested (badly, as it turned out) in the hydroponic tomato business; and to this day when I smell tomato plants, I think of the times that we would drive out together to visit the greenhouses.  Every time I walk into a men’s restroom at a restaurant, I think of him and wonder if he would have approved of the level of cleanliness.  (He was known for checking out the bathrooms of restaurants before being seated.  Because he felt that if management couldn’t keep their bathrooms clean, could he really trust them to keep their kitchen clean?) He taught me how to drive a stick shift; that was fun.  He would tell me that, 'back in the day' (that expression hadn’t been invented yet when he told me) he learned how to drive in a bakery truck.  He would have to ‘double clutch’ to shift gears – that is, to shift out of gear into neutral, release the clutch, and then shift again into the next gear.  I enjoyed demonstrating that to my daughters when I felt nostalgic, but I don’t think they were nearly as amused as I was during the actual demonstration.

One of the funniest stories that my Dad ever told me was the night he went out for a business dinner with some clients.  While waiting for their table, drinks in hand, the phone began to ring.  It was a busy night, so the maître d’ wasn’t at the front of the house.  My Dad picked up the phone and began to speak, “Yes, table of six? When would you like to be seated? Yes, Mr. Jones, we look forward to seeing at 7:30.” Upon return, the maître d’ asked my Dad what he was doing.  My Dad told him that no one was there to answer the phone, so he took a reservation for him – Jones, party of six at 7:30PM.  The maître d’ was somewhat upset, not only because some stranger had answered the phone in his restaurant, but that some stranger had booked a reservation when there were no more open tables available for that evening.  My father never said, but I’m sure his clients gave him their business after that night.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad.


Mirror, Mirror on the Ground

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The day began like most other days, with my Shih-Tzu licking himself and making obnoxious slurping noises. I swear, if this dog were human he would be one of those people that takes hour long showers. It’s also 5:15AM, but who’s looking at the clock? I get some coffee brewing, because when my wife wakes up she should be able to enjoy a hot cup of coffee. There’s no reason to break that tradition now.

It’s my day to drive the daughter to school, and surprise, she just remembered that she has a poetry project due today. In our most polite parenting voice, we urge her to write a poem of some kind - because a rough draft poem is better that an incomplete poem. With backpack and lunch in hand, we’re off to the car. It’s 7:40AM, but it’s also Friday, so there’s hope in the world.

My car is nearing the exit of our gated community (OK, it’s an apartment complex, but there is a gate). There are gardeners working feverishly to plant new ground cover and re-seed for winter. The entrance gate is closed. The exit gate is open. I proceed to drive out slowly, taking care to avoid spooking the greens-keepers. The gate, in what is most certainly a rebellious move, begins to close. It totally ignores the car sensor - there is supposed to be a car sensor, right? We hear a loud bang followed by a snapping sound. Then realizing that it may have made a mistake, the gate re-opens.

As I step out of the car, I see that my passenger side rear view mirror is on the ground. One of the gardeners picks it up and hands it to me. I thank him, because I’m polite, but don’t really know if that was the appropriate response in this situation. My poetry challenged daughter says that she thought a giant bird had hit our car, and that her ear hurts from the noise. On the drive to school, while my daughter is taking selfies of herself, I wonder how much this gate incident is going to cost me. The $1,000.00 figure keeps popping in my mind because it’s a nice round number and, like a trip to Costco, car repairs always costs more than you think they will.

The property management staff are very nice. But the way that they calmly tell me that they are not responsible for any damage, indicates that similar incidents may have happened here before - I’m guessing. They take an incident report and ask me to feel free to email them some pictures to attach to the file. This was not the scenario that I was expecting, so I leave the office slightly deflated and mirror-less.

Cut to: exterior - repair shop - day. All of the credit card stickers on the door do little lower the repair estimates floating around in my mind. I ask for the cash option, AAA discount, whatever, and fill out the necessary paperwork. As luck would have it, the side door buffs out rather nicely and doesn’t require any bodywork. The mirror, on the other hand, can’t be resuscitated and must be replaced. The bottom line is that it is going to cost me about $305.00 - a bargain compared to my original mental estimate.

We have options as consumers and residents. I could do some independent testing to verify that there is a working sensor beneath the exit. I could press the issue and go to small claims court. I will probably do neither of these, because in light of the damage, this is not the battle that I want to expend my energy.  I would still like to believe that we have a realistic expectation that automatic gated entries and exits should remain open when a car is within their reach. But, really, I just want my mirror back.


It Stings Like a B

Friday, October 10, 2014

Like so many of the non movie-like events in my life, I was stung by a bee last week while driving my car.  I wasn’t running in slow motion, while in a nature preserve, disrupting a bee’s daily activities with my right hand (like the first time I was stung).  I wasn’t playing on my swing set, as a child, dismounting the swing in slow motion and landing on a bee with my left foot (like the second time I was stung).  I was merely picking up my daughter from her cheerleading practice.  My trusty, emotionally misguided dog was at my side looking out the window.  He had been strangely preoccupied with my left knee, where I felt something cool and possibly wet.  I reached down with my right hand and was met with an incredible pain in my bird flipping finger.

I’ve had my share of bodily injuries along the arc of my life, so I’m no stranger to pain.  However this event made me scream out in agony.  I didn’t have the presence of mind to filter my emotions, so I inadvertently freaked out my daughter (who, I don’t believe, had ever heard me scream out loud before in her entire life).  I had no idea what had happened, but knew that I had to pull the car over to safely assess the situation.  I recall seeing some yellowish mass attached to the fingertip of my middle finger.  I remembered that you’re not supposed to squeeze the stinger; but I was in a rush to remove it as quickly as humanly possible.  With thumb and index fingers of my left hand, I did my best to extract the still throbbing stinger from my body.

As luck would have it, I was successful on the first attempt.  The poisonous needle was out of my finger, but the pain persisted with no change in intensity.  I was really trying to deal with the tortuous pain, when I noticed that my daughter was still at DEFCON 2 because the bee was continuing to circle around in the front cabin of my motor vehicle.  I told her that the bee was going to die, since it had already stung me, but an agitated Dad does little to reassure a panicky cheerleader when there are bees involved.  She finally waved it out the window and immediately offered to drive us home.  I should mention that she doesn’t have a driver’s license.  And even if I have let her drive a few times in an empty parking lot (which, for the record, I haven’t done – because that would be illegal), I wasn’t about to relinquish the wheel to her in the evening darkness.

Through the unflagging signals from the nerve endings in my finger, we made it home.  My oldest daughter began to Google treatments for bee stings while I recounted my previous bee encounters, decades ago, and the severe reactions I had from them.  The best course seemed to be ice water, and that recommended treatment seemed to work for a while.  I must say that while my finger was soaking in the water, I kept thinking that the ice water didn’t feel cold enough to be fully effective.  When the intensity began to subside, even though it had been a small eternity since my last stings, I instantly recognized the dull, deep sensation of pain that follows a bee attack.  Magically, in about 36 hours, my finger returned to normal and I could once again play the guitar or passive/aggressively point the finger at troublesome individuals. 
Fast forward to one week from the bee sting…  My finger began to itch and blow up in size.  I’m well versed in horror films, and know that realistically a finger can’t explode; but it felt as if my finger were headed in that direction.  So, at the recommendation of my wife and dentist (yes, I happened to have a dentist appointment that morning) I drove over to our local urgent care center.  The doctor squeezed my fingertip in all possible directions, and this time I was pretty sure that it would pop open – but it didn’t.  He suspected that the remaining scab on my finger might still contain a remnant of the stinger, and proceeded to pull out a rather large needle as his medical instrument of choice.  Like my previous ice bath, the liquid cold spray that he used to ‘numb’ my finger didn’t help hide the sensation of the excavation process to my satisfaction.  There was blood.  There was pain.  And, yes, there were even two prescriptions – not for pain, just for antibiotics and the swelling. 

Is there a moral to this pointed tale?  If there is, it might be: try not to freak out when a bee is flying nearby.  I’m still convinced that they don’t want to sting you; they’ve got better things to do.  I keep telling my daughters this, but they are still irrationally afraid of bees and bee stings.  If you are stung, please err on the side of safety and have yourself checked out by a professional.  And finally, I might suggest that you keep a safe distance from doctors carrying around large needles.  

*I could have used a more graphic photo for this post, but it was withheld at the bee's request.


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