Monthly Archives: February 2011

“I can’t see music…and I don’t listen to books”

My wife is a big fan of audio books. I myself like the concept of them, but just can’t seem to cope with the reality of a fifty-three year old man needing to be read to. Years of conditioning have developed in me a sense that in order to really take in what a good writer is trying to convey, a tranquil, peaceful, quiet environment is necessary. This means no talking. Most especially by the book in question. I just can’t concentrate on the story line when a narrator is blathering away in exaggerated accents and over done voice inflections that I myself would never have assigned to the various characters. I find myself mildly annoyed whenever I hear adults reading to children over the age of five in this fashion and become down right hostile when it is aimed in my direction.

To make matters worse, these audio books are specifically marketed for the drivers of automobiles. A moving automobile is in my opinion not the proper environment for digesting a good story, regardless of whether or not you are physically reading the words or having them force-fed through your ear canals. A comfy chair in a darkened room next to a window and a warm fire comes to mind but maybe that’s just me. Every time we are in the car together with windows down, kids yelling, dogs barking, and the world flying by at seventy miles per hour, she will pop in whichever one she currently has checked out from the library and cranking up the volume, will then attempt to filter the general plot of the novel from the overwhelming din surrounding us. I just don’t get it. It’s like preparing a gourmet meal for a woman you are particularly interested in impressing, while sharing the kitchen with your bachelor friends who likely share DNA with a troupe of beer swilling, aggressively screeching, poo flinging chimpanzee’s.  Both have their charms but unlike chocolate and peanut butter should probably never be combined.

I lost the desire to be read to around kindergarten age and see no reason to take it up again. Reading is a function of the eyes and of the mind. My ears will stick to what they are good at, namely suffering through the bad music played by my teenage boys and successfully tuning out anything anyone says to me while lost in the world of reading a good book.


The Lester Flatt of Vietnam

You should see him edge the lawn with a Martin D-28.

Missionary Position

When I lived in the city, a scene like the one above would have led me to conclude that the guy on the bike was probably a missionary of some sort. More than likely a member of the Church of Later Day Saints, who oddly combine bicycle riding with a suit and tie in the attempt to convince whoever falls under their gaze that some guy with the unlikely messianic name of Joe Smith discovered the revealed word of God written on some plates buried in his back yard. Whatever. While far-fetched to my very self-consciously rational and reality based urban persona of the time, it was really no more or less strange to me than any of the other folks who would stand on the street corners and hawk spiritual advice or try to separate me from my spare change. A simple “no thank you” or a refusal to make eye contact would usually send them on their way, their offers to “save my soul” or to “help a brother out” were to me just another harmless distraction of a day in the city.

In actuality the picture above is not of a religious believer seeking converts, but is Seattle’s Mayor Mike McGinn. And while I have no knowledge of whether or not the Mayor is a religious man, he is most definitely a believer and a missionary for that belief. When this missionary comes to you and offers salvation however, it is not so much an invitation as it is a threat. Follow me to the green promised land and you will be saved. Refuse and you will pay a price. And unlike the religious missionary who can only threaten the non believer with retribution in the next world, this priest has the power to coerce belief in this one.

My wife is employed as a hairdresser in the heart of  urban Seattle. She has been at the same salon in the same location for a quarter of a century so has been witness to the ups and downs of the local economy as it relates to the downtown core and has pretty much seen it all. In recent years, using the long game strategy of gentle diplomacy and quick tactical strikes when necessary, I have been making small inroads into changing her political philosophy, though she would still describe herself as a good, progressive liberal democrat of the typical Seattle variety if pushed into thinking about politics, which she will normally avoid like a trip to the dentist. Lately however, my inquiries into “how’s business” have been returned with invective filled diatribes on how much she is growing to hate the city and in her particular rage at that “worthless, fat-ass, mo-ped riding dip-shit”, who was somehow ensconced into the Mayor’s office. “Everybody in town hates him!” she rails. “My business is down 30% since he took office!” I nod my head in sympathy, while thinking that perhaps if the citizens of Seattle stopped voting for those candidates in which the words progressive, or community organizer, or environmental activist, appear anywhere in their resumes, things might improve. I keep this thought to myself and she continues.

“He has converted half the downtown street parking into bike lanes and doubled the fees on the remaining spaces while simultaneously emptying the jails and halfway houses of every methamphetamine sotted, schizophrenia suffering, piss soaked alcoholic or violent sociopath, and dumped them into the one square mile area surrounding my salon! The majority of my client’s commute from the suburbs, and they are quickly losing their sense of humor regarding the opportunity to shell out a half days wage for parking while subjecting themselves to the chance of being mugged or gang raped in an alley in exchange for a cut and color!”

“Hmm…” I say, careful not to bring politics into the conversation, as being a good, progressive liberal democrat of the typical Seattle variety, she doesn’t see the connection between our new mayor being a progressive and her recent downturn in business and generally will become very defensive if I attempt to explain the connection. “Why do you think he has raised parking fees” I innocently inquire. “Surely he must know that this will discourage automobile traffic downtown.”

“This is part of his plan to incentivize alternative transportation methods like walking, buses, and bicycles. It will be good for the environment.”

“Hmm…the environment. Are hairdressers part of the downtown environment?” I retort. “What?” “Are hairdressers part of the environment? That is are hairdressers, or downtown business people in general, and their desire to entice consumers to travel to and purchase goods and services from their businesses the sole reason that the environment called “downtown” exists at all”.

“Well…yes…I suppose so.” she says. “So how is making it as difficult as possible for customers to get to these businesses good for the “business environment” of downtown?” Anticipating that I am about to go on a political rant, she pre-empts me and goes on.

“But what really pisses me off is the constant gauntlet of psychotic episodes in progress that I and my clientele must negotiate just to reach the front door of the salon. Once inside I feel like a 19th century pony express courier who has at long last entered the sanctuary of Fort Apache after a long, difficult, and dangerous ride through hostile Indian territory. Why don’t the police put a lid on their intimidating tactics.”

“Well…I’m sure that most of the police force would agree with your observation on the need to protect law-abiding citizens from undue harassment from panhandlers and drug addicts but unfortunately the Mayor has determined that the free speech rights of the homeless include the right to back you into a doorway and demand money before letting you go on your way.”

“Bullshit!” she says. Certain that I am now conjuring up facts just to make her look foolish. “That can’t be true!” “Look it up.” I say wearily. “He vetoed a city council resolution to ban aggressive pan handling on the grounds of free speech and concern over potential lack of legal representation for those extorting cigarettes and spare change from you.”

“Well…that’s just crazy.” she says. “Which part?” I counter. “The part where the mayor says it is the right of the homeless to extort money from you, while at the same time restricting your right to make an honest living unless you and your clientele toe the green line he has drawn in the sand? Or the part where the citizens of Seattle continually elect ever more progressive candidates to office, and then can’t figure out why they always end up flat on their backs getting fucked ever harder by each successive democratic administration to come down the pike in what has become a one party city.

“I guess I see your point.” she says. “But as evidenced by that little tirade of yours, Republicans are creepy, so what’s a girl to do.”

“Yes…” I say. “Some are, and some are not. Just like Democrats don’t you think? And for the hundredth time, if you call me a Republican again I may strangle you with your own brassiere. Why not just drop the labels and look honestly at some opposing ideas. Maybe tell your friends in Seattle to do the same. You never know what you might discover.”

“Hmm…maybe I’ll look into it. I still think you are a crazy Repub…..asshole…but I’ll look into it.”

Not to use a dirty term but…that’s progress!


The Union Label

When I was growing up, my perception of a worker who belonged to a union was mostly a positive one. It conjured up images of skilled or semi-skilled blue-collar laborers learning a trade at the side of a master journeyman through a graduated apprenticeship system. This apprenticeship could be of similar duration to obtaining a university degree but was not the same, as the training you received was generally much more directly related to the job you would eventually be performing. While remaining ignorant of such subjects as philosophy or literature unless taking them up on their own time, you could be reasonably sure that anyone producing something under the auspices of the “Union Label” was producing something with a measurable level of competency. Unions were not just an entity for collective bargaining of benefits but were in a real sense providers of an education for those unable or unsuited to pursue what might be called “higher” learning.

This perception mostly held until fresh out of high school, I took a job for the summer in which membership in the Teamsters Union was mandatory. It was factory work in an ice cream manufacturing plant and the job mostly consisted of standing by an enormous contraption that made ice cream bars, occasionally refilling the rolls of paper that wrapped the bars as they came off of the assembly line. It wasn’t difficult work, the ins and outs of the job could be mastered in a couple of weeks, but it was noisy and remarkably boring. Amazingly, for a young kid just out of high school who had been taught that college was the path to success and financial security, the pay and benefits were equal or superior to that of my father who had graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 1956 with a degree in mechanical engineering and a minor in mathematics, and had been employed by The Boeing Company as an aerospace engineer for twenty years. With each paycheck I received, the job I had taken for the summer to make some money prior to starting my real life took on more permanence. Sixteen dollars an hour with full medical and dental insurance coverage in 1976 was all the reason I needed to put college off… just for a little while.

In 1984, after having gone on strike for better wages and benefits twice since I had hired on, management had become determined to scale back labor costs that now included 100% coverage of medical, dental, orthodonture, ophthalmology, you name it you were covered, and a wage north of eighteen dollars an hour. They locked us out, hiring replacement workers in a down economy who were happy to work for a fraction of what we were receiving. We of course were not happy about this and responded in the time-honored union fashion of baracading the entrances and exits to the plant and hurling rocks and threats of violence, some carried through with after work hours, at the scabs who had the gall to undermine that which our union had negotiated and that we so obviously, to us anyway, deserved. After about three months of bitter battle, management caved and granted a new contract with nearly everything we had demanded. We returned to work jubilant and more sure than ever that by getting nasty with those fat cats who ran the company, we would get what was coming to us. Six months later after having come to the conclusion that the new contracts were economically unfeasible the owners sold the hundred year old family business to an over seas corporation, the plant was closed and all the equipment auctioned off while 300 of us stood in the parking lot with our final paychecks and a form letter from the new owners that began “we regret to inform you”. Turning to our union representatives for redress as we had always done, they said they were sure sorry and that while we had been dealt an injustice, their responsibility was now with the union members at other plants who still had a paycheck coming in. Times were changing. They wished us all good luck and that was that. The sense of entitlement for more, always more, that they had convinced us through fiery rhetoric and bitter strike was our due turned out to be unsustainable, a word that while in common use today was not well understood by us union men and women at the time.

The only advice I would have for the teachers protesting the modest concessions being asked of them by the people of Wisconsin through their duly elected representatives, is that while we all have respect for educators and the difficult jobs they perform for often unappreciative parents and administrators, what can’t continue, won’t. Not always pleasant or pretty but a fact of life none the less when the money runs out.

Happy Boy

It is clear and cold out this afternoon. There is a brisk wind blowing out of the north but as it is the first time in weeks that looking out the window does not bring a view of a steady hard rain, I’m not complaining. The horses are fed and watered, a few days supply of fir split and brought inside to the wood box, the dogs are asleep where the sun coming in the windows warms the floors. As I wait for Michelle to get home and watch that sun shine through an unopened bottle of sixteen year old single malt that I’ve been saving for a special occasion, I am tempted.

Aw…what the hell. It’s our sixteenth wedding anniversary!

Gone in sixty seconds

Being short on food stuffs until our next trip to Costco, my wife decides to treat us and on her way home from work makes a detour and stops at our local gourmet super market, picking up an eighteen inch thin crust Swiss cheese bacon pizza for the four of us, a one liter bottle of sparkling pomegranate juice, and a large flat of strawberries for dessert. Fifteen year old son upon arriving home from school and opening the fridge, assumes that a small after school snack has been magically provided and consumes it all in short order before retiring to his room. Discovering the transgression when I, my wife, and youngest son sit down for supper, a foreboding silence envelops our home, broken only by the grumbling of our empty bellies and a steady satisfied snoring emanating from behind eldest sons nearby closed door. As I deliberately approach the door and prepare to do battle with the foul insatiable entity which has occupied eldest sons body for the past two years, I hit Domino’s on the speed dial and dream of fresh strawberries on home made shortcake, whipped cream, and out of state college.

“We are right here in Illinois, standing with the people of Wisconsin.”

Wisconsin Democrats “secure location” discovered.

I… just don’t know what to make of all this. I am very much looking forward to tomorrow however.