Thursday, September 21, 2017

“Gay Tech Love”

Quite honestly, I’m getting tired of my own dreary and sad blog posts, but I guess for better or worse this is the way that life works. 

After taking steroids for my legs for the better part of 8 months, I’m finally off of them. Did you know that you suffer withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking them after so long? I didn’t know this and so was caught completely off guard when I found myself even more of a wreck than I had been – hands shaking really bad, super irritable, chest hurt every night, and couldn’t think straight to save my life. I was scared to death that yet something else was going wrong with me until it occurred to me that it was awful coincidental that it all got so much worse right as I quite the steroids and so I started looking at the after effects. 

My Sister and Niece
I’m afraid that the month of September got off to a shitty start for me. At about 530AM on the first of September, I received a call from my big sister in California and she was sobbing so violently that I couldn’t understand her. All that I could make out was that someone had died, but I couldn’t make out who it had been. Both my aunt and my brother have been in questionable health for years, and so I fully expected to it was one of them, but I was wrong. When I finally got her to calm down enough that I could understand her, she told me that her daughter (my niece) had died. She had gone to the ER that night for a sinus infection, been treated and released, and returned home. At about 1:30 AM, her husband woke to find her dead . . .
I felt like I’d been hit by a sledge hammer – this was completely out of the blue and unexpected, because as far as I knew, she had been a perfectly healthy 30 something year old. My sister had had her when she was only 16 and so I more or less grew up with my niece Sunshine as part of my entire life. With my having grown up as the youngest of three children, Sunshine was the first person that had ever looked up to me, both metaphorically and literally speaking. She was the first baby that I had ever held, and she was the first baby, toddler, and child that I had ever babysat. I loved and adored that little girl, and with absolutely no warning, she was now gone. 

I’ve never before heard the kind of anguish and pain in someone’s voice as I heard in my sister that morning, and I hope like hell that I never do again. My big sister was always the one that took care of everyone else, always the one who was strong and tough for everyone else, and here she was – absolutely broken and crushed. That hurt almost as much as the thought of my niece did. By the time that I got a hold of my manager and the customer that I was supposed to be working with, all good options for a flight that day to Phoenix were already booked and so I tried to rent a car. I've no idea why, but I found that for some reason none were available. I kept hearing the heartbreak in my sisters voice in my head though, and knew that I couldn’t wait another day to get there, so I said “Screw it”. I threw a bag together, threw it into my 15 year old F150 pickup with 220,000 miles on her, and headed out alone for the 18 hour drive from Austin to Prescott Arizona. I won’t dwell too much more on this as I am sure that most of you have lost someone that you love and probably have some idea what happens to a family when this happens. 

My birthday was on 3 September, and so I found myself surrounded by a heartbroken family as I turned 52 . . .err . . . I mean 29. As we had a lot of people to feed, birthday or not, we decided to go ahead and get the makings for a BBQ and take the entire group to a local park for a cook out/ birthday party. Even in the midst of our pain, we managed to find some humor and some fun. My nephews wife had graciously volunteered to buy all of the food and supplies for the party, but she totally forgot that kids like ketchup with their hotdogs, and everyone gave her complete hell for forgetting it all night long.  So there I am, eating a bratwurst (without ketchup) when she sneaks up behind me and whispers in my ear with a very threatening tone.
“You better eat that thing without ketchup, and you’ll fucking LIKE it!”
I hadn’t even known she was behind me, so it came so unexpected that I laughed so hard I almost spit my mouthful of food out. Such a silly thing, but we laughed about this for several days after.

The following morning we had an informal remembrance for her at the local VFW. I’m 52 years old and have managed to duck everything funeral-like until now, but I couldn’t duck this one. I did however do my best to try and start things off on a light note with a practical joke. On my way to the event, I went to the store and bought an entire gallon of ketchup, and four smaller bottles of it, and piled it all on the table that everyone had to walk by as they entered the room. The extended friends and family that hadn’t been at our cook out had no idea what it was for, but everyone that had been there, including my sister, Sunshine’s brother, husband, and children, all laughed hysterically when they saw it. It’s the little things, ya know?

Antique in Atlanta
At the moment, I’m sitting in a hotel in Atlanta Ga where I’ve just completed the service call that I had had to cancel when my niece died. My trip here was fairly uneventful, with very little of interest to share. My company has ended our relationship with Avis and we now use National Car Rental. As I was checking out the car, I handed her my Texas ID instead of my drivers license. I use this ID when I am traveling because even though it still has my male name and gender on it, it has my female photo. Needless to say, when you are renting a car, the ID is not acceptable and you must show a drivers license, so she handed it right back.
“That’s an ID. I need a driver license please.” She said politely.
“Sure. Sorry about that.” I said as I took back the ID and handed her my license. “I try not to hand that one out!”
When I checked into the hotel, the lady behind the counter made a big fuss about my “status” with the Holiday Inn, and embarrassed the hell outta me.
“Oh, you are Spire! Thank you SO much for staying with us and God bless you!” she loudly proclaimed. Then, much to my horror, she reached below the counter and pulled out a bell, sat it on the counter, and proceeded to ring it – over, and over, and over. I wanted to curl up into a ball and disappear, but she kept making a fuss, and generally dragged the whole check-in process out for about twice as long as it should have taken.  Eventually I had my keys in my hand and headed down the hallway, dragging my baggage behind me. Along the way, a young woman told me that my blouse was beautiful, so there is that. 😃

When I got into my room and started reading the news, I realized something that I had totally overlooked; I was going to be working at Georgia Tech – the university where a young LGBT activist had more or less committed suicide just a few days ago. Odd how I hadn’t put that together until then. I ended up eating lunch with my customer less than 100 yards from where this young person had died, and I’d have to admit to more than a little sadness at the thought.  Both of the PHD’s that I was there to train were from South Korea, and so we had an interesting conversation once they found out that I had lived there for a year, though many moons ago. It must be a very hard time for Koreans right now, with childish lunatics in charge of both, North Korea AND the United States. Scary times if you have family in South Korea.

One good laugh. I was working in the Georgia Tech Love building, and so when I programmed the address into my GPS, I saved it as “Ga Tech Love”. This had the unanticipated result of my GPS telling me that I had arrived at “Gay Tech Love” when I arrived. Again, it’s the little things . . .

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Gonna offend someone . . .

First, let me offer my completely insincere apology to anyone that I might offend.
 I had my travel agent in MA  rolling on the floor this evening. I had a desperate customer contact me this afternoon. Their entire factory is shut down because they have only one of our instruments, depend upon it, and it has failed. I was supposed to be going home tomorrow morning but apparently that aint gonna happen.
“Hey Betsey, I hate to drop this on you at the last second, but I need you to cancel my flight home and redirect it to another customer.”
“Okay, where are you at?” she asked
“Yeah, I’m in redneck central.”
“Well all righty then, where are you going?” She laughed.
“Hillbilly heaven.” I told her with a straight face/voice.
“OK, really, where are you and where do you need to go?” she asked when she stopped laughing.
“I’m in Knoxville TN and need to go to Huntsville AL.” I told her with my best Army tone.
“Well all right, give me a second.” She said, and then I waited while she looked for our options.
“Say, do you think I can learn how to play banjo tonight before I go?”
It took her a good solid two minutes to stop laughing . . .

Saturday, June 3, 2017

A lifetime in a thrift store

Well hell, I don’t really know what to write but it seems like I ought to say something . . .
Yeah, I’m still alive and kicking, and I am still traveling for work, though very little of it is done as female for an assortment of reasons.  You remember that problem I’ve had for years with big painful bumps on my legs? I went for two years without an outbreak and thought maybe I was done with it, but apparently my celebration was premature. Not only has it come back, but it is exponentially worse and more aggressive. This time it is also affecting some of my joints, and at one point it hurt so bad to walk that I honestly feared for my ability to continue working and bringing home the bacon. I’d given up on going to doctors for this, but being unable to walk sort of forced my hand, and so I found myself at a Rheumatologist in South Austin - over an hours drive from where I live. That started out on a hopeful note, with her assuring me that she would find the source of my problem, even though every other doctor I’d seen in 20 years had failed. So they took a shit load of blood and a deep tissue biopsy and ran about 30 labs on them. The biopsy indicated severe swelling – most helpful (NOT). Every one of the countless labs they ran on the blood came back normal and negative, just as they had for every other doctor that had tried the same tests in the last 20 years.  If it weren’t for the very obvious nodules all over my legs, I’ll bet that they would have referred me to a mental health professional by now, thinking that it was all in my head since every test says I’m fine. So, this doctor has joined all of the others in going from “We will figure it out” to “I don’t know, so let’s treat the symptoms” in a very short amount of time.  For the majority of the last three months, I’ve been taking relatively high doses of steroids to keep the swelling down, and to let me keep walking. Three times now I’ve completed the recommended courses of steroids, stopped taking them, and my problem has returned even more aggressive than it had been. Call the doc, get more steroids, the problem retreats again. Yeah, I took the last of the latest batch of steroids three days ago and now I am waiting, scared to death at how bad it is going to be shortly. Say, have you ever taken large doses of steroids for three months straight? It does bad things to you- jittery, sleep deprived, highly irritable, and my hands shake like an old alcoholic. So yeah, I’m not traveling “pretty” and I am definitely not in my happy place . . .

I’ve said a lot about it on Facebook, but I don’t think I’ve said much about it on my blog, but my wife and I have bought a vintage stereo, complete with a record player, and I’ve been obsessed with looking for records when I travel. Having a job that has me on the road a lot gives me the unique advantage of being able to raid thrift stores all across the country looking for these old treasures. I’ve hit every single Goodwill in the Austin area, and every one of them between Austin Texas and Baton Rouge Louisiana on interstate 10! Some of the stuff I’ve found is just “ehh” and some of it is awesome.  All of my life I’ve loved “elevator” music – orchestras and the like. When other kids were loving the hell out of “Kiss”, “Van Halen” and the like, I loved Montovani, Mitch Miller, Ray Conniff , and others like this, and now it has come to my advantage. The thrift stores are full of records that I love and adore, that others have looked at and passed over as uninteresting. I’ve got two “Les Paul and Mary Ford” records from the 1950’s that are crystal clear and absolutely gorgeous. I swear I’m not exaggerating – it sounds like they are in my living room playing just for me. Someone gave those records up, lots of other people passed over them sitting in the thrift stores, and along I come; absolutely shocked to find such wonderful things sitting there and waiting for me.
The other cool thing is listening to the records that I grew up with. I’ve found many records that I recall from my childhood – Ray Conniff, Boots Randolph, Herb Alpert, Dinah Shore, on and on.  I kid you not, the first time I placed the needle on a record and heard that hiss and pop, I had tears in my eyes. I’m not even sure why. When my big sister heard about my new obsession, she sent me a dozen records that she has been carrying around for 40 years. Now think about that for a second. She hasn’t had a record player in decades but she loved these records so much that she still kept them all these years, and she gave them to me. Now that is love!  My kids both looked at me like I was crazy when I put these records on and tried to explain that not only were these the songs that I grew up with, but these were in fact the very records that I had played them from. This was of course deeply emotional for me, but absolutely meaningless to my children.
There is also something profound about the records that I’ve found in these thrift stores. I’m not sure what the moral or the lesson here is, but it strikes me as profound. I’ve found some records that have labels on them like “LP 1,346” and “LP 3,522”. Some of these records are 50+ years old and in pristine condition. Think that through for a moment. Someone loved their record collection so much that they had  spent a great deal of time, effort, and expense in buying at least 3,522 records, labeling and cataloging them, and taking such good care of these relatively fragile records that 50 years later they still sound flawless. Where did their beloved collection of a lifetime end up? In the hands of family that might enjoy them in fond memory of the person who had loved them? No, they ended up in a dirty Goodwill full of used and worn out items that meant nothing to anyone.  If you think about that long enough, it will bring tears to your eyes. . .
I’m gonna tell my kids that I’m hiding a thousand dollars in the sleeves of my records. I may or may not hide money there, but by God when I die, they’ll have to look through each and every one of those damned things before they throw them away . . .

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Blah blah blah

 I headed to Dearborn Michigan this week and talk about a shock to the system! When I left Austin, it was 75 degrees. When I landed in Detroit, it was 19. That suuuuucccckkkksss  .. .

Usually I get the early morning flights, but I found a direct flight from Austin to Detroit leaving at about 1 PM and not only was it a direct flight, but it was also the least expensive flight available. It was kind of weird to not be getting up at 3 AM to get ready and out of the house before the children awoke for school, but I managed to adapt.  There was plenty of time to get the children ready and out the door, drink some coffee, fart around, and then get ready myself. I almost got a bit too complacent though, and in the end found myself running a bit late.

As the driver of the shuttle bus from the parking area to the Airport came up to my truck to help take my bags, he noticed the “My son is in the Navy” sticker on the back window and struck up a conversation with me.
“My son is in the Navy too!” he said, clearly beaming with a father’s pride. “Where is your son stationed?” he asked. Well, as it turns out, both of our sons are stationed in Virginia. No, I didn’t tell him my sons name as I figure he has enough shit to deal with without the possibility of someone giving him shit over what I am.

I received my first upgrade to First Class in quite some time and I don’t mind saying that it felt good to be in a comfortable seat with a bit more room! The man next to me kept looking at me and grinning, but I didn’t let it get to me. He has his life, and I have mine. One of the flight attendants went out of her way to tell me that she thought my shoes were cute, so there’s that I guess.

When it came time to board the Avis shuttle bus from the airport, I was surprised and grateful when the driver came back and started helping people, including me, to load their bags. The Avis drivers rarely do this these days. Not sure if it is an insurance thing, or a “driver don’t want to do the heavy lifting thing”, but since I was feeling old and tired, I was most grateful for the help.
As I said earlier, it was in the 70’s when I left Austin, so I was a little less than delighted to find it cold as hell, and snowing heavily as the driver dropped us off at the lot. I made my way to my car, made my typical walk around to be sure they weren’t giving me a car with damage that they were later going to try and pin on me, and then started to lift my bags into the hatchback.
“Hold on ma’am!” I heard a man say from behind me. I turned to see a young man in an Avis uniform, with a well-trimmed beard and no mustache, getting out of a car that he was parking behind me.
“Why don’t you go ahead and get in the car and out of the snow and I’ll put these in for you?” He asked politely. Honestly, I was exhausted and my leg was killing me (a bit more on that later) and so I was intensely grateful to him and told him as much.

Things went a little less smoothly at the Holiday Inn Express when I checked in. The clerk greeted me with kind words.
“Welcome to the Holiday Inn Express, and may I say that I like your dress?!” he said with a smile. Well, I wasn’t wearing a dress, but I figured that wasn’t really the point, so I thanked him with a smile. Once he had me all checked in, I made my way up to my room just to discover that neither key he had given me worked. Not much to be done about it, so I headed back down to the first floor, had him program the keys again, and then dragged my suitcase back to the room.

This time the key worked.  The heater however, didn’t  . . .

I tried the thermostat, noted that it was set to 75 but the room was at 60. Next I checked the wall unit and made sure it wasn’t meant to be operated from its own control panel, and then I made sure that it was plugged in. After all, I troubleshoot equipment for a living, and so I can work my own way through the basics. Having determined that it was nothing simple that I could address myself, I called the front desk.
“Guest services – how can I help you?” asked a cheerful voice.
“Yeah, my heater is dead and it’s just a bit too cold.” I replied. I began to tell him all of the things that I had checked but he interrupted me.
“Did you try to adjust it from the thermostat?” he asked in a somewhat condescending tone.
‘Well,’ I thought but didn’t say, ‘if you would have shut up long enough, I would have told you that!’
“Yes,” I told him. “I also . . .” Once again, he interrupted me.
“Did you see if you could operate it from the unit itself?” He asked.
“Yes, I tried both, the thermostat and the unit itself. The thermostat is set to 75 but . . .” I was going to say that the room was only at 60, thus proving the damned thing wasn’t working, but he interrupted me again.
“Ok, no problem. We will be glad to send someone up to look at it sir.” He said, still with that artificially cheerful tone in his voice.
“I’m not sure that there is any point to sending someone to look at it, as it is clearly dead.” I told him, and was about to ask him to simply give me another room when he interrupted me yet again!
“I understand. Hold on and we will have someone right up to look at it sir.”
Now I don’t typically get all wound around the axle about the “sir” thing. I know I don’t pass perfectly, so there is little point to getting upset about it. Given that he was talking to me on the phone and only had my voice to go on, I really couldn’t blame him. Still, I’d have to admit that it tweaked me just a bit, so there I sat fuming while I waited for someone to come do everything that I had already done.
 About five minutes later, I open the door after hearing a polite knock, and I allowed the young man to enter my room.
“The guy on the phone thinks I’m an idiot, doesn’t he?” I asked him with a laugh as he was looking at the thermostat.
“No, not at all!” he replied with the only answer he could have possibly given.  I then grinned as I watched him do everything that I had already done, and ultimately admit defeat.
“Yup, it’s lost its programming!” he told me. “I’m afraid that all we can do is move you to another room.”
“That’s pretty much what I thought myself.” I told him with a tired voice.
“I’ll tell you what. Why don’t you just wait here and I’ll go down and get you another room and bring you the keys?”
“That would be awesome – thank you!”
So the new keys AND the heater worked for the new room.

As is my usual habit, I opened my suitcase and made sure that I had a complete male outfit for work the following day. If I forget something important like, oh, say pants or shoes that are not high heels, I kind of want to know that before I wash all of my makeup off. I found that I hadn’t forgotten anything, and started to take my shoes off, just to discover that I couldn’t get my left shoe off. I pulled up my pant leg and realized that my left ankle was seriously swollen.  I’ve mentioned that I have Erythema Nodosum several times before, but this is by far the worst outbreak that I have ever had, and it has been going on for about a year now.  I wore pants specifically to hide the huge and ugly bumps on my legs, but the swelling of the ankle, far below the bumps, was a bit of a surprise! Sigh .  .

So the next day I completed my job pretty early in the afternoon and headed to the mall in boy mode to see a movie or two. I saw “Hidden Figures” and in my opinion, it was a great movie and I highly recommend it, especially if you have any geek or nerd in you. Any movie that can make you laugh AND make your eyes water a few times has got to be pretty well done.
I also watched the new “Resident Evil” movie. Honestly? Not that impressed with it.

When I was done with the movies, I figured “what the hell” and made my way through the malls “JC Penny” and “Macy’s” stores. I probably shouldn’t have done that. You never know what is going to trigger depression, but apparently for me, tonight, it was shopping.  Honestly I have little to be depressed about when I stop to consider things with my intellect, and yet I suddenly felt crushing depression. Not much of a man, definitely not much of a woman, walking alone as usual through a place that held nothing for me. Yeah, I know, I don’t really have any call to be depressed, and have a  life a WHOLE lot better than a hell of a lot of people, but logic really has nothing to do with depression. . .