Thursday, April 23, 2015

Knocking the dust off of this thing

Well, I figured that maybe I ought to knock the dust off my blog.

I haven't traveled "pretty" since my last blog on the subject. Come to think of it, I really haven't traveled much at all for that matter. I don't know why, but our field service requests have plummeted over the last two months and our field service group has had its worst two months in our history. It was so bad that the young lady that compiles our metrics into a report for management every month pulled me to the side.
"Hey, you usually have a utilization of over 100% but you're at only 40% last month. Did you forget to write some of your service reports or something?" She asked me.
"Nope, I just haven't had the work." I had to tell her. Still, I wanted to hug her for at least giving a shit and trying to give me chance to fix it if I had screwed up.

I suppose it's a good thing that I haven't had much work because my family and I've been fighting pneumonia or something very much like it for the last month. All of us have been cycling in and out of the doctor’s office, but can't seem to shake it. I'm sitting on a plane headed for home as I type this, and I've asked my wife to try and get me yet another doctor appointment for when I land. On my way to my customer, I had been feeling better and thought I might finally be licking it, but mid-way through the week things started to degrade again. I feel so sorry for everyone sitting around me in the plane right now where I'm coughing non-stop, but I really don't have much choice as I can't exactly stay in Detroit until I get better.

When my company leased our facility in Austin, it was hoped that it would become something of a training center, both for our employees and for providing training for our customers. It never really blossomed fully into that role, but they do provide classes for our customers once a year or so. They just had one a couple of weeks ago, and the folks giving the class waylaid me at the front door as I arrived for work that morning and asked me if I wouldn't mind giving some training on how to maintain the equipment. I laughed and thanked them for giving me a whole 15 minutes to prepare when they had had this class scheduled for months, then I shut up and got to work as two of the people giving the class are people that might be able to help me keep my job, or get another one should the need arise. It was probably just as well that they did wait until the last second to ask me, because I essentially have stage fright and hate speaking in front of large groups. One or two people are Ok, but a classroom full makes me a nervous wreck. If I'd been given weeks to worry about it and dwell on it, I would have had a nervous breakdown before the big day arrived. Anyway, one of the guys in the class was a customer that I had already met during a service call, and I was immensely grateful when he related to the others in the room how he had called for help on a Saturday afternoon and I had come into the office at 8PM that night to get his equipment back up and running so that he could finish his testing. Considering how slow things have been, it never hurts to have a grateful customer brag about you in front of other people in your company.
We were taking a short break from the class so that everyone could get their caffeine and nicotine fix when he walked up to me.
"Do you know a guy named Frank that works here?"
"Sure, he's my manger." I replied, "Why do you ask?"
"Well, there is someone in your front lobby that is here to see him and I think you might want to take care of this one personally." He said with a shit-eating grin on his face. I had been talking to some of the other guys in the class, so feeling a little confused about the way he had said it, I excused myself and made my way to the lobby where I found an absolutely stunning young woman standing at the counter. She had exceptionally long blonde hair and a flawless figure that she had adorned in a chic skirt suit. She was at least my height, maybe even taller, and so I appreciated her courage in wearing heels that I'm pretty sure were longer than her skirt. The lobby area was filled with many of the men on break from the class, and they all spoke in hushed tones, doing their best to look at her without being too obvious about it. Since I'm facing her, I can see all of the men behind her staring at her with goofy looks on their faces, and trading grins with each other.
"Good morning, can I help you?" I asked her, putting on my best "I'm a professional and will not make an ass out of myself" demeanor.
"Hi! Are you Frank?" She inquired.
"No ma'am, but he works for . . . Umm. . . I work for him." I fumbled, turning bright red in the face. So much for not making an ass out of myself. . .
"If you don't mind following me, I'll be happy to take you to his office?"
Two things occurred to me as this stunning young woman and I made our way through the building. First, her heels made a loud squeaking and squishing sound with every single step that she took, and I figured that was probably irritating the hell out of her. Been there and done that. The other thing that struck me was that in some ways it must be uncomfortable to be THAT attractive. Everyone that we passed on the way to my mangers office grew silent, including the women in the customer service area that we had to walk through.  Don't get me wrong, if I had to choose between being plain Jane, or looking like this incredible woman, I'd take the incredible option please, but in a way I kind of felt sorry for her. I don't think I'd like knowing that people were staring at me when I wasn't looking, or talking about me after I passed by.  It turns out that she was pitching a software package for our service department. I find myself wondering if she was as capable as she was pretty, and if so, was she respected for her ability or just hired because of her looks? Things that make you go "hmmm. . .  "

I think I told y'all a while back that my son and his wife were getting divorced. Well, I am pleased to share that they have decided to work things out. He is in the navy and has just transferred from a base in Washington state to one in Virginia, and the timing was just right so that they were able to stop mid-way and spend Christmas with us. I swear that even I don't understand why, but I've got to be honest - I was an asshole to my daughter in law the entire time that they were here. I would even realize that I was being a jerk just as the words were leaving my mouth and would chastise myself, but then I’d turn right around and do it again the next chance that I got. I know damn good and well that a marriage typically either works or fails as a result of the efforts of both people, and that my son no doubt shared the blame for their breakup, but I guess that on some level I was still angry that she had caused my baby pain. Intellectually I know that wasn't fair of me, but there are some things that are hard to deal with in a logical manner. I guess I probably made it just a little bit harder for them by making them both uncomfortable. After they left, I felt worse and worse about my behavior and finally called her to apologize. She very graciously told me several times that I had nothing to apologize for, but I know I was a bitch and so does she. . .

Do you remember that we had to tear our upstairs bathroom apart a year or so ago because the walls were rotted away due to a water
Tearing apart our water damaged bathroom
leak? Yeah - it is still unfinished, with no shower, tub, or floor. A year or so ago we also had to have our foundation repaired, which required replacing our entire down stairs floor. In this process we discovered that our kitchen cabinets were water damaged and rotted out. The point is, we have lots of very expensive work to do around our house and we can't afford to do it all at once. I was going to start buying materials each pay check and store them in our shed until we had enough gathered to start working, but then we discovered that the shed itself was rotted out and wouldn't be capable of protecting materials from the elements. I tried to repair the existing structure
Laying tile floor after foundation repair
by jacking it up so that I could replace the rotted lumber that had been in contact with the ground for decades, but the floor literally fell out as I was lifting the building. The more I looked at it, the more it became obvious that it would be more feasible to build a new shed instead of trying to repair the old one. Once again we donned our demolition hats and went to work tearing something down. It sure seems like I spend a lot of time doing this.
Building the new shed took a LOT more time and money than I had anticipated. I guess it took us about three months of working on it every weekend, and spare moment, but eventually we got it done. That's when I discovered that my wife and I had different "visions" of what we were building. I had been building a
The shed/workshop that we built
Shelter for lawn tools and firewood
shed - a place to store my materials, yard tools, lawn mower and tiller. She, on the other hand, had been building a workshop - a place to not only store materials, but to actually work on them. A wood shop/workshop if you will. I didn't hate the idea, but it did leave me with the dilemma of finding a place to protect and store our yard equipment. We had kind of a decorative structure along one side of our yard, but it had no roof or walls, and so offered little protection from the elements. Well hell, there goes even more time and money that I would rather have spent on my house, but I didn't have any better ideas, so I put a tin roof on it and built partial walls to keep the worst of the rain off of anything we put in it. I did have a somewhat clever idea when it came to the walls though!
New Fence
As if I didn't have enough stuff that needed work, my wooden fence was very old and brittle, and my wife was often complaining that she was scared the neighbors aggressive dog might get through it and hurt the children. I figured I'd hit two birds with one stone! I bought new fence pickets for the stretch between our yards and then took the old fence pickets and used them to enclose the structure. I think it gives it a cool rustic look kind of like the buildings you see in the old western movies so I ran with that theme.

So now I have a partially enclosed place to store firewood and lawn equipment, one stretch of new fencing, and a damn fine shed and workshop where I can store materials for rebuilding our damaged home. The only problem is that I have no money left for buying the materials. . .

Oh! Last week we discovered that we are gonna be grandparents again! It seems that once my son and his wife decided to work things out, they got right to "work" on it. *giggle*.  You know it still kind of boggles my mind. As a teenager, I had often dreamed that someday I would find someone crazy enough to love and marry me, but it never once crossed my mind that I'd be a parent someday. Now not only do I have three beautiful children, but I'm a grandparent. How very weird . . .

Monday, February 23, 2015

Yeah, I aint dead yet . . .

Just thought I'd throw a quick post out there to let y'all know that I am alive and well, I'm just not flying pretty a whole lot these days for an assortment of reasons.

We are trying to convince a major customer of ours to start a service contract with us, where they pay us to come out and provide preventative maintenance on their equipment periodically. It's kind of a big deal for us, and so our sales manager for that region has been meeting me there when I arrive so that he can tag along when I visit the customer. Needless to say, that sort of means that I can't be arriving in high heels. I've also made several service calls that have me going directly from the airport to the customers location, and so again, I can't arrive in a skirt - at least not if I want to remain employed.
Worse than both of those reasons for not flying pretty, I've apparently become super allergic to something in the Austin area, presumably cedar. The last few weeks, I've spent most mornings working my way through an entire box of tissue despite my being stoned out of my mind on antihistamines. Most antihistamines pretty much knock me on my ass - they make me really sleepy, jumpy, and grumpy. Can you picture me traveling? A purse full of tissue paper, the makeup smeared and missing from my face from the constant wiping, and me yelling at anyone that gave me grief! yeah, I have just been traveling as a sleepy, grumpy, old man with a runny nose. 

So yeah, I'm still here, but aint nothing about me "pretty" these days. . .

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Thanks Dude

This morning I was the first person on the parking shuttle, and since there was no one else to
inconvenience, the driver apparently decided to be chatty with me.
“So your name isn’t Sally by any chance is it?” he asked me.
“No sir, my name is Kim.”
“I was just asking because I see that you drive a Mustang. You know back in the sixties there was a super popular song called ‘Mustang Sally’ “  I had to laugh that he thought he had to tell me about the song, as if it wasn’t one of my favorites.
“Sure, I got the reference,” I told him with a laugh. “I have a thing about Mustangs so it is actually one of my favorite songs. I also have a 1967 Mustang at home.”
“No kidding?!” he replied. “I used to have a 67 Mustang myself, but that was many years ago. It was a GT and had a huge engine in it. I’ll bet it would be worth a fortune today.”
“I’ll bet that kind of irritates you huh? Wish you still had it?”
“Nah, not really. It got to the point where you couldn’t get the leaded gas for it, and its performance suffered. These days they choke a car to death with all of the emissions stuff and you just don’t get the performance that you used to get.”
“Oh I don’t know. That little red Mustang there only has a six cylinder but it still has 305 horsepower AND gets 33 MPG on the highway. I’m pretty happy with its performance and I can actually afford to drive it.”

I think I’m gonna change my name to “Grace”.  As I was entering the Austin airport, the wheels on my toolbox got caught in a joint in the sidewalk and I ended up dropping the handle. As I crouched down to pick up the toolbox, my suitcase fell over and damned near took me with it since I was crouched down and wearing platform heels. Yep – once again the very definition of grace and beauty here!

I was making my way through the long “premium” passenger line at the TSA check point when I noticed two older guys in front of me debating if they were in the right line or not. They both reminded me of my mothers last husband who had been the very definition of a macho man. Body builder, motor cycle riding, sports watching – you know the kind. Anyway, they apparently couldn’t decide on their own, and so they turned to me.
“So just what is a “premium” passenger?“, he asked me.
“When you fly a lot, you get status with the airline. Eventually you get enough points that they consider you a premium passenger and you get perks like this line.” I replied to them.
“So does this mean that we are premium or not?” He asked me, holding out his ticket and showing me where it said “Priority Boarding” on his ticket.
“No sir, that just means that you get to board the airplane before most people. This on the other hand is a really handy thing to have right now!” I told him, pointing at the “TSA Pre-Check” typed in large and bold letters on his ticket. “This means you get to use an even shorter line and you don’t have to take your shoes off, or take stuff out of your bag.”
“No way?!” he asked, not quite believing his good fortune.
“Sure. The TSA pre-check line is right over there, and if I were you, I would get out of this one and get in that one.” I told them, pointing to the other side of the security check point where there was a large sign saying “TSA Pre-check only”
“Hey that’s great – thanks!” they both told me, and then they did indeed get out of our long line to go to the empty TSA Pre-check line. Once I had made my way through security, I headed down the concourse toward my gate, and I happened to pass these two again. The one that reminded me of my mother’s last husband saw me as I was walking by.
“Hey! Thanks for helping us through the line . . .” he loudly told me.
“You’re most welcome.” I replied, but I spoke just a bit too soon, because apparently he wasn’t done speaking.
“. . . dude” he completed his sentence. Yep, no doubt about it that this asshole reminds me a lot of my mother’s husband because I never liked him either . . .

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Random Rambling

The simple truth is that very little of any interest has occurred on any of my trips to bother writing a blog. I guess if I want my blog to survive and continue, I’m gonna have to start making stuff up.

“Holy shit! I was on the way to the Atlanta airport, and in the middle of the flight, a bright beam of light filled the interior of the airplane! Next thing I knew, I was on another planet ran by gorgeous Amazonian  women . . . “
Yeah, sorry – ‘fraid I’ve got nothing that interesting to say, so I’ll just ramble on a bit if that’s all right?

I don’t know why, but it seems like my wife’s feelings might have changed a little recently. She has always cut me a lot of slack, but it’s also always been pretty clear that she doesn’t like my cross dressing. Really, who can blame her? You grow up as a little girl with a clear vision of how you expect your life to play out. No doubt you will ultimately be married to an adoring husband who is reasonably wealthy, built like Chuck Norris, and watches the football games with a room full of his rough and tumble guy friends. Chuck Norris was taken and so you marry a soldier – a fairly masculine man, with a hairy chest, and a decent though not exactly impressive set of muscles. You’re on your way to having something like the life that you dreamed about as a little girl and then one day you find out that you have been suckered into a “bait and switch” scenario, and you have actually married a guy that likes to dress like a woman.  Every single time that he leaves the house as a woman, you worry that your friends and neighbors may see, and the whole gig is up. No, I don’t blame my poor wife for not being thrilled about it – I wouldn’t be happy about it if I were her either. Still, she has always allowed me the freedom to be me from time to time, and she doesn’t give me hell for traveling as I do. Many, perhaps the majority of women, probably would have left me, but my wife has only asked that I be careful and not be too obvious about it. 

A few weeks ago, I was feeling depressed, old, and ugly and I shared with my wife that I wasn’t sure if I should “fly pretty” or not because I wasn’t sure if it was worth the effort.  She kind of surprised me when she looked at me and gently told me that she thought I should fly pretty on that trip because it had been a while and because she thought that everyone should feel beautiful from time to time. I have no idea if she knows how deeply this touched me or not, but it really had an effect on me. Where I am willing to risk my families happiness to spend time “as Kim”, she is willing to risk her own welfare so that I can be happy. Yeah, I’m pretty sure that my wife is a much better person than I am . . .

As luck would have it, I was on an airplane on Veterans Day a few weeks ago, and was fortunate enough to get an upgrade to first class. I had chosen not to fly pretty for a variety of reasons and I suspect that this was probably for the best on this trip. As I boarded the airplane, there was the distinct air of tension with the flight attendants and it soon became obvious what the problem was. The young man sitting in the seat next to mine was seriously intoxicated. Everything he said was at a very high volume, and this had clearly begun to irritate those that were seated around him, and this of course greatly concerned the flight attendants who were all looking at him and conferring amongst themselves.
The young man had the look and feel of someone in the military, and so much to the regret of those seated around us, I struck up a conversation with him. It turned out that I was right – he was in the navy and this was his first trip home in years.  The airline had shown their respects to him by giving him a seat in first class, and he had taken advantage of that to start celebrating early. At this point in our rather loud conversation, a flight attendant walked up to me and gave me the “I am SO sorry look” and then asked me what I would like to drink. I looked at her for a moment, thinking that this trip would go a lot easier if I had a drink or two my damn self, but then I decided to take a different route instead.
When I first joined the Army at 17 years old, I was very much like this young man.  If I drank, I always drank way too much, and of course this resulted in my making a complete ass out of myself on several occasions. Through the years, I had many people go out of their way to help me when I was being stupid, and so I sort of figured I owed it to the Universe to see if I could help keep this kid out of trouble.
“You know what? How about I set the example and get a cup of coffee?” I told her with a grin.
“I’ll be right back with it!” she told me, patting me on the shoulder as she was turning to walk away, pointedly not asking the drunk young man next to me if he wanted anything else.
“MA’AM? MISS?”, yelled my seatmate as she was just turning away. “Can I get another . . . “ he paused, apparently looking for the name of the alcohol that he was drinking. I guess the name didn’t come to him, because ultimately he just held the little bottle up for her to see. “Another one of these?” 
I continued to talk to him, and this is how I learned that he was going to be met by his brother and his mother when we landed in Detroit. I nicely suggested that he might wanna consider slowing down a bit with the alcohol, because “you know you don’t want to be too far gone when you see your momma!”
Right about then, I can hear a different flight attendant on the phone to the gate agent.
“Yeah, he is REAL drunk – I think I need some backup down here. . . “  A moment later there are two additional airline employees standing at the door, and all of them are watching my seat mate as people continue boarding. You didn’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that they were considering taking him off of the airplane, and so I figured that it was time to be a bit blunt with him.
“You mind a little advice from a former NCO?” I asked him.
“I’m an NCO too!” he said, once again at full volume. Apparently someone had reached their breaking point, and I heard a very loud “shushing” from someone in the area.
“Well, you have clearly had a bit to drink and you are being awful loud. Unless I miss my guess, they are thinking about taking you off of the plane, and believe me, no one wants to see that happen to a service member on Veterans Day of all days. “
“Nah?! I’ll just wait until we take off – then they can’t throw me off!” Once again, this was nice and loud so there was no question the airline folks heard him.
“Well, that’s where you are wrong, because they will in fact land the plane if they feel that they have to. You really might want to keep it down a bit, you know? Then you wont have to worry about it.”
“Well that is just the way I get when I drink. I get loud.” He replied apologetically. I guess I was finally getting through to him though because his reply was at a normal volume and he did sound a bit apologetic.
“No worries man, just keep it down and everything will be fine.” I told him with a smile. We continued to talk throughout the boarding process, now at a much lower volume. I was greatly relieved when after about ten minutes or so, the flight attendants all seemed to relax, and the two men that had come down from the gate area left. I guess that I was a little premature in relaxing though, because as the aircraft started to taxi to the runway, he decided to go sideways again.
“Where is that drink I asked for?” he loudly asked no one in particular. Then he took off his seatbelt and started to stand up, apparently intending to make his way to the flight attendants to get his drink. If you don’t fly much, you might not know this, but it is a big deal when someone stands up while the airplane is moving, so things were about to get really ugly, really fast.
“Petty officer, you need to sit your ass down, and you need to do it NOW!” I told him, surprised to hear that I still had that “NCO” tone of voice after all of these years of being a civilian. Much as I expected, he reacted exactly as most enlisted people are trained to – he did exactly what he was told without stopping to think about it.
“But I want a drink” he just about whined.
“Well you need to suck it up and drive on my friend, because I can guarantee that she is not going to bring you more alcohol.” I replied with a laugh. We continued to talk for much of the flight, because at some point he confessed that if he fell asleep, he would end up vomiting. I figured that most of those around me would prefer a somewhat loud conversation over puke any day, and so we talked. When he later got up to use the bathroom, about four people turned to me and to thank me for keeping him calmed and quieted down. When he got out of the bathroom, I took a turn at it, and as I made my way back to my seat, the flight attendant briefly grabbed both of my arms and looked into my eyes
 “You poor poor man . . . “
I just laughed and told her the truth.
“I was that young, and God help me, I was that dumb. This is just Karma coming back around to me bite me in the butt.”

I’ve made several trips while “flying pretty” and very little of interest happened on any of them. I took a trip to a major customer of ours in Peoria IL, and if you are from the area, I’ll bet that you can guess who that customer is. My customer is actually pretty good at working on our instrument himself, he is just lacking in confidence and wanted someone there to help make sure that he was doing things right. Between the two of us, we managed to repair 11 instruments in only two and a half days.  To put that into perspective, I usually tell customers that it is not reasonable to expect that I can do more than two instruments per day. Yeah – we were busting our butts off.
I had to laugh when the man behind me in line at the airport counter commented on the size of my luggage.
“That looks like more than a weeks packing to me.” He said with a grin while pointing at my huge bag.
“Yeah, some people travel lightly. I’m not one of them.” I replied with a laugh.
“This bag is for a week in Japan.” He said, holding up a small bag, no larger than my backpack.
“Amateur!”  I scolded him with a laugh.

For my next service call, I made the drive from Austin to a customer in Tulsa OK. I decided to wear a medium length wig that I had bought a couple of years ago. I have bought at least half a dozen wigs looking for a good replacement for the long Raquel Welch wig that I wore out, but I have yet to find one that impresses me as much. I found myself wondering if maybe it is me and not the wig. By this I mean that maybe it doesn’t look bad, just different, and I just need to get used to it, and so I gave it a whirl. 
About mid-way through the eight hour drive, I eventually decided that I needed to use the rest room, but God help me I didn’t have the confidence or courage.
I stopped at a Loves truck stop and just couldn’t convince myself to go in. I kept picturing some rough red neck getting offended and getting in my face. I started the car and continued on. . .   
When I made it to the Texas/Oklahoma border, I stopped at the huge rest area there to use the restroom, but there were quite a few women making their way back and forth, and for some reason, I just couldn’t find my courage. 
Once again, I started the car and continued on. Yepper, due to me lack of confidence, I made about half of that eight hour drive distinctly uncomfortable.
Ah the joys of this crazy and messed up life I lead . . .