Sunday, October 12, 2014

Hero to Zero

Yeah, I put my foot in my mouth in a major way the other day.

As luck would have it, I was sitting in the very last row of a huge plane on my delayed flight from Philly to Charlotte where I was to catch my connecting flight to Tulsa. The woman and young man sitting next to me were also on the same flight to Tulsa, but not being frequent fliers like myself, she was really upset that she might not make her connection. I kept assuring her that if we missed our flights, the worst case scenario was that the airline would get us onto a later flight, but this really didn't calm her down much. 
Our connecting flight in Charlotte was already supposed to be boarding as our flight was landing, and of course it was literally as far from our current gate as you could possibly get, and so the poor woman next to me was just about in tears. I told her not to worry, that I knew the airport well, and I'd show her the way and make sure that she made it. 

So there we are, me leading this woman and her son from one end of one of the United States busiest airports to the other, with me clearing the path for them and apologizing to people as we pretty much shoved our way past them. From time to time I kept asking her if she was all right, and I offered to carry one of her bags for her, but she refused (as most anyone would these days). She just kept telling me that she was fine and not to slow down, that she really had to get on that plane. 

Well, we did indeed make it to the gate in time. In fact the joke was on us, because they hadn't even started boarding yet! As we were catching our breath, they kept thanking me, to the point that it was getting uncomfortable, so I tried to lighten the mood a little.
"So do y'all live in Tulsa?" I asked her.
"No, but we have family there."
"That's nice, OK is a pretty nice place I think. So just visiting huh?"
"Well, sort of. There has been a death." she said.
"I'm so sorry to hear that" I told her. She didn't seem terribly upset, so my dark sense of humor pushed me just a bit too far. 
"Well, unless you didn't like the guy of course!" I added.
She just looked at me for a second.
"It was my son . . ."
Yep - hero to zero just that fast buddy . . .

Monday, October 6, 2014

Pants and Pumps

So do you remember that I wrote about the fact that the handle of my suitcase tore off of it last week? Yeah, well those suitcases are well over $100 so I decided to try a little redneck engineering on it! Having grown tired of paying for new ones once or twice a year, I kept the remains of my last dead suitcase just in case the parts might come in handy. It’s no longer as pretty or “lady like” as it was but hey, at least it’s unique! What do ya’ think?

Friday afternoon rolled around and it was off at its usual pace. I fully expected to spend the morning stuck in end-of-the-week meetings, then do a little paper work, and then probably head for the ranch at about three PM. My job works like that – I work long hours when needed and when on the road, but on the rare days when I am actually in the office, I have a lot of flexibility with my hours. Well that fine plan vanished at about 830AM when I received a call from a large customer of ours in the Philadelphia area whose entire production was shut down because our instrument had failed. He was in a world of trouble and didn’t care what it cost, but he needed someone there to fix it, and it needed to be done over the weekend. So instead of sitting around sucking up coffee and converting Oxygen into less desirable gasses at a leisurely rate, I found myself working at a frantic pace to get a quote out, make sure we had the parts that the customer needed, arrange for getting a purchase order, and then set up the trip. In my haste to do so many things at once, I came real close to accidently setting up the flight to fly into a city six hours away from my customer, but more or less by accident I caught my mistake at the last second. I’d like to say that my mistake surprised me, but the truth is that in my case “multitasking” means screwing up multiple things at once. If you want a job done correctly and very thoroughly, give it to me. If you want things screwed up royally, go ahead and give me multiple things to do at once and then stand back and watch the chaos unfold.

That night I went home and made my apologies to my family that I wasn’t going to be there over the weekend after all. My wife just nodded, because she and I have the same outlook on employment – you do whatever it takes to stay employed, because with no income, life would be a lot harder on all of us. My daughter however decided to give me little hell.
“So we aren’t going for a bike ride this weekend then?” she asked. Last weekend was her 11th birthday and we had gotten her her first “grown-up” bike, because she had been asking me for months if she could ride with me when I am trying to get some exercise, but her itty bitty children’s bike just wasn’t up to the task.
“No sweetheart, I’ve gotta get on an airplane.”
“How come it can’t wait for Monday?”
“Because they can’t do their job if our instrument doesn’t work, and the man is desperate to have it fixed in a hurry. I’m sorry little one, but I don’t have any choice.” I told her while I hugged her. “If I want to feed us, I have to go where they need me, when they need me.”
“Well why don’t you get another job then?” she asked. At this point I realized that the conversation had just left the “casual” and moved into the “serious”, so I stopped packing and sat down to talk to her.
“You wanna know the truth?”
“Yeah . . . ,“ she answered kind of hesitantly.
“I can’t get another job, at least not one that will pay anywhere near what I earn with this one. If I had to get a job somewhere else, it would probably pay a quarter to a third of what I earn now, and we would lose our house and our cars. I might be able to still feed you, but we would lose everything.”
Of course as soon as the words left my mouth, I realized that I had screwed up. You don’t tell a child something like that. You don’t put fear into the little ones that trust you to protect them and think that you are invincible. A good parent should shield their children and make them feel safe and secure, and I had just put a crack in that shield. I realized this too late though, as I had already done the damage. I’ve always been too honest with her though, and probably haven’t done her any favors with it. She pinned me to the wall when she was six years old over the women’s clothes that I was always packing, and after about the tenth trip that she had demanded answers on, I finally told her the truth because I couldn’t stand the thought of lying to her.  I have regretted that several times through the years since though, because I really don’t think that I had any business putting that kind of secret and burden on a six year old. I should have either lied or just told her that it was none of her business, but hindsight is 20-20, isn’t it?
“Why can’t you get another job that pays as well but you where you wont have to travel all of the time?” She asked me, bringing me back out of my wool gathering.
“Because your daddy was too stupid and poor to get a college degree little one, and very few companies these days will take you without one.”
“But you got this job!”
“I did, but that was many years ago, and my company was much smaller and willing to take the risk at the time. If I came looking for a job with them today, they wouldn’t even bother talking to me because I haven’t got a college degree. That’s why I tell you over and over to do well in school – so that you won’t end up trapped like I am.”
“Why didn’t you go to college then?”
“Because we were very poor and pretty much the only option that I had was to join the Army.”
“Don’t they have, like loans and school . . . scholar . . . “
“You mean ‘scholarships’?” I asked her with a grin.
“Yeah! That’s it! Didn’t they have scholarships back then?”
“I suppose they did, but I didn’t know anything about them, and as far as I know, no one in my family had ever even gone to college and knew enough to even advise me on it.” 
I had put enough on her for the day, and I wasn’t about to tell her why her father had joined the army at 17 years old rather than wait to graduate from high school, or tell her that no one was going to give a scholarship to a high school dropout with a GED. I also wasn’t going to try and tell her about alcoholic fathers that abused their children and their wives. I wasn’t going to tell her about mothers that took so many pain medications that they were numb and essentially absent. I wasn’t going to explain to her how someone 17 years old can be so horribly desperate and in such despair that they absolutely have to get away right this very moment, with no thought to high school, no thought to college, and no thought to the future. My daughter has lived her entire life with parents that adore her and love her and provide for her, and she just doesn’t need those concepts in her head . . .
“Why don’t you get a degree now?” She asked after a moment. To this, I just laughed.
“Sweetheart, when the heck would I have time to go to school? I’m never here. Worse yet, I don’t even know what days I will or wont be here, so there is no possible way to schedule classes.”
“What about online?”
“I might be able to take some classes online, but I doubt very much that I can get an entire degree that way. Even if I could, it would take so long that I’d probably get my four year degree about the same time that you do.” We both got a laugh at that one, though she might have laughed harder than I did since it kind of smarted for me.
“I tell you what, you just make sure that you do well in school, and that you get a degree for both of us OK? That will make me very happy.” I told her. Then I gave her another hug, and returned to packing my things as she sat there.
“I want to get a degree in art, OK?” she asked. My first thought was less than kind, and not something that you would say to an eleven year old, but I bit my tongue.
“Sure – why not?!” I told her with a smile, the whole time thinking that I hope like hell she gets interested in something a lot more likely to provide a pay check before she gets to be college age.

That night my five year old was sick and hacking up a lung, so I brought him into our bed when I was ready to call it a night. This delighted him of course, but it wasn’t terribly conducive to a good night’s sleep for meas he tossed, turned, and coughed all night long. Eventually I gave up at four AM and headed downstairs where I made a pot of coffee and then got about 45 minutes of sleep on the couch before heading for the airport as an exhausted and depressed old man with no college degree, one sick child, and one child who is sick of having a daddy who is always gone.

A couple of my favorite people live in Philly, and I let them know that I was going to be there, and so it was that Sophie and Linda agreed to meet me for dinner. (Apparently they have low standards and will associate with just about anyone, but they’re my friends so what can you do?)

I made about a half hour drive from the airport to my hotel, where I jumped into the shower and started trying to remove all of the hair that the male body insists on providing in great quantities, much to my great irritation. Well, apparently I got into a bit too much of a hurry as I just about slit my own wrist with the razor. It’s surprising just how bad a cut a modern razor can inflict when you get careless with it, and I wasn’t at all amused as I stood there watching the blood dripping off of my wrist, falling to mix with the torrent of water at the bottom of the tub, and then making its way to the drain.
My first thought was ‘Gee, at least that blood clotting problem of mine should come in handy now!’ 
My second thought was ‘Damn, that hurts quite a bit.’
My third thought was “Holy shit – you have bled long enough, freaking stop now!’ 
I kept waiting for it to stop, and waiting, and waiting . . .  
After about five minutes, I said 'screw it' and just kept shaving, and it did eventually decide to stop.

I had brought several outfits with me, and decided that I would step out of my comfort zone and try two new things – pants and pumps. I had bought these jeans about half a decade ago but never worn them out. I’d bought the blouse at about the same time, but since I’d never found a skirt that I thought it went well with, it had also never been worn, so here was my big change to do both. Just to top it off, I had a cute pair of pumps that I had bought a while back but also never worn out. I don’t wear pumps because the heels of my feet tend to lift out of them, leaving me stumbling around on a shoe that is no longer entirely on my foot, and this problem is compounded when I wear nylons. Well, since I was wearing pants, I didn’t have to wear nylons and so I thought that I might be able to get away with wearing the pumps – I was wrong.  Walking through the hotel lobby to my rental car, the heel of my foot lifted out of the shoe, came down on the side instead if inside it, and I damn near fell on my face. Then, when I got to the King of Prussia mall and made the walk from the parking lot to the restaurant, the same thing happened again, and again I almost fell on my face. Yep – the ultimate in beauty and grace – that’s me buddy, and don’t you forgit it!!

Once inside of the “Rock Bottom” where we had agreed to meet, I looked around for just a moment before spotting Linda Lewis politely waving at me from the other side of the bar, and so I picked my way slowly through the crowd to her. I walked slow and carefully, taking small steps that were not likely to end up in disaster. My other shoe mishaps had been in front of people that I didn’t know and didn’t care about, and I didn’t want to repeat the spectacle in front of someone that I knew and who could share the tale with people that actually know me. We said our hello’s and started catching up. I had met Linda a while back and so we were fairly comfortable pretty quick, and fell into an easy conversation. At some point, she mentioned that they now had a third roommate, and suddenly I felt like an idiot. I had invited Sophie and Linda to dinner, but I had totally forgotten that they had a third roommate now. Wow – that must be an awesome feeling to have both of your roommates taking off for dinner but you weren’t invited. . .  When I realized that I had screwed up, I encouraged Linda to call her and invite her to join us, but it was a bit too late at that point and she essentially had no chance in hell to join us. . .
Linda and I had been talking for about twenty minutes when she pointed toward the door.
“Sophie is here!” She said, waving to her as she had to me.
I looked, but ultimately I had to take Linda’s word for it as I was wearing contacts that allow me to see up close, but turn everything at a distance into a blur. That’s right folks, my vanity is so bad that I’d rather be damn near blind than to wear my glasses. Of course if you have ever taken a look at my flickr site, you already knew that my vanity was out of control, didn’t ya’? Anyway, eventually the blur coalesced into Sophie, and we had us a little hug fest. We spent the next few hours talking about nothing and everything, and this and that, and sharing our tales. I don’t recall most of our conversation, though I do recall telling them one of my least flattering stories from my much younger and dumber days that I won’t repeat right now because it would triple the size of this blog, and let’s face it, it is already shaping up to be a long one.

It became evident fairly quickly that Sophie and Linda both knew our waiter fairly well, as they were joking and laughing, and he had a clue what drinks they wanted before they ordered them. He was a good waiter – checking on us from time to time while not becoming a pain in the butt. I’d have to think that that must be a difficult balance to achieve, but he had it down pat. Toward the end of the night, Sophie stopped him as he was making one of his “flybys”.
“Would you do us a favor and take a picture?” She asked him.

“Well sure!” he agreed enthusiastically, and so I turned on my camera and handed it to him, making sure to show him where the trigger switch was. He took the camera from me, gave us all a shit eating grin, and then turned the camera around and started taking “selfies” with it! Imagine the nerve! I mean what kind of egotistical, narcissistic, and self-aggrandizing individual takes their own damned photograph?! Oh – hold on a sec – scratch that thought . . .

Of course we all laughed like hell before either Sophie or Linda told him that that was not exactly what we had had in mind.
“We were sort of hoping that you would take a picture of us!”
“OHHH!! Well why didn't ya' say so?!” he said ‘apologetically’ and then was kind enough to take several photos of us.

Oh, and on the way outta the restaurant? Yeah – I almost tripped on my own damned shoe again. How the hell DO women walk in pumps without falling on their faces anyway?!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Nice Ring!

This week it was off to Peoria IL to make a visit to Caterpiller.
My opinion of Peoria has flip flopped through the years, first with my hating the place, then loving it, and then not liking it again. When I first started going there, I thought it was just a terribly boring place to go, with no places to have fun at, and no one to talk to. Then I met someone a few years ago and she showed me around. I thought that she was a great person, but I’d have to admit that I have forgotten her name at the moment – I’m gonna have to look through my blog to dig it up and give her a call the next time. Anyway, she showed me a couple of places to hang out that I enjoyed, and most of all, I enjoyed hanging out with her. One of the places that she took me to was a “straight” but friendly karaoke bar called the “Elbo Room”, and I went there several times. It was often full of younger people that I took to be university students, and also with folks from the nearby hospital. It was a nice and friendly crowd who didn’t care in the least if I got up to sing with a decidedly male voice.  Well, that all changed when the owner of the “Elbo Room” apparently got upset that people were starting to think of his bar as a “gay bar”, and he put up a sign stating something along the lines of “This is NOT a gay bar.”  Apparently that really upset a lot of locals who then came out to protest.
Even knowing about this event, I still returned to the Elbo Room – I can’t recall now if I did it as Matt or as Kim, but it was depressing either way. Gone was the young and fun crowd. The only people there looked to me as if they were homeless alcoholics. I tried the place yet again and had the same experience – only old drunks there. I was heartbroken. . .    It bothers me to this day that I might have been a factor in its decline – I certainly hope not but the thought still nags at me.

A lot of people accuse me of being brave, but in the Atlanta airport I saw someone who is much braver than I am. As I was stepping onto their tram to take me to my concourse, someone was stepping out of the car that made quite an impression on me. I honestly don’t know how to refer to them – as “him” or “her” so I hope that I don’t cause any offense, but “he” was making no attempt to hide the fact that he was male, so I will stick with that. Anyway, he had short and masculine hair, but was wearing a womans top and pants, dangly ear rings, and a little makeup. Now THAT is brave I think! I guess that I would consider him a very effeminate male and honestly have no idea if the person is actually transgender or not.

The night before I left Peoria for home, I was torn on how to fly home. I didn’t feel an overwhelming urge to do it as Kimberly, and the quick change and wash-up in the Austin airport are a royal pain in the butt, so I was really on the fence. I went so far as to shave my legs and get my outfit together, but I eventually decided that I was gonna fly as Matt. Well that all went out of the window when I woke up early the next morning to the sound of the people in the room above me rehearsing for “River Dance”, or so it seemed from the racket that they were making. I stared at the 5AM display on the clock for a few minutes before throwing in the towel and admitting that I wasn’t going to be able to go back to sleep. Well, I had plenty of time on my hands, so I changed my mind yet again, and started hauling my makeup back out of my suitcase. 

I would have to admit to a little trepidation at the idea of flying out of such a small airport, but I did it anyway. The two or three TSA folks that I talked to were all very friendly and full of smiles, so I guess that it is all good. I’m sitting in the concourse typing this and I haven’t seen any pitch fork wielding crowds yet!
When I arrived in Detroit where I was to catch my connecting flight, I had about two and a half hours to kill, and so I had plenty of time to think. The more that I did think about it, the more that I realized that I wasn’t really feeling the love - I didn’t feel pretty, and so there wasn’t much point to it if I still felt ugly. I made my way to the “Family” bathroom where I washed the makeup off, stuffed my outfit into my backpack, and put my male clothes back on. I then made my way down the concourse to a hamburger shop where I waited a moment for the hostess to offer me a seat.
“How many sir?” the pretty young lady asked me, just loud enough to be heard over all of the noise in the concourse.
“Just one.” I said, raising my left hand and extending my pointing finger in case she couldn’t hear me. Then I turned bright red, because there on my left hand was my elaborate and not at all subtle women’s wedding ring that I had apparently forgotten to take off while I was doing my Clark Kent/Superman act in the bathroom. I quickly lowered my hand and spun the “diamond” around so that was facing inward toward my palm, and then followed her to the table where I removed it and stuffed it into my back pack. Oops . . .

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Sometimes you’re the windshield, and sometimes you’re the bug . . .

I’ve had to do quite a lot of construction type work around our house in the last few years, repairing all of the damage done when we had to have our foundation repaired, and then when we had to dismantle our upstairs bathroom when  a water leak had eaten away the entire structure of the outside wall and floor. The thing is, most of this rebuilding had been stalled, because I can’t afford to buy all of the materials needed, and I had no place suitable to store materials if I bought them a little bit at a time. My conclusion? I had to tear down our rotted out and falling down shed, and build a new one that would actually protect our construction materials from the elements.  As always with this sort of thing, it ballooned into a project that was much larger than I had anticipated, but still, we went at it with gusto and ripped the old one down, and started building its replacement. So there we are, my father-in-law and I, busting our butts off in my back yard trying to build the shed, when my wife returns from her workout. She takes one look at her father and starts shouting.
“Dad, your truck just pulled out!”
I think that we were kind of in shock, because it didn’t click at first what she was trying to tell us, and so she repeated it. “Your truck just took off down the road!”
It did eventually click though, and my father-in-law and I ran like hell for my Mustang to give chase while my wife called “911”. My father-in-law was as white as a ghost as he sat beside me, because this was more than a truck to him – it was his livelihood.  Since he was helping me to do construction, he had brought his work truck, with all of his tools and materials. In addition to taking his truck, the thief had also taken my father-in-laws very ability to earn a living, and my father-in-law had realized this immediately. 
There are maybe three routes directly out of town from my house, and as Murphy would have it, we chose the wrong route. After a few minutes of running stop signs and red lights hoping to either spot his truck or drawn the attention of a police officer, we decided that we were doing ourselves absolutely no good what so ever and so we returned to my house to wait for the police to arrive. As we pulled into my driveway, my wife was walking toward the car, with her cell phone in one hand, and giving us the thumbs up with the other, and the grin that she was wearing from ear to ear made it pretty clear that she had good news for us. It turns out that luck was on our side this day, because just as the 911 operator was providing the description of the truck to the officers in town, it just happened to be driving right past one of them. My wife could hear the radio traffic through the 911 phone line.
“I think we see it, and we are pulling it over . . .” a slight delay, “Yeah, we got him.”
Before it was all over, his truck wasn’t gone more than maybe 30 minutes before it was parked right back where it belonged in front of my house. The bad news? The kid that stole it was a junior in high school who had just got out after six months in jail for his last stunt. He hasn’t even graduated from high school and his life is all screwed up. . .

Well, as seems to be the case these days, I made a trip and very little of any interest occurred. I had a fairly early flight, as is usual these days, and so I had to be off to the airport WELL before most people are outta bed. My neighbor however, is not most people – he leaves for work at about 430AM every morning, and so once I got myself together, I had to spend about twenty minutes staring out the window and waiting for him to leave. At long last, I watched the poor guy sleep walk out to his truck and drive off. Before he had rounded the corner, I was reaching for my suitcase. The joke was on me though, because the handle of my rather large and obviously overloaded suitcase came off in my hand. I guess it just couldn’t take the strain anymore of carrying enough clothes, shoes, makeup, jewelry, and coats for two people for a week. And really, who can blame the poor thing, because sometimes it’s too much for me too. Eventually I dragged/carried the damn thing to the itty bitty trunk of my modern Mustang, and off we went.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that our flight attendant was a woman that I recognized as she had been on several flights with me before. She has long dark hair, and while not exactly pretty, she is distinctive and kind of unique. I have no idea where she is actually from, but I always assumed it was New York or New Jersey as she has a bit of that kind of accent, but what really makes her voice unique is that she has kind of a lisp. I don’t even know how to describe the way that she speaks other than maybe a passing resemblance to the way that Sean Connery often includes an “H” sound when he is saying “S”.

Yeah I know – I just tried to describe a woman who talks like Sean Connery, with a lisp and a New York accent – YOU should try this sometime!
Anyway, let’s just say that she is distinctive, and so I recognized her immediately.  That didn’t win me any points  though, because when I thanked her for the cup of coffee that she handed to me, she looked straight at me and said “You’re welcome sir.”  Welp, guess I know where I stand with her now!

I spent a day at what I like to think of as the birthplace of all of my cars – Ford in Dearborn Michigan, and then the next day, I headed for Minneapolis MN, where I was less than brilliant for the duration of my visit.
In order to keep liquids from condensing in the sample lines, the plumbing leading up to and away from our instrument is heated to a nice and balmy 191 degrees Celsius. It’s always a pretty good idea to keep this ever present in your mind as you’re working, because let’s face it, my skin is allergic to 191 degrees Celsius. I was reminded of this as I was working behind the instrument and ever so briefly placed the side of my face right up against said plumbing. The good news is that when I am properly motivated, my reflexes are pretty good, and so I jerked my face away from the hot plumbing so quickly that no serious harm was done. The bad news is that there was a metal brace not far behind my head, and so while I had saved my face from a good burn, I gave myself a pretty good lump on the back of my head. Worse yet, with all the jerking around I was doing, my glasses flew off of my face, and yes, they broke when they hit the ground. They were brand new too – maybe a month old. The trip never really got any better or worse . . .