Friday, April 30, 2010

Back to Newark

This week got off to an interesting start. Not good, not bad, but not the same old same old.

My 21 year old son has gotten very close with a young single mother whose family life quite frankly sucks. I don’t really know a whole lot more about her situation than this – she doesn’t want to live at her home. A couple of days ago my son approached me and asked me if she could live with us until he goes off to the navy in August. My wife and I discussed it and agreed to let her stay with us since we like her, she seems to be good for my son, and we couldn’t bear the thought of her baby not getting what she needs. I did however ask my son to consider letting her know about my being TG so that she wouldn’t be stunned or shocked if she comes down the stairs some morning when I am getting ready. I also have to admit to the selfish motive that I didn’t want to be on pins and needles the entire time, watching everything I say or do lest I give her a hint. At this point my wife entered the conversation and actually agreed with me, that having her stumble upon me one morning would be the worst possible way to introduce her to the idea, and after thinking on it for a moment, my son agreed. I offered to talk to her and save my son the discomfort but I failed to anticipate his direct approach. He walked directly up to her and very bluntly said “Oh yeah, my Dad is a cross dresser.” She just looked at him for a second.
“Yeah? So?” she said with a grin.
You know that is very close to my sons reaction when he learned about me – ‘yeah, so?’ I showed her a couple of my pics and while she did say I was pretty, she didn’t really seem too terribly impressed. Talk about anticlimactic . . .

The following day I was planning outfits for this weeks trip when one of the hanger bars in my closet finally gave out under the strain and collapsed. Did you know there was a limit to how much stuff you can hang on a wooden bar before something collapses? Who would have think it? Now properly motivated, I took the time to go through my closet and get rid of things that I can’t or wont wear, and in that process I cam across a number of dresses and gowns I had tried and failed to sell on Ebay. I grabbed them all up and took them to my sons room where he and the young lady were sitting.
“Ummm, I know that some of these are over the top, but I’m about to chuck ‘em. Would you have any interest in them?” I asked her. To my surprise, both she and my son grinned from ear to ear and started plowing through them like it was Christmas, and before we knew it there was a whole little fashion show going on. Soon she settled on a soft green and floaty dress that fit her perfectly. Since she is TINY I had to shake my head wondering what the hell I was thinking when I bought it for myself. Still, it was worth it when she looked up at us and grinned while holding the skirt of the dress out.
“I feel like such a girl!” she said with just a little bit of wonder in her voice. There is something maybe a little bit sad about a pretty young lady that isn’t at all familiar with feeling like a girl.

I had dared to think we had it beat because my legs have been clear for half a year now, but my erythema nodosum is back big time. This stuff gives me huge red and very painful bruises / swelling on my legs. It hurts and it looks terrible and is one of the reasons I typically wore longer skirts for so long. They have done a lot of lab work and found no cause for it so I’m stuck with it. One lab result I got recently though was a bit interesting. It seems that I have a low testosterone level. I think they said the normal levels are something like 260 to 1200 and mine are at 200. I wonder if there is anyway that is related to the stuff on my legs? Of course my wife wants me to take testosterone and of course I dread the entire concept. I devote quite a bit of effort to presenting as female and can only imagine what taking testosterone would do for that. Ugghhh . . . .
So now my wife is angry at me for two reasons – she thinks if is my fault that my testosterone levels are low in the first place, thinking it is due to wearing snug female undergarments AND she was angry that I even hesitate at the thought of taking testosterone to bring it up to normal levels..

Newark 2010 04 28 023

So today I am on the way to back to Newark NJ. We have a customer there that was expecting a service call from the engineer that just got in so much trouble, and we didn’t know anything about it until the customer finally called my manager asking why we hadn’t come. So once again, off I go . . .

Newark 2010 04 28 027

This time I’m flying out on United Airlines, even though the reservation was made through US Airways, and the lady at the counter didn’t give me a single smile. When I first started flying this way, I was constantly getting smiles and people would go out of their way to talk to me. Not any more though. Is that good or bad?

I was headed through the TSA check point, when this big burly TSA guy looks at me.
”Come on through little Miss Orange!” he said with a smile, while waving me forward through the metal detector. That’s funny – a couple of weeks ago I was referred to several times as ‘pretty in purple’ and this week I’m being called ‘little Miss Orange’. Is this color thing a new trend or what?

Newark 2010 04 28 003 B

I almost forgot to tell you about my new brown shoes! I bought them a couple of weeks ago on sale at Macy’s. Even on sale, they set me back a little over $100 (that’s a lot of money for me) and so imagine my disappointment when I find that they are really too tight wear. I was gonna put ‘em up on Ebay when my wife suggested we take them to “The Shoe Doctor” in Austin and have them stretch them a bit. I went ahead and did that and decided that while still a bit tight, I could stand them, and so I wore them today. That might have been a mistake though because my toes are screaming as I sat in the airport typing this.

Newark 2010 04 28 037

As is usual when traveling by air these days, my flights were delayed . . . and delayed . . . and delayed . . .    After boarding two hours late we started toward the runway thinking we were on our way, but we were wrong! Soon I notice that the pilot has shut off one of the engines, so I knew that we were either going to be delayed again or we had a mechanical problem and were going to return to the gate. Fortunately the pilot came over the PA soon and informed us that high winds in Newark had air traffic all screwed up and so we were going to have to sit on the runway for about 40 more minutes. Ah, what a glamorous life I lead. . .  By the time we landed, I’d already had a 15 hour day, my new 4 to 4.5 inch stilettos were killing me, and I was just plane worn out. Still, nothing to be done for it, I had to make my way through the rental car process. I usually use Avis, but apparently they were out of cars, and so I got to play with National. As I’ve come to expect, they treated me very well, were very friendly and polite. After getting my contract, I headed for the lot where you pick your own car out of the pack. As I was dragging my bags to the aisle of cars, a male National employee practically ran up to me and took both of my bags, despite my protestations that I was fine.
“Here, let me take those for you.” He said with a smile. “What size car did you rent?”  When I told him “intermediate”, he proceeded to walk me down the appropriate isle and pick out a car. Once again I said that I was capable of loading my own bags into the car, and once again he ignored me, frankly to my own relief and deep appreciation.

The following day I had to go earn my paycheck, and so I headed off for my customers location where I worked until around 4PM. When I was done, I just couldn’t find any enthusiasm at all for going through the effort of getting cleaned up and changed, and so I decided to just go shopping drab. One of the malls I stopped at was absolutely shocking; I think it was called Short Hills. It had all of the higher end department stores like Bloomingdales, Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Ave, all selling clothing and shoes for more than I make in a week or two. I recall picking up one pair of shoes that I thought was just kind of “eh” and finding a $1,600 price tag on them. I almost dropped them and then sat them down very carefully and gently lest I cause any damage and be asked to pay for them. I don’t recall which store that was, but I left it immediately because I clearly had no business being in there.
You know, I have to give the place props though, because it had some of the most stunning looking women I have ever seen walking through it. Texas can hold it’s own against any state as far as having pretty women in it, but high fashion is not usually high on the list of priorities of your typical Texas women. Not so at the Short Hills mall though! These were drop dead gorgeous women and most of them clearly took their fashion very seriously. Killer dresses, skirts, shoes, outfits, and many of the ladies sporting long and glorious hair that they had clearly devoted a good deal of time and effort to. If you want to loose weight, just take a walk through that mall, because after your done seeing all of these flawless beauties, the very thought of eating and gaining weight will make you sick.

As I seem to do a lot these days, I debated whether I should fly home pretty or not. I didn’t feel any particular enthusiasm for it but knew that I would be miserable later if I didn’t. It actually occurs to me that this is an interesting, if undesirable, change in my attitude. I used to fly pretty because it was fun, I enjoyed it, and it made me happy. These days I seem to fly pretty just to avoid feeling bad. Somehow that has ominous implications because it almost sounds like your typical drug addiction – you start because it feels great but then later you find yourself doing it just to avoid feeling bad. Hmmm, maybe I’m gonna have to think on that one just a bit. . .  In the end, I did indeed choose to fly home pretty.

Newark 2010 04 28 055

Newark 2010 04 28 058

Newark 2010 04 28 062

So I got all checked in at the Newark airport and headed off for my newest addiction – Iced coffee and Iced Mochas! I get the caffeine I need and want AND a cold drink to cool me down a bit. As I’m standing in line for it, this young Hispanic woman walks up to me.
“Hey, how are you doing? How was your flight last week?” she asked me. I just looked at her for a second, not quite recognizing her.
“It was fine thank you.” I told her. I guess my face looked as puzzled as I felt because she laughed.
“You don’t remember me do you? Remember we were chatting about how last week was a terrible time for anyone trying to fly to France?” she asked. As soon as she mentioned that, I DID recall! She had been working behind the very counter I was now ordering coffee at and had been very chatty and friendly.
“Now that you reminded me, I DO recall you!” I told her with an embarrassed laugh, and then after thinking about it for a second, something struck me.
“Hold on a sec.” I told her “You mean to tell me that you deal with hundreds of people every day and yet you remembered me?!”  She got a slightly embarrassed look on her face as she answered.
“Well sure I did.” She said with a grin.
“Well then I’m very flattered. So how was YOUR week?” I asked her.
We traded one or two more comments and then she had to get back to work, so I headed for my gate.

Newark 2010 04 28 040

Once again I was fortunate enough to get a free upgrade to first class from Newark to Charlotte and shortly after the take off, the male fight attendant started making his rounds through the first class cabin. At each seat he would consult a list in his hands and then refer to the passenger by name. When he got to me, he got a small smile on his face and leaned in to speak quietly to me.
“You must have traded seats with someone else, because you definitely don’t look like any ‘Matthew’ I’ve ever seen.”  I just laughed, thinking to myself ‘Yeah, that’s it! I changed seats with someone named Matthew’.
“And so your name is. . .?” he continued.
“ ‘Kim’ is just fine, thank you.” I told him, grinning like an idiot my darn self.
Soon enough I will have to go back to being a caterpillar but right now, just for this very moment, I’m a butterfly . . .

Newark 2010 04 28 030

Friday, April 23, 2010

I’m tarred, really, really tarred. . .

I’m tarred, really, really tarred. . .

For those of you that don’t live around Texas, “tarred” is how you pronounce “tired” with a heavy central Texas accent. Last week I didn’t get home until late Saturday night and so I spent most of Sunday lounging around doing not much more than my laundry and holding my little one just a bit. His mother gave him a couple of yogurt covered pretzels (they are better than it sounds) and he predictably made a mess of himself AND his momma. As soon as I saw thees two looking and laughing at each other, I grabbed my camera to snap a pic. Between his mother and I, it’s no great surprise that my children have bright blue eyes is it?
Messy Critter  2010 04 003

Messy Critter 2010 04 004

Last week was a pretty grueling one for me, both physically and emotionally, and this week I once again had to hit the ground sprinting. I had two customers in the Detroit area, both of them with two instruments each that weren’t working right, and both of them had one with unusual symptoms that were going to take some effort on my part to diagnose. Once again they booked me on early morning flights and so once again I got up at 2:30AM so that I could fly pretty. This time I went for a skirt that was quite a bit shorter than my norm. When I found this skirt I fell in love with it, figuring that the multicolor pattern would allow me to match it with a lot of different tops and colors, but in all honesty, I hadn’t realized just how short it was. I know I’m a bit too old for a skirt this short, but what the hell, I’m already breaking all of the fashion rules already, so why worry about whether it’s appropriate for someone in their mid 40’s to wear a short skirt?
Detroit 2010 04 007

While it was kind of fun, by the end of the day I was thinking that I wouldn’t be making a habit out of wearing a skirt so short. Frankly it draws more attention and scrutiny than I care for, and I wasn’t sure if the looks were people checking out the old woman in the short skirt, or people checking out the crossdresser. Add to that the fact that I spent half the day tugging it down and being sure that my legs were entirely closed or crossed at all times, and it just sort of became a pain in the butt. In any case, I really don’t need the anxiety . . .

I had to laugh as I was checking in with US Airways in the Austin Texas airport. The young lady behind the counter asked me what my bags weighed. Having flown with these things so often, I knew that they were both just under 50lbs each and told her so. Still, I saw her peaking at the scale as I sat them down. Just for fun, I acted indignant.
“Hey! I saw you peeking at the scale! What’s the matter, you don’t trust me?!” I asked while batting my eyes and trying to look oh so innocent.
“Sure I do, but I still have to do my job!” she replied with a smile. This time the TSA did not select me for additional screening, nor did I get the usual parade of TSA folks making it a point to take a walk near me.

Going through the Charlotte airport, I couldn’t help but notice quite a few people looking at me as I walked by. Let’s face it, a woman wearing heels and a skirt that short does tend to get a bit of attention, but I really didn’t care for the idea. When people start to notice me that much, I worry about what else they may notice while they are looking at me, and I think I would just as soon not have that kind of attention most of the time.

 I grabbed a small lunch at the Burger King near my gate in the Charlotte airport and it was clear that the young lady taking my order pegged me. Even though there were a dozen people in line behind me, as soon as she gave me my change, she stepped back away from the register to speak to the folks in the preparation area. As I am waiting for my order, I see the guy she was talking to looking around and then his gaze locked in on me. The next thing I know, there are at least three people from the preparation area peeking out at me. When everyone else’s meal was ready, they would just yell the order number out and the person would step forward to claim theirs, but when mine was ready, the manager himself carried it out and handed it directly to me.  
Detroit 2010 04 011

Detroit 2010 04 014

I was pleased to see the Avis shuttle bus already waiting at the curb as I descended the escalator, and so I was very quickly on my way to the Avis lot. The bus driver was the same pretty young lady from a trip or two back who had made it a point to call me “Miss” Huddle when calling off names and parking spaces, and she once again extended this courtesy me. She also called ahead and asked them to bring the car to the kiosk for me, telling who ever was on the other end that I had “a lot of baggage” so as I was exiting the bus I made it a point to approach her.
“Thank you Michelle!” I told her, being sure to emphasize the ‘thank you’
“You are very welcome.” She replied, with a soft smile and gleaming big brown eyes.
Detroit 2010 04 016

Someone let her down though and had not pulled my car around for me as she had asked, and so she exited the bus to give them hell. As I am grabbing my things I can hear her talking to another employee while pointing at my bags.
“See?! That’s why I told you to bring the car around!” she said sternly, and the next thing I know, there are two Avis employees trying to grab my bags for me. I smiled and assured them that I would prefer to take them myself, but thank you. You could tell by the awkward look in their eyes that they knew I was a cross dresser. No big surprise there though. Considering how often I go through there, I’d be terribly surprised if all of their folks hadn’t heard about “the cross dresser” that keeps showing up. On the way out of the security gate, I once again found the lady that almost always stops me to chat on duty, and she did so again this time.
Detroit 2010 04 020

“Hey, it’s nice to see you back again. How have you been?” she asked with a huge smile as she took my contract and started looking the car over.
“Awe hell, I just couldn’t be any gooder, thanks for asking! How are you?”
We exchanged a few more pleasantries and then I headed off for the hotel. I had been staying at the Crowne Plaza a lot lately. It is an upper end hotel, but during the off season, they had been renting the rooms at an affordable rate. Well apparently it is no longer “off season” because they were charging far too much for a room now, and so I was off to your typical Holiday Inn Express instead. Dang it . . .
Detroit 2010 04 025

When I checked in at the hotel, the lady behind the counter didn’t bat an eye. I’m not sure if she had dealt with me before, or what, but I clearly didn’t surprise her in the least, and so soon I had my room keys and was headed for the elevator. As I approached the elevator, I can see a male hotel employee standing near by and he hits the elevator call button so that the elevator is there and open for me. After calling the elevator, he walked a few feet off to do something, and so I held the door open for him for just a moment. Soon he looks up at me.
“Going up?” I asked him.
“Oh no, it’s kind of a slow elevator and so I was just calling it for you.” He replied.
“Well thank you!” I told him with a smile.
“You are very welcome! My name is James and you feel free to let me know if there is anything I can do for you.” He said with a huge smile.
Detroit 2010 04 028

As soon as I entered the room, I more or less collapsed on the bed for a moment. After having been up at 2:30AM, it has already been a long day for me and I am more than a little tired. I contemplate going to dinner, or a movie, or shopping, and reach the conclusion that I am too tired to enjoy it “dressed”, and so with a sigh, I headed for shower to return to being a Caterpillar.

The next day I was to meet with Renee from She came highly recommended by Jenny, a mutual friend of ours, and so there was no trepidation about meeting her. The bad news is that work got in the way and resulted in screwing up our plans. The instruments I was there to work on are Infrared Mass Spectrometers and they have a liquid nitrogen (LN2) cooled Infrared detector on them that has to be filled every 8 hours or so. To avoid having to fill it so often, we have an optional external LN2 tank that mounts on top of the instrument. After I had the first instrument repaired and looking awesome, they took it back to their test cell and installed that external tank filled with LN2. Soon, my customer walks up to me while I’m working on his second instrument.
“Um, that one you just fixed? Yeah, it’s not looking right. Can you take another look at it?” he asks. It looked to me like it needed more LN2 and sure enough, when we check the external tank we found it empty and refilled it. In very little time, this tank that is supposed to last two days is empty again and so we pull the instrument back out and open it again. As soon as I opened the case I sat back in shock. The interior of the instrument is covered in a good half an inch of ice and frost. In all of the years I’ve worked on these things I’ve never seen this before. Well, it turns out that the external tank was leaking directly into the case of the instrument instead of filling just the detector, and so we had more or less poured 5 or more liters of the super cold LN2 in to the interior of the instrument and frozen everything solid. This was a little before 4PM, and so with a sigh of resignation I called Renee and told her that it looked like I wasn’t going to make dinner after all as I was gonna have to wait for the instrument to thaw out before I could work on it.
Fortunately the customer had a small space heater that we set up, and so we had the thing thawed out much sooner than I had anticipated. The bad news is that the leak was my fault and it did damage a fairly expensive sodium based window that I will have to send to the customer. I hate it when that happens. . .
Now it’s around 6 but I decide to send Renee a text message just in case she hasn’t eaten yet.
“I can be at the hotel in about 20 minutes. Too late for dinner?” I asked, and shortly I get a response.
“Eating a bowl of soup, but I’ll put it away and meet you.”
Renee had planned to be “dressed” when we met, but since I had essentially canceled things earlier, she had not bothered, and so we both met drab. She met me and picked me up in front of the hotel, and as I entered her car she gave a small laugh.
”I’d recognize that smile anywhere!” she told me.
Renee was every bit as cool as Jenny had said she would be. She has a fascinating career and travels at least as much as I do, if not more. I’m not sure if she is comfortable with my giving out details, so I wont tell you what she does though – sorry. We had a nice dinner, speaking about travel, jobs, our families and children, and of course cross dressing. After dinner, she invited me to her lovely home for a few minutes where she showed me her hobbies, and she has a few of them. With a 1967 Mustang in my garage, it’s pretty clear that I have a thing about cars, so I was pleased to see the gorgeous camero she has in her garage. This thing has clearly been loved and take care of and is a pleasure to look at and admire. Then she showed me her collection of shoes, and holy smokes has she got a lot of ‘em! Box stacked upon box and hanging racks full of them. If you ever need shoes, look her up. Next she showed me another collection – model trains. I expected to see a few engines and cars of course but much like her shoe collection, I was surprised by the magnitude of the thing. Tub stacked upon tub, with each tub filled with train cars, and the stacks as tall as I am. There had to be hundreds of cars there. Clearly Renee doesn’t do things half way – if she is gonna do something, she goes all out. A very nice person there, and I hope to see her again.

The following day I yet again did something stupid. I had completely forgotten that my customer that day was NOT in the Detroit area. Thinking I had my act together and would get to the customer early, I was punching the address into my GPS at 7AM and was stunned to see an arrival time of 9:30 AM. I had completely forgotten that my customer was in Auburn MI, a couple of hours north of Detroit. With over a two hour drive each way, and two instruments to troubleshoot and repair, that turned out to be a long day too, and so Kimberly did not get out to play.

I had considered flying home in the morning pretty, but my flight left at 630AM and I just wasn’t willing to get up at 2:30AM to do it. The very thought made me sick to my stomach, but even flying drab, I had to get up at 3:30AM. I love my job, but I’ve had it with getting up that damned early so often.

Oh, you know that huge escalator to the rental car shuttle? Yeah, well the “up” escalator was broken when I arrived and there were at least 50 people in line at the elevator, and so I decided to “cowboy up” and carry my bags up the broken escalator rather than wait my turn in that huge line. That is something I will never, ever try again. I got about 75% of the way up it when I realized that I wasn’t a twenty year old anymore. My back pack weighs about 25 lbs and my suitcase and tool box are both 50 lbs each. What the hell was I thinking when I headed up two or three flights of steps carrying 125 lbs??!! When I reached the top, I had to take a moment and rest, sitting on my tool box and waiting for my legs to stop feeling like jelly.
Did I mention that I’m tarred?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

A Frantic and Sad Week

Manassass VA 2010 04 036  

 (Names have been changed to protect the . . . well to protect someone . . . )

Well, where to start this one . . .

This week I was supposed to go to Fishkill NY to install a system for a huge customer of ours there. I was supposed to fly out Tue, spend Wed and Thu working with the customer, and be on my merry way home Friday morning. All of that went out the window though when I got a call from my manager at 4:45PM Monday night as I was driving home from a local customer.
“Hey boss, what’s up?”
“Matt, the whole world just fell apart.” He replied and I could clearly hear the depression in his voice.
“No worries, what’s up and how can I help to make it better or at least not make it worse?” I asked with a laugh, trying to shift gears in traffic and not drop the phone.
“Your not going to believe this, but ‘Ted’ did it to us again.” he said and left it hanging there. He knew he didn’t have to say any more than that because I knew exactly what he meant.

A few months back, “Ted” had gone to a huge customer of ours in Manassas VA to upgrade a system we had sold to them years ago. He got as far as taking it apart and then apparently snapped and just abandoned our customer, leaving our system in pieces and the customers’ tool unable to operate without it. For those of you that don’t work around semiconductor manufacturing, you will just have to take my word for it that a tool not running can cost a company tens of thousands of dollars every single hour in lost revenue. 
Ted has always been one of our very best field service engineers, very intelligent, hard worker, and at the risk of bragging, he was the only other individual in my entire company that knew as much about as many products as I do. To say we were shocked when he walked out on one of our most significant customers just doesn’t do the feeling justice. Needless to say, I found myself on an airplane to pick up the pieces and try and restore our customers faith in us. When the immediate crises was over, people started looking for someone to blame and some way to appease our customer’s anger, and of course upper management was going to fire Ted. The good news for Ted is that he had impressed so many people, so many times over the years, that every single engineer and sales manager that had ever worked with him rose to his defense, to include myself. I even went so far as to give our manger hell, reminding him that I had told him over and over that the upgrade job he had sent Ted to do was not a one man job, but required two. Being cheap and trying to save money, they kept sending Ted to do these upgrades by himself, putting him in a no-win situation. Anyway, management was convinced to give him another chance and agreed to send two people to do future upgrades like this. I did another one with him so their decision lasted at least a month or two before they again sent him on his own this week. Once again he had snapped, doing exactly the same thing. He took the tool apart, freaked, and packed his tools up and abandoned the customer, and now my manager is telling me to drop or cancel anything I have scheduled and get to this customer yesterday, if not sooner.

I started yelling at my manager, pissed off that they had sent him alone again after all that had happened, and after my repeatedly telling him that it was a job that required two men. He let me vent for a moment and then interrupted me.
“Matt . . . Matt . . . hold on a sec. . . “ he asked. It took me a second to stop yapping and then he continued.
“What you don’t know is that he begged me to send him alone. He kept saying that he was deeply embarrassed and ashamed about your having to go pick up the pieces, and that having you work with him on these upgrades makes him feel ashamed over and over again. He begged me to let him do it alone and I gave in and agreed.” I could hear the depression in his voice and the clear anguish of a man who was now going to have to fire someone he respected. It was also the anguish of a man who had stuck his neck out to save the guy once already and would now probably be held accountable for having made what had turned out to be the wrong choice.

I hung up the phone and drove on in shock, because I knew this meant that Ted had just lost his job and probably his career. Ted is more than a co-worker to me, he is a friend. I’ve spent the night at his home and have met and adore his wife who shares his sarcastic sense of humor. They make an interesting couple with their sense of humor, and with him well over 6 feet and her under 5 foot 2. I knew that at this very moment, he and his wife’s lives were being decimated. I wont tell you a lot more, because it would reach the point of gossip, but I have since found out that it is a drinking problem and he is already in treatment. Keep your fingers crossed for a good man and good friend of mine would ya’? I know he wont be allowed to do field service again, but maybe my company can find someplace for such a valuable guy that they have invested over a decade in.

I had to make the flight to Manassas drab, because I had to go right from the airport to the customer where I worked until late at night to get them back up and running. I suppose I could have gotten a flight out the next morning, but under the circumstances we decided I should stick around the following day just to follow up and be sure the customer was pleased, and so I had the vast majority of the following day free.

Manassass VA 2010 04 028

I had been contacted by Sheri, another Vanity Club member, and she said she was pretty close by, and so we agreed to meet that evening at the mall. Well, having the entire afternoon off, I hit the mall and checked out the sale at JC Penny’s that she had told me about many hours before she arrived. It was a “Buy 1 and get the second for 88 cents” deal. I tried on half a dozen tops, looking for something that might be a little different from my usual, but in the end I got two tops that are very much along the lines of my usual favorites. In the Manassas Mall, I stopped at the Hershey’s Ice Cream shop and got a shake to try and cool myself down. The man behind the counter bent over backwards to be helpful and friendly, calling me “Miss” several times and telling me to please feel free to have a seat and he would bring it to me when it was ready.

I spent several hours shopping there in the mall, but still had over two hours before Sheri was to meet me, and I so I went to see a movie to kill the time. I watched “Alice in Wonderland” again because it was the only movie starting then, and it really was an adorable movie anyway. Apparently the theater I went to is about to go out of business because they had a sign up talking about reduced hours due to lack of patronage and I was literally the only person in the movie. That’s kind of a weird feeling by the way, to be the only one in a theater . . .

After the movie was over, I returned for my meeting with Sheri who was coming from work and so was drab. Still, we didn’t have much trouble picking each other out where we had agreed to meet. Sheri is one of those lucky ones that looks fantastic both ways – male and female. We spent an hour or so browsing through a couple of stores were she proved herself to be quite a good shopper I thought! It didn’t take too very long at all before I knew that I liked her. With any luck, we will get the chance to meet again, and hopefully under better circumstances.

Fishkill NY 2010 04 004

The next morning was yet another very early one for me, getting an early flight from Manassas VA to Fishkill NY where I was going to try and take care of the customer I had originally been scheduled to work with. The install I was there to do was supposed to be a two day deal, but I was going to have to try and get it done in one.
I was wearing a long peasant skirt that I love because it is very light and floaty and tends to swirl and whirl around my legs as I walk making it look as though my legs are wrapped in clouds. As I approached the United Airlines self check-in Kiosk, I can see a customer service rep looking at my skirt, and she walks up to me as I am checking in.
“Well don’t you look so pretty! That’s a such a lovely skirt!” she said.
“Thank you! You know that was sort of the look I was going for!” I replied with a smile.
“And ya’ did good too! Let me give you a hand there.” She said as she starts to push buttons on the screen. “Do you have your itinerary?”
“Nope, but I can get it if I need to!”  Remember, my carefully planned trip had been shot to hell by the need to divert to the other customer, so I had nothing printed out with me and would have to get it off of my laptop.
“How about a confirmation number?” she asks.
“Flight number?” she persists, giving me a mock exasperated look.
“Uh uh – nope!” I told her with a grin. “But I DO have this!” and I handed her my Silver US Airways Elite card.
“Oh! Well that will do very nicely!” she said, taking my card and swiping it through the machine.
“OK Ms Huddle” she says, reading my name off the screen. Then, just as she hits the “next” button, I see her eyes widen. “Hold on, some thing is not right. Did that say ‘Matthew’?“ she says with a surprised tone while hitting the “back” button and returning to the original screen. This time she takes her time and reads the full name and looks at me with an honestly shocked look in her eyes.
“Your Matthew?!” she almost whispers.
“Shhhhh. . .. “ I told her with a smile and a wink. I gave an exaggerated look to the left and then to the right. “don’t tell anyone!”
“Oh my God, I never would have known!” she tells me while reaching a hand out and puting it on my shoulder.
“Awe thanks!” I told, feeling very pleased that I was apparently passing so well today. After she looks at me for a couple more seconds, she recalls that had been in the middle of checking me in and returns to the computer screen. Soon, I’ve made my way through security and decide to hit up the first coffee stand I see. I decided to try an iced coffee in the hopes that it would cool me down as I am feeling uncomfortably warm and I can feel the perspiration building on my forehead and threatening my makeup.
“If you will step just to your left there, we’ll call you when your drink is ready sir.” Says the guy behind the counter as hands me back my change. Wow, not ten minutes ago I stunned the lady at the airline counter when she discovered I was male, and then this guy pegs me. I went from hero to zero in absolutely nothing flat. Oh well, such is life I suppose. . .

It was still mid morning when I landed in Newark. I still had an hour and a half drive to Fishkill, but I had all day to make it in, and so I figured I’d hit up a Goodwill along the way. That turned out to be a waste of time though, as it was one of the older Goodwill stores that didn’t have much of anything that anyone would want to buy in it. Disappointed that there would be no inexpensive treasures found today, I headed north for Fishkill NY – a relatively small town with not a great a deal of anything of interest in it. The company I was coming to work at is probably the only employer of note there. (there will be no prizes for those who figure out who my customer was – it is just too easy).
I notice two things as I pull in to the Holiday Inn parking lot – there is a strip mall across the street with assorted shops and a movie theater, and my phone indicates a missed call. When I check my voice mail I find that it is from “Bart”, another one of our field service engineers. He tells me that he is at Fishkill temporarily covering a service contract on a different product line we have there. Well, so much for being free to be Kimberly for the majority of my time there, but I know and like the guy. In fact, I’m a large part of why he works for our field service group as I had convinced my manager to hire him away from our depot repair center and take a job with us several years ago. He is also friends with “Ted”, the guy that has just screwed up so bad, and so I know that we have much to discuss. Once I checked in to the hotel, I realized that it is still pretty early, Bart will be working several more hours, and so I hit up the strip mall and a movie. This time I watched “The Green Zone” – a fictional account of a US soldiers frustrated search for WMD in Iraq. It was a good movie, worth the seeing, and it passed the early afternoon. After the movie, it only took me a couple of minutes to discover that the strip mall didn’t have much of interest, and so I returned to the hotel where I went from Butterfly back to Caterpillar. Some times it’s hard to go back to being plain old ‘Matt’. When I’m doing the female thing, I feel happy and confident, and yes, even pretty. As Matt, I feel like a bird that has had his wings cut off and stuffed in a cage where he can’t fly. Sigh . . . 

I had dinner with Bart, and of course we spent most of the time talking about Ted and his wife. While never quite coming to the point of tears, we were both more than a little emotional talking about the trouble with the peer that we have liked and admired so much. Both of us have spoken to his wife multiple times, trying to give her the feeling that she is not all alone in this. It’s heart wrenching to hear a good and lovely woman sobbing as her life and marriage are suddenly rocked.
I had had tentative plans to meet with two TG’s while in New York, but with the other engineer being here, and both of us so involved with the guy that had just trashed his career, I just couldn’t see bailing out on him and leaving him alone so that I could go socialize. Regretfully I inform these two that I can not meet them after all. Exhausted from two very long days filled with more stress than I like, I am back in my room and headed for bed by 10PM.

The following day I headed off to my customer where I was to install a system that I had never seen, and train the customer on its use. This isn’t the first time I’ve been in that situation, and it wont be the last. I’ve talked to enough other people in my sort of career to know that it is actually fairly common to be sent out to work on things you have never seen. It’s assumed that you know the basic concepts of a technology and should be able to figure it out. I don’t mind this so much when it comes to repairing a failed system, but there is a little anxiety in doing in installation where the customer expects that he is getting an expert.
Fortunately I did get the chance to acquire a softcopy of the manual for the system and so had read up on it before going. While I’m sure I didn’t stun my customer with my brilliance, I did get it installed and did him trained on its use. We hit several snags along the way, all caused by their connecting the plumbing from our tool to theirs incorrectly, but this isn’t a hell of a lot of stress on my part. Once I prove the fault is not on my end, I get to watch the customer scramble trying to figure out where HIS problem is. I always help in this, but the weight of the responsibility for its resolution is on his shoulders and not mine. Things had been going so poorly on his end, that I was just about to make the call that I would have to stay the weekend to continue working with him the following Monday. Fortunately he got his act together at the last minute, and at 5:45PM he was satisfied that my tool was operating well, and so I was on the way back to my hotel feeling good about myself. Once again I had dinner with Bart and we both grasped at straws, looking for something other than our mutual friend to talk about. Ladies, don’t ever let a guy convince you that women gossip more. I’m here to tell you that guys gossip every bit as much as women do, and we traded quite a bit. Toward the end of our dinner, I mentioned that the Holiday Inn had given cards for two free drinks in their pub, and Bart started to laugh so suddenly that he almost spit his beer out.
“You know, the guy I’m working with at IBM told me that the bar in the Holiday Inn is a gay bar.” He said, his eyes twinkling with amusement, and still watering from his effort to swallow the beer he had almost spit across the table when I’d brought it up.
“No kidding?!” I said, more than a little amused my darn self. “You know what? I don’t give a shit. Gay bar or not, they owe me two free drinks. Wanna join me?” I asked. He busted up laughing and agreed that he would. Soon, we reached the point where there was an awkward silence where neither of us had much to say. He looks up at me and grins.
“All right, let’s go get those gay beers!” he tells me. Having already had two beers, we both thought this was the height of humor and laughed so loud that the folks at the table next to us turned to look.
As we enter the hotel pub, I can see that there is one guy sitting at the bar, and no one behind it, nor anyone else in the room at all. The guy sitting at the bar turns to look at us as we enter.
“I can see the joint is really hopping!” I said him.
“Oh yeah,” he says, getting off his chair and walking around to get behind the bar. “You guys should have been here ten minutes ago. We had 10 playboy bunnies in here on the way to a photo shoot.” He says. Bart and I just looked at him, shocked that we missed something so interesting by mere minutes. Then I noticed that while the  bartender isn’t smiling, I can see a twinkle in his eyes, and I was about to call him on it when Bart spoke up.
“That’s pure bullshit, but if they DO come back, your gonna come get us right?” he says, laying the New Hampshire accent on strong.
“Oh sure!” the bartender replies, voice suddenly thick with a New York accent. “Ya know they said they really dug the joint and would be back in later tonight!” There was several more moments of this New Hampshire / New York back and forth bull shitting, with lots of laughter, before Bart and I found ourselves looking at all of the liquor behind the counter and thinking of our friend that had just that day entered a treatment facility for alcoholism. Suddenly it didn’t seem like so much fun to be in a bar. . .
I kept thinking back to when I had been so much younger and in the Army at Ft Sill Oklahoma. One of our female soldiers and a good friend of mine, had gotten in to trouble over alcohol several times, and it was finally mandated that she would either go in to a treatment program or be thrown out of the Army.  The treatment facility was a couple of hundred miles away from us but still several of us made the trip to see her when she was at last authorized to have visitors. God help us, we thought we were being good friends and smuggled a bottle of booze in to her. She looked at it, looked up at us, and with tears in her eyes she told us that she was so lucky to have such good friends that would take such a risk for her, but that no, she didn’t want and wouldn’t take the bottle. I was only in my early twenties at the time and it wasn’t until many years later that I realized what a horrifically awful thing we had done. When I think of this, and that’s often lately, I thank God that she declined. My guilt is already massive over the event and I can just imagine how much worse I’d feel now if she had accepted that bottle. I’ve done a lot of bad things in my life, but that one still haunts me.

Fishkill NY 2010 04 008

Today (Saturday) I’m flying home to Austin kind of late in the evening. I wont get home until after 9:30 PM and I will miss taking my daughter to a friends birthday party. My wife has also let me know that she is not pleased with how often I am gone on the weekends now. I have no idea what I am to tell her. My willingness to go where I’m needed, and when I’m needed there, is why I still have a job while so many others don’t. Just a little more guilt and anxiety I suppose.

So far on my trip home, mostly I’ve seen are huge smiles as people check me out. The young black lady that checked me in at Avis was cute as a button, with dozens of long braids in her hair, and she grinned from ear to ear the whole time. The lady at the US Airways counter in Newark was also drop dead gorgeous, with bright green eye shadow and big brown eyes to die for. She also had a huge smile the entire time we talked.

Fishkill NY 2010 04 012

I did manage to get a free upgrade to first class, and that’s always nice. As I was sitting there waiting for everyone to board, the flight attendant brought a young man from coach up in to First Class. It only took a second of watching and listening to figure out that they had moved a soldier up to the first class section and given my history, this just impressed the hell outta me. US Airways had some empty First Class seats and so they gave it to a young soldier on his way back to the middle East. That just moved them way up the list of “Airlines I want to fly on.” Way to go US Airways!

Fishkill NY 2010 04 010

So I am sitting in the food court of the Charlotte NC airport, chowing down on a breakfast/lunch/dinner from “ManchuWok” as I type this. Sitting about ten feet from me is a man and his wife, and the husband is facing me. It took me a moment to realize that is staring at me, and so I smiled at him – he didn’t smile back. Instead he continued to stare at me for a moment and then turned and said something to his wife, and then took another pull on his beer. He is short, squat, all muscle, and looks about as sharp as a sledge hammer. She waited all of 20 seconds and then turned around backward to look at me, then faced her husband again for a few more words. In a second, they both pick up their trays and carry them to the trash can next to me instead of using the one next to their own table. Both look at me with out smiling the entire time they approach and dump their trash. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out what that conversation was about.
“Hey ma, look at the tranny over there, eating that damned China man food and typing away on that new fangled type writer. . . “

Oh, and just to top off my perfectly horrid week, when I landed in Austin there was a raging thunder storm. Ever try to pull a large 50 Lb suitcase, a 48 Lb tool box, and a 28 Lb back pack AND hold an umbrella in a raging thunder storm? Yeah, it doesn’t work so good and so by the time I got to my truck I was 100 percent soaked and miserable. . .

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Uggghhhh . . . .

You know, there just hasn't been enough interesting things happen as far as the Kimberly side of my life, for me to write my typical kind of a blog. I have made a few trips for work lately, but due to my being sick, I just made them as ugly old Matt. Still, I thought I should write something before people started wondering if I have fallen off of the planet.

So let's see, in late March they brought the traveling replica of the Vietnam War Memorial Wall to my town. I heard nothing about it on the news or by word of mouth or anything. I was just on my way to work one morning and saw all of the trucks, trailers, and lights, in a field that is normally empty, and then when I asked around about it, I found out it was the replica of the Vietnam War Wall. Anyway, I went back that afternoon to take a look-see at it for myself.

Detroit Matt 2010 04 004

Detroit Matt 2010 04 006

Each name on that wall represents a human being who lived, loved, laughed, cried, and gave their life serving the United States of America. That's an awful lot of names . . .

I took yet another trip to Detroit, but I was so sick there was just no way I was going to try and fly as Kimberly. Couldn't you just picture me trying look pretty while hacking, coughing, choking, sneezing, and constantly wiping my nose? Still, just for giggles I took a pic with all of my bags to mimic the pics I have taken while "dressed".

Detroit Matt 2010 04 012

Checking in with the Delta counter for my flights, the female Delta agent that has taken care of me over and over through the last 10 years chatted with me a bit. She long ago put two and two together and now recognizes me in both, male and female mode.
"Hey, it's nice to see you again! I was just thinking about you the other day and wondering how you were doing!" she said with a smile as she processed my ticket.
"Well thanks! I prefer Delta myself but they keep putting me with your competition because they are offering cheaper flights to where I'm going." I told her, while sticking out my bottom lip out in a "boo boo" look. She laughed and we chatted for a few minutes before I headed to the gate. You will be glad to know that not one single TSA agent bothered to come walking around the area where I was sitting this time!

I had some time on my hands in Detroit and so I went shopping. I hit up an assortment of shops and then just for giggles, I looked up "Janet's Closet". "Janet's Closet" is a fairly well known store that caters mostly to TG's and has a pretty big online business and so I thought it might be worth a look. I took a few pics of the outside of the store just because it struck me as amusing that a store catering mostly to TG's was in the same building advertising "Drag Racing".

Detroit Matt 2010 04 015

They had lots of hair in there, one was even a pretty close match to my short flippy hair and I seriously considered buying it but decided not to. What I really want, is to find the same make and model of my long haired wig, and so I approached the counter. Behind the counter were two pretty and friendly women who were clearly more than comfortable with TG's. There was also a male customer in front of the counter who was at least as bald as I am and there was a part of me that wondered if he might very well be someone I had chatted with or met before. I'll never know though, because it seemed he made a point out of never looking directly at me.
"Can I help you?" one of the pretty ladies asks me. I sort of laughed, thinking to myself 'no, I'm way beyond help!'.
"Well, how good are y'all with wigs?" I asked her. Of course as soon as the words left my mouth I realized that this was a remarkably idiotic way to phrase it, and so I elaborated. "If I were to show you a picture of a wig, do you think you might be able to find a replacement?"
"I dunno - do you have a picture of it?" she asked.
"Well, I could go get my laptop out of the car I guess. I know it's Raquel Welch but I don't know the model and haven't been able to find one that I am sure is the same model".
"We only sell from the manufacturers you see here, so I know we can't get you that exact one. If you want to look for one like it, you can feel free to try them on though. Just let me know if you need any help!" she said with a great big smile.

I was sick for the rest of my visit to Detroit and so never once got the chance to be pretty. Next thing you know, I'm back at home renting a jack hammer. "Renting a Jack Hammer?!" you might be asking. Well I'm glad you asked! You see when we were looking for a home to buy, we had of course gone through many of them, never finding one that we really liked until we toured the home we now live in. The front yard was immaculate and beautiful and we just fell in love with the place. Then we walked out in the back yard and were stunned to see a full sized in ground swimming pool! We really weren't that keen on the idea of a pool, but we loved the house, and so we bought it.
Shortly after moving in, we were stunned when my wife became pregnant with my daughter. My son was 15 and we had never had more children despite the fact that we had used no birth control since he was born. After 15 years we had reached the conclusion that we just weren't going to have any more children and so we were stunned when she came along. As my daughter grew older, the pool became both a blessing and a curse. A curse because my wife had nightmares almost every night of my daughter drowning in the pool. Add to that the expense and hassle of keeping it filtered and clean. It was a blessing because it really was a lot of fun. My daughter ADORED the pool and would laugh, giggle, and squeal every time we took her in it. I would toss her up in the air over and over and every single time she would scream in delight and giggle for me. All of the giggles came to a stop though when the ground the pool and house are on started to settle as a result of the droughts here in Texas. First we noticed that we would fill the pool to the point where the water was almost ready to over flow one end of the pool, and yet barely entering the skimmer a foot lower on the other end. Then we noticed that the pool was leaking - a LOT. Soon it got so bad that we couldn't keep it full enough for the water to enter the skimmer, and if it doesn't enter the skimmer, you can't run the pump and filters. Our beautiful pool had now turned in to a green breeding ground for misquotes. Eventually we had no choice but to drain and inspect it, and when we did we found a wide variety of cracks running all of the way though it. We found them easily enough because the cracks were so bad that as the pool drained, water started to pour IN the pool from the surrounding ground through the cracks. We got two estimates for fixing the pool and they both exceeded $20,000 and only came with a four year warranty. Then we found out from a neighbor that they know two other people in our town that had to demolish their pools after multiple expensive repairs. It seems that the ground here settles and expands far too much for in-ground swimming pools to survive. I don't know if it's true or not, but the same neighbor told me that companies will no longer install in ground pools in our town. I can't afford $20,000 every four years to rebuild it, and I can't leave a huge concrete hole in the back yard breeding misquotes and just waiting for a child to fall in and get hurt, and so enters the jack hammer and at least one very tired old man . . .

Pool Destruction 004

Pool Destruction 037

The following week I was off to Cleveland Ohio, but still feeling poorly and so traveling as Matt. Toward the end of the week I did finally feel good enough to get out for a while one afternoon. I wore this pretty little brocade skirt, a plain blue top, and a pair of Jessica Simpson Mary Janes I found last week. They are very retro, with kind of a 1920's look to them and I love them!

Cleveland Ohio 2010 04 007

Cleveland Ohio 2010 04 005

I spent the afternoon and evening shopping the mall for brown or grape shoes as I still haven't found a pair to replace the brown shoes that fell apart on me a few weeks ago. I DID ultimately find a pair on sale at Macy's that are purely awesome! They have a VERY high heel, either 4 or 5 inches though, and so are higher than I really want for walking through airports, but I absolutely loved them and snatched them up. I'll probably have pics of them after my NEXT trip! I guess I still wasn't feeling so hot after having been sick for more than a week, and so my confidence was not what it normally is. As I walked from Macy's to Dillards, I felt like everyone that walked by me was staring and laughing behind my back. I know that's silly, but still . . .
In Dillards I was looking for some summer tops, and hoping that I could find something I liked that was a little different from my norm. It had begun to bother me that all of my outfits are essentially the same. Different colors and different lengths, but all were essentially fairly elaborate skirts matched and sleeveless sweaters. I have realized this long ago, but it has only recently begun to bother me. It also doesn't help that the sweaters are hot, and with summer coming, hot is going to be a bad idea soon. Still, nothing I find and try on seems to look good on me. I wonder if they have people that give fashion advice to poor redneck cross dressers to help get me out of the fashion rut I'm in?  Anyway, I was looking through Dillards and see this awesome thin and floaty top on the manikin. It was a very light fabric that I assumed would be cool to wear, and was belted at the waist and very feminine, and so I thought that maybe I'd give it a try. As I was looking at it, the SA walked up and showed me where I could find it on the shelf. As I was picking up the price tag, I was thinking that it was maybe $40 or $50 and not sure I could justify that expense, and so imagine my shock when I see the price tag is $200! $200 for that little bit of gauzy material, and it didn't even come with the camisole or belt it was shown with! I almost dropped the beautiful top and probably gasped out loud, because I notice the SA look up at me.
"You know, I think I just realized that I'm WAY to poor to be shopping here. Thank you anyway!" I told her with a smile and turned looking for the nearest exit from Dillards.

I wasn't quite ready to call it a night though, and so I headed to the movie theater where I saw the remake of "Clash of the Titans". It was all right - not the best movie I've seen, and not the worst, but it was a pleasant enough way to spend a couple of hours. When I got back to my hotel and started to pack, it was time to decide if I was going to fly home pretty or not. I still wasn't feeling well, and had spent most of my outing today feeling a complete lack of enthusiasm and confidence, and so I decided it just wasn't worth it.
In, we had had a conversation where some had insisted that no woman would wear high heels through an airport. Since I had claimed that they were wrong, and that many women do indeed wear their heels through the airports, I made it a point to actually pay attention. I'm pleased to report that I was right and that there were a LOT of women proudly sporting their 3 to 4 inch heels. The only problem with my paying attention to this was that it began to irritate me that I hadn't worn mine today!