Apr3,2015

A film treatment for Jeff Goldblum covering 3-years driving a 2003 Dodge Dakota pickup with camper shell around what remains of the wild west in search of…hot springs. He is 65 years old at its conclusion, surveying the recent past in amazement and grateful to be alive. He has a black eye, a black brace on his left hand, and seven stitches over his left eye. A gold wedding band, sawn-through and bent open, rests on the table nearby.

Camera pulls back to reveal WRECKED TRUCK in front yard.

DodgeDakota

Thanksgiving Day, 2017

How has it come to this? Your truck is totaled. You look a wreck as you painfully type out a story on your laptop (APPLE Product Placement opportunity!) with swollen and bruised fingers:

Ten days after my truck got hit, I slipped on the ice…why? Why can’t I be calm…and act my age?


Ask Luis Munoz, the kindly old semi-literate Mexican with little English driving his bright red 1995 Mustang on Thanksgiving Day, running an errand to the Dollar Store for a bottle of hot sauce.

It’s just after noon, on a calm, sunny, clear, storybook Thanksgiving Day. You are sitting down to a healthful lunch of broccoli and brown rice and enjoying the feel of sun-warm cork tiles on your bare feet. Thankful that you made the Right Decision in boycotting your annual family Thanksgiving Bash held at scenic locations around Puget Sound. Your wife and two adult children flew there without you this year. In peace & quiet, calm and unstressed, you press palms together for a moment in silent prayer.

When from the street there comes a thundering CRASH. Then silence.

You run outside barefoot and see this:

Mustang1

Blame it on the chihuahua.

“I’m so sorry!” Luis Munoz exclaimed. “I’m such an idiot! I was talking to my dog. You see? My little doggie there in the car…”

 


Goldblum&Davis

Gena Davis plays your wife, just as she briefly did in the real world but this time her family is from Utah and she’s a Recovering Mormon. They’re all pretty bland on first meeting, but in flashbacks true characters are revealed.

Your family story comes out during annual Thanksgiving gatherings around Puget Sound. This has been going on for twenty years, ever since your parents died and your oldest sister, Dorothy began a tradition of hosting all comers; family, friends, and strangers.

Meryl Streep plays Dorothy. She’s a reader, writer, English teacher, married to John Coutsoubos (played by Dustin Hoffman) a retired Greek history teacher.

Your brother Jim, American History teacher, is played by somebody who looks good in a mustache and sweater vest. He’s genial…but needs his space!

Glenn Close plays youngest sister Kathy. She will fill you in on all the back-stories of other characters and their children and their dogs.

Chris Walken is your older brother Bill, the Viet Nam War veteran. (Sure, his character died in The Deer Hunter, but this is a whole different thing. Hipsters will get the irony.)

You’re one of a family of 13 children, raised in a small town Catholic Family–your father a charismatic salesman, hardworking handyman, and eventually successful small businessman and community leader.

Your motivation goes back to reading Travels With Charley by John Steinbeck when you were in high school. You have always wanted a truck but because of extenuating circumstances and financial obligations it’s not until age 62 that your dream finally comes true. Three year flash-back commences here…

DodgeDakota

January 12, 2015

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RefDeskAfter noon and before school lets out, all is calm at SWB. Sunshine pours in the wall of windows, fluffy white clouds drifting across an azure sky; my place of work, and welcome to it.

A 30-something latino lady in a blue hoodie, baggy canvas pants, and a baggy blue beanie wanders in, drifts over toward the windows and sets her bag on a table near the Ref Desk. Turning in a circle of wonder, she steps toward the counter and says, sotto voce, “You have the best job in the world.”

Funny how often one hears that, working at Ref Desk. Everybody fills-in everywhere, but all agree that Ref Desk is the best seat in the house.

I’ve been working here almost a year now and it still seems like I have somehow landed in the Land of Oz…and I’m sitting-in for The Wizard until he gets back. Our library is a humongous 3rd space social hub in a city without a center. We have an art gallery, a coffee shop, a black box theater, and acres of free parking. We call it The Mother Ship.

“Thanks,” I said to the lady. “I’m still getting used to it myself. Enjoying it while it lasts.”

Uncertainty is all you know for certain. All is in flux. With two other buildings simultaneously undergoing renovation, library staff are undergoing training to work anywhere and everywhere.

The latino lady shuffles back to her table, sits down, looks all around again, craning her neck back to peer at the skylights high above. Finally, she gets up and returns to the counter with a bemused look. “Do I hear…birds?”

“You do,” I said. “There are birds. In the Children’s department.”

(A pair of parakeets in a birdcage live there, 24/7. One is named Obi-Wan, and the other is The New Guy.)

“Of course!”, the lady says,s laughing. “I thought I was hearing things.”

Not sure why, but somehow this transaction brought to mind an old favorite song lyric: “Stand in the place where you work…”

 

 

 

LegalDisclaimerTWEET

July 30, 1997

Associate Specialist, $10.83 hr., 40 hours per week. Have a Timex watch on my wrist now so I know what day it is.

Still trying to adjust my stride. No more sprints toward a finish line. There is no finish. One long marathon lasting maybe 10 years? 20 years? Don’t even think about it.

What’s happening this week:

Painting the trim on the house. Cindy Cutlip said we were the 3rd house she had visited on Sunday that was getting green trim.

Sending out Spring/Summer Rough Draft

Starting work on the Fall issue

Lunch yesterday with Kevin Holdsworth at Bagels & Buns. Very relaxed, just hanging out. He’s moving to Green River, Wyoming with his “fiance”, who has a job there.

Eric Zenger was at the counter, too. He’s just back from the Grand Canyon. They sat around the campfire reading Robert Service poetry.

“Make me sick,” Kevin jibed.


At the model plane air show it costs a dollar to be alone. Pieter and James, Derrick and Michael walk down the road to buy scones, disappearing into the constant stream of people and cars, coming and going.

Leaving me on the rear deck of the Subaru backed-up onto this vast range. Thinking you’re not really here if they’re not here with you.

Why can’t you just sit still and be there

and write about it later.

There was a 4-engine B-29 Bomber. We watched through the chain link fence as a gray-haired man with headphones systematically synchronized the motors, adjusting their pitch. Two men in blue jeans, white shirts, and white sneakers worked

[end of journal entry]


Suzanne: (whistles, calling me)

Me: What’s up?

Mieka: The sky. The clouds. The stars.

NorthAvenueIrregulars

Monday, June 2, 1997

It was Linda T. who introduced the note of futility first thing this morning while leafing through Department Procedure manuals we have accumulated over the years. Three binders full of obsolete imperatives typed-up by people long departed from these precincts.

“We’re the North End Irregulars,” said Linda. “We work in the north end of the building and we don’t have anything that’s very regular.”

At 11:00, I went downstairs to talk with (name redacted) in her office, side by side, facing the closed door. That’s how she runs these interviews, kind of like a Confessional. Name-redacted spent most of the 15 minutes calculating and re-calculating possible salaries I would receive, if I were hired for one of several positions available.

I was still muzzy-headed with a hangover from the Jazz-Bulls championship-deciding game of the day before. I didn’t get what she was talking about. What I wanted to ask was if she still likes me or trusts me. But my time was up and there were two people waiting outside the office.

Then I went upstairs and dithered around as Linda T. took care of the problem of too many keys.

Fran came in at twelve and I went downstairs to get the mail. When I came back, Linda gave up her seat at the terminal and scuttled to the old PC in the back room. After checking-in the newspapers I offered to help Fran check-in magazines.

Fran dismissed me with a look, saying, “Maybe you ought to work on your By Statements.”

Writing By Statements, a mind-numbing and Orwellian exercise of absolute futility.

Then it was 2:00 and time to go home.

 

 

 

WebCrawler

Feb. 21, 1997

YOU & THE INTERNET:

Soaring to Excellence Participant Copy

Last thing I remember is coming in 40 minutes late for a teleconference. Well, I got lost up in the Valley.  Had to drop Suzanne off at NOB and went up the back way from there. It’s a big valley, is what I discovered. You can drive around in there for a long time without getting anywhere.

Finally saw the long, low, silver roof of OVB. One of the auditorium doors was partly open and I stepped into the darkened, hushed room, and found a seat in the back between Amy and Joyce.

Up on the screen were two librarians sitting on stools, leaning against the counter of The Soaring Cafe; a playful gay guy who calls himself “Tech-Man,”  and his foil, a librarian version of Annette Funicello . On the wall behind their shoulders: a green neon circle and blue seagull soaring. Exposed brick, coffee machines, a chalkboard menu. Real food and drinks in a room full of real, live librarians at cafe tables.

“It’s just like Sesame Street for grown-ups,” Joyce whispered to me. “All those comfortable things adults associate with relaxing.”

Techman and the Annette Funicello librarian chatted and played on the internet for an hour, answering questions from the studio audience and from viewers calling in from Seattle, Mississippi, and Colorado. From universities, public schools, and public libraries. Real basic stuff, like:

“The world wide web is not the internet.”

“A server is a computer on the internet which provides information when requested.”

“A client is software that asks another computer on the internet for information for you.”

“Don’t trust relevancy rankings.”

“Bookmark the website, not the link.”

Then we had lunch. Then we went another hour and school was out for the day.


Worked every day for a week, everybody at the library filling-in the places for those who have quite during the Cause of this Upward Learning Spiral.

“Things will settle down. Eventually,” I said.

“Isn’t it always going to be like this?”,” said Linda T. with a pixelated look in her eyes.

The system was down all day for the big upgrade and all items had to be checked-in and out by hand. Joan and Jamie were in giddy hysteria when I happened to meet them in the break room. Just the 2 of them running the first floor by themselves all day. Then they got off onto the Staff Association and were falling over in their chairs laughing, at separate tables. I finally had to get out of there, preferring to re-shelve volumes in Storage than try to match their evil humor.

Jamie, 22 years old, all polyester, eating candy. Joanie, twice her age, all natural tones, eating a baked potato. There was 20 lbs. left over from Thursday’s lunch party.


Theron wandered in to Storage, completely disheveled and smiling. His hair was standing up in, like, waves.

“I’ve been on the phone all day with CLSI,” he said. “They say: ‘Okay, try this…’. I do it, and it doesn’t work, and they say, ‘Okay, here’s another one…’.”

He looks like he’s been having great sex all day with a beautiful stranger. That same deshabille and crazy look.


Meanwhile, upstairs, Linda T. and I planned our divorce, separating Periodicals from the new Computer Center. She created an electronic sign-up sheet we can control from either desk. I went down to Admin. and got floor plans and a measuring tape. Then Linda T. waddled around among imaginary cubicles, trying out the design. We whited-out some lines on the floor plan and sketched-in new ones.

And then Linda T. sat down to make up a list of names for her 10 public pcs. I suggested mythical heroes. She went with great philosophers, starting with Socrates, Plato, Aritstotle, and Hypatia.

“Who’s Hypatia?” I said.

Nowadays, all you have to do is Google “Hypatia” to find out what Linda T. was telling me. In those long forgotten days, all we had was books and personally shared information. If you told somebody to “google” it, they’d think you’re talking baby talk. Or something.

http://royal.pingdom.com/2008/09/16/the-web-in-1996-1997/

Carmela has been coming in for a month or more now, working on her resume and trying to get a job teaching. She is a tall, fit, physically imposing black woman from Johannesburg who has lived in Paris and speaks French fluently.

“Can you give me a hand with this?” she asked, coming up to the desk from PC #1, her habitual location.

I scanned her resume and it all read fine to me, but Carmela wasn’t satisfied.

“Teaching isn’t like other jobs, you know,” she said, spreading out her hands, trying to grasp a big concept. “It isn’t about the money. There are other reasons why I want to be a teacher. But how can I say that in a single word?”

I stared off into space for a moment and a word came hurtling toward me like a corporate logo on a 60-foot wide movie screen. “Paramount,” I said, kind of stunned by its sudden impact on my brain.

“Yes!” said Carmela, holding up her hand for a high-five. “Money is not my paramount concern.”

Paramount_Pictures_logo_(2013)

 

LegalDisclaimerTWEET

 

backyardDeer

Adorable deer nibbling buds off my apple trees.

Signed up for Medicare Parts A and B today, as required by law. I had no questions and there was nothing to sign. I have closely studied the 135-page Medicare & YOU 2017  publication and the rest of the accompanying blizzard of health insurance industry propaganda you get when you turn 65. My coverage starts May 1 and they’ll send me something in the mail.

The actual meeting with the Medicare rep took less time than I spent passing through the security guards. There was a line of us old people patiently waiting behind the oldest and frailest among us, who had a medical aid to help manage his oxygen tank and walker. These are my peers. There was genial conversation and people talking about medical procedures.

I was reviewing documents in my folder when a wizened old fellow in front of me turned around and said:

“Did you hear about the guy who had the whole left side of his body amputated?”

“What?” I said, nonplussed by the smiling stranger. My interlocutor looked kind of like Yoda, but with apple cheeks bursting with good health and tufts of hair sticking out of his ears.

“Yep, the whole left side was amputated…” the man said, “…but he turned out alright.”

It was all so bizarre I couldn’t not laugh.

“Sorry,” said the merry fellow, “that’s my favorite dumb joke.”


Everything was copacetic there and then, but two hours later I found myself in an Anger Management scenario while talking with a sales rep about Medicare Parts C and D.

What I learned from my 12-step program is that I was angry about wasting my life on a 40-hour week treadmill. I value time more than money and experiences more than things. When the opportunity for a part-time position at the library became available, I applied for it, transferring to a branch closer to my home. I gave up health insurance, but improved my health and well-being. My Anger Management issues were solved by working less, joining the legions of part-time people.

These days, I generally enjoy going to work and think of it as a chance to help others while broadening my horizons. You meet the most unusual cross-section of humanity in a public library. Dealing with all of them is what keeps it interesting.  My job is a planet I visit every day, but not the center of my world.

Another reason my anger management issues went away was not having to commute in a car. Working part-time gives me more time to do things I enjoy, such as writing and biking–even biking to work. There’s no finer way to invigorate yourself before engaging in serious work. After work, biking home is a quiet, alone time to process events of the day. This flexible window of time between work and home is key to my health and happiness.


So it was shocking today when I found myself getting angry for the first time in years. It happened in the cramped office of the credit union where I had arranged to meet with a sales lady for United Healthcare. Randi Lavendar–is that even her real name?–has no idea of how it all blew up in her face.

I came in smiling, fully prepared with a legal-size folder stuffed full of health insurance plans and spread them out on her desk. They were bedizened with yellow sticky notes, facts and figures highlighted and underlined.

This is a negotiating ploy I learned from T.J. in his class on Anger Management 101. Take the initiative and take up space. That worked pretty well for about ten minutes, as I repeatedly interrupted Randi’s sales spiel, digging out competing facts and figures from other companies. Finally, she stopped talking and, taking a deep breath, gathered up all my paraphernalia and firmly handed it back to me.

She was a thirty-something, attractive young woman, confident and assertive. A little older than my daughter, and a little more brassy.

“Please,” she said, laying out a single piece of blank paper on the desk, “let me show you why you don’t need all that information.” There was silence for a few minutes as she sketched an outline of Medicare parts A and B and C and D and then lines connecting them with a few basic options.

“I’m here to help you,” she said, “there’s all kinds of options. You could get part D coverage for as little an zero dollars.”

“That’s what I want! Zero dollars for prescription care coverage. I don’t need drugs and I don’t want to support the pharmaceutical industry. I don’t want insurance at all, but it’s the law. I haven’t had insurance since I started working part-time. My health improved immediately.”

“I can tell,” said Randi, trying to get a word in edge-wise. “I can see you’re very fit. You take care of your own health. That’s great. Accident insurance is really all you need. Like for an auto accident or something.”

“Or if I break a leg skiing,” I said. “Or mountain climbing.” I tried to think of extreme endeavors, but mostly I play it safe.

“Exactly!” said Randi, feeling that she was finally getting through to me.

Thanks to Anger Management training I recognized the symptoms of my own rising anger. Beating heart. Shortness of breath. Talking too loud, too fast.

Randi plunged on with her sales pitch. I tried to calm down by zoning out her droning voice, nodding when it seemed appropriate, but no longer listening, concerned more with managing my anger at having to buy a product I don’t want. Let’s just wrap this up, I thought. Get me out of here before I say something I’ll regret.

I focused on seeing Randi as a fellow victim of the health care industry. She’s just doing her job, working on commission. Of course she has to try to up-sell me things I don’t need or want. It took about ten minutes of acting like a good listener…and then I was ready to go.

“You know what,” said Randi, wrapping up, “I think we can get you signed up today. You won’t have to take all this home with you to study. What do you say?”

“I’m not buying anything today. I agreed to this meeting because you said you would help me understand the options. Just give me the paper work. I’ll discuss it with my wife and we’ll make a decision. My wife is someone I know.”

“Here, let me give you my card,” said Randi. “We can schedule another appointment now, or you can call me when you’re ready.”

“I don’t want an appointment.”

“So I can help you fill out the forms.”

“I don’t need any help filling out forms. I work for the government. That’s what we do all day.”

Sarcasm is a sure sign that you’re losing control of anger–and it’s not very useful. It was all I could do to keep from jumping up out of my chair and storming out of that claustrophobic den of inequity.

“Okay. I understand,” said Randi, “you’re under a lot of stress today. Applying for Medicare is very stressful. I’m really sorry to be adding to your problems today. If you don’t want an appointment with me…”

“I don’t want an appointment with anybody!”

I certainly had her full attention now, as she almost physically backed away. And yet kept on selling.”I was just going to say you can visit our website to learn more about it. And I just have to tell you about this special new benefit where you can have up to $50 credit every quarter for shopping at our on-line store.”

“Fifty dollars credit every quarter? For what? To buy crap I don’t need?”

I apologized immediately for my language. Randi apologized for causing me stress. Please don’t take it personally, I said. She apologized for having to go through the whole routine.

“I know,” I said. “You’re required to tell me about this deal because of your job.”

“I am,” she admitted. “I have to do it for my job.”


All these years later, it’s odd to discover just how easy it is to tap volcanic emotions, simmering just beneath the surface.

Biked home. Talked it over with the wife. Took the lead role in cooking dinner from a recipe for Cauliflower Couscous that Suzanne had found in Renew, the United Healthcare propaganda magazine.

Working in the backyard after dinner, I discovered 5 deer loitering in our orchard, nibbling choice green buds.  They stared at me as I advanced upon them, making shoo-ing motions with my hands and saying “getalongnow” in a reasonable tone of voice. They stared and went on munching. You should have seen them jump when I got behind the wheelbarrow and charged.

Leaping across the ditch to my neighbor’s pasture, the herd soon resumed their insolent strolling about. Grabbing up the rake I charged again, yelling like a crazy person and beating the rake against a pile of dead branches until they all disappeared into the woods.

“What an asshole,” the deer must be thinking about me. But oh what a feeling.

deer2

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