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Bob, Mieka, Piete, Suzanne @ San Diego Zoo, 2002

Wednesday, March, 2002. Wheeler Creek Trail head parking area, with 10 minutes to kill on my way to work.

On Saturday, I was at the San Diego Zoo with Suzanne, Mieka, and newly fledged U.S. Marine Corps Private Pieter Thor Sawatzki. Born on a stormy day, we named him after the god of thunder and lightning. Eighteen years later he joined the military. That was last summer, a month and a half before 9-11.

While his comrades  partied their brains out, Piete just wanted to get away. The zoo was his choice to celebrate our day together, partly because as an active duty serviceman he got free admission. Our first stop was the gift shop, to buy a civilian “cover” for his shaved head.

Piete’s feet were aching from the parade ground exercises, marching about in drill formations wearing ill-fitting boots under the brilliant sun. All he wanted was to sit on a quiet bench under the shade of a tree and read a book. We agreed to meet for lunch at food outlet #3: The Treehouse Cafe.

S. wanted to graze at the salad bar. I wanted meatloaf and garlic potatoes. But it all looked like monkey chow to me.


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Tuesday, April 2, while waiting in line for the automatic car wash.

Yesterday was Day 2 of Anger Management, a 12-step program I am now enrolled in. This chain of events started when I was joking on the phone with a trusted co-worker about an Item Request.

“That item is unavailable,” I said, “due to the item record being all fucked up.”

T.D., our new assistant Librarian overheard me speaking rudely of an item record. If there’s one thing all librarians are obsessed about, it’s item records. But instead of talking to me about it, T.D. sent me a sternly worded e-mail, followed up by a brief meeting with her and the branch manager, K.B.

T.D., newly divorced, middle-aged single mother and recent graduate of library school anxious to try out her newly-fledged managerial wings by practicing on me.

A few days later, I discovered T.D. had set up a test of my thoroughness in a cart of books I was spiffing-up: cleaning covers, sanding edges, repairing torn pages. There was a book with an item record I was supposed to “discover” and correct. In absolute dereliction of duty, I left the item record uncorrected.

Sure enough, I received an e-mail from T.D. about it. Unfortunately, we were alone that day. After reading T.D.’s e-mail, I responded by shoving the cart across the room at her, speaking harsh words I deeply regret.

Just the two of us at a branch library up in the piney woods, me and this little lady, trying to re-invent herself in a very strange state, at her first professional post. Terrified of me, I realize now. Size and sex had everything to do with it.

T.D. locked herself in the back office and called the branch manager at her home for advice. I went back to work at the front desk, cleaning and sanding volumes. Pretty soon, the phone rang and I answered.

“What’s going on?” said K.B. “Are you alright?”

“I’m fine,” I said, “but I think T.D. needs to go home for the day. She’s locked herself in the office.”

“I know,” said K.M. “She told me all about it. But you’re the one who has to go home. Right now. You’re on Administrative Leave.”

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There was a meeting with K.B. and legal counsel for the county. I was encouraged to shop around for an Anger Management class that I thought best for me. I called several places, visiting locations and collecting brochures.

I was on my lunch break in the kitchen at work when T.J., the anger management counselor from New Horizons returned my call. He had questions about my situation–did I really work in a library? Located in beautiful, scenic, serene Ogden Valley?

“What do you have to be stressed about?” the voice on the phone laughed out loud. “You’re up there in Happy Valley–working in a library!”

That’s when I knew I had found the right place. Soon after the call, my intuition was  re-enforced when I met T.J. in person. A subsequent meeting was arranged for K.B. to meet him and make her own determination.

On the day of the meeting, I drove up, up, up Ogden Canyon and worked at the counter for 45 minutes. Then I drove down, down, down the canyon to New Horizons at 30th and Grant…followed by my boss. We met in the parking lot and entered the shabby-looking, two-story anonymous stucco box.

“I’ve got a one-thirty with T.J.,” I said to the receptionist. Then we sat side by side on the tacky old sofa. I had my big folder of Anger Issues and a paperback copy of Working Together: A Personality Centered Approach to Management, provided by the HR dept. of the place where I work.

Beasley, the office cat, came right to us, rubbing up first against K.B., and then against me.

“Do you think he knows we’re cat people?” said K.B.

Beasley went over the to reception desk, flopped over on a throw rug, and rolled himself up like a taco. Just then, T.J. walked out to greet us. Short and stocky, compensating for small stature by always wearing a trucker cap. There were a number of caps, I came to learn over the course of our classes and in the decade and a half since those tumultuous days, all of them well-used.

I introduced K.B. to T.J. and then we all went upstairs to talk.

Poster on the wall: There are no bad apples, there’s just misunderstood fruit.


There were 10 to 12 of us in the Anger Management Class, mostly angry, white males. Attendance varied because of drop-outs and work schedules. Just 2 or 3 women. Some of us were there for problems at work, but most people had been court-ordered by a judge for spousal abuse. One of these was a handsome young latino police officer, giant-size, a brown Achilles. We all had a moment to share our stories, but his testimony was the one that really slapped me in the face–you might say–because of his sincere contrition. He loved his job yet was in danger of losing it. He loved his wife and yet he beat her. How the hell, he wondered out loud, did he end up here with all us losers? He got a big laugh for that.

What I noticed right away was these were my kind of people. Opinionated, sarcastic, plain-speaking, working class citizens–no shrinking violets here. Leave your pc-manners and politesse at the door. In many respects it was like being in high school detention again with all your favorite trouble-makers. If they had served alcohol it would have been just like hanging out in a bar. I took careful notes and came out of each meeting totally jazzed, learning a new language.

I was ready to acknowledge being unhappy and causing grief for people I loved, along with innocent bystanders such as T.D. And I was ready to do whatever was necessary to change. But after only three classes, I had to take a previously scheduled week-long getaway around southern Utah.

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Great Gallery, Horseshoe Canyon

Wednesday, April 24. Just around the bend from “The Great Gallery” in Horseshoe Canyon.

Today’s Ranger looks to be about 19 or 20 years old–a summer job for a college kid. He had big gaps between yellow teeth and food on his face.

“I’m about to take a group up to the ledge,” he said. “If you’d like a closer look.”

“I’d better not,” I said.

He looked crestfallen, like he had failed miserably again.

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“Holy Ghost” panel, Horseshoe Canyon

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10/04/01

Out by the reservoir, horse hooves coming up the trail. A girl on horseback, and behind her a boy saying, “This was always my grandfather’s favorite place. He hated it when they made him sell.”

The sun shines fiercer here in the clear mountain air. Time again to go  back…to a book discussion group.


10/06/01

On board the #12 bus to Huntsville. It was 8:36 a.m. when I figured out that the Subaru was gone because S. took the car to Salt Lake City for that yard sale at her sister’s house.

Rode my bike to the bus stop. Waited 5 anxious minutes, the sun coming up over the Wasatch Front–blinding the driver of the bus as it approached…and passed by.

Lunging out into the street, waving and shouting. The bus stops in the middle of the intersection. It’s a lady driver, laughing and apologizing. “So sorry. I don’t usually see anybody at this stop.”


Waiting for the bus ride back down the canyon. Sun setting on the hills. An owl calling from the park. After the library closed, as we were locking up: a stunt bike dude and his roller blade doing laps around the building.

Let’s Go Toby is on the bus today. And the retarded kid up front by the driver.


Unable to sleep, I get up, get dressed, and get out. Come back later to sleep in the shed. Fall asleep listening to the roar of traffic. Waking up hours later, traffic has subsided to a background murmur. The clock inside says 1:38 a.m. I’m in the living room, sleeping on the futon.


Sunday, Oct. 7

I was hanging up laundry when S. came out and collapsed on the lawn. Laid there crumpled up in the sun. “The problem is…I want to jump your bones. But I have a headache.”

Dragged the Ted Williams sleeping bag out back. Set up the bamboo screen against the fence. S. brought sex toys: a pear she had picked along the way…and 3 raspberries.


Monday, Oct. 8

On the #317 bus to Huntsville. Yes, you do have to stand there on the curb waving a dollar bill to get the driver’s attention!


Wed. Oct. 24

K. was half sick this morning. Sitting at the counter reading the anthrax stories in the paper. Mike was hovering, a dragonfly giant in short pants and sneakers.

Rebecca swooped in on K.’s low pressure area, then donned the rubber gloves and face mask, taking the mail out back for processing. Returning a few minutes later with a full color fold-out of a California condor she had removed from Your Big Backyard.

She stood there reading a while while I sat there cleaning and sanding the edges of our core collection.

“Do you realize there’s only twenty California condors left?” she says in that voice she reserves for all living things except humans. Brown-skinned, brown-eyed beauty. Doll-sized but don’t mess with her. Fiercely efficient and loving fun. “This picture is at the secret location in California where they are breeding.”

I nodded my head and kept working. Sanded the edge of a book, clonked it into a box, and reached for another.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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On the tenth day of the new year–ten days before President Trump–there was a calm between storms. Icy streets melting into slush as we drove north, paralleling the Wasatch. A surprise day away from the Mother Ship. Among all these recent staff changes, somehow my free day had been left off the schedule, unnoticed until yesterday.

“You can have tomorrow off…or Thursday,” the department manager had informed me with her brightest smile. “What’s your preference?”

“Tomorrow?” I said. “I can have tomorrow off?”

“You can have tomorrow off,” she repeated, pen poised over the clip-boarded and marked-up schedule. “Is that what you want?”

“Yes,” I said. “I’d love tomorrow off. We’re going to the hot springs!”

“I look forward to seeing the pictures.”

2017 has pounded us with more snow that we’ve received in years. Side-streets impassable as city snowplows struggle to keep main roads clear. Heroic measures have been required for all the residents of our little corner of Whoville; shoveling sidewalks,  driveways, and parking spots out on the street until you can’t raise your arms anymore. You’re not sure if you’re exhausted or just dehydrated. Most likely both. Unending days of dark, grey, wintry weather and that ever-present impending great glooming Cloud of Unknowing: the incumbency of President Trump.

Granted a random day off and the blessing of an incoming Pineapple Express, everything seems to pause. Tomorrow there will be flooding. Today we’re on our way to soak and recuperate. And here’s the thought that occurred to me today while floating, drifting on my back in 104-degree water. Writing doesn’t have to be like the myth of Sisyphus, where you’re struggling to roll this great rock up a hill that always rolls down again. Sometimes it’s like rolling a great snowball up a hill.

Starting at the edge of the pool, right over there, where they’ve piled up snow. Then up the hill, across the highway, onto the bench, over the mountain tops. What a sight when it inevitably rolls down again and dissolves into these steaming springs.

http://www.crystalhotsprings.net/

Viktor is Russian, retired, former computer programmer/hacker. Looks like a down and out department store Santa Claus, so much so that I asked him once if he’d ever had that job. It was the season. You can tell he needs the money. And he’s usually jolly.

“Yes,” he said, smiling ruefully. “I did. One time. In Russia. In Russia, they call him Father Christmas. I was Father Christmas one time.”

“You could do it now,” I enthused. “You’re perfect. You’re just the type they’re looking for.”

“Never again!” he insisted, shaking his head in disgust. “It was bad. The parents bad as the kids. And the kids smell like piss!”

Viktor always asks for a Research computer and will spend as many hours as he can get to read and hear news on Russian-language sites. Sometimes I see him working on computer code. Who knows–maybe Viktor is the Russian spy who hacked the Democratic Party files.

I was working the afternoon shift on the day after Christmas when Viktor arrived on the library shuttle bus. A curious smile played on his mouth as he approached my desk, removing something from a plastic grocery bag. “For you,” said Viktor, carefully placing an orange on the counter. When I stammered my thanks and could feel my cheeks flushing red, he said: “So rare you smile.”


Joe Blow was managing the desk yesterday when I arrived. The first time I’d seen him  out of his office in weeks. “You know the old guy that comes in on the shuttle every day?” said Joe Blow. “That Russian guy named Viktor?”

“Viktor. Sure, I know who you mean. He’s here every day.”

“Well,” said Joe, “you wouldn’t sign him up for a 5-hour turn, would you?”

“Ha,” I laughed. “That Viktor. He likes to joke.”

“He’s a joker,” Joe Blow agreed. “But you wouldn’t do that, would you?”

“Of course not. He gets one hour at a time. Just like everybody else.”

“That’s what I thought. He must have been kidding me about that.”

Joe left and Viktor arrived at his usual time, asking for his usual 5-hour turn on a Research Computer.

“Sorry, no more five hour turns.”

“Because why?”

“Because Joe Blow says so.”

“”Who is Joe Blow?”

“Joe Blow is the boss.”

“That guy that was just here? He is Boss?” Viktor snorted in derision. “Again! Why is that? Stupidest guy is always Boss!”

Sunday morning, 1997.

Worked seven days in a row–me and all who remain, filling-in work shifts for those who have quit during the course of this upward learning spiral.

There was an EMO from Theron a few days ago warning about the system being down on Saturday. He would be installing system upgrades and couldn’t really say how long it would take.

Joan and Jamie were in giddy hysteria when I saw them in the break room. The two of them had been running the Circulation department all morning, using pens and paper to manually check-in and check-out books. Then they got onto the proposed changes for 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 a cart of books in Storage rather than try to match their madcap humor.

Jamie, 22, all polyester, eating candy. Joanie, twice Jamie’s age, all natural tones, eating a baked potato, left over from Thursday’s Baked Potato Lunch Party.

Theron wandered into Storage, completely disheveled and smiling. His hair was standing up like waves. “I’ve been on the phone all day with CLSI,” he said. “They say ‘try this.’ I do it, and it doesn’t work, and they say, ‘Okay, here’s another one.'”

Theron looks like he’s been having great sex all day with a beautiful stranger. That same deshabille and crazy look. He wanders out again, ready to have another go.

Back upstairs, Linda T. and I plan our divorce; henceforth, I will be managing Periodicals without her. She will manage public PCs. Linda created a computer sign-up system that can be controlled from either of our desks. I talked to Kevin about furniture. Elevatored down to IT to get floor plans for the new layout. Theron was there–on the phone again–speaking calmly, rationally, and making faces at me.

Borrowed a measuring tape from Maintenance. Walked around upstairs measuring things, pacing off steps, imagining cubicles. Whited-out some lines on the floor plan and penciled-in new ones.

Linda T. was making up a list of names for her 10 pcs. I suggested mythical heroes. She went with philosophers: Plato; Socrates; Hypatia; Boethius, Marcus Aurelius, Descartes, Nietzsche, Kant, Hegel, and Bertrand Russell.

Who the heck is Hypatia?” I said.

“Hypatia?” says Linda. “A woman philosopher who lived in Alexandria and was murdered by Christians.”

Faith is working on the schedule in the back office and humming: “…if I only had a brain.” A few minutes later, Amanda is whistling snatches of the same song.


Nanci comes out of the Staff Bathroom in bare feet and with wet hair. “Now my hair dryer’s not working,” she whines.

“The Barefoot Contessa,” says Mike Sulley, sitting at the kitchen table with his brother David, visiting from Silver Spring, Maryland. “He’s a deacon in a Catholic Church,” Mike wants us all to know. And you know how he feels about that.

Now Nanci is frying bacon and eggs for herself and the boys. I decline. Karen calls in and says she wants some.


“I can’t really pick up stuff,” says Mike about the physical therapy for his mangled hand. “It’s more of a platform and a gripper. There’s no real strength there.”

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Melissa R. is on PC#14, her thick and lustrous red hair done up in a brioche, wearing a thrift store Vargas Girl outfit of her own devise. PC #15 is occupied by a muscle-bound brute in a tank top signed in as JAZMANN. Tattooed onto the back of his shaved and shining head: Melissa’s King.

Melissa and Jazmann have brought 4 little girls with them, playing hide & go seek in the stacks. Now Melissa is sitting in Jazmann’s lap, his arms around her as he finishes his work on-line and gives her a squeeze. The children gather round, pleading to go outside.


The HOLD button is blinking–Penelope, working at the Mother Ship– waiting for Jane. Mindy, the new Community Service college girl, is also waiting for instructions from Jane. But Gordy has all Jane’s attention, dealing with Circulation SNAFUs. He stands there with his clipboard in his funeral director’s outfit, gravely nodding, nodding, nodding again. Dispatching with Gordy, Jane swiftly deals with Penelope and Mindy, then turns her full attention to me.

“Bob, I want you to tell me something,” says Jane, looking me in the eye.

Oh crap, I’m busted, is what I’m thinking. But for what?

“I need to know if you understand that e-mail I sent out to everybody. The one about transferring items when Main is closed? Where will library Holds be sent?”

“Pleasant Valley Branch?” I said, hazarding a guess.

“Yes!” Jane exclaims, high-fiving me, if you can imagine that little bowling-ball of a woman doing anything so athletic.

Then it’s time to check the Men’s Room, where I discover Vic and Nick talking about last night’s Trump vs Clinton Presidential debate. Based on Hilary’s debate performance, she seems certain of victory.

Vic:    It’s gonna be like Nixon when he said, ‘You’re not going to have me to kick around anymore.’ Can you imagine how he felt? How humiliated, to say something like that.

Bob:    That was the first televised presidential debate. And now it’s a circus.

Nick:    I wasn’t even born then.

Vic:    You’re not gonna have me to kick around anymore, Nixon said, and then he comes back a few years later and wins in a landslide. But with Trump, whether he wins or loses, we’re going to have him the rest of our lives!


R.R. from the Mother Ship is visiting lately, but is rarely seen. Somewhere out in the stacks, speed-weeding the law books and reference collection, filling up boxes with discards.

“Maybe two days worth of boxes in the back room,” R.R. says, in passing, on his way out the door. “And, uh, I found a guy sleeping back there. Stretched out on the floor behind some empty boxes. Sound asleep.”

R.R. smiled. In these stressful times of deconstruction, a rare event. Buttoned up R.R, he of the robotic posture and Aspy social skills, smiling.