Warm Days, Hot Bats, and Technology Issues

November 1, 2016

Chicago, Illinois

Holy crap! It’s the first day of November and the daytime temperature reached 75 (where’s that key?…dammit!…must be some way to….) DEGREES Fahrenheit (24 Celsius) this afternoon. It’s unbelievably warm for this late into autumn. But I’m not complaining a bit. The trees are exploding with color, and outside is absolutely gorgeous. My roommate made arepas – a taco-like thing from South America- filled with chicken and avocado, and we decided to go outside and eat our dinner picnic-style on the grassy common area of the apartment complex. Maybe Chicago is trying to woo me into staying. If so, it’s pulling out all the stops. This may actually be a historic year. The Chicago Cubs baseball team is in the World Series for the first time in 71 years, and haven’t won the championship since 1908. After going down three games to one over the weekend, it looked pretty dismal. But they have clawed their way back, and tonight their bats are on fire, and they are currently up 7-2 in the bottom of the seventh inning. If they win tonight, then I WILL be watching tomorrow night along with the rest of the city. This place is going to be a madhouse.

I’ve decided that I need to move this blog to another platform. In order for me to keep a bit of anonymity, I changed my user name on the blog from my real name. Unfortunately, this had the effect of changing the name on my outgoing emails to Unknown Cynic, which is probably confusing as hell to those people with whom I am corresponding. I asked a friend who has been fairly successful in using her blog to support her travel what she would recommend for a blog service. Very quickly, she answered with WordPress, the hosting site she uses. It’s user friendly, she said. It’s got great tech support, she said. You’ll love it, she said. All of that sounded great, so I downloaded WordPress and started to create my new blog there.

It ain’t all that friendly. Not to me. I played around with it for about an hour, and still was unable to figure out how to change the headers and subtext from the advertisement and “your message here” sample text. Probably child’s play for…well, a child. I’m probably going to have to get a tutorial or take a class on how to use it. As seen from the beginning of this post, I’m not very good at figuring out the secrets of the computer. Pencils and paper were so much easier, weren’t they? But learn I must. Hyperlinks and plug-ins and HTML, oh my! I’ll feel so accomplished when I can add pictures and video to my page. But the stories will always be the important part.

Game 6 is over. Cubs 9, Indians 3. Tomorrow night, I’m watching history.

Jack and Diane

October 27, 2016

Chicago, Illinois

It’s 12:01pm and I’m sitting at my desk surveying the amount of paperwork scattered around atop its surface. Among all of the documents relating to our upcoming ISO audit are a parking ticket that I should probably go ahead and pay, and a Chicago Board of Elections notice giving me the information on the location of my assigned polling place on November 8. I have no intention of standing in line waiting to cast my ballot. I’ll either do early voting at another location, or take the option of voting by mail.

The current song on the radio is Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again”.  Listening to David Coverdale belt out the power-ballad brings me back to the days when I first had access to cable, when MTV actually played music videos, and the visuals of Tawny Kitaen lap-dancing two Jaguar XJS’s was wreaking havoc on my religion-induced celibacy. Earlier today, one of my friends alerted me to an online quiz designed to ascertain one’s knowledge of 1970s music. I spent a few (okay, several) minutes answering over 50 questions about music ranging from ABBA to Zeppelin. And I did much better than I had imagined, with 95% correct, besting my friend’s score.

I mentioned this to Angela, our office manager. At that very moment, she was singing along with “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey, which happened to be on the radio. Even though familiar with the melody and lyrics, she didn’t know the name of the artist, or even from what era the song came. We got into a brief discussion about the songs we grew up with, mine from the 70s and 80s, hers from the 90s and early 2000s,  and why they resonate with us more than the contemporary offerings.  The conclusion we reached was that during our formative years, we were free of much of the noise that inhabits our adult minds- the stresses of work, the worries about the economy, and the raising of children. Back then, we had more time to pay attention to the music, to immerse ourselves in it. In my case, the advent of the Sony Walkman and its imitators meant that I could block out the rest of the world and just be with Mister Mister or REO Speedwagon. Angela would use her personal CD player, followed by perhaps the I-pod or other digital platform, to envelop herself in the Backstreet Boys and N’Sync, two groups whom are impossible for me to differentiate.

It’s not that we don’t appreciate the new crop of artists. I think Adele and Arctic Monkeys are putting out some fantastic music. Angela likes Taylor Swift and even Justin Bieber. But sometimes we both find ourselves trying to guess who is performing whatever is presently filling the space between commercials. Too much of our consciousness is devoted to the mundane, yet weighty issues that we must get through on a daily basis. We find ourselves waking up to the thought of what tasks need to be accomplished in the hours to come, The radio or music-streaming service becomes simply a nice background noise, and we tend to block it out, so we don’t really get captivated by the songs the way we used to. Like how we would continue to rewind and replay the new hit from Def Leppard, or put Destiny’s Child on repeat. We don’t get that kind of excited about the new offerings.

I miss those days when I could name every song and artist. Back when Casey Kasem was “countin’ ’em down” every Saturday on “American Top 40”.  But music has slipped in its rank of importance in my life. Interestingly, when I was a kid, I didn’t really have the extra spending money to purchase records and cassettes like my friends did. Several years ago, when I found myself with some discretionary spending ability, I “invested” quite a bit in purchasing CDs from artists that I loved when I was growing up. I must have misunderstood when the advice was to put money into CDs, because they turned out to be a pretty poor investment. I am now the proud owner of a closet full of music that is essentially worthless in the format that contains it. It’s taking me a bit of mental and emotional effort to decide that Spotify is going to be what I use going forward. Because I’m not about to drag several boxes of shiny plastic digital coasters in jewel cases halfway around the globe. I must let go that not physically possessing the medium makes me less of an aficionado.

I hope that in the new life I am building for myself is not as cluttered with responsibility and worry as the past couple of decades. I hope that I can find ways to really appreciate and be absorbed in the beauty that I find around me, including the geography, the cuisine, and the culture. And also the music. I want to prove wrong John “Cougar” Mellencamp’s famous lyric, “…life goes on, long after the thrill of livin’ is gone”

Trolling the Boss

October 24, 2016

Chicago, Illinois

I have five bosses here at GND Machine. Two, brothers George and Donald are the original owners who started the business in a home garage back in the 1960s.  They are now in their mid-to-late 70s, and still come in every day to the shop. George, who is the older of the two, and is pretty mellow and easy to deal with, usually arrives around 11am. He will change into his uniform, grab a coffee, then walk around the entire shop greeting every single worker before he begins to work on whatever project he has going. Donald, on the other hand, comes in around 9am, greets whomever is in the office at the time, and then turns into Mr. Crankypants. He’ll spend hours sitting next to Paul, the engineer, fighting with him about how something should be designed. This is fun for us, because Paul, who thinks he is never wrong about anything, arguing with Donald, who wants everything done his way, is just comical and breaks the monotony.

My other three bosses are sons of the owners. Keith and Mark are George’s kids. Keith seems to be the most business-like. He divides his time between doing paperwork in the main office, handing out work assignments in the shop, and hanging out with the other engineer, Mike. He’s usually pretty easy to deal with.  Mark has his own responsibilities as well, namely being responsible for ordering tooling and taking care of payroll. But most of the time, he prefers to stay in the shop operating a lathe machine and being left alone. I’ve learned to not take his moodiness personally.

Donald’s son, Jim, takes care of sales and HR. Which is sadly and hysterically ironic, because he is suited to neither. It’s simply that he is the weakest of the personalities and nobody else wants to do it. He regularly bitches and moans about how everything falls on him, how he has to do everything. If he actually DID his job, then everyone’s day would be better.

Jim seems to be stuck in a decade that was almost over before he was even born. He’s extremely interested in conspiracy theories about the death of JFK. He is both racist and misogynistic by way of complete ignorance rather than out of hatred, although he completely buys into the theory that Jews are the reason for everything that is wrong with the world. His conversations are peppered with “facts” that he’s heard from other armchair experts or from things he’s read in tabloid literature. That’s when he’s not in the breakroom during lunch describing in detail how he misses the personal grooming habits of women of yesteryear. Which is why I refuse to eat my lunch in the breakroom.

The idiocy that spouts from Jim’s mouth is sometimes difficult to deal with. Because if I call him on his bullshit, then I end up embroiled in a discussion that has no logical purpose. Fortunately, Jim has an outlet for his need to jabber endlessly about whatever is bothering him this month. He’ll spend hours each day leaned back in his desk chair talking with his buddies (who must not have jobs?) about his collection of cars he’s working on, broads he wish he’d banged when he was younger, and that the Bush family was somehow involved in the JFK assassination and other dirty deeds along with some shady Jew types. If you think I’m exaggerating or making this up, I’m not.

The only way I’m able to deal with this asinine behavior is to attempt to steer it for my own amusement. Knowing his predilection for repeating things that he’s heard or read from a “reputable” source, I’ve created a little diversion for myself. For the last several weeks, I have searched online for fake, satirical news stories dealing with science, politics, and current events. After editing for size, I then print out a one-page “news” article, and place it on the fax machine as if it was an incoming message. At some point, Jim will enter the office and pick up the “random” fax. If the title is not of interest to him, he will discard it on the windowsill along with a bunch of other papers that have been collecting dust. But if it is a topic that he finds fitting into his worldview, then he will skim over it and place it on his desk for further review. The fun begins when he attempts to share this information with others. For instance, one day the story dealt with solar panels, and how they were hurtling mankind towards destruction by sucking up way too much of the sun’s rays. According to the article, scientists were concerned that plants surrounding solar panels were getting robbed of much-needed sunlight because the panels were attracting the sun’s energy away from them. There was also a growing distress that if the amount of solar farms being erected around the globe kept growing at the current pace, then the sun would not be able to keep up with the demand, and eventually would go dark. I watched as Jim read the report closely, then re-read it. He then tried to hand it to Donald, his father, so that he would be informed of the impending problem. Unfortunately, Donald had no time for the nonsense and just blew Jim off.

Thus far, Jim has collected “incoming” articles on how Sarah Palin wrote about Wilma Flintstone being one of the greatest Americans in history, about Donald Trump vowing to rid America of the current wave of clown crime, and several others. I find that he seems more interested in the political stories, and especially anything to do with Sarah Palin, towards whom he has expressed carnal interest. It’s been loads of fun “educating” him on important issues and events taking place around the world.

Does this make me an asshole? Maybe. But I find it better than heroin to get me through the day.

Make Some Goddamn Coffee Already, Asshole!

October 21, 2016

Chicago, Illinois

One of the perks of my job is the free coffee that is available throughout the day. It is a godsend in the morning when I need some assistance in joining the world of the conscious. I’m not trying to say that it’s Starbucks or Peet’s quality coffee. We don’t have a Keurig machine.  Our coffee gets delivered to the shop in white boxes from a coffee service which also infrequently maintains our antique Bunn restaurant model drip coffee maker. It’s actually pretty simple to use. Lighted toggle switches turn on and off the hot plates on which the glass pots rest. Another switch is pushed once to begin a cycle that sprays heated water over the ground coffee that rests in a paper filter held by a removable basket. The coffee itself comes in prepackaged bags that are just the right amount for one pot of the liquid version of the “magical fruit” that is thought to have originated from Ethiopia back in the 11th century.

For some people, the drink is an addiction. The mild stimulant effect of the caffeine contained in the fruit of the plant we know as coffee helps much of the world function normally when somewhat sleep-deprived. And after the dependency sets in, withdrawal symptoms tend towards harsh. Monday mornings without our brew can be hell on earth. So when your workplace makes it accessible at no cost, it’s a very nice benefit indeed.

It’s not uncommon to watch my co-workers make trip after trip from their work area to the coffee maker during the day. White disposable Styrofoam cup in hand, they walk through the shop, pour the hot brown liquid to the top, or perhaps leave room for some sugar, milk, or the scary powder made up of ingredients that are NOT milk and probably known to cause birth defects in laboratory animals. On the way back to their assigned task, they often stop and talk to a co-worker for several minutes about whatever topic is of interest, but most likely not about the job itself. Because having a cup of coffee is really a social ritual, isn’t it?

Our employers don’t seem to mind if the workers take advantage of this freebie. No one has ever complained that we drink more than is necessary. We never run out, because Angela, the office manager, makes sure that the supply cabinet is stocked with the boxes from the service. No, the only complaint that arises is when some entitled jackass feels no need to spend a small bit of time making a fresh pot after draining the last of the previous one. These guys have been here long enough to know at which level they should brew some more. But way more times than should ever happen, I walk over to fill my mug, and there is less than a half of a cup left in the pot. I tend to get a little bit irate. I’ll either call down evil upon their mothers and pets while performing the task of making more, or, if it’s later in the day and I won’t actually die from not having it, I’ll simply put the pot back on the burner, say “fuck it!” and walk away.  I probably let it it bother me more than it should.

Although the coffee maker sits within my line of sight for most of my day, I rarely ever catch the culprit(s) who leave the pot empty. There is, however, one miscreant whom I have seen on more than one occasion. One of the engineers, Paul, starts his workday at 8am instead of six. His name isn’t really Paul, but his Eastern European name is unpronounceable to most Americans, and the last syllable sounds a little bit like “Paul”, so it’s just easier. At any rate, I’ve watched Paul enter the shop, punch his time card, get a cup of coffee, and walk into his office. And many of those times, I’ve gone to refill my mug and found the pot damn near empty. Being an engineer means you are smart enough to figure out the process of making a pot of coffee. And being an engineer by no means makes you exempt from that task.

So, when I have witnessed Paul being such a dick to his fellow workers, I tend to call him on it. Twice, three times, maybe more, I have brought the pot into his office to show him how awful a person he is. He really doesn’t like being called out, and one day made the mistake of vehemently arguing back about how I shouldn’t be concerned about whether or not he makes coffee, because it’s NOT. HIS. JOB.  Okay, asshole.  I got your number now. You just made it MY job to make your life a tiny bit of hell.

Every day for the next two weeks, I made a concerted effort to watch the clock, even setting my phone alarm. I would wait for 7:55am to come, then spring into action. Grabbing the pot of coffee, I would fill my own mug, walk it over to my co-workers in the vicinity and offer a refill or top-up. If there weren’t enough takers, I would empty the pot into the drain, until there were perhaps two ounces left. Then I’d go sit back down and wait for Paul to walk in and try to pour himself a cup. It was hilarious to see him look aghast at the tiny remaining amount in the glass container. He’d look around in bewilderment, then proceed to his office. The next day, the same scene would play out. Poor guy had just fought traffic for over an hour to get to work, and no coffee to greet him. I didn’t feel a bit sorry. I would raise my full mug in a toast to him if I caught his eye as he walked past. After first week, he actually began to make himself tea instead of what he really wanted. His stubbornness was a joy for me to behold.

On the third week, I allowed myself to get distracted, and the show ended for a while. But at some point it happened again, and I walked into Paul’s office and asked him pointedly what made him think he was above making coffee like most everyone else. He looked at me and told me that he didn’t know how. Seriously. A manufacturing engineer who has worked here at GND Machine for well over a decade, who designs complicated machinery, who seems to believe that he knows more than anyone about everything…says he doesn’t know how to make coffee. I swallowed my instinct to berate him for being an educated idiot, and instead I gently offered to show him how. He had no other choice but to meekly follow me out to the Bunn and watch as I explained the simplest of tasks to him.

We’re good now, Paul and me. He makes coffee when it needs making. Because he knows damn well I’m watching.

The Daily Grind

October 21, 2016

Chicago, Illinois

Happy Friday, Friends.

I’m sitting at my desk in the office of my workplace. It’s pretty quiet today. The office manager and I are mostly alone in here, with the occasional interruption of someone walking in to ask a questio…

hang on..

Okay, back. Angela, the office manager just told me sotto voce to “listen to the radio”, her code for me to grab my phone and begin dialing. For the last week, we (mostly her, but she enlists my help when I’m in here) have been trying to be the 25th caller at 10am, 12pm, and 5pm to the local radio station and recite the silly phrase advertising the station’s format. So far, she has been the 11th, the 15th, and the 18th caller. I was the 12th the other day, but mostly it’s just a busy signal that is constantly in my ear after dialing over and over. I find myself keeping my head behind the computer screen as I call, hiding a bit so the boss doesn’t suspect that I’m not actually doing any work.

Thought today I’d provide a little portrait of what my day is like at GND Machine, my place of employment on the southwest edge of Chicago. For the last several years, I have attempted to get to work early, say about 5:30am. This allows me time to adjust to being at the shop, taking in the smell and taste of the machine oils, hearing the hiss of pressurized air leaking from various pipe fittings and hoses while the compressor rattles and roars in an attempt to keep up with the pressure loss. I hate walking in right on time and having to switch my brain into programming and set-up mode instead of thinking of anything but that. I usually change my street clothes into work duds right away, then settle back into a reclining camp chair that I have stashed in a corner behind one of the CNC* milling machines that I operate. I use my phone to answer any messages that friends may have sent from other places around the world while I was asleep the night before. If I’m still a bit somnolent, then the last ten minutes before starting time of 6am is spent with my eyes closed in an attempt to dream happy fantasies.

When the sound of my workmates leaving the breakroom and walking out on the shop floor wakes me from my slumber, then it’s time to grab my cup and head over to the coffee maker. About seven times out of ten, there will be just enough of the hot, brownish-black, caffeinated liquid to almost fill my 12 oz black ceramic mug. Other times, some selfish jerk has left the pot nearly empty, being too lazy to take 30 seconds of paid time to make more for the next person. On those occasions, I irritably empty the filter basket into the trash can, replace with a new one, open up a pack of coffee from the box atop the cabinet (assuming that someone didn’t leave the box empty), pour it in and replace the basket over the top of the pot. Push the start button and heated water begins to pour over the grounds and seep into the vessel below. Simple. Except now I have to stand there and wait for the pot to fill before I can enjoy my morning brew. It’s always good to begin my day with a bit of aggravation.

Most of the time, whether I’m pouring or making coffee, I see Rudy walk into the breakroom from outside. He has being 6 minutes late down to a science. He’ll walk around me to the time clock while we both mumble “good morning” at each other, very possibly being the only conversation that he and I will have all day. I don’t have a BAD relationship with my workmates, just mostly a NON-relationship. The greater majority of them are Polish immigrants and they tend to stick pretty tight with each other. While I get along just fine with everyone, I’m not usually involved in their discussions of politics, soccer, or how much they are pissed off about the job. You’d think that after almost nine years I would have a somewhat decent understanding of the Polish language, but I can mainly just recognize and remember the curse words.

After grabbing my first fix of wake-up drink and wishing that I had a donut to keep it company, I wander over to one of the machines in my department and try to remember where I left off the previous afternoon. This is the first thought I will have about my job since 4:25pm the day before when began the ritual of putting back on the street clothes and walking to the time clock to punch my card. Hopefully, the situation will simply call for turning on the machine and pressing the start button instead of having to set up a new job from the beginning. I really don’t feel much like thinking or getting my hands dirty yet.

I work in a machine shop. We produce parts made mostly from steel or various other metals to be assembled into products for the oil and gas pipeline industry.  We also build conveyor systems for food processing and manufacturing companies. Other times we do odd jobs for whomever wants to pay us to make something for them. Some jobs are repetitive. Some jobs are more challenging, hence more interesting. And some of the jobs are simply a pain in the ass. Many times the blueprints or drawings don’t make any sense, or they have mistakes on them that haven’t been corrected for years. If I’m on top of my game, I will oftentimes catch the discrepancies before I begin drilling holes or cutting shapes. If not…that’s what the keeps the welding department in business. As my work title also includes Quality Manager, you would think that I could get these out-of-date prints eliminated from our system. But it seems only to be a title, as the owners and their sons who run the business don’t wish to take me seriously when I attempt to implement changes. I’ve resigned myself to being nothing but a figurehead as long as the paychecks keep coming every Friday. Somehow, the company has managed to stay in business for over fifty years without paying attention to basic, industry-accepted rules of quality, safety, cleanliness, or human resources. It has had the effect of keeping away many qualified prospective applicants.

One may wonder why I have stayed here for so long, if the work conditions are so pitiful. Because I could easily walk into another manufacturing firm where the rules make sense and are enforced, where the machinery is updated and kept in a good stated of repair, and where you could quite possibly eat off of the floor because of the high standards of housekeeping. Despite the maddening, constant state of absolute chaos and disorganization that exists in the entire enterprise, I choose to remain because the people for whom I work are dedicated to their employees. Even though they have no real people skills, and are at times frustrating as hell to deal with, they always take care of us. Not long after I began my employment here, a combination of factors almost put the company in the grave. The economy was in a death spiral, and not only were orders for new products beginning to slow, but many of the customers were becoming sluggish about paying their invoices. Added to that, the (now former) office manager and bookkeeper was propping up her casino addiction by skimming money from the company to the tune of over $1.5 million over the course of about 5 years. That alone should have tanked the business. But through all of that, not one employee was laid off or let go because of lack of money. They did cut overtime for a while, but everyone had at least a 40-hour paycheck. In order to make this possible, the owners, our bosses, took the drastic step of borrowing money from their own retirement plans and mortgaging their homes so that money was available for workers who at times didn’t even have work to perform. That kind of loyalty to employees is unheard of in this day and age. While many larger companies were cutting their workforce to keep the shareholders happy, this small, scrappy outfit kept everyone on the payroll despite the odds. So, yes, I get irritated and aggravated at the stupid bullshit that happens around here. But I’m never going to forget what they did for me and my co-workers back when times were dark.

That being said, it’s the stories about the irritating, aggravating, and stupid bullshit that are the most entertaining to tell. So expect to read about some of them in the future. Starting with “Make some goddamn coffee already, Asshole!”

Enjoy your weekend.

*CNC (Computer Numerical Control)


October 17, 2016

Chicago, Illinois

It’s been a busy week again. I seem to pack my days and evenings up with work and play. This includes art shows, music venues, mealshares (I promise I’ll explain that soon), and whatever else gets me out of the apartment. I ended up being a bit tired this weekend, and stayed in watching Netflix for a few hours. The clouds helped to convince me that it would be an okay idea. The only thing that I wrote was a mildly irritated email to the property management about the car in the parking lot with the alarm that STILL continues to go off by itself.  Despite the assurances I received by way of reply today, I’m currently listening to the intermittent yet constant beeping of the horn. Trying to take it in stride.

I just finished cooking a spaghetti squash that my roommate got at an organic farming co-op yesterday. My first time ever trying it. I made a homemade sauce while it was roasting in the oven. As soon as it cools a bit, then begins the fun part of using a fork to scrape the flesh into noodle-like strands. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

All of this being busy with life and its many distractions has not included doing much of anything that forwards my plans to move to Thailand in about 11 weeks. I haven’t started organizing my things to sell, haven’t applied for a visa, nor have I even finished submitting my application for the class that I keep telling people that I will begin in January in Chiang Mai. Before the pre-admission interview over Skype, I need to have a decent understanding of verb tenses. Now, being that English is my mother tongue, and I have been a voracious reader for all of my life, I have a pretty good ability to construct a sentence with the proper verbiage, but explaining the rules and identifying a perfect present tense verb is something that I haven’t been asked to do in over 30 years.  And because procrastination is one of my middle names, preparation and study has been pushed to the side.

I was discussing this plight of mine with a dear friend in Bangkok using a messaging app earlier today, and I mentioned that I’ve not been studying like someone who really wants to pass with flying colors. I told her that I could be accomplished at so many things, but I don’t put in the effort. That it’s really only because I am a white male that I’m not homeless. And it’s the truth, I think.  Because of growing up in a religion that took a dim view of university education, college was not really going to be an option for me. Hence, I didn’t really bother to push myself in high school, and I ended up dropping out to do a correspondence course. Of course, the same lackadaisical attitude followed, and the correspondence course did not get completed. I ended up taking the G.E.D. and passing with pretty good marks. However, a General Education Development certificate is really NOT the equivalent of a high school diploma. While it may technically mean that one has the knowledge and skills of someone who walked with a cap and gown on graduation day, it basically screams loudly that this person didn’t have what it took to actually stick it out and complete the work.

My employment history has mirrored this lack of ambition in many ways. Like Mike Myers’ character, Wayne Campbell (Wayne’s World, 1992), I have an extensive collection of name tags. Always good at impressing the hiring manager with my people skills and clean-cut appearance, I never really had difficulty getting a job. And I would actually do well at the job at first. I could follow rules, learn the tasks pretty quickly, and then plateau.  Rarely did I take the steps necessary to get to the next level. I would get bored or disillusioned with the job, then quit to work somewhere else that looked more promising. The upside is, I’ve done so many different things, that I have the confidence that I can learn to operate almost anything. The downside is that I have no joy in my work, because I’m not really moving forward. My M.O. seems to be: get new job, gain a bit of proficiency, settle into dull routine, quit, repeat.  (If you are a prospective employer, please stop and forget everything that you’ve read so far)

Despite having a resume that looks as long as a career criminal’s rap sheet, my salary has continued to climb at a rate higher than inflation. For some reason, I am able to get away with being mediocre. And this is where being melanin-challenged and having external sex organs comes into play. I have never once been unemployed for any length of time. Employers see a white guy who knows enough to wear a clean shirt to an interview, and that seems to be all it takes much of the time. I smile disarmingly and am self-deprecating during whatever formal interview takes place, and it’s “can you start next Monday?” Meanwhile, there are probably many others who are smarter, more qualified, and have more initiative, but get passed over because of unfair and closed-minded views of minorities and females. I’ll talk more about my current workplace at another time (cannot wait to tell those stories!), but I’ll share one little gem that came out of my bigoted boss’ mouth. When asked by the very capable, but overworked office manager to please look at hiring someone else to at least take care of answering the phones and doing filing so she could concentrate on the other more vital tasks, he demurred by saying, “two women can’t be in the same office. It just doesn’t work.” His 1960s era attitude about everything caused him to assume not only that answering phones and filing is women’s work, but that females are incapable of getting along with each other in an employment setting. But Don Draper he’s not.

Last week, on a Delta Airlines flight from Detroit to Minneapolis, when a passenger suddenly collapsed and was unresponsive, a call went out for any doctors aboard to assist. A black, female physician began to unbuckle her seat belt and waved to the flight attendant so she could render aid. She was dismissed with, “oh, no, sweetie, put your hand down” and that they were looking for an “actual” physician. When she attempted to explain that she was an “actual” physician, the flight attendants began to ask for her credentials, why she had been in Detroit, and other demeaning questions. All the while, the stricken man was not being helped. A moment later, a white man approached the flight attendant and identified himself as a doctor. Without a hesitation, he was directed to the unconscious passenger. Why? Because he fit the mental image of a doctor in the flight attendant’s mind.

My friend in Bangkok said that I’ll do very well in the interview, that they would not turn me down. That the same white male privilege is going to follow me to Thailand as well. Her son, who has a Master’s degree in education, speaks perfect English like an American native (because he is one), got turned down at a job interview to be an English teacher because he looks Asian. She said Thai parents want to see a white guy teaching their children English, even if he doesn’t have proper credentials.

How many times have I unfairly gotten a position or a place in line over someone else because they didn’t look like me? Where would I be if I were Black, Latino, or Asian? With my lack of education credentials and ambition, I most likely WOULD be homeless. Because the opportunities would never be given to me. But, because I had the luck to win the white boy lottery at conception, I am insulated from the discrimination that many others have to face. And for most of my life, I have taken it for granted. Now that I’m really aware of it, I find it embarrassing. I certainly don’t deserve this privilege. I’ve done nothing to earn it. So now the challenge for me is to find ways to use this to the benefit of others without appearing to be condescending. My fervent hope is that I can manage that, and find the ambition to do it well.

I’d appreciate any thoughts my readers may have on this.

PS: The spaghetti squash turned out terrific. I can’t believe I’ve never had that before.


October 11, 2016

Chicago, Illinois

It’s 7:30pm on a Tuesday night. The sky is dark already. A few weeks ago, the sunlight would still allow me to see the greenery outside at this time of day. But we are marching inexorably towards the winter solstice and the sun sets earlier each day. I used to get a bit depressed about it. Summertime in the Upper Midwest region of the States is glorious. Especially when you are close to a body of water, and Lake Michigan certainly qualifies as that. When I lived in the state of Michigan, we used to hop in the car and drive down to the beach three minutes away to watch as the sun made its way down towards the water, changing from a beautiful and bright orange to a softer, glowing red as it sank beneath the horizon. These days, I can see the colors through the tall residential buildings to the west, or the reflection of the sunlight on the steel and glass edifices downtown to the north of my apartment. It isn’t quite as pretty as the sunsets on the lake, but I have full view of sunrises over the water now. Except that I’m gone long before those happen now. Days are shorter on both ends.

So now the light that I see comes from the city itself. White lights from the windows in the condominiums and corporate offices, yellowish white from the sodium streetlights, red from the navigational beacons atop the buildings, lest an errant pilot in a low-flying aircraft confuse downtown Chicago with a bean-field. I can see big, lumbering jets approaching the city from the west, only to bank and turn in a counter-clockwise rotation out over the edge of the lake before finishing their descent to O’hare International to the northwest of the city. Other aircraft heading to our smaller airport, Midway, fly almost directly overhead, their landing lights bright against the night sky.

All of this ambient light tends to block out the flickering stars. Those are probably what I miss the most about not living in an urban setting. I long to see the constellations and try in vain to count the individual twinkling lights in the inky blackness. Several years ago, I had an early morning paper delivery route in central Indiana, where I would be driving from farmhouse to farmhouse out past the cornfields. There was very little ambient light there, and sometimes I would pull my car over to the side of the road and lay out looking up at the night sky in wonder. I hope to find places in Thailand like that. City lights are beautiful and exciting, but can’t hold a candle to the celestial splendor above.

Not Worth a Title

October 6, 2016

Chicago, Illinois

It’s been a few days since I published my last post. I’ve had a busy week. Two of my nights have revolved around food. The first was an annual restaurant crawl put on by one of the upscale neighborhoods in Chicago. I try to attend every year that I am able to. It’s always fun, the food and drink are always plentiful, and it’s always on a Tuesday because that’s usually a slow night for the restaurants. The problem is getting up on Wednesday after going to bed on an over-filled stomach and a shit-load of alcohol in your bloodstream. The second was a mealshare (I’ll explain those later) at a home where the German hostess tries to stuff you like a goose in a foie gras mill. I’m not complaining too loudly, because the food was amazing. At any rate, I was eating instead of writing.

Tomorrow I am heading to Nashville, Tennessee for the very first time. I have a friend there who has invited me over and over to come visit, so my roommate and I will be heading to the Country Music Capitol of the World. I’m not the biggest fan of country music, but that’s no reason not to go. I’m sure to find some other things of interest. Perhaps I will be inspired to write about something I see or experience.

So this has simply been an exercise in trying to be somewhat consistent in writing. It’s late, because I was busy earlier with chores and packing, and then I had a phone call with a dear friend. Actually, before I started my chores, I laid down to rest for a minute and ended up spending a little over an hour watching the pilot episode of  Joss Whedon’s “Firefly” for the 8th or 9th time. I still love that show, and I’m still really pissed at Fox Broadcasting for cancelling it before it even finished Season One. If you’ve never seen it, I highly recommend that you spend some rainy days on Netflix watching the 14 episodes that were made, then following it up with the motion picture, “Serenity”, which at least gave some closure to the story arc. Then please let me know if you aren’t pissed at Fox, too.

I’m not even certain that I should post this, as it doesn’t inspire me as a reader.  Maybe I’ll wait to toss it in with the next post. Or maybe not.


October 3, 2016

Chicago, Illinois

Writer’s block is a common phenomenon when someone is put to a deadline, even a self-imposed one. Most people assume that it is because the wordsmith cannot think of anything to write about. But I posit that it is because the writer has too much to write about, and all of the ideas keep colliding into one another until none of them are recognizable enough to pull out intact to express clearly. When I’m not sitting down with my laptop, I can think of many stories that I want to tell. I can even imagine the titles of the stories, the pseudonyms for my characters (because I intend to describe realities), and the phrasing that I wish to use. So the real conflict for me, the wannabe keyboard warrior, is to extract one story from the tangle in my mind.

So maybe I can use this post to answer the question that you, my readers (all three of you?), may be wondering: Why am I moving to Thailand?

There are many reasons, actually, for my decision to leave America for a far-flung place. I’m bored. I want to live more cheaply. Our next leader, President (reader’s choice). But the real reason is because I really want something different for the next half of my life. Earlier, I described how I lived my life in the past to appease other people in my world. And I was unhappy with where I was ending up. Looking at some of my co-workers who are approaching retirement, I began to get depressed, thinking that in twenty-five or thirty years that hunched over old guy sitting on a stool in a grubby machine shop waiting for 4:30pm would be me. Hell, if that was all I had to look forward to, I might as well put a gun to my head and end it now. Sure, they get vacation time to go back to visit the old country, to go fishing or hunting, or take the wife to some unnamed resort. But that isn’t enough for me now.

When I separated from my wife of 24 years and moved into the city of Chicago, I made a few discoveries. First of all, I found that I loved living in an urban setting. There are so many things to do and it’s easy to get to them if you don’t have to trek in from the suburbs. I also find great independent cafes and restaurants to choose from. Fast food is mostly a distant memory. And just the sense of excitement is so different from the slow death feeling of the collar towns.

The most significant element of my change came about quite by chance. The apartment that I was to lease was not going to be ready until a few weeks after my intended departure. So, needing to find someplace short-term, I turned to Google to search for room rentals and interim places to stay. Many options were listed, including one called, “Couchsurfing”. (If I ever get much of an audience, many of you will be nodding your heads at this point, because you know…) (And yes, you best learn that I love my parenthetical asides.) Very briefly for those uninitiated, couchsurfing is intended to provide a free place for a traveler to crash for a couple of days or so when visiting another city. In exchange, the guest (or “surfer”) tacitly agrees to provide something of a cultural exchange with the host, perhaps cooking an authentic dish from their country or region, while the host may provide information about the city or perhaps a tour of less iconic gems that the brochures don’t mention.

I realized that this was not what I needed at the time, as I was going to be staying for up to a month, with what belongings I could fit into my car. But I found the concept intriguing, so I bookmarked it. After I moved into my new place, furnished it with some items on which to sit and sleep, stocked my kitchen, and adopted Charlie (cat/roommate/spider exterminator), I revisited the Couchsurfing website. I liked the idea of hosting people and sharing information, experiences, and food. So I created a profile and actively began to search for travelers who may wish to stay with me. If I began here to tell the stories of the individuals who have lodged at my apartment, we would be here forever, because there are so many that I would have to include. So I’ll simply give an overview this time.

I have hosted well over 150 individuals from six continents in the past three years. Each and every one of them has brought me a new perspective of their homeland. I found myself wanting to go see for myself the places they described to me. Two summers ago, I had decided to take my two weeks of vacation all at once and go see my new friends in Europe. That was until other people began to tell me that it’s impossible to see Europe in two weeks. At best, exploring three cities would be achievable. And I found this intimidating. So, turning tail and running, I decided to travel domestically, choosing destinations within America’s borders to which I had never been. I bought tickets to San Francisco and Boston. And subsequently to Toronto, because I had met a girl from there who said I should visit. (More on that another time) I had an amazing time traveling alone for the first time in my life. Toronto was gorgeous. San Francisco was a fantastic experience. I never made it to Boston, changing my ticket instead to Orange County in southern California. (Again, because I had met a girl…)

So my problem was that I could not travel like I wished to with limited vacation time from work, nor could I afford to quit my job to be gone for a couple of months at a time. For me to really get to explore geographical locations and cultures, I would simply have to move to those areas and find a way to support myself. Enter Emmy. Emmy requested to stay with me for a few days in Chicago while looking for a place to live when she would start working for a school that trained and certified prospective instructors for the purpose of teaching English as a second language. She had just returned to the States from her own stint as a teacher in Vietnam. I was intrigued. Would it be possible for me to use my lifelong knowledge of my mother tongue coupled with my love for helping other people to actually make a living abroad? Emmy had done it, and said she would be happy to point me in the right direction so that I, too, could do what she had done. Since meeting Emmy, I have inexplicably found myself in the company of several other people who have used this route to travel the world. It’s almost as if the Universe is gently, but forcibly pushing me in this direction. This is what I am meant to do. This past month has convinced me of that. In serendipitous fashion, I found a young woman from Boston looking for a place to stay when she moved to Chicago. She was coming the week after I would finally visit Boston. She was coming the weekend that my old roommate was moving out to go to Portugal. And she had just returned from teaching English in Japan. Go figure. If I hadn’t yet gotten the message, I must be ultra-thickheaded.

Meanwhile, I had taken my first overseas trip as an adult in May, heading to Singapore, where I have friends. Then to Thailand, where I knew no one. And to Vietnam, where my friend lives in Ho Chi Minh City, and where my girlfriend grew up.  And even though I knew not a soul in Thailand, I fell in love with the country and its people during the week that I was there. So I made a decision to move there when my lease ends this December. My plan is to get to Chaing Mai in the northern part of the country, take my teaching certification course there, because the tuition is half what it costs in Chicago for the same program. And then I will find an open position somewhere in Thailand. I intend to immerse myself in the culture instead of simply hanging out with the expat community. When school is not in session, I expect to travel to other places in southeast Asia, backpacking and couchsurfing or staying in hostels as much as possible. Perhaps I’ll learn other skills while I’m there. And when I’ve seen as much of the region as I feel necessary, I may move on to India, or the Middle East. Africa. Europe. South and Central America. I want to see it all, experience it all, taste it all. Why? Because I canBecause of the inspiration that I have received from people like Lin, Renata, Agape, Ramona, Thao, Marsella, Nick, Emmy, Julia, Wendi and so many more. I thank you all. I now have a future that I want to embrace.

Ghost Bike

October 1, 2016

Chicago, Illinois

 It’s been another very eventful weekend here. My last five weekends have been filled with adventure and experiences that will make stories of their own. But one thing that I wanted to write about this weekend happened Friday evening.
 On the last Friday of each month in Chicago, there is an organized bike ride titled, “Critical Mass”. The purpose of the ride that begins at Daley Plaza inside the Loop is to bring awareness to the fact that our streets are shared by thousands of bicyclists riding alongside cars, trucks, and buses in traffic. Chicago has been heralded as one of the most bike-friendly cities in America.

We have a very popular bicycle-sharing program. There are many new dedicated bicycle lanes appearing on our streets. Each year, several different planned and organized rides take place throughout the city. Yet, all too often, we receive the news that another bicyclist has died in a collision with an automobile.

 I enjoy riding with the Critical Mass group, because many times the ride takes us through neighborhoods that I am unfamiliar with. Because of the unhurried pace, I get a chance to view the architecture, smell the wonderful ethnic or artisan foods being prepared in the local cafes and restaurants, see the amazed looks on the people who live in the homes as a horde of cyclists roll through their streets yelling, “Happy Friday!” to them. I’ve engaged in many enlightening conversations as I pedal alongside fellow riders.
This particular Friday, we had been riding perhaps an hour, and the sun was setting on an already overcast day. We were heading west on Addison street when traffic began to slow, the buses and cars ahead of us were not moving as we made our way around them.
I didn’t know what was going on up ahead until I saw all of the other riders stopped and standing by their bikes at the corner of Addison and Damen. Then, I remembered that we were stopping to witness a “Ghost Bike” installation.
Whenever a bicyclist is killed in an accident on the streets of Chicago, a bicycle, painted completely white, will be locked to a signpost or a streetlight at the spot where the fatality occurred. A simple sign hanging from the bike will state the name, age, and date of death of the rider. It serves as a reminder that we all have to be cognizant that cyclists are vulnerable, and both riders and drivers need to be on the lookout for each other.
A young woman, 23 years of age, died at the intersection of Damen and Addison last Monday, struck by a truck whose driver did not see her in the bicycle lane. I don’t know her name, and it’s not even important for this story. What is important is that she left behind a family who loved her. I saw them openly weeping as the dedication took place. In front of them was a white-painted bicycle chained to a lamppost- a memorial to their daughter, sister, girlfriend.
The fact that we could not really hear what the speakers were saying due to a malfunctioning megaphone just made the scene all the more poignant. The police were there making sure that one lane of traffic was able to get through the intersection, and I watched as the faces of those riding on the CTA buses turned from irritation at the delay to confusion and then to a mournful understanding as they began to recognize what they were seeing.
After a period of time, we began to quietly leave to complete the ride. It was different now. Somber. No more shouts of “Happy Friday” to the pedestrians or the drivers who had their windows down. It was more a ride of contemplative reflection. The reason that the deceased girl’s name is not important to this story is because that could have been any one of us. The next ghost bike could have our name on it.