Category Archives: blather

Things I’ve learned

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CJ with cropping tool

Image by carljohnson via Flickr

I started working odd jobs when I was about 13, had my first real job at 17, worked all the way through college (which, by the way, was a stupid idea), and, other than one summer after graduate school when I only had temp work, never had a moment’s break between jobs since 1977. I always said I needed a break, I just didn’t know the economy would deliver me such a resounding break. After a startup I joined lost its financing, and with employment opportunities in my area extraordinarily slim, I got my break. There’s been consulting work, but there’s also been a lot of free time, time to do things I wouldn’t have otherwise gotten to do. Now, after a break of a few years, I’m going back to regular fulltime work, and glad to be doing it, but I’ve definitely learned some things about myself.

One is that I really don’t need to work. The son of a truck driver, from a working class family, I had the work ethic drilled into me. But you know what? Going to a job every day is not necessarily rewarding in and of itself, and there is plenty to do when you’re not going to an office or jobsite. I got to write, to do some research projects, to improve some skills. I got to spend serious time with my daughters every day when they got home from school. I was god’s gift to the high school bake sale. And I got to do a lot of driving to appointments and helping with a family move.

Another thing I learned is that I’m going to be about the athlete that I am. (Though I think I knew that anyway). I’m not going to get out every day, and I’m not going to get out in every kind of weather. Despite the fact that I could get out just about any time I wanted, and that I have never regretted a bike ride, I still only got out when things lined up, when the weather felt right (which doesn’t always mean sunny and warm), when my body felt right, and when I didn’t feel pressure to get back by a certain time. I learned that sometimes spokes break and leave you stranded. I learned that sometimes tires explode; that can be exciting.

I finally learned to cook decently. My knives are very, very sharp. A fair amount of vinyl was digitized, but I also figured out I’m not getting rid of the vinyl. I learned that there is no end to the amount of little projects around that house that I always wanted to get to that I still never quite finished — no end of pictures to scan, tools to repair, spaces to organize. It turns out they’re really not a priority.

I already knew that I had some amazing friends, and I’ll never be able to thank them enough for their support through these past few years.

And now, back to work.

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I need a reset button

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This morning’s recipe for disaster:

  • Just-cleared sink drain completely clogged again
  • Need to fill gas tank
  • Find out I’ve forgotten my wallet
  • Realize I have a flat tire
  • Tire gauge is not in the car
  • Spare tire gauge really doesn’t work with these wheels
  • Street I need to be on is closed.

Park & Shop

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park and shop board segment.jpgJust by chance, a post on another blog caught my eye a few weeks back and brought back memories long since forgotten of a simple board game that, when I was a child, seemed magical and inspiring.

It was a Milton Bradley game called Park & Shop. There were a couple of different versions, and the one I had came out sometime in the 1960s. The board was a decidedly un-modern (now) city, in which every shopping need could be met in a few nicely arranged city blocks. In a way, it was the simplest of games: You got a tiddlywink, a plastic car, and a plastic man. Put your tiddlywink on one of the homes on the board – that was now your home. Pull a card, which would tell you where you needed to go to shop: furs, shoe repair, drug store. Roll the dice and move your car along the street spaces, trying to reach your destination. Along the way, you might get a parking ticket, which would give you another destination: “Pick up a sack of chicken feed while you have the car. Drive to hay, grain and feed.”

Once you got to your destination, you would put your plastic man in the store and roll the dice for what you had to pay. I don’t remember how many destinations you had to get to, or how you won in the end, and it never really mattered. The fun of the play was that it was amazingly like real life at the time, like a fun little trip around the city with Mom. I played this game for, oh, a million hours when I was a kid. Sometimes with my mom, sometimes with my aunt, sometimes even with other kids.

And it was a city that had everything, but cities did back then. There was a hay, grain and feed and a lumber yard, an auto dealer, a coal yard. There was a bowling alley, a newspaper and, that most downtown of downtown stores, the nut shop. There was a linoleum and wallpaper shop, a smoke shop, a 5&10, and a fish market. This city had everything, all just blocks from your home. There were, of course, multiples of some things, like diners and gas stations, which could affect how far you had to travel to meet your next objective. And for every store on the board, I could picture a real store in my mind. I knew the hardware store, the luggage store, the poultry shop. I knew the smell of the smoke shop from the street, the bare bulbs strung along the auto dealer’s lot, the sound of the drug store lunch counter. Playing the game was just like a trip downtown.

park and shop board segment3.jpgCoolest of all, to my child’s mind, were the stores with two entrances. Unthinkable in the big box era, it was much more common then for a store to have a back entrance which often opened onto a side street or alley. (Our A&P had four or five registers at the front door, and two more by the back door – though the back registers didn’t have grinders for the 8 O’Clock Coffee.) Inexplicably, there always seemed to be something special, perhaps familiar, about using the back entrance – it seemed to say, “We come here all the time.” And this board captured that, with a stores that could be entered from different streets. And, if it helped you in the game, you could go out the other entrance, skipping several spaces.  To me, this seemed unspeakably real.
 
Props to Anne Chudobiak for this post that jogged my memory and expressed a similar love of the game, and to Board Game Geek for filling in the blanks.

What set this all off? These enchanting paintings of board game boxes by Tim Liddy. Click on “Present Work” to set off all kinds of memories.

Certainly doesn’t

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Certainly Cures Cancer 1895.png

Oh, how we used to laugh at the generations that came before us, falling for these ridiculous patent medicines and cure-alls. How could they have been so simple? Who would believe that going to Dr. Vines for his Vegetable Concoction would be the way to treat cancer?

Well, our forebears should be laughing at us, because we have vastly increased scientific knowledge, incredible medicines, and a couple of centuries of know-better, and yet now is the Golden Age of Charlatanism. Thousands of people are choosing to endanger their children and society because a blond bimbo believes that vaccines cause autism. People who know absolutely nothing of how many people used to die from food poisoning are characterizing government as jackbooted thuggery because it wants to ensure that milk is pasteurized. People are at once convinced that pesticides cause every cancer under the sun and that DDT should be brought back to deal with bedbugs.

When I was growing up in the Space Age, science and knowledge were revered. We believed in advancing knowledge using the scientific method, and improving our world as a result. Now, through a bizarre combination of “question authority” (reinterpreted as “always doubt authority”), religion-based blinders and a popular and political culture that is proud of idiocy, we are turning progress on its head, rejecting solutions our somewhat more sane forebears would have killed for, and believing that the desire and belief of the individual now completely overrides the needs of society. I really can’t figure out how we got from there to here, how we have embraced both an absolute lack of personal responsibility, where someone else must be at fault for everything that happens to us, and an absolute right to having each personal opinion indulged. But I do know that here — a place where people think that it’s their own personal choice to have or not have diphtheria or mumps or measles, and if we have a few deadly outbreaks, what’s the big deal? — is not a place I want to be.

Laugh if you will at the folks of days gone by who might have tried Dr. Vines’s C.C.C elixir — but they didn’t have any better options. We do. Let’s stop choosing to be stupid.

Still having school nightmares

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I am half a century old. It is time to stop having school anxiety nightmares. Last night’s was a doozy – forced to go back to school, I was faced with a two-hour essay exam. In my backpack were dozens of pads, each one completely filled with writing, and I had nothing to write my essay on. The teacher had no more paper. I started freaking out. I left to wander the halls, hoping to pop my head into a room and get some paper from a teacher, out of a printer, anything. No one could help, no printers could be found. One offered me 3×5 cards, which were all individually wrapped in plastic. The front office secretary assumed I was there for detention and curtly told me to come back at 3:45. She wouldn’t listen to my question, just kept repeating the time to be there. In the hall in front of the office were displays with dozens of student projects, all handwritten reports in pads and notebooks. I started rifling through them, hoping to find some blank pages to remove. Not a one. Every pad was filled. Now I had wasted half an hour out of the 2 hour exam and didn’t see how I could possibly finish the exam. Eventually I found what seemed like the social services office, where there was some kind of student-parent drama going on but a very helpful counselor offered me some of their paper. Now I had to worry about whether I could find my way back to the classroom in this unfamiliar school.

So I was glad when I woke up to the beginnings of the blizzard. Told Hannah my dream, and she was surprised that I still had school anxiety dreams (seems like it never stops), and helpfully suggested I look for printers. “I tried that! There were no printers to be found!”

Mailbag

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It’s just all spam, all the time, isn’t it? Even the real mail, it’s just useless. Every day the mailman brings us several pounds of junk from colleges we’ve never heard of, have no intention of even looking at, and have never responded to after 356 previous mailings. They can just cut it out, but they don’t. (Here’s a clue: with our daughter’s grades and scores, she will not be considering any school that is pretending to be another school. Hear that, Cornell of Iowa?)

And in the email pile? Excellent news! My free iPad has shipped! Oh, but bad news! My Bank of Montreal account has been locked! I have my pick of inheritances or bequeathments from around the world, but I’m not sure I can access them with this Bank of Montreal problem nagging me.

(Oddly, spam seems to have given up on improving my penis. I’m not sure how to take that).

Snow days

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I remember all those snow days I spent playing Rock Band with my father. Oh, wait, that’ll be my kids. I couldn’t get my father to play Pong. And he would never have signed on as the bass player for our band, Leotard SoufflĂ©. We’ve been tucked up inside instead of out sledding or enjoying the wintry mess, primarily because it has been such a mess. Haven’t wanted to drive anywhere; it was mid-day yesterday before our hill was even plowed. Took a walk around the lake but not on it yesterday. Only a delay today, so it looks like Leotard SoufflĂ© will not be on tour.