Thursday, December 19, 2013

John Denver Christmas

Gary, 29,  (that was me) was running a roadside diner called the Candle Glow, out on the edge of Watertown, Wisconsin. 1979.  I  had started the business in August, and as expected with a new business, it didn't do too well at first.  The food was great, according to the customers, but I guess they just didn't eat enough, because by November I had run out of money, and in December I was really getting desperate.

Lily (not her name) worked for me, as waitress and kitchen help. We were about the same age, and she could find something to make you laugh in just about any situation.  I was in love with her, but that wasn't really going anywhere.  It was almost Christmas time, the Friday before Christmas, and hardly anybody had come that night for a fish fry. Lily's younger sister Karen (not her name) stopped by, just to keep us company. Karen got bored, and pitched in to help us clean up. Karen was the opposite of Lily, the same sense of humor but in such a deadpan and soft-spoken way that escaped you if you weren't listening closely.

"Hey, let's all go to the Out-A-Towner after you're closed,"  Karen suggested.  We thought it sounded like a good plan.  It sure beat not waiting on customers that weren't there.  Then, the door opened, and Lily's parents came in with her brother, Mike (not his name).  Watertown isn't that big.  We all sat around drinking coffee, and talking about Christmas shopping.  Eventually the parents wanted to leave.  Mike wanted to ride along with his sister, Karen.

After the parents had gone, Karen sat down at the counter, staring straight ahead at nobody.  "Change of plans. Mikey's not old enough to go out drinking."   Mike felt bad for screwing up the plans, suggested maybe they could drop him off at home on the way out.  "My place," Karen said "We could all have some Christmas Cheer."   Mike loved that idea, because at his sister's house, he could get some Cheer, too.

We closed up the diner and all drove over to Karen's place, a part of Sixth street that I'd never been to. Upper floor of an old house -- had to play with the lock to get the door to open.   Karen wouldn't let us turn on the lights, because the apartment was a mess.  She lit a candle, and we went to her living room, where she lit other candles. We could see some Christmas decorations, and a small artificial tree. She plugged in the tree lights. In the soft glow, I still couldn't see the walls or extent of the apartment.  A sixties-era phonograph.  Karen picked out a record, and put it on.  "You've all got to hear this".  The music started, the sound was warm and fuzzy, worn from much use.  "Yeah, it's John  Denver. But listen. Don't say anything until you hear it". Familiar, and unfamiliar Christmas-themed tunes, in John Denver's distinctive stentorian twang.   There weren't enough chairs.  Mike and I sat on milk crates. Nobody spoke much.  Karen brought us all some wine. It was warm in the room, all of us huddled in the soft glow of candles and Christmas tree. And John Denver singing "Silver Bells".

"This one I just love - it's real."  We listened as John sang "Please, Daddy Don't Get Drunk This  Christmas. I don't want to see Momma cry".   "He sings it so cheery, but it's so sad". Karen once explained to us what was real.  Working at a job, hanging around in dark bars, and such, that was NOT real.  True reality is after spending a night out celebrating, stepping into the harsh antiseptic fluorescent glare of a George Webb restaurant (Milwaukee chain of diners) and having coffee and chili. That's reality spelled right out for you.

We talked a little about our plans, Lily looking forward to another semester at college, Karen changing to a new job, I was concerned about staying in business at the diner, trying to meet all the expenses and satisfy all the demands of a business, the crazy landlady, the grim creditors, and the inadequate customer traffic.

It was one of the most memorable Christmas memories of my life.

Within the next year, I went out of business.  Lily graduated from college and moved away. Mike eventually got old enough to have his own car and social life. And Karen moved off to LaCrosse, Wisconsin.  But that night, as the Earth was spinning through a now-distant corner of the universe, we were all together, and feeling better just for being together.  God Bless Us, Every One!

Thanks for listening and contributing. I'd love to hear from you.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

There Are Still A Few Out There

The life of an office temp can sometimes include "down time" - those blessed little un-paid vacations that allow you to do what you've been thinking of for weeks.  You look out the window of the bus, your World Headquarters passing into the distance, and think "Oh, man I haven't washed those windows for over a month.  Wish I had the time for that".  

The assignment ends, and suddenly you have the time.  Working frantically to "Git 'er done" before the phone rings again, "Hi, it's Emily with your next assignment!"  So I was painting, spackling, carrying dropcloths and buckets across the street.  Mid-block. (Don't judge me - It is my God-given right to jay-walk between my properties on my street.  I don't need the government's interference with my street-crossing - I know that the big things on wheels should be avoided, or I begin life as a Street Pizza). 

Looking across the street, I saw the Number 15 bus, my home away from home.  The bus was pulling to a stop across the street.  I looked in the driver's window - it was Al's bus.  And I realized - that bus has stopped for me.  Al thought I was running late catching the bus, and he had stopped to let me on.  Realizing what had just happened, I shook my head and waved him on.  Al grinned and zoomed off toward downtown to take the less fortunate to work.

Did you think that such people as Al still walked the earth?  Al isn't just collecting a paycheck from the transit authority,  Al is taking people where they want to go.  It's his job, and he's proud of the way he does it.  God bless such people.  

Thanks for listening and contributing. I'd love to hear from you.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Never Can Say "Good Buy"

....being part of Gary's perpetual love/hate rant with the Idiot Box.
Winter - It's Real

Television stations are costly to run.  Equipment, staff, licensing. They are not run by philanthropists trying to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony.  They are run by businessmen who are trying to make a profit by selling more than they buy.  This is how businesses run.  The only thing that brings money into a television statement is advertising revenue. Car salesmen, prescription drug peddlers, insurance salesmen, crooked lawyers, fast food chains, and the manufacturers of Ginzu Knives all vie for air time to promote the products they bring into this world.  

On the other hand, once the hucksters have all paid their invoices, there is, in between the advertising, Program Content.  You want to teach the world to sing?  Here's the Sing-Off, the American Idol, the Voice, and a host of others. You want to eat?  They've got competitions for that, too - Chef Ramsey will curse at simple-minded would-be chefs, a panel of judges will taste food, and spit it out on the table if they don't like it, and on and on.  There are competitions for everything.

Home improvement is a contest.  Dancing is a contest.  Even marriage is a contest on TV. And, now for the holidays, even the Little Christmas Angel in the front yard is part of a competition - a Light Fight, to be exact.  Fa la #$%# LA!

What was my point - oh yes - the third element.  The most dependable and free money-maker that a station manager can tap into - the Weather!  Weather is free, it's everywhere, and the weather that sells the most Priusssses is the scary weather.  All weather can be scary with the right writeup.  Winter in the Midwest gives us an extra bonanza - Snow and Cold.  What a surprise, Winter is cold, and precipitation in Winter falls down in frozen flakes.  With the aid of Triple Doppler graphics, the terrible Monster Storm occurs roughly every two weeks.  If the audience can only be distracted from looking out their windows and thinking for themselves.  The Monster Storms - the Deadly Cold Blast - has people huddled in their hovels, cowering in fear.

I see a conflict, though.  If people are huddled in their houses, afraid to face the deadly elements outside their door, how can they possibly go out and shop for all the lovely products that the advertisers - the sole providers of TV station income - how can they afford continue to advertise, when television stations are constantly warning people to stay home?

"Come to Boston Store" sounds less appealing when the crawl at the bottom of the screen is warning that anyone who ventures outside will be annihilated - crushed in the jaws of the Monster Storm, which is always about to arrive?  Which should we take seriously?  The appeal of the merchant's marketplace, or the staged warnings of the weather "experts"?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Anti-Social Networking

I'm just putting off going outside in zero-degree weather to fool with the Snow Blower.  I'm trying to get the lovely red thing to start - sometimes it's less work to just shovel everything by hand....

I turn you over to Little Fatso - the guardian of my online accounts. She may look fluffy, but she could chew your face off if she doesn't like you. Steal my identity, she will rip out your soul!

Facebook is so ubiquitous, and so vast. No matter what you want to write about, there's a whole group of people with similar interests who are willing to exchange posts with you.  

But, to save  some time, how about some "compartmentalized" Facebook sites, to appeal to those who haven't the time to seek out kindred spirits using search engines.  Here are some of the things I'm proposing, based on what I've seen.

  • Two-Face Book - For those who enjoy talking about people behind their backs.
  • About-Face Book - For someone who doesn't really have an opinion, but likes to be popular by saying what others will approve of.
  • Outta-My-Face Book - For someone who really doesn't like social networking, and just wants to be left alone.
  • What's-His-Face Book - Can't remember someone's name - this site is for you!
  • Poker-Face Book - Like to gather opinions without expressing any of your own? Here ya go - this site is for you!!
  • Blue-In-The-Face Book - For someone who repeats and repeats advice nobody listens to anyway
  • In-Your Face Book - Social networking - it's not who you know, or what you know, it's just being seen that's important. 
  • Shut-Your-Face Book - Pontificating without opposition - this is the Talk Radio of Social Networking. No comments allowed.
So, time to get back to below-zero weather and hands soaked in WD-40.  Start, you B$#-=%!

Thanks for listening and contributing. I'd love to hear from you.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013


A rutabaga is a relative to the turnip. It's quite tasty, eaten raw. Cooked as a vegetable it is very pungent. In a vegetable-based soup, it is almost essential.   

The rutabaga is much denser and much larger than the average turnip. The one in the picture is about 4 inches diameter.  Slice it any way you want - the inside is uniform, with no grain or any other distinguishing characteristics.  Chop a rutabaga into cubes, and the cubes from the center will be exactly the same color, texture, and flavor as the cubes from near the surface. There is nothing going on inside a rutabaga. You start digging into a rutabaga, and there are no surprises, no core, no pit, nothing - it's rutabaga all the way down.

This homogeneous property - the dense uniformity, no matter how deep you go - doesn't that remind you of the look you get when you ask for something at Home Depot? Or Wal-Mart, or Best Buy, for that matter.  The blank, purely stupid look. That look that will not change no matter what question you ask. When you gaze into the blank eyes of a rutabaga, you are not going to get an answer, no matter what question you ask.  "I'm looking for Wire Nuts" - "You want wire?"  "No, Wire Nuts"   "Oh, nuts and bolts are over in the hardware section  - ask in Aisle 12. Is there anything else I can help you with?"   And then, back to texting on his cellphone.   Completely uniformly blank and stupid. Rutabaga.  I don't see how some kids can maintain such perfectly uniform stupidity and continue to live.

This blank powerful look is so powerful, that it can be felt over the phone.  Give us a ring at our call center.  

Thanks for listening and contributing. I'd love to hear from you.

Monday, December 2, 2013

what it's like

Note: Advent theme. This post was begun last spring, and finished today.

The day had arrived - Real Milwaukee was going to be doing a live broadcast from Alana Women's Apparel, my wife's store. A local news show, Real Milwaukee, chooses events and businesses that are "going on" in Milwaukee, and shares them with the viewers. We had known about the upcoming visit for a few weeks, we had arranged for some of the fashion models Joyce works with to be at the store to show off the merchandise.  I made some coffee for the models and the TV crew.  The lights were all on, the building all heated up.  We even turned on the hot water heater in the bathroom for this momentous occasion.

And, early morning, Tony and the crew arrived, the camera truck got its wireless signal, after some minor conflict with the power lines. All was ready, three minutes to show time.

But I had to get on the bus to go to work.  I work through an agency, and don't want to compromise the agency's  reputation, or mine, by excusing myself for non-essential reasons when they are counting on me.  So, I felt compelled to leave.  There was no further need for me; my job of preparation had fallen into place flawlessly. But it was a strange feeling, to have put so much time into a project, and then not be able to witness the fruition.

Taking off from the bus stop, minutes later, the bus passed the store again.  By then, the broadcast was in progress. Models were parading the clothes, Tony was holding the microphone to capture one of Joyce's observations. They were all laughing and having a good time with the viewers.  But then the bus continued on its way and I saw the store fading past my window into the distance, on to Downtown, and the job.   

So, that's what it must be like.  The things you've worked on will be taking place, as you built and organized them. If you've done a good job, there will be laughter and enjoyment instead of stress and confusion. You'll be there in spirit, thanks to the efforts you've put in. But you yourself will only be able to view the performance fading into the distance.  Without you.

Thanks for listening and contributing. I'd love to hear from you.