Thursday, May 29, 2014

Stop it! I Can't Afford Any More Savings!

I decided that I would be doing my weekly shopping at Pick n Save this last weekend, because of the low advertised price on pork ribs.  Call me sentimental, but somehow, it just doesn't seem moral to be buying pork ribs at Piggly Wiggly.

My wife suggested "Before you go, why don't you look at those online coupons to see if there's anything?  Oh sure, you can do everything on the Internet. Our neighbor buys his groceries from Pea Pod.  Just click click click, and the next thing you know, a green truck is making ruts in the back alley and leaving soggy cardboard cartons outside the door in the rain... another story.

But I tried the on-line coupon section of Pick n Save.  It's called "E-Clips". Turned up about $6.00 worth of coupons for things I was going to buy anyway; things on the list.  Just click the little "E-Clips" box, and the virtual coupon is invisibly added to your Player's Card, and pops out at the checkout counter, right in the checkout lady's surprised face.  Great thing, this technology.

Arriving at the store at about 8:30 am, I went over to the Crest Toothpaste, knowing I would get my 75 cents off when the time came to pay for it.  To my dismay, I found that the price of the toothpaste had been marked up $1.25 more than it had been two weeks ago. This not only wiped out my 75 cents savings, and cost me more, but think of the poor starving children in Korea who don't have Pick'n'Save cards - they would be paying full price which has been artificially marked up to anticipate the coupon.   Same deal at the Old Spice shower soap - It was marked up a dollar, but the invisible coupon would protect me from that, leaving me paying the same high regular price.  Well, l had to have the soap, just trust me on that, so I bit the bullet. But, I found out when I got home and looked at my register tape that I had not even received the shower soap discount because the coupon offer was for two packages, and I had only bought one.  Why didn't my little invisible coupon speak up, in its squeely little coupon voice, that I had to buy two? But that would have been weird, come to think of it, a little voice in my pocket, people just wouldn't understand... So, I paid the artificially marked up FULL PRICE. (I expected to be paying $2.50 after coupon, and instead I paid $4.29.) About halfway through shopping, I gave up on seeking out the "e-clips" list, because the Markup Guy had already been to all the coupon items to mark them up.  So, when it comes to "E-Clips", turns out I was the only one getting e-clipped.

Thanks to for photo
And now the final indignity - Again with the Miracle Whip.  They're always manipulating the Miracle Whip. It should be listed on the commodities exchange. As we all know, Miracle Whip is packed in "short quarts", that is, two ounces short of a quart.  That's Kraft's fault, and I don't hold Pick n Save responsible for that.  But, how can Pick'n'Save justify a "regular price" of $4.99?  Who pays $4.99 for a (short) quart of Miracle Whip? Surely, not a Piggly Wiggly shopper! Luckily, this item was on sale, no coupon needed,  so I was able to get it for $2.98, what it's really worth. But, according to the register tape - a "Total Savings of $2.01"!  Spare me, please! Why not mark it up to ten bucks, before marking it down?  They could have taken credit for even more savings!

So, "blind, but now I see",  I had a higher than average grocery bill, although I was treated to total "savings" of $50.14.  As Miss Daisy said to Morgan Freeman:  "Take me to the Piggly Wiggly."

Monday, May 26, 2014

Sleep Soldier Boy

Growing up in small-town Wisconsin, the beginning of summer was by the Memorial Day Parade, staged by the various veteran's groups (VFW, Amvets, American Legion . . . ). Traffic on Main Street would be blocked, and we would gather quietly on the Main Street Bridge. There was a ceremony conducted by the veterans, and always began with the pledge "as long as two comrades remain...".  At the time, we even had World War I veterans marching in the parade, and now, if the tradition has continued, there are many more veterans.  Many more.

At the end of the remarks by whatever dignitaries were present, a song was sung in a brittle tenor voice "Sleep Soldier Boy Sleep On..."  It was touching because I could imagine that he actually knew the Soldier Boy personally, either a son or a buddy.  After the song, a floral wreath would be tossed off the bridge to float down the river, as the color guard gave a 21-gun salute. The pigeons who lived below the bridge would all fly out around the wreath as it headed down the river. 

"Your journey is ended; your work here is done. Sleep soldier boy and rest. "

Here's a video from another small town's observance (unknown town) featuring the song by a much younger vocalist. Thanks to "cdb913"

To the soldiers who believed that there is still something worth fighting and dying for in this world -- Thank you.

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Unknown Soldier's Grave

I used to play this song on an old phonograph in my grandfather's basement. It's a sentimental song from the 1920s, sung by Vernon Dalhart. I think of it around Memorial Day.

Thanks to 12345678903991 for the video.

There is no picture on this video, but the sound is very authentic.

Vernon Dalhart

There is a spot so sacred, covered over with flowers and wreaths.
Beneath a stone, there sleeps alone a boy who no more breathes.
He gave his life for freedom amid the battle's strife,
But flowers and praise can never raise this soldier back to life.

Somebody's boy is sleeping in the Unknown Soldier's grave.
Some mother's boy, her pride and joy, marched away both strong and brave.
There in the raging battle, his life he could not save,
And now far away he sleeps today in the Unknown Soldier's grave.

Oh, mother dear, so tender, do not shed a single tear.
Our nation's love and gratitude are his each day and year.
There is no death in Heaven, no thought of tears and pain.
No storm and strife can come in life where the Great Commander reigns.

Somebody's boy is sleeping in the Unknown Soldier's grave,
Some mother's son whose work is done, sleeping where old glory waves.
Maybe he's yours, and maybe mine. He'd want us to be brave.
He earned his rest and sleeps with the blest in the Unknown Soldier's grave.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Pit is Opened

Then the fifth angel sounded: And I saw a star fallen from heaven to the earth. To him was given the key to the bottomless pit. And he opened the bottomless pit, and smoke arose out of the pit like the smoke of a great furnace. So the sun and the air were darkened because of the smoke of the pit.
The Pit was re-opened last week.  The 8 ft x 10 ft. chasm that totalled at least one car last winter.  The DPW machines came and tore it open again.

One calm below-zero night last January The Night Watchman noticed a natural gas smell in the road, and after a night of jackhammers and flashing yellow lights, there was left the gaping 8X10 ft chasm, covered by a few pieces of plywood, and surrounded by barricade flashers and barrels.

Of course, in our neighborhood, arrival of road barrels signals the beginning of a round of Bar-Time Bowling.  The sight of an upright barricade, especially with a flashing yellow light on top, stirs up the primal machismo in a homeward-bound bar-room patron.  By morning all the barricades are down.   Only the plywood remained.

Plywood is no match for the gravity we have here in Milwaukee. You ever notice that traffic bridges are not made out of spans of 3/4 CDX plywood? There's a reason for that.

While waiting at the bus stop, I saw a car going across the unprotected plywood.  The plywood popped down into the hole, and the car, deprived forever after of the use of both right wheels, barely coasted into Steve's parking lot; a plaintive little whistling sound came from one of the deflating tires, and later in the day, the car was pronounced TOTALLED and hauled away to the bone yard.  Shortly after this incident, the hole was stopped with asphalt, and there was once again peace in the valley.

But then came the pink paints of spring, as it was written on the road, so shall it be. Two days later, the entire block was covered with an assortment of cones, barricades, and flashing barrels. In a dangerous-looking configuration of traffic, the pit was re-opened on one side of the road, taking out the parking lane, bicycle lane and the southbound lane.  The remainder of the road had the southbound traffic barely 18 inches away from the northbound traffic, separated by skinny traffic cones, was the southbound lane, which used to be the southbound parking and bicycle lane.  This close proximity did not promote camaraderie among the neighbors, who still insisted on maintaining their accustomed 30 mph speed limit in both directions.

So where did the bicyclists go?  Through the stop signs, like they always do.

And the pedestrians accustomed to starting their jay-walking waiting in the parking lane?  Well, I haven't seen Dennis for a few days, hope he's all right.

So, one would think that such a precarious traffic arrangement would inspire drivers to caution.  They were inspired all right - IT'S TIME FOR SATURDAY NIGHT - BAR-TIME BOWLING - EXXTREME VERSION!  Sunday morning, the street looked as though there had been a massive aerial drop of traffic barrels.  Knocked-over barrels surrounded the Pit, affording some protection to the sober. The barrels on the ends of the block were knocked over, the barricades surrounding the Pit were flattened, and the median cones were mostly missing, or lying on their side.  One cone came loose from its foot, and seemed to point the traffic into various head-on collision patterns, depending on how the wind blew. Reminiscence of the Spielberg picture, Gremlins.

So, now, the pit is once again closed, but the barrels remain - for the entertainment of bar patrons, I presume.

And that's how we do it in Milwaukee.

Monday, May 19, 2014

opere angelorum

They say, be careful what you ask for. If you ask a question of the cosmos, sometimes the angels whisper their reply softly with the gentle affirmative caress of a late-afternoon breeze. "Yes, my child".  But, there are other times.  The angels aren't always listening to Enya records.  Sometimes, they need to be heard more clearly.  Sometimes they all have to get together stomping their feet and whacking their tambourines, and shouting  "HELL, YES, DUDE!"

In a post last week,  I was commenting on how my temporary job status had deteriorated.  I received an insulting job offer, for less money, fewer hours, and more inconvenient hours than anything I had ever received from the temp agency.  I drew the line, and said I would not accept this step downward, but then I started questioning my actual value as a worker, and my self-esteem plunged.

So, the following morning I was rolled out of bed at quarter to six a.m. by the cheery ting-a-ling of my telephone.  It was Hank (not his name), my boss from the digital imaging assignment, the organization from which I had formerly received an impending full-time job offer.  Hank wanted me to fill in for some absences, and put in some time on a long-term project that is due at the end of the month.  I was so eager to return, that I arrived on-site one bus early, hit the coffee shop, and shot up the elevator.  There is so much joy in this job, in my cubicle on the 13th floor overlooking Lake Michigan

After an all-too-short day, I was standing at the bus stop, beside the Wells Building, waiting to go home.  A woman in a beige trench coat, mid-fifties, approached the corner, waiting for the same bus. She walked up to me, as if to speak, but then turned around abruptly, and stood next to the building a few steps down.  But then, she changed her mind, and came back up to me.  She said, "OK I have to tell you. Did you ever have a day that was so filled with joy that you just have to tell someone about it?".  Suppressing a grin, I said, cautiously, "I had one of those, once.".  "Only once?.... " But she saw I was kidding.  She proceeded to tell me how she once had a temp assignment with a company she just loved working for, but then had to leave due to a long-term medical issue.  Today, however, she received an assignment for the very same job, and it was for her a triumphal return to a blissful workplace experience.  We continued talking as the bus came and picked us up.  Her assignment may also develop into a full-time position for her at the same organization.  Sound familiar? 

How could this be? Why me? Why today? Very seldom does anybody walk up to someone at a bus stop, much less someone with a complete mirror image of an almost parallel life.

So, what more could possibly go right with this day?

Although I didn't know it until the following morning, when I checked my email, Excelsior has acquired another regular reader. As the (now) four of you know, a regular reader is one of the most powerful affirmations a great journalist such as myself can receive, that someone is out there listening. And she is a writer, with two published works, and a blog which I found to be a welcoming collection of escape into a new world of imagination. I plan to do lots of reading there.  Samantha Mozart is her name (follow link). While you're there, say "Hi!" to Moriarty. 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Job Offer

view of the Merchandise Mart in Chicago
from Union Station
I've always gone wherever the agency has sent me. Up until today.

My regular readers (and you three know who you are) know that I was turned loose on the world after my 30-some years of managing a contractor's office.  I finally ended up as an office temporary. I've had some glorious assignments, including a digital imaging gig in my own cubicle nest to a window on the 13th floor of a prestigious Downtown Milwaukee skyscraper. My last assignment lasted about 2 months, counting the part-weeks.  I was even put on overtime during the height of a massive secret project.  And before I left, the office manager informed me that The People In Chicago were considering me for a permanent position that will be opening early in summer.

Then, as often happens, the assignment ended, and I was once again leading the carefree life of the janitor/handyman in commercial rental properties that my wife and I own. This can get quite desperate, money-wise, but the next assignment always comes just in time.

Yesterday, I got a call from the agency.  "How would you like to work in the First Wisconsin building?" "Great - get me up in the clouds!" - 20-some stories taller than the 411 building.

"It's general office type work - I'm sure you can handle it, based on the good reviews from  your last assignment."  "Yes, yes, send me!"

:"Oh, by the way, it's part-time - seven hours a day" "Well, I suppose they'll insist on deducting a lunch too, so it would actually be six and a half hours a day, probably some Dickensian task-master that expects 8 hours' worth of work in 6 hours - I can do that!"

"And, it's second shift - 3 pm through 10 pm five days a week."  "Well, seeing as how it's such an inconvenient time of the day, must pay a lot more."

"Actually, it pays less than we've ever sent you out for"  "Time to weigh some pros and cons - I'll call you back and let you know."  My mind started reeling as I began to imagine myself as a second-shift worker.

With me on second shift, all activities in my Real Life would all be curtailed. This Thursday for example, my wife's store is staging a fashion show for a suburban event. She can't do it alone. And musical rehearsals -  two shows coming up, and the only time people can come to rehearse is evening hours.   Meeting with tenants for repair/maintenance issues.  And on and on. The "supper hour" is the main time when I see my wife, even when I'm working at home. Under the new hours I would see her rarely.  And the "part-time" aspect of the job, at a very low rate, would bring in less money than I'd ever made in a week. The only "part time" aspect about this job is the hours on the clock - going to/from work by bus, getting ready, coming home, will take the same amount of time out of a week that a full-time job would take.

So the question came down to this:  Would I give up Life as You Know It in exchange for making less money than the lowest-paying assignment I have ever worked, at an odd and inconvenient time of the day?

somewhere in Chicago - ever notice that
sometimes the pictures have nothing to do
with the story? 
How much could I put up with, without refusing work from the agency?  I'd never refused a job before - I'd like the agency to view me as versatile, hardworking, and dependable. Although the answer was obvious, it was still an agonizing decision.  At the end of The Day I Said "NO", I went to bed exhausted.

I hope this does not discourage the agency from offering me future assignments.  Nevertheless, deciding not to accept this assignment has, in its way, affirmed my self-esteem. My time has value, and I do not feel compelled to trade my life for ever-decreasing compensation.

Thank you for shopping at GAR*MART

Friday, May 9, 2014

Music in the Celestial Spectrum

This is beyond accordion music. The 21st Century Accordion Ensemble is not just your everyday stage full of flailing reed-squeezers. Their arrangements are written by virtuoso Bayan accordionist Stas Venglevski. The precision of the execution (under Stas's direction) is breathtaking.  And then to have Milwaukee's foremost chanteuse, Robin Pluer, join them onstage as a surprise guest - - well, let me tell you, the musical high point of the year, and I'm talking goosebumps and emotional clouding of the camera viewfinder.

All I can do is stand by and humbly whisper "Thanks".

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Vet Gets His Wings

It was a ripped-up morning. I'd just fought my way toward Office Max on 27th street, and when I got to the intersection, instead of 27th street, there is a mile-long bank of dirt and gravel next to a gaping trench.  Apparently, the city no longer welcomes people from east of 27th Street.  I finally found a breach in the embankment, and, feeling like I was in an ATV instead of a Mini-Van, I crawled through.

Office Max was empty except for staff  - what a surprise. While digging for my change, I found the elusive grocery list -  I couldn't seem to locate the blasted thing while I was at the Piggly Wiggly earlier.  Two items had been forgotten -  Salsa and Italian Sausages. 

So, since I was already through to The Other Side of 27th Street,  I navigated over to Pick'n'Save using access roads and alleys. The usually busy Saturday morning store was very, very quiet. Amazing what a difference a road makes.

No people, but; still a checkout line. Taking up about three carts' worth of space was a shopping cart made to look like a plastic automobile, with two children in it.  The children leaned out of the car's windows and waved.  "Hello!", OK so "hello" already, now shut up.  But they kept it up.  I was just about to go to another longer but more quiet line, when an older man in a motorcycle jacket with a huge US flag on the back got in front of me,  waving back to the kids. "Hello"   He kept returning their relentless salutes until their father finally shut them up, and moved ahead to bag his order.

When things quieted down, I noticed how loosely the jacket fit the old biker.  He had a scraggly once-blond beard, and, judging from the jacket, he must have weighed lots more at one time, in a burly beer-guzzlin' biker way.  He was apparently a regular, and talked to the cashier as she was checking out his purchases, chicken breasts and bread. As she was bagging his purchases, my salsa and Italian sausages drifted down the belt and stopped directly in front of him.

Amazed, he dropped mid-sentence, stopped talking to the cashier.  With a tone of amazement he turned to us both, and exclaimed "Whoa! All the Good Stuff!.  I could eat a whole jar of this salsa and nothing else!  Doctor at the VA says I can't have that any more.  Sausages, too.  No pork chops, no gravy, nothing spicy, everything has to taste the same."

"Well, what can you eat?" asked the cashier?

Turning around with his bag, the flag on his jacket waving so much more freely than it once had on his frame. "Well, I'm sprouting feathers, with all the chicken I gotta eat.  I'm gonna grow wings, pretty soon, I guess."

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