Thursday, April 19, 2018

Parenthood and Insecurity

You know there is just no way around it; while born male, I clearly am not and have never been typical. Being raised by a single handicapped mother, I never learned many of the things that most of your average boys learn.
I never got into sports, and at the age of (almost) 53, I still can’t throw or catch a football to save my life.

I think I went fishing twice, once with my alcoholic father. We spent the day floating on a lake with him drinking beer after beer. I don’t recall if he caught anything or not, I just remember being horrified when he told me that I either had to pee over the side of the boat, or pee into one of his beer cans and then pour it over the side. Most little boys would have been golden (pun intended) with just peeing off the side of the boat, but as I said, I wasn’t your typical boy.
“Rough housing?” Not so much. Never had a father or father-like individual around that wanted to rough house, toss each other around, etc. The closest I had to this was my big brother, but most of the time that we tussled with each other, it really wasn’t in fun; it was brothers giving each other shit. I’d give him hell with my mouth and my words, and he would reply by knocking me on my ass.
I never went camping as child but the US Army made damned sure that I experienced that particular past time to the fullest. When I was stationed in Germany, my unit would watch the weather report, and when the weather was going to be cold, wet, and absofrickenlutely miserable, we would pack all of our gear up and go live in the woods for a few weeks. I grew to absolutely hate these field events, and 30+ years later I still flat refuse to go camping. Some days I’d swear that my toes are still cold from my last field exercise.  I actually do enjoy time in the wilderness and am happy to spend the day out in the dirt, dust, and bugs, but by God when it comes time to call it a night, I want a shower and a clean bed to sleep in. If you really wanna make my A-list, throw an air conditioner into the mix. I aint sleeping in the dirt anymore. No. Nope. Done with it.

So fast forward lots and lots and lots of years and here I am, the father of three beautiful children. I’ve had zero role models for being a good father and pretty much my main plan for dealing with fatherhood is to try not to suck at it as bad as mine did. So no real plan to excel at it, just the desire to not totally screw it up.

Recently my wife has become almost obsessed with a fitness class based on self-defense that is given in a neighboring town and she goes pretty much every night. I’m delighted for her as she is clearly profiting from it, both physically and mentally. She was so impressed with the way that this class made her feel so much better about herself that she enrolled our 8 year old son in a similar class in the same building, where he is just beginning to learn the very basics of martial arts. I absolutely love the way it is changing his attitude! It is giving him confidence and teaching him both respect and some self-discipline. It also has the advantage of getting him off of the couch, out from in front of the TV, and gets him doing something physical.  A few weekends ago, we watched him test for his next belt, and it was a serious pleasure to see the smile in his eyes, and just to watch him be a little boy. At one point I looked at my wife and told her that I thought this was one of the best ideas that she has ever had.
“I know!” she replied
“I think hanging out with Anthony (the instructor) is good for him. It gives him the chance to hang out with guys that  . . .” and here she paused and got that look on her face that after 30 years I’ve come to recognize as her looking for a way to say something without hurting anyone’s feelings.
“Guys that act like guys?” I finished for her with a laugh.
“Well, yeah. Sort of.” She agreed with me.
There was nothing mean or ugly meant here, and she certainly wasn’t trying to hurt my feelings. It was just a simple statement about the way that things are. Still, it left me more than a little depressed and I probably spent the next two weeks obsessed with the thought that I’m not doing right by my son. Not sucking as bad as my father did is not good enough. Sigh . . .

I’m off to see two customers and my big sister this week. A small perk of my job is that on rare occasions it takes me to where it is feasible for me to see family and friends that live thousands of miles from me. In this case, I’m off to the University of California at Berkeley, which just happens to be only a two hour drive away from my big sister. I’ve scheduled the flights so that I will get to spend Saturday with my sister, and then head straight from there to Indiana for my next customer Sunday morning. My sister and her husband will be taking two of their grandchildren to baseball games that they will be playing in. You know, one of those things that most fathers probably do with their sons? Maybe I’ll learn something from the experience – who knows?

Due to my ongoing medical problems and my sedentary life style, I’ve gained some weight in the last year or so, and so finally have had to start buying some new clothes that will actually fit. I bought this skirt, fully intending to wear it under my top, but much to my surprise and delight, I thought it looked better to wear the blouse tucked in, with the skirt over it as it was intended to be worn. Tucking a blouse in is something I’m pretty sure I’ve never done before due to a serious lack of a proper figure for pulling it off.  If I’m wrong and it looks terrible, do me a favor and keep that to yourself, because for the first time in a long time, I actually felt pretty.

So as I’m getting out of my truck at the airport parking facility, I could feel that there was something stuck to the bottom of my shoe. Mind you, it’s dark and I’m dragging two large bags to the shuttle bus so I can’t give it proper attention at first, but ultimately I had to as it was so large it was making it hard to walk. I stopped to pull the offending item off of my shoe just to discover that the offending item was in fact the sole of the shoe itself. Apparently the glue had given out and the sole had peeled back, and it was now being dragged along under the heel itself with each step. “Drag, clop, drag, clop, drag, clop” it went as I made my way onto the shuttle bus dragging my tool box and suitcase behind me.
I wasn’t feeling quite so pretty anymore.  .  .
Anyway, I made my way off of the bus, found a quiet place to sit down, and pulled another pair of heels out of my suitcase. Being a multi-color plaid-like pattern, they don’t really go with the outfit, but that’s pretty irrelevant at this point as I can at least walk in them.

Having my shoe dilemma resolved, I then made my way through the TSA inspection point where I received a mixed blessing. The inspector looks at my ID for a moment, then he looks at me in confusion.
“Matthew?” he asks relatively loudly, “I’m sorry – where is Matthew?”
I looked at him for a moment, trying to figure out if he was messing with me or if he was serious, but I was absolutely certain that he was sincere. I was just about to explain exactly who ‘Matthew’ was when it apparently clicked for him.
“Oh!” he said quietly, then initialed my ticket and handed it and my ID back to me.  I smiled at him as I took my documents back, then raised my finger to my lips.
“Shhh!” I told him softly, winking at him as I walked by.

When I got into my rental car, I connected my phone to the cars Bluetooth, and was soon listening to Vikki Carr as I was making my way to the exit. For just the briefest of seconds, I found myself thinking “Hey, I’ve got to call mom and tell her about the new Vikki Carr albums I found!” The thing is, my mom died years ago, but I still catch myself thinking things like this from time to time.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Did you try turning it on?

So the day got off to a bit of a rough start. Normally I am up and at it at about 3AM to catch flights, but today's flight didn't leave until almost noon.  As the flight left so late in the morning, I figured I'd wait until after the wife had gone to work and the kids were gone to school to get ready. I told my daughter the night before that I was gonna let her walk to school in the morning as I wouldn't have time to take her and get ready, and she assured me that she was fine with that. That was the plan anyway, but it didn’t work out that way.

The following morning, it turned out that my wife was not feeling well and so she decided to stay home and take a sick day. The catch is that at some point, she told my daughter that she would take her to school, but the more that I thought on it, the more I figured that I was being an asshole if I let my sick wife drive my daughter to school instead of doing it myself. So, on this rare occasion, I stepped up and did the right thing instead of the selfish thing, and I took the critter to school.  My daughter has taken to drinking coffee lately, and when she got into the truck, she more or less balanced her coffee mug on the dash and I failed to notice it.  About thirty seconds later, as I made the first turn, her coffee mug fell over and landed on the floorboard at my feet, soaking the carpet, and splashing coffee up on all of us.  Sigh. . .
Since I was still wearing sweats and would be changing anyway after I dropped her off, that was no big deal for me, but her skirt had several prominent coffee spots on it, and so I offered to take her back home so that she could change.  The thing is, she knew about my plans to fly pretty today, knew I wouldn't have the time to get ready if I had to wait for her to change before taking her to school, and so she flat out refused.
"Nope, I'll be fine.  Besides, my tunic covers most of it, see?" She said while tugging her top down over her skirt to prove that it would be covering the worst of it. 
"Are you sure?" I asked her. "I don't mind taking you home to change sweetheart."
“No. You don’t have the time to take me home and get ready!”
“Yeah, but maybe I should take mom being sick and all of this as a hint from the universe to not do it this trip.” I told her with a grin.
"Nope, not a problem.  You don’t get the chance to fly pretty much these days so you go and have a good trip!" She insisted.
I'm thinking that both her and my wife are better people than I am. They both tend to put other people first when I am pretty sure that I would have been selfish and insisted on going home to change. Anyway, I got her off to school and then did indeed have plenty of time to get myself ready. It was a wee bit awkward as neither my wife nor I are terribly comfortable with her seeing Kim these days, but it is what it is.

As much as I thought it wasn’t possible, the problem with the huge bumps on my legs has actually gotten worse. It has often hurt so bad, and with such a sudden and stabbing pain, that I often find myself reflexively looking down and expecting to see some sort of open wound or a knife sticking out of my leg. Well, for the first time in all of these years, I wasn’t totally disappointed when I pulled up my pant leg, because I found a large wet spot on my sock over one of the bumps where nasty stuff actually was leaking out of the nodule. Needless to say, there was not going to be bare legs in my future for a while, not even with tights, and so I broke out a pair of boots that I had bought over a decade ago but only worn once. I bought them for those occasions when I was traveling to very cold places, but I found them to be quite a bit less comfortable than your average heels, and so never really wore them. It’s not that they pinch or don’t fit well, its just that they kind of force your calve and foot to stay at an angle that doesn’t feel as natural as your typical heels. Say, did you know that the interior of boots tend to degrade and shed material with age if you don’t wear them for years? Yeah, when I took them off to go through airport security, my calves and feet were mostly black and covered with little flecks of fabric. This, in concert with the large red nodules all over my legs, definitely didn’t make for the most attractive legs that you have ever seen. The mornings mishaps, the discomfort in my legs, and the fact that I was going to train a customer on a machine that I haven’t seen in a decade, all combined to make me a jittery and nervous wreck. I honestly wasn’t that surprised when my IPAD slipped out of my hands, fell to the floor, and went skating down the aisle of the plane while I was trying to put my bags into the overhead bin. I looked at it in disgust and seriously considered leaving the damned thing there for its impudence, but it cost me too much to leave it there regardless of how irritated I was with it.

Once I arrived in Omaha, I had to stand in a short line of people that were waiting for the shuttle bus to the rental car lot. There were two men standing behind me and talking to each other, and one of them decided to strike up a short conversation with me.
“So that’s tools I assume?” he asked me, pointing with his chin at my toolbox.
“Sure! That’s how I earn my paycheck!” I told him with a smile.
“Yeah?” he asked, clearly not at all amused with me or my smile. “What do you do?”
“I’m a field service engineer.” I replied to him.
“No kidding.” He responded with the driest, most sarcastic tone of voice I’ve ever heard, and then he immediately turned back to his friend, quite obviously dismissing me. Mind you, I am an expert at sarcasm and at being an asshole, but I was seriously impressed with the sheer contempt that this man managed to convey with so few words. I think I’d have to give him at least a 9 and perhaps even a 10 as a score.

At one time I was extremely comfortable with the system that I was here to provide training on, I’d even written the software that once automated an optional version of it. The thing is, I hadn’t laid hands on one of these in a decade or more, and so was way out of practice. Imagine my anxiety when I turned on the main breaker on the rear of the instrument but only half of the systems powered up. Not only was my customer standing there watching me trying to figure out where the problem was, but our regional sales manager was also there from Colorado to try and learn a bit about the system. The customer had offered to take us on a tour of their factory, and so I encouraged them all to go on about their tour while I grabbed a volt meter and tried to track down the source of the lack of power. They had been gone for about 5 minutes when I realized what I had done wrong, and I pretty much had to talk myself out of pounding my head against the wall in frustration at my own stupidity.
“Well, I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news!” I told them all when they returned a few minutes later.
“Yeah?!” the customer asked me with a serious look of concern in his eyes.
“Welp, the good news is that there is absolutely nothing wrong with your system.” I said, pausing for the dramatic effect.
“And the bad news?” asked our regional sales manager.
“They sent a complete idiot to train you.” I replied, hanging my head in shame as I reached out and pressed the bright green indicator/switch that was clearly marked “Power On” on the front of the instrument. I’d noticed it when I was setting everything up, but I’d forgotten that it was an indicator and a switch, and so I’d failed to press it. So here I was to train a customer, in front of our regional sales manager, and I’d forgotten how to turn the darn thing on. Sigh . . .

Monday, November 27, 2017

Obsession . . .

So if you are connected to me on Facebook, you probably know by now that my most recent hobby is collecting records. My current obsession is Vikki Carr, who I am listening to at high volume as I type this. For those of you who are too young to have heard of her, she was super popular in the 60's and 70's. She is one of very few people that I'd be willing to compare to Barbra Streisand - yeah, she's that good.  
(If you don't know who Barbra Streisand is, then you need to get the hell off of my blog, because we don't have anything to talk about.)
Anyway, I've found quite a few of her records in the last six months or so and I am in complete awe of her incredible and confident voice. I wonder what it would feel like to know for absolute certain that when you open your mouth to sing and express your feelings, that something awesome is going to come out of it?
Obviously I travel a lot, and it's a real bear trying to carry a phonograph, records, and amplifier with me, so I've been trying to make digital recordings of some of the music that I really love and want to enjoy while I'm traveling. It really is a major pain in the ass to digitize these things though, so I went looking to see if I could download these albums from ITunes instead of spending hours cleaning records, recording them, then cleaning up the digital recording to remove some of the clicks and pops, etc, etc. Anyway, two things kind of surprised me as I was searching Itunes for Vikki Carr music:
1 - While they do have some of her more popular songs, none of the records that I have are available on ITunes. Considering the obscure and odd stuff that you can find there, this sort of surprises me.  
2 - She had a lot of Spanish albums. I’m not sure why this surprised me, but it did. Just for shits and giggles, I googled her and came across her real name, which sort of explains the Spanish music: Florencia Bisenta de Casillas-Martinez Cardona. Sort of rolls right off the tongue, don’t it?

One of the cool things that records had going for them, is that they often printed stuff about the artist or the music on the album covers to let you kind of get to know something about them. I had to giggle as I was reading the cover of one of her albums. Here is this prim and proper lady, apparently the very definition of class and sophistication, and yet one of the acknowledgements she makes is to thank Cheech of Cheech and Chong for allowing her the use of his home. I'm still trying to imagine Vikki Carr hanging out and getting stoned with Cheech and Chong but it just doesn't compute for me.

If you really enjoy powerful vocals, you should consider checking these Vikki Carr songs out:
It's not terribly impressive vocally, but "Make it Rain" is a fun song too. If you have ever dated an asshole, that song will make you smile. 

I've too many years working as a metrologist, where being fussy and particular are considered vital assets, and so it really annoys the snot outta me when some of these beautiful recordings had distinct distortion every time the music gets loud and powerful. I spent the better part of an entire day and a half tearing my stereo apart, cleaning contacts and connectors, adjusting my stylus angle and weight, and swapping wires and components trying to find the source of the distortion but all to no avail. Over three decades of experience at trouble shooting all seemed to indicate that the distortion was coming from the records themselves, but I couldn't believe that so many records would all have the same flaw. Ultimately I asked one of my friends on Facebook who has a HUGE record collection for his advice. I'm pretty sure I could hear him laughing all of the way from Ohio as he confirmed that it was entirely likely that the records themselves were at fault. Decades of being played on old systems with worn out needles apparently damages the recording and is a common problem. 
Live and learn. . . 

So the other weekend I loaded my entire family up into the truck, along with my floor buffer, and we headed out to help my sister in law strip, clean, stain, and seal the concrete floor of the home they are building. We were almost all of the way there when we passed a Goodwill thrift store. 
"What do you think - do you think they would have any records?" I asked my wife. 
"It doesn't matter because we don't have the time to stop," was her reply.
"You know, that's what I thought you were gonna say!" I told her with a grin and then pulled into the parking lot anyway. She just rolled her eyes.
"We will wait here." She said with an exasperated sigh, because let's face it, there was no point to her arguing with me about it. We both knew damned good and well that I wasn't going anywhere until I looked to see if they had any musical treasures hidden away in there.  

Happy happy joy joy, because not only did they have records, but they had good records! I got a few movie soundtracks to include "My Fair Lady", about 10 Barbra Striesand's, a Spanish Ray Conniff, and about two dozen other records. Sixty dollars later and I got to watch my wife break out laughing as I approached the truck with a heavy load of records in my arms. My decision to stop despite her misgivings was entirely vindicated when I repeatedly heard her ooh and awe over the records as she went through them while I drove. Normally I pick them out and then examine them for damage before buying, but I didn't have the time to inspect them as my sister in law was waiting on us, so I hope like hell that they are in good condition. I won't know until I get home from this service call though. Keep your fingers crossed for me. 

Speaking of this service call, I'm on the way to Philly way too damned early for a Sunday morning. I rarely fly on weekends but this is a huge customer of ours and she all but begged me to please be there on Monday as they desperately need their FTIR up and running ASAP. So yeah, I'm on a plane. On Sunday. Again. 

I've really got to get my mental shit together because I'm not gonna last much longer at this rate if I don't. I feel absolutely exhausted and really didn't want to get on a plane, and really didn't want to leave my family. When I apply my logic, I know that I need to stop my internal whining and bitching because I've got it good and I know I've got it good. There are people that would kill to have my job, and God knows it beats the hell out of physically busting my ass off out in the weather like just about everyone else in my extended family. I just feel mentally worn out I guess, like I could just sit down and never get up.  So yeah, I need to get my mental act together. . . 

There's a guy sitting in the row ahead of me wearing a veterans hat, and I made the mistake of striking up a conversation with him. I say it was a mistake because I decided pretty quickly that he is full of shit and probably never served, and if he did, he probably didn't last long. If you are a veteran, you have probably come across someone like this at one point or another, who tells you his grand stories of the things that he has done and of telling off superior officers who were so deeply impressed by his super manliness and competency that they allowed him to get away with his disrespect. Once I struck up the conversation, the guy is so desperate to share his bullshit that I couldn't get him to shut the hell up. Finally I played the headphone card by pulling out my iPad and earphones and turning Vikki Carr's "One Hell of a Woman" up nice and loud. Good song by the way, did I mention that you should listen to it?

That evening I met Sophie and Linda for dinner at the King of Prussia mall. We started off with our traditional shot of Whiskey. Perhaps not the most lady-like of traditions, but it’s ours none the less. I don’t remember how the tradition started, but I’m pretty sure it’s Sophie’s fault. As I always do when hanging out with these two, we shared a laugh or two before I cried exhaustion and bailed out on them. I’m glad I did call it a night early as the repair the next day turned into a nightmare that ended up forcing me to stay an extra day waiting for unanticipated parts to arrive.

On the way back to the hotel from my customer that night, I drove by a large thrift store and followed my standard procedure of raiding it for records. Much to my delight, they had a large collection of them and so I hunkered down and started going through them. I got through about 75% of them when this guy walks up and starts going through them as well, and we struck up a conversation as we looked for treasures. He was looking for money makers – records that he can buy cheap and then turn around and sell, and he was telling me all of the things that you should look for to help determine if they are worth anything or not. His advice went straight in one ear and out the other though, because I have no interest in collecting records for money. My only interest is in the joy of the music. I don’t care if it’s a first printing or the last, as long as it’s in good shape and I can enjoy the music. He pretty much just encouraged me to work my way through the pile just a tad faster to be sure that he didn’t grab anything I might have loved. As it turned out, I was a little too successful in my record hunting because I ended up with 35 of them – far too much to carry in my suitcase! Realizing this, I bought a cheap bag right there in the thrift store to carry the records in, but I blew it and got one that wasn’t up to the task. As I was putting the bag full of records into the trunk of my rental car before heading to the airport, the bag slipped, and the handle tore loose when I grabbed for it. That necessitated a stop at Target, where I had to spend more on a backpack to carry the records, than I spent on the records themselves. Oh well . . .

On the flight home, I was intrigued to note that the young teenage lady sitting across from me was almost certainly transgender. I’m not positive, and I wasn’t about to ask, but I’m pretty sure. She was sitting next to what I assume were her older brother and father, and I couldn’t help notice that she was carefully watching me as I was going through all of the records that I had collected and reading their covers and inserts. About the tenth time I saw her staring with great interest at a record in my hand, I decided to speak to her.

“Have you ever seen a record before?” I asked her with a smile. She didn’t say anything, just shook her head “no”, and so I handed her the one that I’d been looking at. It was a Doris Day album that despite being well over 50 years old looked like brand new. She took it a bit hesitantly and then inspected it with curiosity.
“Yeah, that’s from a bit before your time huh?” I asked with a giggle.
“So, this is from the 60’s then?” she asked, at last actually saying something.
“Actually I am pretty sure that one is from the 50’s!” I replied with a laugh as I accepted the record back from her. For the record (pun again intended) she was technically correct as it came from 1960. The first record she has ever held and the little shit already knows more about them than I do . . .