Sunday, November 22, 2020

Roger and the School Bus

 While I was a repair technician for the phone company working out of a garage in south Independence, Missouri, I had the good fortune of working with this guy named Roger. He was one of the "older guys" who, I believe, hired on as a lineman in south Missouri about the time I was entering third grade. Roger had lots of stories, and he had a funny turn of phrase for many a situation. For example, one rainy day I returned to the garage after working on a buried pedestal, and so I had mud all over the front of my pantlegs. Roger saw that, grinned, and said "I see you've been out working on your old prayer-bones." 

Possibly you had to be there. But he was an accomplished phone man, the casual, politically incorrect gender specific title these guys gave themselves. Me too, really. It was 1988, and certain demographics hadn't quite caught on yet. We got there eventually, but that's another boring story. 

But Roger was the guy that ran across this weird scenario. As he tells it, he got a trouble report assigned to him that said the phone wires in the house were smoking. When he arrived and checked the line where it entered the house, at the side, he saw next to the phone company's lightning/surge protector that a Cable TV tech, apparently, was just there to install their equipment. Needing to attach a ground wire to a ground somewhere, he apparently decided to attach his wire clamp to the phone company's ground rod. This was understandable because a ground rod was about six feet long and had to pounded all the way into the ground with a sledge hammer, and no one wants to do that if there's already one there. 

Trouble was, the Cable TV guy had to pull up on the rod in order to expose enough of it at ground level so he could get his clamp around it. In doing so, he inadvertently rammed the top of the rod up into the electric power meter. 

Several weird things happened at once. First, the ground rod touched one side of the power inside the meter, effectively putting 110 volts onto the ground rod. The AC current then traveled along the phone company's ground wire all the way to the lightning surge protector. There, the sudden surge of current tripped the fuses in the protector. In our system, the "protector's" job was to ground the line in case of a surge of power, NOT to open it up. So, doing what it's supposed to do, the protector blew, and now the 110 volts is flowing through it and onto the phone line. Meaning it flowed onto the wires going inside the house. This is why the phone jacks were smoking. 

The reason this happened so easily is that we were experiencing a drought, and the ground rod was sitting in dry dirt, and so wasn't doing much grounding and the current went all over the place instead of down the ground rod and out, as it was supposed to. This 110v AC current also flowed along the metal sheath around the drop wire, which was buried, and to the green metal pedestal in the back of the lot. It probably also flowed up and down the cable run, down the street, on the ground wires and cable sheaths. Someone could have gotten hurt. Luckily no one did, and just as luckily, the house didn't burn down. 

Roger thought only of alleviating this mess.  The grass and the yard was bone dry, as I said, so he put on the heavy duty rubber gloves we were all issued, and without much risk, grabbed the ground rod and yanked it down so it was no longer touching the 100 volt lug in the power meter.  Problem solved. 

By this time, our supervisor was in on it, because the customer was already escalating the whole thing since their wiring was damaged, and this was, obviously, not their fault. So, we learned, Roger got reprimanded for a safety violation by yanking on the ground rod, even though by doing that he pretty much saved the day. The BSP ("Bell System Practice,") would have been to call the electric company, which then would have dispatched someone out to essentially do the same thing Roger did, only with a few more steps. 

So, what about the school bus, I hear you asking. The next day in the garage we were all ribbing Roger about his adventure in high-tech circuit field modifications of the previous day. This was partly because he got in trouble for it, but that reminded Roger of the time back in '57 or '58 he and some guys were driving a big line truck, towing a telephone pole somewhere in south Missouri and encountered a school bus lying on its side in a shallow ditch at the side of the road. 

They stopped to see if anyone needed help. It had just happened a minute before, and the bus was full of kids. No one was hurt, but they couldn't get out because the bus was lying on its right side, and the door wouldn't open. 

Roger and the guys wrapped a big chain around the frame on the underside of the bus, attached it to their own line truck, and by driving away at a right angle, they righted the bus so it plopped back up on its four wheels. "And the kids weren't hurt?" I asked, somewhat upset about this story. Roger said, "Oh no, just a few bumps and scratches." 

I wanted to shrug and ask him if he got any mud on the old prayer bones while removing the chain from the bus. 

Public Service Announcement


I'd like to say just a few words about wearing masks. 

Now, when you wear a pair of jeans, let's say, for sake of argument, you don't stick your head through one leg hole, and one arm through the other. No. If you put jeans on this way, you're not really wearing jeans, are you? Because your underpants are showing. You put your legs in the leg holes, one at a time, please, and then zip 'em up. Easy peezy. 

And so, I submit, is wearing a mask to protect yourselves and others from exposure to floating pathogens. But of course, you have to PUT IT ON PROPERLY. 

Thank you. 

Please Feed the Crocodiles

It's almost like a hobby for a lot of people nowadays, trying to figure out what Trump's motivations are for the things he does, why and how he got elected in the first place, or, maybe we wonder, what secret does he possess to command the allegiance of nearly half of America? Is it the history of reality TV? The cocksure blustering?  The surreal, clown like atmosphere surrounding the Whitehouse, with the flapping flags flanking the big, orange head above the podium?

And why is he continuing to push back at the election results when it has become obvious, many times over, that he lost?  He lost the popular vote by a hefty margin, and he will lose the Electoral College vote by the same margin that brought him victory in 2016. The barrage of frivolous lawsuits his team launched has fallen flat. Trump continues this strategy at the risk of squandering what tenuous legitimacy he might have had. 

I mean, he's starting to look like an idiot. (Starting . . . ?) What could he possibly be trying to do?  What is his motivation? What's the plan, the strategy? Then it hit me. 

He's addicted to the attention. During his tenure as president, he has managed to keep himself on the virtual "front page" of the news almost every single day. An incredible feat, actually. And now, quite suddenly, it's over. It's over--at least in a normal, reasonable world--because when you lose an election around here, you concede, you congratulate the winner, and you step back

There's the rub. 

It's all too sudden. It's like your doctor said your lung function is deteriorated and you have to quit smoking, no other option, but on the way home you realize you still have half a pack of Marlboros in the glove box of your car. Hell, yeah, you smoke them.  And you tell yourself you'll quit after that. This is where Trump is right now, I reckon. 

Oh.  And "Whitehouse aides" have related stories that Trump says he intends to make a come-back, and run in 2024.  OK, the very term come-back says he has, in his mind, at least, conceded defeat. But 2024 is too hard to resist. The tweets, the media coverage, the rallies! 

And the media will feed it--with a sigh of relief at the renewed prospect of all that job security.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Sums it Up

 Who is this person?  Because I'm sold.  And why is all of this just one notch below WWF mania? 

Monday, November 9, 2020

Post Election

 I realize the election was over just a few days ago (or at least, over for those of us who believe our election process is still functioning, and robust) but I am kind of waiting for things to simmer down. It is still evident how intensely divisive and tense this political season was. I see a lot of people on the Internet who seem unwilling to let go of the anger and frustration the Trump administration caused them. One FB post header: NOW can I vote for Bernie??  Then, a thread on FB where contributors seem to be fantasizing about watching Trump defeated and humiliated on their own TVs at home via a new reality TV show featuring a camera in Trump's cell . . . stuff like that. This morning I found myself scouring Google News for anything stupid or outrageous Trump might have said overnight, since I last checked. 

It dawned on me that a considerable percentage of over half (apparently) the people in the United States of America are suffering from a form of PTSD, and will probably continue to do so for quite awhile. 

One of my favorite passages from a book of Eckhart Tolle's is a story about two ducks peacefully floating in a pond, as ducks are often wont to do. So, one duck accidentally bumps into the other, and, startled, a squawking flurry of hostile, angry wing flapping ensues until the ducks finally drift apart. Then, Tolle says, if you watch one duck as it drifts away, the situation now past, it will drift for a moment and then suddenly shudder, loosening its wings and then tucking them back in before returning to peaceful floating mode. The moral of the story is that at some point, you have to let go, experience that involuntary shudder, and then return to your normal life. 

Saturday, November 7, 2020


 Favorite headline today at 11:48 a.m.: 

"The End of an Error"

-New York Magazine

Says it all. 

Friday, November 6, 2020


 I know that it has been a weird year for a variety of reasons, not the least of which has been the political climate. It's not the first time, nor will it be the last, that there was so much divisiveness, but this time it struck me as particularly bad. Maybe it's just me, here, and now. I have a friend who is one of those people who thinks that neither presidential candidate is any good. This strikes me as wrong, since I think it would be difficult to make an equivalence of any kind between Trump and . . . just about anybody else. 

But, that aside, what happened was in an email exchange I simply stated my particular political perspective. I'm a Democrat, and I explained why.  I did so in a very reasonable manner, I might add, since I am aware that my friend is probably either a Republican or one of those people who thinks the political solution lies in America's version of Che Guevara, or whatever. His response: nothing. A full stop on email exchanges. I find it puzzling that in today's political climate, the response to a variant opinion is met with complete dismissal. It might be marginally more encouraging than if it was anger, which I've also encountered in similar circumstance. 

What I'm thinking, now, is that I can deal with a differing political opinion. My friend can remain a friend if he wants to be a Republican, of course, but what about if he cuts off all contact because my opinion differs from his? I  can only respond by respecting his actions. I mean, seriously, who cares? But it's a little disappointing. 

I could keep going on this post, but that would mean a devolution into the exploration into my failure as a NaNoWriMo "contestant." I lasted two days. Too much going on, too much to do, and I know that for the last third of November I'll have hardly any free time at all. 

What can I say?  

Keep counting. 

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Day 1

 Have you ever read something so well-written that you had to stop and read it over and over, first to admire it, and then as if you think you’re going to figure out how they did it?  I once read a passage from “In Cold Blood” that was so good I stopped to re-read it many times like that, then thought, goddammit, I knew all those words! Why couldn't I write something like that?

Tom Wolfe affects me in the same way, quite often. The closest I’ve ever come to figuring it out is that these writers somehow manage to create their own context and then fill things in using pure wit—the kinds of things that just happen, things about which you can only later say, you had to be there. 

It's that NaNoWriMO time again, and here I am, half-way through Day 1 and still trying to decide if I'm willing to commit and face probable failure once again. I want to do something new and different, like, maybe Laslo wakes up in the bed of his pickup parked on the levee and instead of stumbling into the universe of the Busy Bee Cafe he runs across a freshly murdered dead body that has drifted into a tangle of driftwood at the river bank, and realizes it is his foreman at the foundry where he used to work--the job that he was just fired from two days prior. Hilarity ensues, etc., etc., etc. I dunno. 

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Rough Draft (pun)

 When I turned eighteen I was compelled legally to register for the draft. It was 1968 (can you say "Tet Offensive?") and I was pretty certain I would wind up in the Army fighting falling dominoes in Southeast Asia. We were all pretty certain. When the so-called National Draft Lottery was later instituted, I drew a high number, but I was still uncertain of being drafted or not--it turns out that my number was very high indeed, and only the first 195 birthdates were selected for service that first year. But we couldn't know that, of course. My friend's birthdate drew a low number, and he joined the Airforce to dodge the Army. 

We weren't unpatriotic, but back then, most information obtainable indicated it was Johnson's war, for nothing, unwinnable, and miserable to boot. I figured I'd go if called, even though my dear mother called me up from California and told me to let her know if I got drafted so she could get enough money for me to go to Canada. I chalk it up to her mother, who was a good woman, and an Osage Indian, which, really, is the definition of radical, if you've ever looked into it. 

Then I got the damn letter. The one that starts with, "Greetings," but it turns out it was only a notice to report for my Army physical, and did not say I was drafted or anything. Still, I was pretty uneasy. I showed up and submitted myself to the various indignities we call the Army physical, and "passed" everything (oh yay.) As a point of information, no one was offered even the slightest temptation or given the opportunity to do that old joke about "spreading our cheeks." The doctor was quite explicit about exactly what to do with what part of the body, having learned early on, I speculated, how to avoid that trap. It was almost all the more funny for it. Especially since by that time of the day, I had already gotten the impression that no one there on the Army medical staff that day was a brain surgeon, or even a rocket scientist. 

However, I note, don't ever try to cheat on a color blindness screening test by saying you don't see any of the numbers on any of the little color spotted cards, like the guy in line in front of me did. You can only have one kind of color blindness at a time, and the Army damn well knows it. And now that guy in front of me knew it, and I knew it.  I saw all the numbers, and I had no intention of cheating anyway. 

A week later I got a phone call from the recruiting sergeant stationed at the town's square. I got a high score on the written test we all took, and the Army Security Agency wanted to interview me. I talked to a few people and was sold on the idea. A few days later I was sitting across the desk from some other recruiting officer, this one from the ASA, I guess. 

The first thing he said to me was if I was accepted into the Army Security Agency, I would be subject to a very thorough background check for my security clearance. He said that their people would be interviewing people I went to high school with, among others, so be totally open and honest, and don't even think about lying. Nod.

First question: have you ever smoked marijuana. (Yeah, the very first question, no doubt placed their for purposes of efficiency, which will become apparent in a sec.)  The answer was yes. Second question: how many times? Now, this was problematic, and when I started hemming and hawing, the guy said, "More than twice?"  Well, I said, yeah. Then he said, interview over. Hard and fast rule, and all that. Two times was considered experimental, and allowed, but more than that meant that I was a "user." 

I said, not anymore.  That was back in high school. Because Sixties/Bay Area/etc. So, now remember, I got a high score on that test, especially the language part, which made me qualified for "language training."  Meaning I was kind of a smart ass. I asked him if I had never smoked pot, would I have been considered? He said yes. I pointed out that then I could hypothetically be in the ASA, but I might decide to "experiment" with pot, out of curiosity, which they admit is allowed, or at least understandable, because, well, everyone is curious. Then, I said, what if I liked it?  Now, I'm in the ASA and I really am a user. Whereas I, a previous user, was not, and unlikely to become one. 

He seemed to be impressed; at least he said I was the kind of person they would like, and said he would make a phone call. He did, and I was still sent away. Kind of disappointed, but not really. A week went by and I got another phone call. The recruiting sergeant at the square said he heard about my interview with the ASA, but now he wanted me to talk to another guy downtown about joining up for Army Intelligence, who, I assumed, had lower standards. I was flattered, but dubious.  I expressed some interest and he said he would set me up for an interview downtown the next morning at 7:00 a.m. 

Now, I'm thinking, ahh, this is another I.Q. test. And I passed it, because I slept in the next morning, and for awhile felt pretty damn free. 

The rest of the year passed by and I had such a high draft lottery number that I wasn't even near getting drafted. And it was highly unlikely for the following year, or years, so that was the end of that era, for me.

 I have nothing but respect and admiration for service members, then and now. I might have been one, but I evaded it, you might say, simply by inaction combined with the deleterious social impact of reefer. Later in life, one of my supervisors at the phone company was an ex-Army Security Agency guy, and he was a total asshole. Just thought I'd throw that in there. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Medicine Bottle Caps

 Just a brief observation. I take seven (7) things each morning, (some meds and some supplements) and of the seven bottles they are in, there six (6) different cap designs, requiring six (6) different strategies for opening them, some easier than others. 

The easiest one is the vitamin bottle. It has a great big cap and it operates in the normal way--unscrew counter clockwise to open, screw clockwise to close. Tightly or loosely, you decide. The most difficult one is not even a bottle. It is a blister pack, requiring, and I'm not lyin', a pair of scissors to cut around the blister, say, roughly, 270 degrees, and then a good, working thumbnail to pry the two layers aside so that the tiny pill can flip out onto the counter and bounce onto the floor and land underneath any small, handy object, ideally a bottle cap, or a dead spider. 

I just realized that in my dreams, I never take medicine. I also run. Like the wind. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Dolores Continues to Flee and is Soon No Longer in Kansas -or- The Toto Implementation

 Dolores slept soundly until a rooster crowed just as a tilted shaft of sunlight levered through the windshield of the Caddy and told her subconscious it was time to wake up. She stretched and looked around. She was parked on hard-packed dirt underneath the canopy of three or four trees. Dolores touched the window switch and the glass silently disappeared into the car door. It was the middle of summer, but it was so early in the morning it was not hot yet. Dolores glanced up at a lightening, pale blue sky and figured it would be a hot one by ten o'clock.

She looked through the windshield. About an eighth mile up ahead sat a white, two-story farm house flanked by a couple of old pin oaks, all in front of a fallow field.  There were no cars or trucks about, which made Dolores think no one lived there. That, and the fact that the dirt drive was nearly covered with tall weeds, and as she squinted harder at the white, clapboard face of the old house, she thought maybe a couple of the windows were broken out, too. She started the engine, put the Cadillac in gear and idled forward slowly, rolling toward the house as the bumper and the tires cleared a path through the weeds. The driveway ended at the side of the porch. Dolores got out and walked up three steps onto a wide, spacious front porch. The front door was unlocked. 

Letting herself in, Dolores expected to find the house dusty and stale smelling, but in fact it was nicely furnished and well kept. The furniture looked recently polished, the painted woodwork around her was a gleaming white, and the rugs, windows and light fixtures were all clean, yet there was no sign of anyone there.  Dolores called out and waited until she was satisfied the house was unoccupied.

She was grateful that even the plumbing was in good working order, and in a short time she was ready to hit the road again. She stepped outside onto the wooden porch and down a set of three sturdy wood steps to the yard, where she saw a tabby cat emerge from under a pair of Japanese Yews in front of the porch. She stared at the cat, and it stared back.

"Uma?" Dolores realized it was her cat and was not entirely surprised. Uma had a history of appearing where you would least expect her, and Dolores had long ago given up on that game where she tried to imagine the sequence of events that would have had to transpire for Uma to be here, or there, or wherever, and just accepted that she was always around. Dolores walked to her car door and opened it, this time watching as her cat hopped up across the threshold and over the seat back and onto a spot on the carpeted rear passenger floor. Dolores shook her head, got in, and backed out onto the highway. She spun the steering wheel and aimed the car east, toward Kansas City, where another dubious inheritance from Uncle Lemuel, the Busy Bee Cafe, awaited. Plans and options swirled in Dolores's head as she drove. 

By noon she was navigating through Kansas City's downtown loop. At Main she flipped her turn signal to exit, then noticed that a black SUV four or five cars behind her abruptly changed to the rightmost lane—as if to follow her, Dolores thought. At the last second, she held steady and continued east on I-70, and so did the SUV. As she drove east toward the smaller town of Independence, the SUV kept its distance, but never failed to be within the field of her rearview mirror. She reached Independence, took an exit and headed north through town on what she knew was one of its busiest business district, hoping to lose the SUV in traffic, or maybe gain some distance by squeaking through a traffic light that turned red behind her. She drove as fast as she could without risking getting pulled over. These guys, the black SUV guys, had already demonstrated they had no respect for any authority, and they seemed to be single-mindedly focused on one thing: getting the contents of the steamer trunk, the damn rock of Uncle Lemuel's. 

As she maneuvered through the traffic on 291 highway, Dolores thought about what it did—how when she kept it in her cottage in Topeka (under the astute guard of Uma, always,) things would get weird.  Things instantly changed around her, then changed back. One minute she would be looking out at Walnut Street with its neat rows of little houses and trees on either side, and the next, it would be a desert, or an enormous mile-high cliff face, or she’d be looking out on some ravaged gray seascape. Once it seemed like her little house was on something like the moon, only with red sand, and one time there was just a rutted dirt path with horse and carriage traffic clattering back and forth along it. She was smart enough to just hold still and ride these episodes out, and she and Uma would sit on the couch and look out the front window and wait. Then the ten second scream from the smoke detectors--that always happened--and right after that, things were back to normal for a while. 

Dolores noted that the black SUV was just two cars behind her now, so she turned abruptly and cut through a Wendy’s parking lot, out the back, and through a carwash staging area and onto another street. She cut to the right and then left, stair-stepping her way through a cramped subdivision, ignoring the speed limit and hoping no one backed out of their driveway in front of her. 

It was a couple months ago that the suited men in their black SUVs started showing up, driving slowly past the house, or sometimes ominously pacing her as she walked along the sidewalk when she went to the store, and, finally, one afternoon, appearing on her porch, one knocking on her front door, the other two, or three, remaining in their vehicle. Uma stood with Dolores and rubbed her soft side against Dolores’s ankle and then turned toward the door and hissed. Dolores footed Uma gently aside.

“How can I help you?” she called loudly at the closed door. The door was the old kind—solid wood with a small decorative window in its middle, but higher than Dolores’s head. Through the glass Dolores saw a man’s face appear. His eyes were dark and small, like a shark’s eyes, or a doll’s eyes, and his skin only hinted at a shade of normal human skin. Dolores felt the small hairs on the back of her neck stand up, and a chill spread from a point low down in her belly before the man-thing spoke.

Now 291 Highway opened up and Dolores floored the Caddy, quickly reaching a cloverleaf interchange that landed her on Truman Rd., which she knew would take her to the square. She needed to put more distance between her and the SUV, but when she glanced down at the dash, she saw she was about out of gas. She turned off again, hoping to wind her way up to a 7-11 on the north end of town, get a couple bucks of gas, and get back on track and head toward the cafĂ©, which was all the way back in Kansas City, another 30 minute drive from here. The sun was westering, and she thought maybe she could elude the strange suited men once it got dark. 

Uma, restless, jumped up and over onto the passenger seat, looked at Dolores, and meowed. Dolores glanced down at her small friend and said, "Uma, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore." 

Roger and the School Bus

 While I was a repair technician for the phone company working out of a garage in south Independence, Missouri, I had the good fortune of wo...