Sunday, December 31, 2006

So, Did'ja Hear?!

While I was at work, one of the other members of the staff was working nearby and, apparently bursting with this bit of info, asked, "Hey! Did'ja hear they hanged Saddam Hussein!! Good Riddance, huh!"

Now, I am no great fan of Saddam Hussein... or at least of the Saddam Hussein that I have constructed in my mind, made up of all the bits and pieces and tidbits of data that I somehow accumulated about him over the past few years.

Come to think of it, there isn't really all that much that I know about him that is honest, first-hand information at all.

Almost everything I know (or think I know) about him is second-hand... whatever I have happened to hear or read in the news.

I let the news of his execution roll around in my mind for a few moments, and, surprisingly... or, perhaps not so surprisingly... I found that I took no great joy in the news that he was led to a gallows, had a rope fastened around his neck, and dropped from a height great enough to break his neck and kill him. If I allow myself to empathize to the point of imagining what it must have felt like being him in those last desperate moments, I find that the thoughts and feelings are very disturbing to me.

Naturally, when I voiced my thoughts in answer to my co-workers question; that I wasn't really happy to hear that he (Saddam Hussein) had been killed, everyone within earshot was incredulous. Perhaps some were outraged. How could I defend a tyrant who was so brutal and vicious??!

Well... I went on to explain that it isn't the death of a tyrant that saddens me. This was a matter of justice, and I would not be so arrogant as to countermand or question the wheels of justice. It isn't my place. He was tried, convicted, and sentenced. It is my assumption that there was more than enough evidence to prove his guilt. His end, therefore, was rightly deserved.

But this isn't what saddens me.

What I find disturbing is that some time ago, a baby was born... a fat, wriggling infant with the entire world set out before it, and an entire lifetime to experience whatever came its way. This child was apparently in a position to become the leader of a country... a country that has one of the oldest civilizations in history.

Here was a man who was in a position to do great works. He could have been a kind and just leader, much loved by his people. There was so much suffering and need in that part of the world that one would think he had his work plainly cut out for him.

Instead, he allowed a dark wind to blow through his soul at some point in his life, and rather than use his position of leadership to help his people, and improve their lot, he instead focused on grasping, taking, accumulating wealth and power. Instead of taking joy in the simple things such as the love of his wife (wives?), children, and friends... he took what they had, took their lives... destroyed their livlihoods... tortured, maimed, and injured.

Rather than realizing that he was capable of exercising love, compassion and kindness as the leader of his country, he instead attempted to take everything that existed within the realm of his knowledge.... even the poor miserable lives of the lowliest of his subjects - and in so doing he made their lot even more difficult and burdensome than it ever needed be.

So. A lifetime that could have been instrumental in the improvement of the lives of so many people, a lifetime that could have brought joy, happiness, prosperity, and kindness was instead wasted and ended abruptly with the snap of a rope.

All that is left is a country in ruins, countless shattered lives, and who knows how many years of painstaking work simply to get back to where they all were years ago.

The breaking of Saddam Hussein's neck ended a life, but I seriously doubt that it changed anything; other than taking him out of this world that he so grievously injured, and so apparently despised.

I am not saddened at that fact that justice was executed upon him for his acts of oppression and murder.

I am saddened that that infant, who had such an opportunity to do so very much good in the world let it all go to waste.

Even Saddam Hussein was a child of god. His life was still a life. I guess it is my thought that killing him simply adds one more sad, hopeless, wasted life to the great pile of sad, hopeless, wasted lives that he wrought through his acts of cruelty.

It just strikes me as being kind of sad, I guess.

When I had stopped speaking, I could see that I must have caused many of the folks listening to confront a number of issues that had never occurred to them before this.. I don't think that they had ever stopped to think of Mr. Hussein as a person - an honest-to-god, flesh and blood, real life human being who had actually had all of the power and influence that he had had, and who had chosen to do what he had done rather than do good things. I am sure than many also must have wondered, as I have, whether any of us would have done better, or whether that dark wind would have blown through our souls, as it had, apparently, through his... and perhaps whether we would have done the same, or worse.

Some of the folks who had been listening to me when I was speaking later told me that they were bothered by the thought of all of the pain that he had caused, and that this hanging did nothing to ameliorate that suffering, or to change anything about it....

We were all disturbed by the fact that he had never apparently shown the slightest bit of remorse for his actions.

One by one, they each approached me throughout the night and said that they thought that what I had said made a great deal of sense. Some mentioned that even in smaller, less influential and powerful lives, such as our own... that same dark wind can cause some of us to do things that perhaps we would not otherwise do...

I wonder if any of us will be able to learn anything useful from the mistakes of Mr. Hussein, and perhaps avoid the same pitfalls that entrapped him and led him to such a terrible end to what could have been such an illustrious life??

I don't think that most will even give it a second thought. But, I know that he is most likely no better and no worse than I am. He was once a baby, just like I was, and at the height of his power, he was just a man, like I am. He was just a man with more stuff, and that somehow endowed him in the eyes of those around him with the power of life and death over others. In taking those lives, he gave away his own.

That is the inescapable fact of the universe. Balance is sought and achieved througout the universe... its the way things work. And when we take an action, we set a course of events in motion that also changes us in some way and that takes its toll on us for ill or for good.

What I wonder is whether Saddam Hussein knew he was doing wrong or whether he somehow convinced himself that his actions were justified. If so, then I am just as guilty as he is at some level, because, in retrospect, this is a mistake that I, too, have often made.

Is it any different for any one of us?

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Got a Second?

My bones chill and my skin crawls at hearing these simple words; "Got a Second?"


Because, in my experience, they are generally followed by some comment, information, or news that either:

  1. Entirely craps-up my day.

  2. Generally pisses me off.

  3. Is designed to make me feel unworthy of living and breathing.

  4. Communicates to me that I am in trouble, fired, or no longer involved in a personal relationship... or, that I either owe money I didn't expect to owe, or will not be receiveing money that I am expecting to recieve.

  5. Utterly cramps my style and screws up my plans.

  6. Changes my life and/or lifestyle in a deleterious manner.

  7. Indicates that the agreement that we have previously arrived at is now null and void, and that there isn't a damned thing I can do about it.

Today, after hearing the dreaded "Got a second?", I was told that it was no longer financially feasible to continue to fill my position. So, as of that moment, I was out of a job. As a consolation prize, they agreed to pay for half of the day tomorrow, and in return I don't have to get up, get dressed, and go in to the office.

Yay. Wow.

I have tried to convey to various individuals over the years that in fact I DO NOT have a second... but, alas, this has not helped my case a bit. They always barge on ahead with their crappy news... and, as it turns out, I have a second, whether I want to or not.

Being asked if I 'Have a second?' is nearly as bad as being told that somebody has put something that is vitally important 'in a safe place'.

Back to the drawing board, I suppose....

Next time somebody asks me if I 'have a second' they very well may just get knocked out.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The One that Got Away

Sure enough, the bait and switch tactic had to come to a head sooner or later… they always do. I was told that I was going out on the road ‘for training’ last Thursday and Friday. I dutifully went out with one of the drivers in order to learn the ‘hands on’ stuff that all of the drivers are required to know. I wasn’t thrilled, but I figured that it made good sense to have everybody trained equally so that in the event of an emergency, they could always handle the work load.

One small detail that sort of ran around in my mind was that neither the dispatcher nor the other office gal were licensed or trained, nor were they planning to be. I also spoke with the vehicle mechanic, who is licensed to drive anything on the road… and, as it turns out, he is not trained, nor is he planning to be trained to be a stand-in driver. The question that springs to my mind is this: if we are all purportedly being trained to be stand-in drivers… why aren’t we all being trained? For some reason, this sort of bothered me… but I didn’t voice it or indicate it in any way.

On the day that I was told I had to go on the road, I was told the day of the training, and had no prior warning whatsoever… I had an idea that I would be doing this at some undetermined time in the future, but this was as far as it went. As it turned out, I was scheduled to work another job directly after I left work that day, and it wasn’t a situation where arriving late was at all acceptable. The start time was the start time, and, even on time we are time-pressured and have to really move our asses to keep up so that everything will be ready at the start time of the event… in this case, a holiday party.

Well… 20 minutes prior to the end of my scheduled workday, the dispatcher was trying to assign another run to the driver who was assigned to train me… I told him that I was scheduled to work elsewhere, and that no matter what, I had to be back at the office by 3:30PM, come what may. I explained that I had not been given the courtesy of advance notice, and that I didn’t think that it was fair to expect me to stay late without at least asking me if it would be an inconvenience. They are aware that I must work part-time elsewhere to make ends meet.

The driver told the dispatcher that he couldn’t accept the run due to the fact that he had to get me back to the office so that I could make it to my second job on time. He also reminded her that we had not been given a lunch break during the entire day. She grudgingly allowed him to return me to the office, but, when we returned, I could tell that she was royally pissed off.

The next day was a repeat of the same thing, and I got back 20 minutes late, which threw my schedule off entirely. I called her from home later on in the evening, and explained that this could not continue along these lines. That I was committed to work at the time that I had agreed… at least until the week ended (I commit to a different schedule each week.. depending upon what they need, and what schedule I am able to accept.. but, once I commit I cannot back out. If you do this, you don’t get any more work!!), and that being late affected my credibility, and thus negatively affected my finances. Unacceptable! She was very annoyed and clipped with me on the telephone, and said that I would have to speak with the owner about it. She wanted to be able to schedule me to work at her convenience, and didn’t want to hear it from me.

I thought about this… and decided to simply wait and discuss it with the boss the next day.

The next working day, which was this past Monday, a woman showed up at the office to begin training as the administrative specialist. I was asked to clear my stuff from the desk so that she would have a place to work.

I was called in to the office, and the boss made it clear in no uncertain terms that I was no longer to be carried as an admin specialist, and that instead, I was to be assigned as a full-time driver. I was also informed that the schedule that we had originally agreed to was no longer acceptable to the company (7AM to 3:30PM) and that I would be required to work from 7AM until at least 5:30PM and possibly as late as 9PM when the situation required. He also expressed dissatisfaction with my refusal to work, or at least to be available, on weekends. He said that this would have to change, that I would eventually have to make myself available at any time that the company needed me to work.

I sat quietly and listened to all of this, and at the end I simply told him that it was a lot of information to process, and that I would have to give it all some serious thought. I said that I didn’t really want to respond in any way, since I had had no time to organize my thoughts or prepare any sort of sensible response. He agreed that this was wise and that is how we left it.

I went to work as usual on Tuesday morning, and when the dispatcher came in, she told me to try on a uniform jacket (drivers wear them), gave me a Nextel radio, and told me that I had to leave it on at all times, even when I was at home, so that they would be able to call me in whenever they needed somebody, and then handed me a huge packet of paperwork to fill out. This was all forms that had to be turned into the state department of motor vehicles. She told me that I had to fill it out immediately, that it was ‘Top Priority’ and that there was nothing that I had to do that was more important. She wanted to ‘get me out on the road’ as soon as possible.

I took the paperwork to another room and sat down, dejectedly, and began to fill it all out. As I was doing this, it occurred to me that I didn’t at all want to do this. I didn’t hire on as a driver. I was not really given an option. And above all, it didn’t strike me as being either courteous or fair to push me into this situation without so much as a ‘beggin’ your pardon’.

Well… I more or less decided on the spot that in fact I wasn’t going to do it, and that the best course of action that I could take would be to go and inform the boss and nip this whole thing in the bud. There was really no point in continuing any further. It was bullshit, and I figured that being frank and honest, and calling a spade a spade was the smartest course of action.

I figured that this would mean that I would be unemployed at a difficult time of year to find work, but, I also figured that the longer I continued along this path, the harder it would be.

So, I walked over to the boss, who was in a conversation with the dispatcher, and I politely waited at a distance until he took notice, which, honestly, wasn’t all that long..

I asked him if he had a moment, that I had something to discuss with him. He asked me what was on my mind, and I asked whether we could discuss it in privacy in his office. He raised his eyebrows for a second, but agreed, and in we went. I basically told him that I didn’t want to be a driver, that it wasn’t the job that I had applied for and accepted, that one of the main draws of the job was the schedule that we had agreed upon, and that he had never once been able to articulate a single substandard thing regarding my work performance. I told him that I felt I was being treated unfairly, and that I had kept to my word in everything that we had agreed upon. I also said that I had been doing a fantastic job for him, and that I knew that he knew it. I told him that as of that moment, I was not driving any more, and that I was aware that it most likely meant that I was out of a job, but that this was my decision and that I was sticking to it. I told him that I had perceived him as being a pious and honorable man, and that I was mostly upset that my perception and judgement had been wrong on that account, and that I was sorely disappointed. I told him that I would stay on doing office work until the new person was sufficiently trained, or until he found a replacement if that was what he needed, but that it would more convenient to me if I could simply leave after the meeting and move on with searching for a full-time position elsewhere.

He sat and listened to what I said, and then said, “I had hoped that you would like the driver position, and that it would work out.”. I repeated that I understood that I would be out of a job, but if that was how it was going to be, then that was how it was going to be.

He said, “We have to decide what do now. I can’t afford to have two people working full-time in the office, but, at the moment, you are essentially covering the office from 7AM until 9AM, after which I had hoped to put you out on the road to cover the runs that need to be covered. Since that didn’t work out, I can double those hours, and have you cover from 7AM until 11AM. This would give you time to look for employment elsewhere and go on interviews, and still give you at least a partial paycheck until you find something. If you find some part-time work in the afternoons, and want to continue working here on that schedule, we can do it permanently, but if you find something full-time, I just ask that you keep me informed so that I can make arrangements to fill the position.”

This seemed to me to be a fair arrangement, given the circumstances…. not optimal, but fair. Apparently, the other person in the office, the dispatcher, has a problem with a male filling the position. She wants a female in there… and I suppose she was chipping away at him the entire time. He tried to put lipstick on a pig and put a good face on it by offering me a position driving. It didn’t work out, but I understand his way of thinking.

I am glad that it turned out not to be a planned out ‘bait and switch’ scam after all. I like him, and I don’t want to think that he is a shit. So, that is my situation now… I have work, at least part-time… and I am free to find something else without the pressure of no income whatsoever. I now have a fairly low-level commercial driver’s license, as well as a valid learner’s permit for a higher level commercial driver’s license. This can’t really hurt… and it didn’t cost me a dime! (They are fairly expensive… and the company footed the bill… plus I got a free physical, so, it all worked out sort of well in the end.)

The job didn’t really pay well from the start, and I more or less took it with the caveat that I would try to find something that paid a better salary in any case.

So now I have the freedom to schedule interviews, and to have some time to search around until I find something that I am better suited for, and, hopefully, that will pay a great deal more as well.

So, that's my story... I managed to narrowly escape a crappy situation, somehow worked out an acceptable interim circumstance, and now, once again, have my work cut out for me.. I need to find work. I suppose I had best get to it, then... Wish me luck!

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Red Smoke, Green Parrot & Donall

Yesterday, my wife and I were out running some errands. We were both fairly hungry, and prior to going out, Marcheline had asked me where we should go to eat.

I suggested a place that I had heard about called "Red Smoke"

Now, there's a small back-story to this.. I had first heard about this place back in July or August and had suggested going there. My wife immediately allowed that it sounded great, and agreed that we should go 'sometime'.

Over the ensuing months, whenever some occasion popped up where I was asked to suggest a place where we might go and eat, I would dutifully say, "Hey! Why don't we go and try that 'Red Smoke' place?", and my wife would reply, "Well... I want to try it, but, I don't want to go 'dressed like this'."

(What'the!?! - we go to all sorts of places 'dressed like this' ... what's the deal??) - but... I wouldn't make an issue out of it. I figured she just didn't feel like going there, and left it that... although, it was weird, because my wife generally says precisely what she thinks and/or feels, doesn't very often beat around the bush, and certainly never comes up with weird cheesy cop-out excuses for not doing something; she just says, "I don't want to do that" and that's that. But, there's a first time for everything, I figured, so I let it be.

So.. back to yesterday, I suggested "Red Smoke", and she readily agreed!! (This took place at the house, before we left.) Over the next hour or two, while we were out and about, she would ask me again and again where I thought we should eat, I would reply, "I thought we were going to 'Red Smoke'?", and she would mumble something like, "Oh, yeah... that's right...". Soon, the question began being, "Where is this Red Smoke place, again?", or, "How far away is this place?".

I was getting a vibe that she wanted to worm out of the whole 'Red Smoke' thing and go someplace else that was either: a). Closer, or: b). More familiar. In any case, I was definitely getting a sense that 'Red Smoke' was simply out of the question. She had been resisting going to this place pretty much every time I brought it up, and she was resisting it now... and it just didn't seem cool to force her to try something that she didn't want to try (But she wants to try EVERYTHING - so what was the deal??!!)

I finally said, "Forget it. Let's just go someplace else. It is fairly clear that you just don't want to go there... so you suggest someplace. I made my suggestion. Now its your turn."

She mulled it over for a while, then, apparently coming to a decision, she shrugged and said, "Let's go to 'Red Smoke'"

I said, "Now you want to go??!!"

She said, "Yeah.. let's go."

So... we went!

When we pulled up in front of the place, which was a storefront, 'get yer food at the counter and go find a table' 'spit and sawdust' kind of place, she breathed a huge sigh of relief and said, "Ohhhhh.... I thought this place was some kind of new fancy restaurant! I was afraid that I would look like a complete jackass walking in there in jeans!"

I had never even considered that the place was that kind of a restaurant... so I had never even attempted to disabuse her of that notion!...

"So THAT'S why you never wanted to come here 'DRESSED LIKE THIS'!!" I said, turning to her, and cracking up!!

"Yeah! You said 'This new restaurant just opened up, and I thought it was a fancy sit-down restaurant... it never crossed my mind that it was a take-out joint!"

We both got a kick out how badly we had communicated over this issue... for months!!

Man, we weren't even close to speaking the same language!!

We went out to get our Yule Tree today, and on the way there, while sitting at a traffic light, we observed a motor vehicle accident happen right in front of us. It looked like a bad one, a broadside, and at fairly high speed... one of the cars lifted up on two wheels, but at the balancing point it fell back down onto its wheels, bounced a few times, then came to rest after getting blown from the center of the intersection to the curb. Once the smoke cleared and we had a chance to assess what had happened, it turned out that everyone was basically unhurt, so we continued on our way; but it gave us a good start. Why don't people learn to drive more carefully during such times?? Instead, they seem to drive like lunatics, and people get needlessly hurt and killed. Grrrr!

We name our trees each year, and this year's tree is named 'Donall'. He is a braw beautiful tree, and we will be happily decorating him tommorrow night (Monday).

Donall Being Escorted into Thistlebright Cottage by One Happy Bear!!

When we got home, we were unloading the vehicle and carrying stuff into the cottage and all the while we both kept hearing a really strange bird cry. We had both heard the same call numerous times over the past months, but could never identify the creator of the sound; until today! We both stopped and began visually searching the trees for the source of the call, and finally Marcheline spotted this guy sitting on one of the branches of a tree in our backyard;

He has apparently run away from home, has woken up from a drunken binge, and now seems to think that he is a mourning dove. He was following a flock of them from tree to tree, squawking and screeching and squalling at them.

The doves were unavailable for comment as of presstime.

I'm worried about the wee bugger. Its getting cold out, and I'm not sure that he's very well equipped to survive.

Neither of us are very sure of what we can do, though... particularly since he was last seen heading southeast at 40 knots at an altitude of 185 feet.

Bait & Switch, or Necessity?? Only Her Hairdresser Knows For Sure!

So. When we last tuned in, Bear had found a job as an Admin Assistant at a local Ambulette company, where he was getting settled in, and becoming reasonably happy...


As it turns out, the winds of change are incessant in this part of the world, and of late, I have been getting pressured to obtain a CDL license so that I could serve as a 'stand-in' driver whenever such services are needed. When this was first brought up, I explained that I didn't really much care for the idea, but that I would be willing to do it in exceptional circumstances.

I dutifully went and took the test for the license, passed, and now have a nominal CDL (Commercial Driver's License) Class C license that allows me to operate a commercial vehicle with fewer than 7 passengers. I also have a valid Class B Learner's Permit, and can schedule the Skills/Road Test whenever I feel that I am prepared to do so.. (I am *woefully* unprepared as of this writing...).

A CDL is probably not such a bad thing to have, in the grand scheme... HOWever...

I was hired as an Admin Assistant... and this is what I want to do... In conversations with a number of the other drivers, I have since learned that a great number of them were hired as Office workers, admin assistants, and other various and sundry positions, only to be slowly shang-hai'ed into accepting ambulette driver positions.

I am starting to feel as though I have been played. I don't like bait & switch games. I don't like being manipulated. I don't like being decieved. I just don't like it very much at all....

The thing is, the owner of the company still strikes me as an honest guy, with a good heart. It is my thought that he hired me on the up and up, and that everything was done on the level, but that he is under incredible pressure to put enough drivers on the road to keep the company viable. In fact, a couple of days ago, he put on his jacket and went out on the road to do a few runs himself. He isn't asking anything of me that he won't do as well, and you can't ask much more of a leader.

The thing is, I just don't want to do it. I also don't want to leave him in a lurch.

He mentioned that the drivers get paid even less than I do, which, honestly, isn't really very much. I certainly hope that he doesn't plan on paying me at the lower rate whenever he has me doing any sort of driving stuff... because that ain't workin' AT ALL!!

I haven't done any driving yet, because I haven't been trained, but he plans on putting me out on the road this coming week with one of the experienced drivers. Once I spend a full day in training, I am fair game.

I have a feeling that I will be finding myself more and more behind the wheel, and less and less behind a desk.

I told him that I would give it a fair go... and I plan on doing that. But, I don't think I am going to like it very much at all.. which, I suppose, isn't really approaching it with all due fairness.. but, there it is.

It is looking, folks, like I am going to be searching for another job soon...

At least I have a steady income while I do so, which is more than many folks can say, so I am fortunate.

I just wish I could be hired for a job, do the job, and have that be enough one of these times...


Saturday, December 02, 2006

Hold the Presses!

I was scheduled to tend bar at a party this evening. It may have been a wedding, an engagement party, a surprise 60th birthday party, or perhaps a bar/bat mitvah or anniversary soire. I don't know what it was supposed to be, but I didn't go.

I was out and about with my wife today, running errands and generally enjoying the time with her, when I received a page from my boss. When I called him, he said that the party had been cancelled, due to a death in the family.

I don't know what kind of party it was going to be, but my heart goes out to the family who had been all set for a night of fun and celebration, and who, instead, are now grieving.

Somewhere in the recesses of my mind is a picture of a young bride-to-be, sitting and sobbing into her wedding dress because her mom or dad passed away...

I cannot change this situation... I can only accept it, and deal with it.

But it makes me feel sad. I accept that death is a part of the plan. I accept that there is nothing that we can do about it. I have no choice.

I send my prayers out to these people who I do not know, who now have this difficult burden of grief to bear, instead of the fun time that they had all been anticipating.

For the rest of us, I suppose we can accept this event as a reminder that life is short, and that our time together here is limited, and that we have *absolutely* no say regarding when we will meet our end... so, perhaps will appreciate one another, our time together, and the beauty of this precise moment.

Whoever you are that just left this place; go in harmony, may you have very few regrets as go. I wish you swift travels, and may you rest in peace. I would have done a good job for you tonight... I promise. I am sorry that we couldn't have met.