Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Thank you for calling blah blah blah, howmayIhelpyou?

After enduring the trials and travails of unemployment for many months, let it never be said that I'm not happy to be working again. I am thrilled! Delighted! Stoked, even. Especially on payday.

But boy does my new job ever suck. The training we received was a pointless exercise in reading vague policy tutorials online for two weeks. We got very little of the practical information we need to do our jobs. How to operate the phone system, for instance, was never mentioned. Now that I'm taking calls, the volume of inquiries I have to handle is relentless. I literally get another call the second I hang up from the last one. Compared to the other cushy help desks where I've worked it feels like a sweatshop. I can take a little hard work, but it's not just that. The managers are unresponsive to questions and requests. The resource staffers are surly and condescending. The pay is worse than poor, it's insulting; barely over half the income I made at my last comparable position. Benefits are theoretically available, but at out-of-pocket rates I could never afford. The office is grim and cheer-free, rows upon rows of unsmiling faces. With a high turnover of Kelly drones who seldom get the staff positions they aspire to, there's a curious air of impermanence about the place. Most cubicles are devoid of personal touches. You can tell by the odd stuffed animal on the monitor or family photo on the desk which folks survived the last big layoff. They comprise about twenty percent of the staff, possibly less.

Fortunately my stay could be brief too. I interviewed for a tech support job that's almost too good to be true on Monday. The pay is nearly double what I make now, with a jaw-dropping benefits package. It's a small company with a very relaxed atmosphere. I could wear jeans to work! Their help desk staff will total three after, God willing, I am hired. Instead of supporting a million applications that I have scant documentation for, I'd be supporting the one app that the company develops, sells and supports. And since it's much closer to home, I'd avoid the teeth-gritting, curse-muttering daily rush hour freeway grind that I am dealing with now.

I spent a half hour answering questions for the CEO and vice president, then another half hour being grilled by the help desk guys. And maybe I'm deluded, but I feel like I impressed them. They all said I had far more experience than any other interviewee. I should be hearing from them within the week. Cross your fingers for me.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Joining the Blogosphere

After undertaking the tedious, tiresome task of moving all my old LiveJournal entries over here, I'm finally at home on my new blog. Believe me, it was no simple cut-and-paste job. There was a lot of seriously screwed-up LJ frankenHTML to deal with. But presumably it's all legible and all links are working now. So far I've found the blog easy to customize and the only thing I miss is the cheesy little form where you plug in your music and mood. So I'll just tell you I'm cheerful and I'm listening to "Junior Senior-Hey Hey My My Yo Yo".

I went home to Tennessee to spend the holidays with my family and had a blast. Many thanks to Mom, Eddie, my aunt Carolyn and uncle Joe for the ticket. I miss everyone so much. I come from a very loving brood and I feel incredibly blessed. I just wish I could have stayed longer. It was great getting to spend some time with my nephew Heath, who is three. I am not a bit biased when I tell you he's the most adorable child on earth.

Can you believe it? After months of being laid off, living like a pauper, endless days of prowling every available print and online job listing and countless tedious interviews that went nowhere, I finally got a job. It's another automotive-related tech support position. No telling how stable it is with other divisions of the company in hyper-job-elimination mode. Also, the pay is piss poor and there's no benefits. But at this point it still feels like I won the freakin' lottery. At least now that I have a job I'll look more attractive to prospective employers as I continue looking for something better. This area has seen over 40,000 auto workers laid off the past few months and jobs are obviously scarce, but somehow it still looks suspect to an interviewer when you're not working. You pretty much have to have a job to get one.

Meanwhile, I have decided to bite the bullet and renew my nursing license. I'll figure out later what to do once it's active, but least I'll have that to fall back on in a crisis. There's still really nowhere in the country an RN can't find work. It's possible I can use my degree without returning to direct patient care. Case management, forensic nursing, and nursing education are some of the options. An ask-a-nurse hotline would be my dream job: making an RN's salary and using my medical knowledge from the comfy confines of a cubicle. No understaffing crises or body fluid horrors or code blue nightmares.

Friday, January 06, 2006

"I’ll be the perfect subhuman and never let my contempt shine in my worshipping eyes"

Copied from my LJ-11/21/05
That's a line from Meryn Cadell's spoken word piece Job Application, which distills the whole interview experience into an eloquent eighty-five seconds.

Totally inappropriate questions I was asked today on a job interview:
How old are you?
Are you single? Married? Divorced?
Any kids?
Do you smoke?
Any health problems?
What do your parents do for a living?
Do you have any siblings? Older or younger?

I turned almostforty a couple of weeks ago and age is a sensitive subject these days. Since I changed careers, I'm a few years older than most folks in my field. People tell me I look younger than my age, and my resume only lists recent jobs and omits my graduation date, so I was hoping to avoid the question. No such luck. Being thirty-nine instead of thirty-two could make me look suspect to an interviewer. I have wondered suspiciously why one coworker was older than the rest of us. What failure in life had led him to find himself, well into middle age, in a cubicle talking to faceless car salesmen all day?

I learned some new skills today I hope never to use again. It's not easy to maintain composure when an interviewer is asking things you know he shouldn't ask. You want to seem unfazed, accomodating. Above all, to appear as though you have nothing to hide. And all the while you're thinking in that sardonic Daria voice, "Nice ethics, buster. I just know you're going to be a swell boss." I tried not to register the volley of verboten inquiry on my face. I did stammer a bit at the age question. Then he threw me another. And another. It was almost like he was testing me to see how far he could go before I cracked and protested. But I suffered his invasive, asinine grilling gladly, smiled and turned on the charm to whatever degree is possible for me.

My exhaustive three minutes of internet research confirms that every one of those questions is illegal. And boy does it piss me off, not just that he asked them, but that he knows he can get away with it.

The guy complimented my accent and said I had a great voice for phone... unlike his Asian coworker, whose pronunciation is difficult for him to understand. More little red flags. Why would you even bring that up? But I ignored it because, like Meryn, "I like a good work atmosphere where the boss says whatever he wants and the rest of us just listen."

I caved and took out my eyebrow ring for the last couple of interviews. For this one I took out my earrings too. They won't be going back in if I'm hired, at least not during office hours. Of course I have to get by the personality test first, which I'm sure will be like a bad acid flashback to my campus counselling center.

"No, I don’t expect vacation pay
and yes I’m available every day
and though I don’t like the evil way you’re looking at me,
I’ve got rent to pay.
And yes, I can start on Saturday.

"Candy apples and razor blades, little dead are soon in graves"

Copied from my LJ-10/24/05

Image hosted by
Don't blame me for the creepy title of this post, blame the Misfits, since I can't get that song out of my head. Listen for yourself.

I wanted the Silver Shamrock theme from Halloween III: Season of the Witch playing when my page loaded, but apparently the fine venture capitalists at LiveJournal expect me to pony up a few bucks for the privilege of background music. So you'll have to download and play it to get my intended effect.

Incidentally, does anyone know of a (preferably ad-free) online journal service that doesn't charge for background music or a more customizable site?

Halloween season is in full swing at Chez Howie. Spooky music issues from my speakers. Jackolanterns peer from every window. Decorations cover all available indoor surfaces. Some might find it oppressive, to say nothing of tacky. But Halloween is my birthday and I'll go overboard if I damn well please.

Here are some links to help you get into the spirit:

Locate a haunted castle, hayride or corn maze near you at, Haunted Attraction Magazine, or GooGhoul.

Every year I look forward to the X-Entertainment Halloween Countdown's reviews of Halloween-themed foods, toys and media. Nobody's love of Halloween is purer, and nobody's knowledge of candy more encyclopedic- don't get it twisted.

Vintage Halloween memorabilia: Old Haunts,

Everything you need to know about Day of the Dead. See also: Mexico's Day of the Dead, Day of the Dead Cultural Articles, Pan de Muerto recipe.

Fright Catalog, Spooky F/X, Fright Props, and Gore Galore sell high quality props for haunted houses. I love to peruse these sites and dream of the day when I'll populate my front porch with animatronic monsters for Halloween.

Check out these haunted paper toys you can print out and assemble. Some are even animated.

The Moonlit Road features streaming audio of ghost stories and folk tales by acclaimed Southern storytellers. The Shadowlands publishes reader-submitted stories of ghosts and hauntings. See also:,, Victorian Ghost Stories.

Bleeding Skull - Low-budget horror film reviews. The Diabolical Dominion - horror news and reviews. The Groovy Age of Horror - horror paperbacks and comics of the 60's and 70's. See also: Horror-Web,, Queer Horror.

Music: The Misfits-Halloween
Mood: Cheerful

Toy nostalgia

Copied from my LJ-10/21-05
Toy nostalgia is a beautiful thing, as the good folks at eBay are happy to remind you. Today this UK survey of favorite toys took me right back. For me it's not the products I still remember the commercial jingles for, it's the lesser-known but no less delightful. Sure, I loved Stretch Armstrong and Stretch Monster (silly and homoerotic!) and my Evel Knievel Stunt Cycle, but who didn't have one of those? Where is the love for my "Hal Needham, Stuntman" action figure?

Seeing TOMY pocket games on the list gave me an involuntary gasp of joy. While these were some of my favorite toys, I never saw them on TV or even in the Sears and Penney's Christmas catalogs whose toy sections we memorized every fall. In fact I only ever saw them in one place: the late, lamented King's. King's was the last of the old school multistory department stores to die out when the mall supplanted downtown as the preferred shopping locale, and it was like losing an old friend. They had nattily dressed salespeople, a bargain basement, and a mezzanine beauty salon- by appointment only. Best of all, while the mall toy stores skewed towards all things noisy, battery-operated and forgettable, King's had a magical toy department with stuff you never saw anywhere else. It was here we got the pocket games, and boy did they pack a lot of merriment into a palm-sized plastic box. We had the Pocket Raceway, Gone Fishin', Secret Passage and a few others, but it was my all-time favorite, the Obstacle Course, that gave me and my family many, many of hours of fun.

Apparently British toymakers hated children. I had the Quicksilver Maze too (scroll down to #95), but mine most certainly did not contain mercury. There was a tiny hole where you put in drops of water, which the special coating inside made to look and act like quicksilver.

Finally, I was thrilled to see another old favorite, Screwball Scramble (also by TOMY), on the list.

Not only don't I remember any ads for this toy, I didn't even know that's what it was called. I just remember playing it until my fingers were sore and I could work the puzzle with my eyes closed. I'm happy to report that it's still available, and pretty cheaply at that. Sadly, I don't even see my pocket Obstacle Course on eBay.

Music: Gretchen Wilson-All Jacked Up
Mood: Amused

Stumblin' and a-fumblin' like a flip mighty goon

Copied from my LJ-10/10/05
I slacked off on my blogging for a while. I wasn't keen to discuss getting laid off. Unemployment can be a pretty miserable state of existence, and just in case anyone is kind enough to read my blog I don't want to bore them with my whining. Also, once the bizarro world of my terrible last job wasn't convenient subject matter, I kind of lost track of what the blog was about. Then this morning I was reading my favorite delusional live journalist. This girl's entire worldview is constructed atop the fragile premise that two (by all accounts hetero) members of a bland Aussie pop band are secretly gay for each other. Her fascinating ramblings reminded me what all blogs are about: ME ME ME, baby, and my own warped perspective. So here I am, stumblin' and a-fumblin' like a flip mighty goon.

The job hunt continues. I've had a couple of interviews. The last one went very well and I hope to hear from them soon. The first one, not so much. I knew I was screwed right off the bat when the first words out of the stodgy old bitch's mouth were disparaging remarks about my eyebrow ring. So professional. And so out of left field. I have worked in corporate environments at software companies for five years and my piercings have never been an issue before. Never once came up in an interview, never commented upon by any manager or superior. In fact those employers seemed to cultivate a pool of young, urban employees where piercings and hair colors of the rainbow were common. My hair was alternately blond or purple at the first of those jobs and nobody even batted an eye at that.

Paul thinks I should take out my piercings for interviews. I'm torn. It's not like I'm hardcore modern primitve guy and they're somehow integral to my concept of self. But they do have some meaning to me. I got my eyebrow ring shortly after I left nursing, a job where I could have never worn one. It has come to represent one of my proudest decisions: to walk away from a lucrative career because it made me miserable. So it's difficult to let go. Even considering taking it out feels like I'm betraying some vague ideal I wasn't aware I had. As for the earrings, well... a wise woman once said the only thing that separates us from the animals is our ability to accessorize. Maybe I'll build a bridge and get over it, but for now they're staying in.

Fans of mashups and amusing political commentary will appreciate this track by Wax Audio.

If you enjoy spooky music you'll want to visit The Essential Ghoul's Record Shelf, my favorite MP3 blog. The site is practically a ready-made Halloween mixtape, and there's lots of background info on the songs.

Our friends Steve and Joy had their annual fall party yesterday and I made this:

Pumpkin Cheesecake
2 c graham cracker crumbs
2 sticks butter, melted
1 tsp ground nutmeg
4 8 oz pkgs cream cheese
1 c canned pumpkin puree
1 2/3 c sugar
1/2 c evaporated milk
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cloves
5 eggs

Combine first three ingredients. Divide into two springform pans or spoon two heaping tsp of mixture into each foil-lined muffin cup. Press with pestle to flatten. Place all remaining ingredients except eggs in food processor. Pulse until mixed, adding eggs one at a time. Pour mixture into pans or muffin cups, leaving 1/2" for expansion. Bake @ 300 for 45 min. Cool and refrigerate overnight. Makes two cheesecakes or two dozen muffin-sized cakes with much filling left over.

Music: Lavern Baker-Voodoo Voodoo
Mood: Chipper

Ride Roundup

Copied from my LJ-9/16/05
Some images of Six Flags New Orleans:


Music: Erykah Badu-Mama's Gun
Mood: Pensive

Naughty Little Doggie

Copied from my LJ-8/16/06
WARNING: The following post contains material some readers may find objectionable. If you are easily offended or grossed out, read on AT YOUR OWN RISK. That warning goes double for anyone in my family!

A nice bit of Sunday afternoon sex segued into a minor trial last weekend. I returned to the bedroom after washing up to retrieve the condom and the tissue in which I disposed of it. To my horror, it was gone. Fellow pet owners will understand this can mean only one thing: the dog got it!

Cleo was skulking around looking a bit sheepish, but we could find no evidence of the missing rubber on her breath (you know that nasty hot latex smell, right?), her person, or anywhere else in the house. Obviously, my first concern was that she may have swallowed it and could develop a bowel obstruction. I started to call the vet, but then I realized I'd have to explain that I had (only for a few fleeting seconds, I swear) left a used rubber where my dog could grab it. And I was thinking gee, won't that be a fun chat. She probably thinks I am a spaz already because we called so often with concerns after she spayed Cleo. Since neither of us actually observed her swallowing it, it's entirely possible I could confess all this to my mortified vet and get the dog xrayed only to find absolutely nothing- doubleplus horror.

Then I thought of other, more selfish and superficial concerns. We had a dinner guest coming over and I had gone to some trouble preparing the meal. I had toiled to perfect my homemade vinaigrette, in which a salad of onions and grape tomatoes from our little garden was macerating. I had created a delightful barbecue sauce full of purple bell peppers and pineapple and onions to serve over the thickest pork chops I have ever grilled. There was fresh corn on the grill, ready to be shucked and slathered with my delicious herbed butter. There were hot biscuits too, and a blender full of pina coladas made from scratch. So what if, as I walked in bearing my brand new serving platter piled high with Hawaiian grilled pork chops, Cleo trotted into the dining room with the tattered, santorum-stained remains of our shameful gay love between her teeth? What if she vomited it up?

Fortunately she stayed out of the dining room and I managed to get through dinner without freaking out. Since she seemed to be fine, we decided the best course of action was just to observe her closely and remain alert for any change in her eating or elimination patterns. She continued to have a hearty appetite and, um, everything else appeared to be going okay. Meanwhile I kept searching for the missing condom. I looked in every dark corner of the basement, under every piece of furniture, covered all the usual bone and toy hiding places both indoors and out. Nothing.

Then Paul found it today, when he was cleaning up the dog poop in preparation to mow the yard. Apparently she passed it with flying colors.

Music: Bent-Programmed for Love
Mood: Relieved

"I was busy doing something close to nothing, but different than the day before"

Copied from my LJ-8/3/05
Yesterday I got the best news I've had all summer. Effective Monday, I have medical insurance. Still no word on a raise, vacation days or other benefits, but I am so thrilled and relieved to have medical coverage.

Still, I can't let myself get complacent. I have to keep looking for something better. This job is hardly a career move, more like a desperate stopgap between me and homeless destitution. Not only am I not using my nursing degree, I'm not even using my years of experience in tech support. It's still a horrible place to work, in terms of workplace environment as well as location. When I call Highland Park a ghetto hellhole, by no means am I joking. It looks like a war zone with strip malls. On the way home yesterday I stopped at three different convenience stores looking for a loaf of bread before finally gving up. Apparently all the stores around here sell are lottery tickets and blunt wrappers, both in astounding variety. Last night our security guard called us, terrified to leave her station. One of the local crackheads was menacing her for no apparent reason, screaming threats and throwing rocks at the guard shack. She called the police but they never showed up. In fact, Highland Park doesn't even have a police force, and Detroit cops apparently have bigger fish to fry.

Tracy still has not been fired but supposedly it's in the works. Until then I'm back to working the 3pm-midnight shift. While Tracy is here, Pat insists that we don't run any print jobs in the evening as that is his job. And at the moment, for the first time since I started working here, we're all caught up on incoming scanning jobs. That means that, other than the hour it takes me to run daily reports, we've spent the last two evenings doing absolutely nothing. So ol' Pat can be a slacker too. I didn't know she had it in her. I web surf and she plays online card games. Occasionally we chat, but we're just as content to go about our business in silence.

Last night Pat asked me what crab tastes like. (How does someone live to be 48 without ever tasting crab?) Later I regretted getting on the subject of food with her, because we started talking about our favorite cooking shows and she maligned my much-beloved Paula Deen. "That woman is a pig! I can't watch her. She stuffs her mouth with so much food, it just grosses me out. And she fills everything with butter and grease." Le sigh. Spoken like the 4'10", eighty pound stick figure she is. She has said on more than one occasion that fat people disgust her. I'm hardly skinny myself, but no one ever accused her of having tact. Pat has an odd, almost adversarial relationship with food. She eyes everything I bring in for lunch suspiciously, and says she eats only once a day.

Pat is an attractive woman, with piercing hazel eyes, multiple gold rings in her ears and nose and eyebrow and a shock of spiky silver hair. She walks with the cockiness of a banty rooster. She's a likeable enough person but as I've said, we'd never be friends outside work. She says the web bores her, that she's already seen it all. How do you respond to that? It's a remark only someone who never reads could make, and she freely admits she doesn't. Working the evening shift this week I learned something new and surprising about her: Pat listens to two hours of conservative talk radio every evening. So yes, while you were home watching Big Brother last night, I was listening to Bill O'Reilly argue the merits of teaching intelligent design theory in public schools, punctuated by Pat's occasional exclamation of "I agree!" I know better than to judge a book by its cover, but it's just not what I'd expect from a butch lesbian with approximately fifteen facial piercings. Go figure.

Music: Aquanote-The Pearl
Mood: Content

"I'm so tired of this vacuum, need a man to help soon"

Copied from my LJ-7/30/05
What a week. Work has been an emotional rollercoaster. I really didn't want to be here Monday. Lamont endangered my chances of getting a permanent position last week with a lie he told to cover for his own laziness, and I stewed over it all weekend. After my initial fury subsided, I just felt stung and sad. It's true I had no illusions about his moral character, but I was I foolish enough to believe he was in my corner. Seeing how readily he sold me out made it clear that I have no allies at my job, and the prospect of getting the raise and benefits I need so badly seemed more distant than ever.

Next came the news that Tracy will return from his medical leave next Monday. I could only speculate how this would affect my job. Would they move me to nightshift as was once suggested? Let me go altogether? I certainly don't love it here but I sure can't afford to lose the meager income it affords me. So I had a couple of days to stress over that.

Yesterday Lamont told me that after Tracy works his shift on Monday, the powers that be will inform him of his termination and escort him from the building. He also said Tracy himself is aware this is going to happen. I automatically view anything he says with skepticism. The fact Tracy's position was already posted on seems to bear it out, but it remains to be seen. I feel kind of bad for Tracy, as he has a family to support. On the other hand, he has gotten away with an absurd amount of absenteeism for years. At least he got a nice long paid vacation as a going-away present. Wait, I don't feel sorry for him at all. He's at home laying on his ass and still making more money than me.

Yesterday we had my dog spayed. I was worried about her but she seemed to come through it just fine. She's still a bit sluggish and definitely in some pain. That's some incision she has, but then she is a big girl- over a hundred pounds.

This weekend it's time to meet the Fockers, which is how I describe any in-law encounter. Paul's parents are leaving their summer place in western Michigan and heading back to their home in Florida, and decided they'll stop by our place for lunch. They've never been to our house. Given the hovel Paul lived in before we met (and judging from his stories, the series of hovels before that) I know his mother is dying to see if we live like pigs. I had grand plans to whip the house into shape but as always, having elevated procrastination to an art form, I had put it all off until today. Then things came up and I didn't get any cleaning done at all.

Last night I got a call from Chad a.k.a Fido, my oldest friend in Michigan. His band had just played a show in Detroit and my place is on his way home. He wondered if he might stop by and pick up the CDs I borrowed from him, like, several years ago (sorry Chad) that I kept meaning to return but never got around to. (In my defense he lives an hour away and we could never find time to get together.) He ended up having major car trouble so he crashed at my house last night. We spent today getting his Jeep fixed and catching up, then I worked the evening shift tonight.

The Fockers are due to arrive at 11am. I sure hope I am conscious by then.

Music: Roisin Murphy-Ruby Blue
Mood: Tired

"He's a cold-hearted snake, look into his eyes"

Copied from my LJ-7/22/05
If I ever had doubts if before, I know now for sure that my boss Lamont is not my friend. He has used me more than once as an excuse to cover up either his own shortcomings or general department failings, which can all be attributed to him anyway.

Yesterday a coworker informed me that Lamont blamed a big job that got returned to us twice for corrections on my mistakes. In fact I had followed his directions to the letter. He wanted the books scanned with no editing at all. I asked him repeatedly if he was positive he didn't want me to mask edges, deskew, correct page position, etc. He insisted that it was a rush job and we didn't have time. But all the editing steps we skipped were the things we had to go back and do when the job got rejected.

A little while ago Durwood, Lamont's boss, came in to talk to me. He asked me if I knew how to operate the (commercial high capacity) printers in my department. I told him sure, I did. I have been running them daily for months. I pointed out the midday reports I just ran on one and the service manual I am printing on the other. Durwood said that, by way of explaining why he was behind on so many jobs, Lamont had told him that while I have mastered digitizing documents, I still don't know how to operate the printers and he hasn't had the chance to train me.

Lamont has dangled the promise of a raise and benefits like a carrot just beyond my nose for months but I am still working as a temp with no benefits for scandalously low pay. Tracy's position got posted on and I have been busting my ass to get the job. I carefully edited my resume to add the printing and scanning skills required for the job, hand-carried it to the HR director and pleaded my case with everyone in the building who has any input into the hiring decision. Lamont claimed he would do whatever he could to help me get hired. Now I find out he told his manager that I don't know even how to do the job! I am livid.

Lamont is a fucking snake. Today will be an exercise in self control as I bite my tongue and rein in my overwhelming urge to confront him.

Music: Bonobo-Dial "M" for Monkey
Mood: Angry

Ride Roundup for July 2005

Copied from my LJ-7/13/05
Ride Roundup - July 2005

Last month a California Supreme Court ruling reclassified amusement rides, making them subject to stricter regulation. The decision could have far-reaching implications and has already contributed to a climate of panic and overreaction in the theme park industry. Six Flags Marine World (Vallejo, CA) recently closed it's Hammerhead ride because a seven year old girl complained of dizziness after riding. The Matterhorn Bobsleds ride at Disneyland (Anaheim, CA) was closed for inspection after a sixty-two year old woman exited the ride complaining of dizziness and nausea (which her doctor attributed it to an existing medical condition). If amusement rides are going to be shut down for causing dizziness, how long before they are all closed?

Disney-MGM (Orlando, FL) closed the Tower of Terror yesterday because a sixteen year old girl complained of not feeling well after riding and later suffered a cardiac arrest in the hospital. Such incidents routinely make the news even though the ride is never at fault. I only mention it here to illustrate how the media needlessly fuel fear and suspicion of amusement rides.

In other news, some moron at a Batavia, IL, festival ended up hospitalized after he rocked the ferris wheel gondola he was riding with his nine year old daughter until he fell twenty feet to the ground. Fortunately the child did not fall and was uninjured.

Holiday World (Santa Claus, IN) has announced they will add The Voyage, a new wooden coaster for 2006. The record-breaking ride will boast over twenty-four seconds of airtime and five underground tunnels. Read all the specs and take a virtual ride here.

You can get a souvenir snapshot of yourself riding your favorite coaster at most theme parks, but how would you like a DVD of your whole ride? Thanks to a development deal between Paramount's King's Dominion (Doswell, VA) and XTREMEX3, on-ride digital video is about to become a reality.

Geauga Lake's Wildwater Kingdom (Aurora, OH) will be taping live casting auditions for Survivor 13 on July 21st. Guests who try out will get a full refund of their admission.

Ron Jon Surfpark, "the world's first wave pool facility built specifically for surfing and bodyboarding", is slated to open next year in Orlando, FL.

Space Mountain of Disneyland (Anaheim, CA) has reopened after a major rehab with new trains, theming, effects and a brand new soundtrack.

Busch Gardens Williamsburg (VA) has launched a new show called Imaginique, running nightly through August 17. Described as an "immersive, French-circus sensory experience", it sounds like a knockoff of what my Mom calls the Circus of Olay.

Dollywood (Pigeon Forge, TN) has announced that their $6.5 million expansion project for 2006 will include Timber Tower, a Huss Topple Tower. It will be the first ride of its kind in North America.

Top Thrill Dragster at Cedar Point (Sandusky, OH) stalled or "valleyed" on its top hat element last month, leaving riders stranded 420 feet in the air. Dragster's ride control system calibrates the launch force based on the weight of each loaded coaster train, and this has only happened once before with passengers on board. A maintenance worker took the service elevator to the top and sent the train down with a little push, after which the ride continued operating without incident.

Happy birthday to my adorable nephew Heath, who turns three today.

Music: Tim 'Love' Lee-Confessions of a Selector
Mood: Mischievous

"You're gonna need an ocean of calamine lotion"

Copied from my LJ-7/13/05
As I weeded the flower bed in front of my house last night, I must have gotten into some poison ivy/oak/sumac/something. When I first came inside, I noticed my hands were all tingly and swollen-feeling. (This happened to a much lesser degree the last time I weeded but I wrote it off as my imagination.) I washed them several times last evening but the feeling didn't go away. Then late last night, a pebbly, itchy rash appeared on the back of my neck, so itchy that it woke me up. Then I noticed I had fine, itchy bumps all over my fingers.

It's not a severe case (and believe me, I've had plenty) but it sure as hell looks like poison ivy to me. Possibly I spread some of the plant oils from my hand to my neck when I scratched, and I probably lessened the overall effect by hosing off my muddy hands several times while weeding and by washing immediately when I came inside. I need to do some research and find out what plant did the evil deed. I'll definitely be wearing gardening gloves to weed from now on.

It's odd that I just spent a whole weekend wandering the forest in shorts and sandals and never had a problem, but I got this right in my front yard. I haven't had the malady since I was a kid. We often got it traipsing around the woods near our house growing up. Usually you'd get a bit of a rash on your arms or legs, but once I had it so widespread that an eye was swollen shut. My aunt Linda would get a severe case like that nearly every summer. We'd go to our crusty old family doctor (one of the oldest practicing in the state) who dispensed prednisone like they were M&M's. I doubt you'd get steroids so easily these days but it sure cleared it up fast.

Music: Jamie Lidell-Multiply
Mood: Sleepy

Happy camper

Copied from my LJ-4/6/05
Our weekend camping trip was a much-needed respite from the drudgery of work. We headed out in the wee hours last Saturday and arrived before 9am. After a short walk through some fairly dense woods, the trail rose above the trees onto a high bluff overlooking a bend in the Manistee river, a sudden panoramic view that made you catch your breath a bit. That's where we pitched our tent, with the river and forest spread out below us. Thanks to Paul having scoped out the area on previous hikes and to our early arrival, we had the most coveted campsite on the trail, as most of the passing hikers were only too glad to point out.

The river was clear as glass and moved slowly enough to afford a leisurely ride to the fishermen and canoers who drifted by now and then. It was a short walk to the water from our campsite, down a steep, winding trail through the woods. We did a bit of swimming, although I stuck to the shallows and avoided the swifter current in the middle of the river. Paul ventured out further and really had to swim hard against it. I enjoyed splashing around with Cleo. Great lumbering beast that she is, she is not a graceful swimmer and somewhat apprehensive in the water. She didn't mind the shallow bits though and could even be coaxed to make several trips out on a submerged fallen tree that extended into slightly deeper water. The tree made a nice perch where we could sit half underwater and take in the scenery. Apropos of nothing, I covered myself in mud from the riverbank and had Paul snap some pictures.

When Paul goes hiking on his own, he is into covering distance, getting exercise, pushing himself, living on very little and packing impossibly light. So I can't help wondering if he might find camping with me a bit boring. I am not a gung-ho backpacker. When I go camping I'm not looking for a challenge and I am most assuredly not there for the exercise. It sounds like a ridiculous hippie cliche, but I like to go just to get in touch with nature. To get gritty, dirty, muddy, like a kid and totally without a care. I like to spend long hours lying on the ground, gazing up through the leaves in a meditative state, studying the passing wisps of clouds. Or as a wise man once said, conferrin' with the flowers, consultin' with the rain. I also did a lot of napping on the ground, and it was some of the most restful sleep I've ever had. Oddly I wasn't nearly as comfy sleeping in the tent, where something always seemed to be poking me from underneath. When I wasn't napping or woolgathering I read this excellent story collection by Kelly Link (free to download).

Besides the river, my other favorite spot was a short stroll back into the woods and down a steep bank to a shallow stream a dozen feet wide that wound through the forest. Only flecks of sunlight penetrated into this densely shady spot, sparkling on the water like gems. The banks were blanketed in moss and a fallen tree rested alongside the crick, making a handy seat where I could relax and get lost in my thoughts. I never knew a place could be hushed as a church and still so full of sound. There was the song of water trickling over stones and fallen branches, air bubbling up through sand and silt along the banks, and the distant hum of the waterfall where the stream emptied into the river. There is something soothing in the inexorability of water, the way it flows from droplet to rivulet to creek and on to sea, carving out cliffs and canyons, leaving nothing in its path unchanged.

Music: Husky Rescue-Country Falls
Mood: Relaxed

"I'm so dizzy, my head is spinning..."

Copied from my LJ-6/30/05
Mid-June was an adventure in dizziness. I got a case of vertigo on the Thursday the 16th. Just sitting at my desk at work, the room began to spin. I ended up laying down in the lounge for a while and going home an hour early, terrified another spell would hit while I was driving. I never had anything like that happen before and it scared the shit out of me. Not only because I worried what could be causing it, but also because I have no insurance and cannot afford a health crisis. In fact the doctor's visit the next day cost me $115 out of pocket I could ill afford to part with. But at least she ruled out any severe neurological dysfunction and pronounced it vertigo of probable inner ear origin. It wasn't precipitated by an ear infection nor did she see anything wrong in there, but that's the usual presumption.

I took my Antivert religiously every 8 hours, but the severe dizziness lasted for 3 days. It was disorienting and uncomfortable to move about much. I spent two days clinging to my bed watching the world whirl around me. The worst of it subsided by Sunday and I was back to work Monday. I still felt a bit floaty and out of it for most of last week though, due at least in part to the medication. This week I have had odd little moments where the floor seems to tilt ever so slightly as I'm walking. But the spells are short lived and getting rarer.

I can tolerate just about everything about my crappy job now except the scandalously low pay. My financial situation is pretty dire and I am hoping something changes very soon. A couple of companies have contacted me through my resume on Monster regarding tech support positions, but no interview has been scheduled yet.

Meanwhile, the rumor is that I'm about to get a raise and benefits at my job. Tracy, my dayshift counterpart and the boss's wayward nephew, has gone on an indefinite leave for a mysterious (read: fictitious) medical claim. They were about to fire him for his habit of no-call-no-showing at least one or two days every week. Of course now that he's gone on disability they can't fire him (clever guy), but it's unknown whether or when he may return.

My boss Lamont says I'll get Tracy's position with benefits and a raise. But since Lamont is a bullshitter extraordinaire, I will believe it when I see it. Supposedly HR said I will qualify for benefits in August, but that also came from him so who knows.

Paul and I are going camping this weekend in Manistee National Forest in northwest Michigan. He has scoped out the campsites on recent hikes and we're hoping to get there early enough to claim a nice spot by a stream with a waterfall. We're taking my dog Cleo with us. She really seemed to enjoy our camping trips last summer, even the one where we were beseiged by a biblical plague of flies on the beach near Ludington. She's a 120 lb. shepherd/lab mix and takes up as much room in the tent as one of us, but she's fun to have along.

Music: Telefon Tel Aviv-Farenheit Fair Enough
Mood: Bored

Ride Roundup for June 2005

Copied from my LJ-6/22/05
Ride Roundup -June 2005

Record-breaker Kingda Ka at Six Flags Great Adventure (Jackson, NJ) had some serious down time in its first weeks of operation. Technical difficulties are common with new coasters, but try telling that to frustrated visitors who came to ride the tallest, fastest coaster on the planet. Prospective guests should check the park's website, which currently advises the coaster will be closed for several weeks.

Mt. Olympus Theme Park (Wisconsin Dells, WI) is testing Hades, a new woodie that plunges riders twice into "the underworld", the world's longest underground roller coaster tunnel. Among the underworld's terrors: a ninety degree banked turn in complete darkness.

Geauga Lake (Aurora, OH) opened their new water park, Wildwater Kingdom, on June 18. Lots of photos here.

Universal's California and Florida parks have added a new interactive attraction based on the TV show Fear Factor. Guests compete in stunts and gross-out challenges for an eager live audience.

How'd you like to own your own amusement park? Mosey on over to eBay, where Joyland Amusement Park (Witchita, KS) is listed for sale. The property covers 40+ acres and boasts many historic rides, including a classic 1949 wooden coaster. All this can be yours for a cool $1.6 million.

Rumors are flying about upcoming expansions for Dollywood (Pigeon Forge, TN). A survey the park is giving to visitors illustrates a Huss Topple Tower and an indoor/outdoor coaster with a vertical drop. Screamscape noted the drawing looks similar to this coaster in Belgium's Bobbejaanland park. It could be the first of its kind in the U.S., making Dollywood a serious destination for coaster enthusiasts.

Nearby (sort of) Beech Bend Park (Bowling Green, KY) just debuted a wild mouse coaster with spinning trains.

Tragedy struck Disney's Epcot (Orlando, FL) last Monday when a four year old boy riding Mission: Space passed out and later died en route to the hospital. Reports indicate the ride was not at fault. Sadly, state representative Ed Markey (D of Mass) exploited the child's death to advance his pet crusade for stricter government regulation of rides.

While amusement park rides are generally recognized to be safer than the drive to the park, someone must be listening to Markey and his ilk. The California Supreme Court just reclassified amusement rides as "common carriers", making them subject to the same laws that govern public transportation. Critics fear the law could be used to force closures or modifications that would take the thrill out of thrill rides. The ruling comes in the wake of the tragedy at Epcot as well as ride accidents in Atlantic City, NJ, and Omaha, NE.

Music: The Radars-Finger Licking Chicken
Mood: Silly

Lesbians and U-Hauls

Copied from my LJ-6/10/05
For the first time in two weeks, I have a few minutes to goof off at work because Pat left early. She has major issues with people who goof off at work, probably because she's spent years working twice as hard to make up for the other slackers here. So I work diligently to stay in her good graces.

I laugh now when I think of the monster I was expecting Pat to be, and all on the testimony of nutzoid Lo. She turned out to be a good coworker. We have settled into a comfy routine. I tolerate her cigars, and she puts up with my music. Sometimes we're silently engrossed in our work for minutes or hours at a time, other times we chat about the office, our families, relationships, etc. She has some hilarious ex stories. If she's any indication, lesbians really do show up for the second date in a U-Haul. She's embroiled in a legal battle with a short-lived girlfriend to get back the house they bought together.

Pat isn't someone I'd necessarily be friends with outside work but she's a valuable ally here. She has a surprising amount of influence for someone in the same peon job as me, with managers at her beck and call. While she was on leave, I suffered in the sweltering heat because the air conditioning in our department was programmed to go off at 5pm. The printers heated the room into an inferno as I worked until midnight. I pleaded with Lamont, who assured me numerous times he'd have it taken care of, but nothing was ever done. Pat made one call, and now it's a balmy 70 degrees in here every evening.

I wonder if Lamont ever even picked up the phone. He proved what a bullshit artist he is earlier in the week. He made a big show of bringing in his letter of resignation and letting the two of us read it. He said he was fed up and planned to turn it in the next day. He hugged me and Pat as he left and thanked us solemnly for working so hard for him. The next day, he claimed he'd had a revelation the night before in the ER, where he was being treated for a panic attack he thought was a heart attack. His new plan is to scam his way into a medical leave. Of course this will never happen either. He's all talk. He's lucky he can charm the panties off a nun, or he'd have been fired years ago.

Pat's early departure gave me a chance to check the job-finder sites for any new and promising postings. When I started doing tech support five years ago, there were twenty new listings every week. I only found one worth applying for tonight. Apparently every last tech support job on earth has been outsourced to some cubicle farm in Calcutta.

I have gotten used to the unconventional work environment here. I welcome the tedium, embrace it even. Run a book through the scanner, edit it page by page, save it, move on to the next book. It's so dull it's like a form of meditation. Buzz, the ranting drunk of an owner, doesn't intimidate me anymore (although he tries, the pathetic bastard) and I don't even bat an eye when Durwood's crazy old ass comes in here screaming at Lamont. I do a decent amount of work, keep a low profile and maintain the appearance of being busy. But I can't get too comfortable and settled. I can't keep working for peanuts without insurance, vacation time or any other benefits. It's a dead end, and I want to go places, baby.

When I was unemployed I fantasized about all the things I'd do when I had an income again. Concerts, Saturdays prowling yard sales, a weekend amusement park trip or two. I still don't have the money to do any of it, much less the time. I just missed an "all Prince, all night" event at at Cobo Joe's organized by our local fanclub. In recent weeks I have missed the electronic music festival and live shows by Kraftwerk, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, Sheila E. and The Time, just to name a few.

I have thought a lot lately about renewing my nursing license. Of course, the thought is usually something like, "If circumstances force me to renew my nursing license, I will go to the river with my head up!" (An expression for suicide from the old-timers in my family.) I still have nightmares where I'm the only nurse on the unit, three patients are crashing at once, and I'm terrified I may have made some grievous medication error. I guess I should keep in mind why I walked away from it. The pay is good and the jobs are plentiful, but I was miserable I was working as an RN. Poverty is pretty miserable too, though.

Music: Rockers Hi-Fi - Mish Mash
Mood: Pensive

Overtime blues

Copied from my LJ-6/4/05
Working weekends is no fun. I feel as though summer is going to pass me by this year. I got last weekend off (unpaid) for the holiday but I'll be working both Saturday and Sunday this week to make up for it. And to help our department meet another oh! shit! panic! deadline.

It looks like there won't be too many more of those though. Pat came back to work Wednesday. Yes Pat, the lady, the myth, the legend. I see now why she's so revered and mildly feared. Lamont is just the guy who answers to the suits. It's Pat who really runs the joint. Most of what gets done there is due to her hard work and organizational skills. No wonder the place fell apart in her absence. She has been there three days and a department that was in chaos is practically running like a well-oiled machine already.

Pat is actually kind of cool and not at all the harridan Lo claimed. (And good riddance to Lo!) She has a bit of a butchy-brusque, drill sergeant manner some could find offputting. But it's kind of endearing to me. She reminds me of my old pal Ann "Sarge" Fortner, an LPN at my first nursing job, who was regarded by many coworkers as an unfriendly hardass but was a total sweetheart if you got to know her.

Okay, Pat has been condescending and sarcastic at times. Training me to run the daily reports (a laborious set of tasks with a million quirky unwritten rules and procedures), she got really impatient when I didn't remember it all after doing it once. But whatever, I'll master that in a few days. Then yesterday we were speaking as a group to some department heads and a when question was asked concerning work that I had done, I tried to answer it. Pat threw me a scowl and snapped her fingers at me, as if to silence an unruly child. Why she thought I didn't have a right to speak up, I can't say. But I'm gonna let that slide. This time.

I just have to keep my cool, deal with her quirks and keep learning from her. I try to keep in mind where she comes from. She has lived most of her life in Lincoln Park and is one of those diehard suburbanites who never venture into Detroit except to work. She has a hardworking, blue collar mentality. She smokes cheap, smelly cigars and wears men's cologne. She eats good old Amurrican food and aside from middle-eastern dishes (she's Lebanese; write your own joke) she's never tried any ethnic cuisine. She is not that educated, and maybe a bit insecure about it. Like most people we work with, you can't use your full vocabulary around her without getting a quizzical "why-you-usin'-them-thar-collegeboy-words-fer?" looks.

Overall, I have great hopes that Pat and I will get along famously. She came out to me, which is kind of a big deal. She's guarded and private at work and has never told Lamont in all the years they worked together. We bonded a bit talking about our pets- she has a whole brood of cats and dogs. And we discussed Pridefest (Detroit's big GLBT extravaganza this weekend), which we'll both miss since we're working. She already taught me tons of stuff that makes my job easier, and contrary to Lo's prediction she has been gracious and happy to train me most of the time. There is much to learn from someone who has been at the job for over 10 years.

I just uttered a shriek of horror at the thought of being stuck there that long.

Music: Four Tet-Everything Ecstatic
Mood: Tired

Ride Roundup for May 2005

Copied from my LJ-5/24/05
I'm a big fan of many websites devoted to roller coasters and the amusement industry, but sometimes the wealth of information they offer is overwhelming. I wish there were a site where I could see the big news, reviews, photos and videos of the latest rides without searching through a laundry list of construction updates, track sightings, and unconfirmed rumors to find them. Today it occurred to me that I might start a such a feature on my blog. With that, I give you:

Ride Roundup - May 2005

Six Flags New England (Agawam, MA) debuted Mr. Six's Pandemonium, a Reverchon spinning coaster, last month. In case you're wondering, Mr. Six is that creepy new Six Flags mascot in all your nightmares.

This week Legoland California will premiere Knights’ Tournament, a robocoaster. Two coaster seats are mounted on a massive robotic arm that can fling rapidly in any direction and put you through maneuvers no coaster is capable of (yet). The ride is fully programmable and riders select an intensity level from 1 to 5.

Italian amusement park Gardaland has opened a new type of coaster. The Sequoia Adventure is the first S&S Screaming Squirrel in operation.

Busch Gardens Tampa is experiencing lines over four hours long for its new ride SheiKra, the first dive coaster in the US and the first ever with two 90 degree drops.

Pennsylvania's Dorney Park has begun testing on a new floorless coaster called Hyrda: The Revenge (video link halfway down on the right). It has some nicely twisted elements, including a tight inversion called a JoJo roll.

Kingda Ka of Six Flags Great Adventure (Jackson, NJ) claimed its throne last Friday as the tallest, fastest coaster on earth, with a peak 456 feet high and a top speed of 128 mph.

Last month Busch Gardens Williamsburg (VA) debuted Curse of
, an innovative 3D motion simulator ride that is getting raves.

Paramount's Kings Island (Cincinnati, OH) just introduced their new
Italian Job Stunt Track coaster. Extensive photo tour of opening day here.

Cedar Point's (Sandusky, OH) new ride for 2005 is maXair, a Huss Giant Frisbee.

Music: DJ Wildchild-Atmospheric Drum & Bass
Mood: Chipper

Things you rarely see in Tennessee

Copied from my LJ-5/22/05
It's easy to pick on my hometown. It's hidebound, provincial, conservative, even bigoted in some instances. But say what you will about Elizabethton, Tennessee, there is still a bit of the old southern grace and charm about most people you meet. I miss the hell out of that. Detroiters (or Yankees, as we called anyone who wasn't from the south) as a rule don't exhibit that same poise in their everyday dealings with people.

Although I've been in Michigan nearly a decade, sometimes I have to remind myself I'm not in Tennessee anymore and people won't always behave the way I'd expect them to there. For instance, I forget when I'm driving if I pause to let someone out into traffic, they won't necessarily interpret my pause as courtesy. Because here courtesy is seldom given and never expected. Sometimes my action will only baffle them and they'll wonder why I don't go the hell on so they can pull out. And they'll honk their horn, often accompanying this with a hand gesture or two. Sometimes I also forget it's a bad idea to make eye contact with people in public places, because it's rarely seen as openness or an invitation to chat. Sometimes it's even viewed as a challenge or threat, as I learned on the Detroit buses.

I had one of those Things You Rarely See In Tennessee moments standing in the Wal-mart checkout today. In front of me was a woman and three small children, aged about four to eight. The mother could have been anywhere from twenty-five to forty-five; her nondescript clothing didn't offer any clues. The kids were generally well-behaved. Her boy, about eight, picked up a piece of candy from the display and turned to ask her if he could have it. Without warning she hauled off and gave him a hard smack right across the face. The boy staggered back, held his eye, tried not to cry. You could tell he was humiliated more than hurt, although the blow was loud enough to turn heads in the next line over.

The last thing I want to do is get into an exchange with some random stranger who has already demonstrated she is violent and doesn't care who sees it. So I really didn't mean to give her the stink-eye. I was just so dumbfounded by what she did that I didn't catch myself staring until it registered that she was staring back at me. Angrily. "What are YOU looking at?" she bellowed.

"I dunno, Mother of the Year?" I suggested. Fortunately our conversation ended there. But an awkward moment stretched into five, then ten, while she tried to pay with a succession of bad credit cards. Each time one was rejected she turned to glower at me again, as though it were my fault. I halfway expected to find her waiting outside to cut me.

Now I'm not claiming that this would never happen in my hometown. Certainly it could. But I never saw it. Here, inappropriate public discipline is as much a part of going to the store as long lines and high prices.

Working in health care gave my first taste of how different people are here from down home. When I worked in Tennessee, there was once a patient whose family was apparently tired of taking care of their invalid mother. So they wouldn't have to deal with her at Christmas, they brought her into the ER with some bogus complaint and disappeared. It was such a sad and unexpected thing that it was the talk of the whole hospital. My first winter in Michigan, I learned the phenomenon is so common that it has a name (granny dumping) and that ERs usually staff to accomodate for it around the holidays. In Tennessee, when you met doctors and nurses who were hardened and insensitive to the suffering of their patients or too blatantly lazy to give them adequare care, it was striking enough that you remembered every inappropriate thing they said or did. Here I've worked in hospitals where the majority of the staff behaved this way.

It's hard to talk about this kind of thing with natives, because I'm sure it sounds like I'm saying that everyone here is an asshole. Obviously that's not true. I have had great friends here, lovers too. There have been many people I was glad to know. But if I'm honest, there seem to be a lot more people I'd rather avoid here. Generally folks tend to be less friendly and harder to meet. If they open up to you right away, they usually turn out to be a nutcase like my coworker Lo who, apropos of nothing, took me on a journey through TMI-land discussing her history of threesomes the other day.

Being one of the two or three openly gay people in my high school could actually be dangerous. I wasn't out, in fact I was terrified of being discovered, but I was still assaulted by a group of classmates for nothing more than being out on a drive with my boyfriend. I belonged to the first gay and lesbian student group ever formed at my university in the mid-eighties. Most people were afraid to give out their real names. I came here because I was tired of waiting on Elizabethton to catch up with the rest of the world. I needed a place where gay people were more accepted or at least less persecuted. But sometimes I feel profoundly displaced, and I seemed to have traded rampant homophobia for general incivility, which hardly seems like a good deal.

Music: Big Bud-Infinity
Mooc: Cynical

The shit missed the fan

Copied from my LJ-5/20/05
Friday night and I have the place to myself once again. I am unwinding after my lunch break with a bellyful of fish and chips, listening to music and watching Salad Fingers cartoons online. Moments like this make me almost glad to be working here. I goof off probably more than I should. But then I still get more done on this job than anyone else, so no need to feel all that guilty.

Lamont spent a while trying to whip the department into shape, or more accurately, to give it the appearance of being whipped into shape. He brought in a long table, lined a row of wire baskets across it and printed up elaborate signs for each. Random piles of jobs everywhere were rounded up and placed into their designated spots. This was meant to be evidence of the "sweeping changes" he claimed to be implementing in an email he sent out to several managers. He was so proud of his bullshit artistry he even read it aloud to me before sending it. Hilarious.

Then after what seemed like months of suspense, Buzz called Lamont into his office yesterday and told him the rumors of his impending firing were unfounded. Now Lamont says he's content with staying here for the time being, and my job is no apparent jeopardy. Crisis averted, the momentary lapse into organization quickly passed, and it's back to looking like the aftermath of a library explosion in here. Papers cover every desk, table and counter at a depth of four inches to two feet. There isn't even a spot to set down my beverage without shuffling some stacks around. I can't tell what jobs are in progress, done, or past due. But you know what? I don't give a shit anymore. I finally learned to let it go. I just come in, grab something from the nearest pile and go to work. There's no need to stress out over it. If we are miles behind because nobody can find anything, I won't be the one getting screamed at or threatened. I have no responsibility for it whatsoever. In fact Lamont pays so little attention to what I'm doing, I could fake working for a week before he caught on.

Tomorrow Lamont is having Tracy train me how to print the daily reports that Lo usually runs. Since she isn't here to run them in the evening on a reliable basis, Tracy often has to come in at 5am to run them before the deadline. Once I'm running these, says Tracy, it's bye-bye SchizLo. Not a second too soon for me. She tries to suck up to me one night and is surly and snappish the next. I'm over her crazy ass.

It's been nine days since I took that aptitude test for a software company, and still no word. They gave all of us a letter essentially instructing us, "Don't call us, we'll call you." I still feel like my brain wasn't firing on all cylinders that day, so maybe I didn't pass muster. But I applied for several more tech support jobs this week. I'll find something eventually that pays a decent wage. Until then I'll keep plugging away here, where I can work all the overtime I can stand.

Paul leaves tomorrow on vacation. He'll spend some days hiking on North Manitou Island, which is several miles off Michigan's west coast and accessible only by ferry. It's even more rugged than South Manitou where we camped last year, which at least had campsites and treated water. He'll be surviving on his wits and whatever food and gear he can pack in, putting more faith in his trusty water filter than I ever would. He got a GI bug from river water on one of his hikes last year, but he blamed himself for using the filter improperly. Let's hope he was right.

After his hike he'll stop for an as yet undetermined length of time and visit his parents, who have a summer home in western Michigan. He has the sort of cordial but distant relationship with his parents that is alien to me, having grown up in a very tight-knit clan. His mother just had or is about to have surgery of some sort. He is fuzzy on the details. By contrast I have been on the phone nearly every day with Mom since she found out she has pneumonia. She's doing much better, by the way.

Music: Cyndi Lauper-Hat full of Stars
Mood: Content

Fiddling while Rome burns

Copied from my LJ 5/17/05
Mom has been on oral antibiotics for a few days and her doctor hopes to avoid hospitalizing her. She sounded pretty bad on the phone today. Ridiculously enough, they still don't have the results back on her chest x-ray from LAST WEEK. It's troublesome to me that she is at the mercy of services provided by the sorry excuse for a hospital in my little hometown. I wouldn't trust them to treat a case of jock itch myself. When I worked as an RN at the regional medical center in a nearby city, we often received patients transferred from Podunk Memorial. Too often we'd find signs of sloppy, substandard care, important symptoms overlooked and other stupid mistakes. Any diagnostic testing that had been done there was considered meaningless and repeated by our own lab. So I worry they'll bungle the important tests Mom has to have soon, causing her doctor to miss something important. Or worse yet, that she'll end up admitted there.

At work, the shit froze in midair and continues to hover motionless mere inches from the fan. As yet, Lamont has not been castigated for the 31 canceled orders. Durwood had little to say, except to be astonished there has still been no hissyfit from Buzz. We know that Buzz is aware of the initial 9 cancellations. But he was in our department today acting as though nothing was wrong, chatting all chummy with Lamont, who just about busted a gut guffawing at his stories. (That was hard to watch.) So Buzz may not know the full scope of the problem yet. Or he knows and prefers to let Lamont twist in the wind until such time as he's ready to lower the boom, except he isn't cunning enough to manage that. Or he knows and has decided not to make a big deal of it, certainly the least likely of all scenarios. So probably he just doesn't know. Meanwhile the client has started to cancel orders that aren't even due yet.

Lamont told me and Paul he has decided to leave whether or not he gets fired. He's sick of the long uncompensated hours, the lack of raises and pay cuts, the abuse. I imagine (or hope) he's also sick of smiling impotently at people he despises. He's punching up his resume and looking into a job with the printing company where he used to work. Which begs the question, why did he even bother putting in so many extra hours trying to catch up? And more importantly, will I have a job there after he's gone?

Later on, Lo came in and told me something truly shocking. She was highly pissed that she came in on Sunday and spent her day off scanning documents while Lamont, Tracy and an employee from the print shop spent all day printing and binding a "private, off-the-books" job for cash under the table. Lo is, shall we say, prone to prevarication, so I wouldn't have believed her if Lamont hadn't already told me himself he has done this before.

I guess I can see how he might rationalize stealing from a company that has screwed him over for years. It's the timing than amazes me. At a point when we're buried under unfilled orders and in panic mode, Lamont spent a day using company supplies, machinery and labor to print something for himself. Supposedly he was paid $1100 for his trouble and Tracy made $200. But if you feared for your job, would YOU do something that could get you fired in an even bigger hurry? Maybe he decided he might as well hang for a sheep as a lamb.

Paul is fond of making curious, surreal declarations. I wish I could supply an example but it's late and I'm drawing a blank. Anyway it's one of those uniquely Paul habits and strangely endearing. Lately his love of the surreal has manifested in found objects he places on the sill above our kitchen door. I hesitate to suck the magic out of it by describing it, but here goes anyway. It started with the wishbone from the last turkey I baked, which seemed a normal enough thing to have above your kitchen door, at least where I grew up. Then one night there was a black and white fifties era school photo of some anonymous girl in pigtails behind it, a joker from a deck of cards, a dollar bill, and a pod of okra, forming an odd little altar. If I didn't know he scoffed at all things religious, I'd have sworn he was binding some sort of spell. He never mentioned it and had little to say when I commented on it, so I left it alone. Occasionally I'll find the okra has fallen to the floor, and Cleo has nibbled on it a bit but decided it's nothing all that palatable. Tonight there's a red paper "buddy poppy" from some veterans group up there, along with a bit of dog biscuit, a scrap of paper with some random letters on it, and a sprig of wilting vegetation I can't identify. I wouldn't have noticed, but when I opened the fridge for some cold water the dog biscuit fell off and hit my nose.

I took my first stab at gardening this year. A couple of weeks ago we filled one of the beds fronting our house, filled the window box and the planters on the porch, and added some hanging baskets. I planted pansies, violas, and ageratums. Everything I chose was purple or a combination of purple and some other color, save for the black-eyed susans. Maybe that's a silly affectation but I do love purple. We wanted some herbs for cooking, so yesterday I set out some sweet basil, parsley, rosemary and spearmint. I added a half dozen lavender bushes to the opposite bed in front of the porch. I imagine they'll be both lovely and fragrant, scenting the air on warm summer nights. I have planted just about everything I'd hoped to grow except some sunflowers, which will go at the side of the porch when I find them. If this experiment isn't a total failure, I may try even my hand at vegetable gardening next summer.

Music: Nikka Costa-can'tneverdidnothin'
Mood: Contemplative

Last one out, turn off the lights

Copied from my LJ-5/14/2005
Rough night. I got a call from my folks last evening and learned Mom has pneumonia. She has other troublesome health problems that are ongoing, and I went to bed worried about her. I had bad dreams all night and kept starting awake. I finally gave up about 4am and got up to watch TV. I must have fallen back to sleep around 6. I always have a hard time sleeping when I know I have to get up early, and I worked 10-3 today.

I was hoping to stop somewhere on the way to work this morning for an unhealthy breakfast, but the fast food drive-thru near my house was backed up to the street. Then the ghetto-ass McDonald's near work was actually CLOSED at a few minutes to ten, with ridiculous hand-lettered signs in all the windows saying they'd be open in a few minutes. (In Detroit, that means the staff is in back of the store smoking blunts.) So I arrived to work hungry, cranky and sleep-deprived.

Lamont wasn't there yet but arrived within a half hour. He pulled an all-nighter and had just gone home to shower and change. Despite the likelihood he may get canned Monday, he is determined to catch up on vast amounts of work this weekend. What he accomplished last night WAS pretty impressive but I'm afraid it's all for naught.

The other guy who works in our department is Tracy. Tracy is Lamont's nephew, except sssshhhhh don't tell anyone, it's a secret! A secret everybody in the building knows. Supposedly key managers and owners don't know, but I have a hard time believing that. Nepotism was practically invented there anyway, but whatever, I promised I wouldn't tell.

Lamont was good enough to get his nephew a job there, yet on a weekend when he's working frantically to make a dent in our backlog and scrambling to save his job, Tracy couldn't be bothered to come in today as promised. Or even call with an excuse. Now that's love. Of course No Show Lo didn't make it in either, after to promising to work today and tomorrow. Lamont told me (not for the first time) that I'm the only loyal employee he has, the only one to show up when I'm supposed to and work hard while I'm there. He assured me he'd keep me if he had to choose among his employees. Nice of him to say, but I'm still not feeling much job security at the moment.

As I was leaving, Lamont learned from a coworker the situation is even more dire than we thought. Instead of being on the hook for nine canceled orders, turns out thirty-one orders were canceled. The client will obtain their books from a third party printer in sufficient quantity so they don't have to rely on us well into the future. The company will see a substantial loss of business over several years. Buzz and Durwood, our resident screaming psychos, are sure to be apoplectic. God only knows what I'll be walking into Monday. Worst case scenario, all four of us could be in the unemployment line.

Music: Prince-Come
Mood: Pessimistic

Take this job and...

Copied from my LJ-5/13/05
At my job, the shit is perpetually about to hit the fan and everyone exists in an ongoing state of paranoia about being fired. In fact when I told Paul that a lady I deal with on the phone every day got fired yesterday, he was like, "So?" Firings occur with such frequency that it's not even notable. It looks like my boss Lamont could be next in line on Monday. Word came down today that one of our clients has cancelled an order due to our long delay in filling it, and is taking their business to Kinko's. This means not only many wasted man hours preparing documents that we won't be selling, but also two to four years of lost business from this client. None of the screaming superiors were here when the email went out, so they'll get the news Monday morning.

Lamont was angry about it when I got here, but two hours later he appears to have gone through all the Kübler-Ross stages and arrived at a grim resignation about the possibility of getting fired. He's decided it wouldn't be the worst thing that ever happened to him. He's miserable here. He's constantly getting yelled at over past due work, but his requests to hire more staff in the department have been routinely denied. His hands are effectively tied as more work rolls in and we don't have anyone to process it. A salaried middle manager, he spents so much time here that he never sees his family. To add insult to injury, his wife called this afternoon to tell him his 6 year old daughter just learned to ride her bike without training wheels. He's pretty sad he missed that. He just got his real estate license but is unavailable to show houses during the day because he's always at work. He says that he can devote more time to developing that career and get his inspector's license for added income should the hatchet fall.

I feel for him, and I'm equally concerned about where it could leave me. Knowing the way they love to fire people around here, it's not inconceivable they could clean house and get rid of all four of us. There has been talk of bringing in a contract team from Xerox in to run the company's print shop, although it's supposedly prohibitively expensive. Right now I'm hoping that someone in charge realizes they'd only be putting the department further behind by getting rid of Lamont.

Music: Lewis Taylor-Lewis II
Mood: Worried

"They smile in your face, all the time they want to take your place..."

Copied from my LJ-5/12/05
I went this morning for what I thought would be an interview but turned out to be pre-interview testing. The company makes software for 911 dispatching and municipal governments, and I had applied for a software support position. After our phone conversation last week, I thought the HR chick liked my resume enough to consider me a good candidate, at least tentatively. But apparently they screen all applicants with proficiency tests first. They're supposed to contact me to set up an interview in the next two weeks if they're still interested. These people are not playing.

I can't remember the last time I took a standardized test like this one, possibly my ACT in high school. Boy, has my brainpower diminished since then! The tests had lots of abstract/concrete thinking questions. "Choose the answer that best decribes the meaning of this saying: The early bird catches the worm." There were a fair amount of logic questions. "Some of John's neighbors are dentists. Some of John's neighbors are Republicans. Mark the following statement as true, false or undetermined: Some of John's neighbors are Republican dentists." There were many analogy questions. "Hope is to despair as joy is to..." A whole section had series of letters or numbers for which you had to supply the next in the pattern. Most were moderately easy to decipher. Same with the "which shape comes next in the series" questions. Some of the word problems really tripped me up though. Lord knows I despise math, and they didn't give us any scratch paper to work out the problems. Some required solving algebraic equations, and there's no way in hell I can do that in my head. It was a timed test and I didn't finish that section, but the other two applicants didn't either for what it's worth. Still, I left there with a headache, feeling significantly dumber than when I arrived.

Well, it was bound to happen eventually but I wasn't expecting it quite so soon. Loshondra backstabbed me. That's right, the nutjob who acts like she's my best pal, the one who told me, "Don't worry, I got your back," tried to get me in trouble. Durwood, my boss's boss, was in our shop doing his standard screaming routine. When this happens I usually try to busy myself with work and steer clear of the conflict, but this time he was demanding to know who scanned a document that went out to the customer missing 80 pages. Lamont, bless him, feigned ignorance, and Lo might easily have done the same. But she spoke right up and volunteered: "Jeff did."

In point of fact, I did scan the document. On MY FIRST DAY ON THE FUCKING JOB, when I hadn't a clue what I was doing. I was handed a stack of papers and told to put it through the machine, without any other instruction. I did the best I could, saved the results for Lamont and had nothing further to do with that order. Now that I know the bare essentials of editing, there's no way that mistake would get by me. I'm surprised it got by Lamont.

Nothing more was said to me about the goof, evidently because Durwood mistrusts Lo and knows I'm a novice who's had no training. Technically neither of us could be held responsible anyway, since someone else edited and printed the document, then a salesman signed off on it, certifying it to be complete, legible, etc. So it's not like she was protecting herself; Lo ratted me out for nothing. The bitch!

I am trying not to take it personally or obsess over why she did it. It's not like I didn't suspect she was as likely to turn on me as suck up to me on any given day. You can't feel too betrayed by someone you never trusted in the first place. I have to preserve a good working relationship regardless, because she's the only person I can learn my job duties from. Still, it's just one more stressor I didn't need at a job that is already ridiculously stressful for what it entails and how much it pays.

Music: Hubler & Schwab-Vampyros Lesbos Sexadelic Dance Party
Mood: Disappointed

Back in the saddle

Copied from my LJ-5/9/05
Our friend Steve gave up on his unreliable mechanic friends and decided to tackle my car repair himself. I just got the great news from Paul a couple of hours ago that the distributor was installed and my car starts! God willing, my bus-riding days are over and not a second too soon. Temperatures rose into the high seventies today. It's impossible in this weather for me to walk from home to the bus stop and then on to work from the stop on Woodward (maybe a mile altogether) without being drenched in sweat by the time I arrive. It's hot enough at work as it is without showing up looking like I just ran a marathon.

The two massive printers generate a lot of heat so our department is always the hottest part of the building. Then the AC is programmed to cut off at 5pm! As they day wears on it just keeps getting hotter, and by about 8 I was so overheated I was just mad and frustrated and couldn't think straight. I wish there was someone I could complain to about this, or someone who even gave a damn. But when your employer doesn't even want to pay you the overtime you have coming, I doubt they're interested in wasting the energy to make a hot room tolerable for a couple of temps. I'm trying to imagine the look on Buzz's face if I had the gall to ask him about it.

Like Durwood, Buzz (one of the company's owners) does a lot of threatening, some of which I've heard firsthand. He is just a thoroughly crass individual. The first time I ever saw him he was in the hall with two men in suits, talking about a female employee and what an "ugly bitch" she was. The day I was actually introduced to him, I had just overheard him talking about "those fat fucking bitches on the second floor. Can you believe they use the fucking elevator?" I was like, uh-oh! What kind of scary workplace is this where the OWNER openly talks that way about his employees? Last week he was in here telling a story about a group of men (which I gathered included him) taking turns with a hooker who "only charged $10 a pop." His remarks have made me uncomfortable on a few occasions but I think that was that day I finally understood what is meant by a hostile work environment.

Lord knows I am nothing close to a prude, but I have never encountered such a thing at any job I ever held. I worked on a construction crew at a chemical plant with some of the most roughneck foulmouthed guys I ever met, and ditto my coworkers in the fast food trenches. But any "inappropriate for work" talk was always furtive and just between employees. You never heard managers talking like that, much less as showily as he does it. His attitude just DARES you to be offended by what he says. There's often a thread of misogyny running through Buzz's remarks so I feel for the women who must deal with him directly. He's a nightmare to look at too; the red face of a certain drunk and feathered, middle-parted hair straight out of my seventh grade picture.

Paul was only out to one friend at work, but I imagine people began to connect the dots when I was hired and shortly after I was asked point blank if we are a couple. I answered honestly. I don't go out of my way to share my private life but neither will I hide or lie about it. Maybe it's a matter of pride. My self-acceptance was hard-won, and I do believe in principle gay people should come out for the benefit of us all. But now I understand why Paul never did. There is a lot of casual homophobia here. It's mostly ignorance without bad intentions as far as I can tell, but you hear a lot of gay jokes being cracked. Some guys were just in here today ribbing a coworker with an apparent running gag about the Durwood "feeling on your booty" and "we know how y'all are". Another guy described a coworker to me as, "He looks kind of [insert gay hand gesture here] but supposedly he's married." I don't take offense easily at that kind of thing, in fact I'm usually just as likely to laugh at it myself. But given the other abusive language I've heard, it makes me a bit wary. Unlike the IT companies where I have worked the past few years, this is not a climate where hate speech would be unthinkable.

Music: Lalah Hathaway-Outrun the Sky
Mood: Cheerful

Casual Friday

Copied from my LJ- 5/6/2005
I'm sitting at my desk with my shoes off, a stack of newly burned CDs to listen to and not another soul around. So even though I'm at work on a Friday evening, things could definitely be worse. Because I get so much more work done than my two counterparts and because we are so undermanaged, I could easily goof off the rest of the evening without anyone noticing. Not that I WILL necessarily, but I could.

I got this job because another employee named Pat is on sick leave. Pat is their super-achiever who can apparently operate one scanner with each hand and control the printers telepathically while completed documents float magically out of her ass. The official excuse for our backlog of print jobs is that no one can possibly match Pat's work output. People choose their words carefully when describing her, but between the lines I've gathered she's a misanthropic butch lesbian with a lot of piercings. Seems like a natural match, right? I'm mildly misanthropic, queer AND pierced. But apparently Pat is tetchy and uptight and difficult to work with. She acts annoyed with everyone and even dislikes my manager Lamont, an all-around likable guy. They'd probably love to get rid of her but she has cleverly carved out a niche for herself. She works circles around everybody and is the gatekeeper of all knowledge crucial to running the department. For instance, not even Lamont knows how our online document filing system works, only Pat. Nobody but Pat knows how to make the scanner accept tiny palm-sized booklets. And so on. Yesterday we learned her leave has been extended through the first of June. Before she left, Pat gave Loshondra (a.k.a. Lo) the bare minimum instructions she'd need to help keep the place running. Everybody treats her notes like the Rosetta Stone.

Lo worked for the company several years ago and returned this spring to work part time. She has a full-time job managing a bigger documents department at an insurance company. Her attendance has been spotty, so when they hired me they weren't sure whether they'd keep her. Then Lamont confided to me earlier this week that he'll be letting Lo go and keeping me when Pat returns. I was relieved to hear Pat's leave was extended. Lo may not be anyone's dream employee but she's the only one who has ever taken the time to answer my questions and show me how to do the job. She can't be bothered to some nights, all depending on her mood, but I'll take whatever help I can get. The job isn't rocket science but it can't be learned through osmosis either. I doubt Pat will be eager to train anyone, or glad to see there's another coworker to deal with. I joked to Lo that when I meet Pat I plan to run over, give her a big bear hug and exclaim, "I just KNOW we're going to be BEST FRIENDS!" Evidently this was hilarious, because it has been retold a hundred times.

What else about Lo... did I mention the bitch is crazy? No, seriously. Nuttier than squirrel shit. When she shows up at all, she comes sauntering in two or three hours late without bothering to call anyone. One of my first days on the job she was loud and inappropriate with Lamont in front of the company owner, yelling, "Don't be giving him no bullshit excuses!" (When that didn't get her fired, I learned a valuable lesson about how things work here.) She's a hardcore gossip and has told me more about our coworkers' private lives than I ever needed to know. X sells dope, Y's husband beats her, Z's wife screws around on him, and that's just what I heard the FIRST night we worked together. It's entertaining enough, but wouldn't you get to know someone a bit before you started telling such tales? I can't even imagine the fallout if any of her stories ever got back to their subjects. She surely dishes dirt about me too so I'm careful what I tell her, and of course I'd never repeat anything she says at the office. One night this week she even read Lamont's email after he left, ostensibly because "he never tells us anything". Not that smart of him though, leaving his email open with her around.

Lo married her prison pen pal four years ago. He has served 12 years for manslaughter after murdering his best friend. He was due to be paroled this month but his stay got extended for fighting. Now she's not sure when he'll get out and doesn't seem too excited about the prospect either. But she still shows up dutifully every visitation day and hands over a chunk of her paycheck to him. Maybe she can afford it, since she claims to make $22/hour at her other job (which is way more than Larry makes here, she informed me after sneaking a look at his pay stub). She showed me her husband's picture. Spidery handwritten declarations of love spiraled around the white space of the polaroid. He looks like he spends way too much time in the prison gym, with his action figure abs. Also? Serial killer eyes.

Despite the insanity, or maybe because of it (it's no secret I'm a little crazy too), I enjoy working with Lo. She's quite funny and the mood is usually lighthearted when she is here. I'm not looking forward to seeing her go. In fact I hope I leave first for another job. If my interview goes well on Wednesday, that could happen soon.

Okay, lunch break's over- back to the grind.

Music: Meshell Ndegeocello-Dance of the Infidel
Mood: Chipper

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Work woes

Copied from my LiveJournal, 5/4/2005
Our FOAF mechanic was a no-show today. No word yet on why, but it's back to the buses for at least a few more days.

Here's a slightly edited excerpt from an email to Mom describing my job, where I've worked for 2 1/2 weeks:
"Our main business is providing owner's manuals, repair manuals, wiring diagram books and similar printed materials to car dealerships. My department prints the manuals. I start by scanning the original book. Some are small handbooks and others as thick as the Manhattan yellow pages. Then I edit it page by page on the computer until it looks good enough to print. It's very tedious and exacting work if it's done right, but I am pretty good at it already. At the same I also have to operate the two giant printers that run continuously on weekdays, loading in stacks of paper, unloading finished documents, clearing paper jams, adding ink, binder tape and various chemicals when they run out."

I have spent the last 3 hours scanning a giant GMC pickup truck owner's manual printed on onionskin paper. Normally scanning is an automated process using the document feeder, but this requires constant attention. A page gets jammed every other minute, requiring multiple frustrating resets each time. The saving grace is that it's nearly midnight and the place is deserted. No printer jobs running and nobody else to deal with.

I received no training to speak of and have had to learn the job by trial and error. My immediate supervisor Lamont is a decent guy but he's rarely available to answer my questions. The office is the most disorganized place I've ever seen and it's difficult to work amid the clutter. There are stacks of jobs in various stages of completion covering every surface. The chaos is a major reason why the backlog of work is close to costing the company some important accounts. The organizer in me wants to turn loose on the place and whip it into shape but that's a dangerous precedent to set.

Also, I can't be bothered to care that much when the outfit definitely isn't looking out for MY best interests. I'm employed as a part-time temp with no benefits, even though I'm putting in 50-60 hours a week and they intend to keep me on permanently. Lamont's boss Durwood even tried to cheat me out of my overtime pay, claiming I wasn't entitled to it since I don't get benefits. HR finally had to inform the jackass (who's also the chief source of threats and screaming) that he's required by law to pay time-and-a-half for anything over 40 hours a week. This genius has been in management for decades, just to show you the caliber of talent running the joint.

I have an interview with a software development company next Wednesday which could be my ticket out of this dump.

Music: The Cinematic Orchestra-Every Day
Mood: Listless