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Las Vegas, Nevada, United States
"No, really!"

My Favorite Bit of Paper Cup Philosophy

The Way I See It #76

The irony of commitment is that it's deeply liberating - in work, in play, in love. The act frees you from the tyranny of your internal critic, from the fear that likes to dress itself up and parade around as rational hesitation. To commit is to remove your head as the barrier to your life.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Feeling Very Simply Red ~ No, I'm Not Sunburned,It's Music

Writing about certain periods of time in my life is sometimes difficult. While I shared, with joy, about meeting an important person in my life's tapestry, much of the time leading up to that meeting and moving away from it was difficult. I've lived in the 1960s for a few days now and I've felt . . . . sometimes low. While I feel strongly compelled to tell my stories, one doesn't simply string words together and move on. Writing the words results in reliving the feelings. The good ones and the sad ones. Then some time is required to sort out those feelings. Let everything integrate. Where will that little bit of my past land after this latest reexamination? And will I ever be simply done reliving it? Will I ever be able to look at it without feeling pain?

It got even more dicey for me. When one goes to the cycling race, one is very busy. Help the cyclist find equipment and gear. Open the Clif Bar packet, but leave it on the bar, and slide it into the back jersey pocket. Put the water bottles in their cages. Figure out the start and finish lines and parking proximity to each. Watch for the photo ops and get a bead on the racing official. Eventually locate the turn-around point and hand up water, if needed. Calculate how long the race will take and when to starting watching for them to approach the finish line. There's always something to do. Not so when the race is "away". One waits for the phone calls and e-mails that always come later than one hopes for. Oh, I'm a seasoned support crew at cycling races and I know what goes on after the race. Kudos and a big drink of water, chat with the other racers, ask all the questions necessary and wait for the results to be posted. Perhaps something to eat and a trip to the bathroom. In my work world, the homes are very attuned to racing days. The BlackBerry begins to chirp a little too soon. "Les, have you heard anything yet?" "No, homes. If I'd heard anything you would have heard an all-call announcement."

I needed something to make me laugh a little and break the tension. I was noodling around on YouTube trying to locate music that was guaranteed only to make me more melancholy, when I came across something that made me sit up straighter in the chair and grin. It was an old MTV music video from the 1980s. I watched, listened and laughed right out loud. This video made me think of another from the era, and I located it. Same result: watch, listen, laugh out loud. I thought of the music and movies of the day and grinned like a loon. Clearly, remembering the 80s was going to cheer me up!

I did a little research as a memory refresher and I was reminded that the "Me Generation" manifested itself in conspicuous consumption in the 1980s. I was guilty of some of that, too. Cable television came to rival network TV in the 80s in the U.S. I remember getting a card in the mail describing how I could subscribe to Home Box Office. What? Pay for TV? I was nobody's fool. That scheme would never fly! Cheers and The Cosby Show got top TV ratings and CNN became the first 24-hour news channel. MTV came to life and when Mick Jagger said, "I want my MTV" in the advertisements, I knew I wanted my MTV, too. The AIDS epidemic was identified in the 80s and Margaret Thatcher dominated British politics. The so-called Regan Revolution introduced neo-conservatives to Washington, D.C. When I think of the clothing I wore throughout much of the 1980s, I remember industrial strength shoulder pads in my business suits and dresses. I remember power scarves, although I did not wear them. I remember enormous eyeglasses frames. There seems a theme of "too much is never enough" across the decade. On the part of just about eveyone.

On January 1, 1980, I was 27 years old, married, living in Las Vegas, working in a good career as an escrow officer. We had a nice little cottage industry: Stepfather built houses. My mother was the real estate broker who sold said houses. I escrowed them. Ex was a contractor who put in all the sprinklers and landscaping. We earned a good living, enjoying a nice home with lots of perks since we knew the contractor. We had an active social life because this young woman had learned how to entertain and pursued that avidly. We owned the first, gigantic Sony BetaMax on the block and drove good cars. We kept several much-loved cats and had houseguests constantly - everyone wants to visit Las Vegas. It was a nice, young peoples' lifestyle. And then the economy soured. It was Stepfather who taught me that Las Vegas had had the same cycle since its establishment in 1905: boom, bust, boom, bust, boom. It's still happening today in this place where I've been sentenced to serve two separate terms in my life.

We did the only thing we knew to do - run for the coast in January, 1981, and get jobs, try to cut our losses and try to keep building our capital, not dipping into it. As we drove southwest out of Las Vegas for the last time, I looked in the rearview and thought I saw my youth standing at the city limits. When I arrived at my destination 6 hours later, I felt older and mature. There followed a few years of jobs that didn't last for whatever reason, and a settling comfortably into the small city of Lemon Grove, California, a 4-square-mile speck completely surrounded by San Diego.

Ex landed a job working for the local school district. It was a good job with lots of perks and benefits and decent money. He became interested in working as a job steward for the union local. Then he became a contract negotiator and a greivance processor and then president of the local. He held the position for years and spent more time in the school district board room conducting union business than he did in the school yards working on the landscaping and sprinkler systems. We could not go to the market in our 4-square-mile city without him being tapped on the shoulder and asked for advice about three members' jobs. For years. I dubbed him the King of Lemon Grove. The state organization had a small office in San Diego and the labor reps there came to know and admire Ex as a savvy, hard working, fearless union leader. I'd met a number of them at various gatherings and when their secretary became ill, I was asked to come and run the offfice.

And so began the halcyon years. The union secretary promoted and I was hired to operate the San Diego office. I proved to be a quick study about most things concerning labor relations. Ex continued working at the local level, but the union hired him away from the school district for several long-term projects. Finally came his opportunity! Our union was willing to interview members who had spent a number of years successfully working at the local level, and hire them as labor representatives, if appropriate. The years of practical experience were accepted in lieu of a degree in labor relations, for the right person. A new department had been created and four statewide organizers were to be hired. "Statewide" meant he could be called on a Monday morning, told to report to Sacramento and expect to remain there for six months. We talked about it a long time. Because I wasn't going to move away. I saw opportunity for myself with the union if I just waited long enough and worked very hard. I've never seen a man as terrified as Ex was when he drove off to his interview 200 miles away. He didn't have to wait long for the results. By the time he pulled up in front of my field office, the message had already been left for him. He had no high school diploma. He was a man who thought of himself as one with a strong back and a weak mind. He had some trouble with dyslexia and reading was not his preferred way to obtain information. He would be expected to put on training events, and he was a man terrified of a microphone. And yet he had learned, by native intelligence, to do something so well, the union was willing to put a world of fortuitous chance at his feet.

There came the years of him apartment dwelling and hotel dwelling during the week and coming home on weekends. The union was generous about picking up the tab decently. I worked on, absorbing everything I could from every labor representative I served. Contract language, grievance processing, legal research, Unfair Labor Practice charges, representation in administrative hearings, writing post-hearing briefs from scratch (I hadn't actually attended the hearing. I was doing it from the transcript.). I was the favored child of my field director and I approached him after some years. If we hired (certain) members after they'd done union work in their locals, could an argument be made that I should be allowed to interview, based on my absorbing information from all the professionals I served? It didn't happen quickly or easily. My field director lobbied his own boss and the other field directors. I gathered (basically) a petition from my own resident labor reps and others who had worked temporarily in our office, saying what they had observed that I shouldn't have known how to do, but did know how to do. Margins annotated and illustrations. I got my interview before the 15 formidable union pros and I aced it. "Best interview the panel has ever seen, Les. You're a union rep." Unions are very careful about spending the members' dues. If one accepted the monthly car allowance, one must drive a car made in a unionized factory. One must be able to seat four passengers (read this: seat members.). I went off to buy my car. I had a letter in my hand on the gold-embossed letterhead of that union. It set out my promotion date and how much money I'd make and the fact that I would also receive the auto allowance. The car salesman's eyes popped. This was the best thing he'd ever seen! Four hours later I drove off the lot in the hottest, reddest car that could seat four members. It had a Ferrari kit. I bought it alone on the strength of my own income and credit, because I could. Ex was off in some far-flung corner of the state. It was damned heady stuff.

Lest the reader think that all sounds like a couple of smart asses, too full of themselves, that's too easy and incorrect. It's about youth and recognizing opportunity and taking calculated risks and working relentlessly while reaching for the brass ring. This was a period when neither of us thought we knew everything. To the contrary, each of us thought we knew nothing. We were sponges. We spent a few years soaking up everything we could learn about the field we worked in. We bounced ideas off of each other and we cheered the other on. We worked hard and became well regarded. But for the two human beings that we were, there was more going on. We learned, the hard way, about human beings at their best and at their worst. We learned how to work sometimes 20 hours a day and remain effective, efficient, strong, leaders. We learned to advocate for others who needed our help. We learned to lobby legislators (school employees are paid from tax dollars). We learned to do things that we never expected to know how to do. We became professionals. We were a little bit startled by that. It hadn't been in the cards.

The actress Dixie Carter passed away on Sunday and that saddened me terribly. I remembered the rare occasions in the 1980s when I got a moment to watch TV. Designing Women was a firm favorite. I wanted not to be like Julia Sugarbaker, but to be Julia Sugarbaker. I liked The Golden Girls and I liked the movies of the day: Romancing the Stone, The Jewel of the Nile, Ghostbusters . . . it's been more than 20 years.

On January 1, 1990, at age 37, I sat watching Designing Women. Charlene was going to have her baby on this episode. At the moment this TV baby was born, an ancient woman in the same hospital who had been born a slave passed away. This while Linda Ronstadt and James Ingram sang "Somewhere Out There" and the TV new daddy dipped the wing of the Air Force jet he was flying, in tribute to his new daughter. I'd sob over that today. I sobbed over it then because I was very, very pregnant. Extremely overdue. Amber was due on December 13th. It was now past December 31st. I had muddled through a terribly difficult, surprise pregnancy. After we had tried for almost 20 years without success, we'd sadly accepted there would be no children for us. I'd come home from our first trip abroad in the spring of 1989 . . . . pregnant. I'd managed to get through the holidays quietly, but now there were no more of them to look forward to. The 80s were gone and the 90s beckoned. The child was born on the 6th day of 1990. I looked back and thought I saw my mature, professional, confident self standing on the calendar page of December 31, 1989. I felt very young and immature and scared by what lay before me. Things weren't going to ever be exactly the same again. How would I deal with it? Would I do OK or even well? Could I succeed in the next chapter?

In my ears right now: It's still Simply Red. It pleases me.

Something that charmed me: I stopped avoiding what troubled me. I took it on. I lit into it. I said to the other human being, "Would you care to dance? We've got business to discuss." We wrote and wrote. We talked. We communicated. I am reminded of a couple of things. I do myself no favors by avoiding. And after two people communicate, one is reminded of the goodness that seems to fade when avoidance is operating. I'm still learning. May my life be finished when I can no longer learn new things.


  1. LESLIE - This is a most intriguing post. Again, your memory for details dazzles! It's interesting to me that with all your advocating for other people, you and Ex couldn't ultimately advocate for each other. I thought of your post about his death and the words spoken by both of you, and I cried again.

    How beautiful Dixie was and so spunky, yet classy. I can see how you wanted to be her.

  2. @ Kassie ~ Congratulations! Sincerely. I'm at a loss for words. That is a rare occurrence. I don't know how to reply about our not ultimately advocating for each other. Your comment made a lot of things bubble up. And it will likely require more posts on the marriage. I guess I can say this initially: 32 years is a long, long time and all of those years did not look the same. In this 1980s snapshot, we WERE advocating for each other. It was different in the 1970s. And the 1990s behaved like an alien world. It was worse after 2000. It pleases me I was able to write this post and just tell the story. I don't believe I snapped about Ex one time. I was able to tell about some of his sterling qualities. I was able to tell how he overcame hardships. I feel very good about being so level and balanced. It has taken a very long time for me to be able to do that.

    You've got my number re: Dixie. When it's reincarnation time, I've got dibs on her! I know about the night the lights went out in Georgia. I can recite it verbatim.

  3. The 1980s was the beginning of the decline of the labor union, something that we've paid for dearly in this country. It sounds like you and ex went against the socioeconomic grain. I applaud you for that.

  4. @ Kirk ~ I thank you, Sir. You're right. Ex and I were working it when workers were hard to convince. School employees (not teachers, but secretaries, school bus drivers, maintenance workers, food service workers) are traditionally a hard group to organize. They tend to be people who do not make waves. It pleases me that I particularly shone at negotiating "closed" or "agency" shops, adding large numbers to our membership base. I was a true believer with the fire in my belly. I didn't find it as difficult as some to convince a worker they needed us and we needed them.

  5. I like this trip through the 80's with you and Ex. It sounds like a period of intense growth for the both of you, then so quickly followed by the birth of Amber. Perhaps because we are of a certain age I feel that I have grown at a similar pace. The 80's was a time of professional growth but also becoming a spouse and parent.
    I missed most of that decade's culture being here and there in my travels. I did become a fan of General Hospital and the Guiding Light while in Japan but we were several months behind the US broadcasts. I didn't experience Designing Women until the 90's in reruns. All those movies you mention I have on Laser Disc. I think Jewel of the Nile was my first date with Shari. Though it might have been Godzilla 1985.

  6. @ Tag ~ I'm glad we share the common experience of finding our successful, adult selves during that period. If I'm not mistaken, you're 2 summers younger than I (July, 1954, right?), so we'd have been experiencing this exponential growth at about the same ages, too.

    Your comment about the soap operas and movies encourages me to post something funny from the day. It's the video(s) that made me laugh out loud the other day when I needed it. Stay tuned, friend.