About Me

My photo
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.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

My Jaw Dropped (and I Nearly Caught a Fly)

So I'm sitting at my desk minding my own business when Mailman Steve does an about-face because he's forgotten to give me a cardboard mailer that's addressed to me personally. That's not odd in and of itself. I have lots of mail and deliveries sent to the office. I'm there more often than I'm home during delivery times. I glanced at the address and return address, and those were bloggers' names! What the heezy? Yes, there was my real name and my work address, but there was that funny "aka LimesNow" showing, too. Up in the left hand corner was "Doozyanner" and - oh, yes - I recognize her name, of course. But what was this arriving at my doorstep?

When I first began to follow blogs, I was introduced to it by a cyclist. He followed lots of cyclists' blogs, so I went looking at those blogs, too. While some of the good people posted about cycling and not much else, others showed more of themselves, and no human being is only one thing. Some people are warm and welcoming and one bonds quickly. Doozyanner is such a person. I let her know early that I was not a cyclist and do not aspire to be one. Oh, I can speak their language and understand what they're telling me, but it was the other things about her that drew me. She's an ESL teacher who takes trips to Mexico to teach in primitive villages rather than spend Thanksgiving with her adult children (who supported her desire to go 100% - this one time). Although she raised her son and daughter mostly single, and times weren't always easy, they are educated, accomplished and beautiful young adults. She alluded to a family problem once, in carefully selected words and I came to believe we have endured some of the same trauma and dysfunction. I like that when things are dismal in education and she is expected to do more and more with less and less, she says, "This is dismal." I like straightforwardness. Things don't need to be candy-coated for me. Her elderly parents intrigue me as the makers of fine dollhouse miniatures, something that I loved to dabble in for many years. Although I am an only child (not literally, but practically) and she has many siblings, her father was in the Navy and she understands how my family's constant moving affected me. We're pretty simpatico, Doozyanner and Limes.

And have I said that she sews? Oh, she doesn't sew the way I sew which is to dream a lot about when I did sew, buy materials and accessories and patterns and cutters and never, ever complete a thing. Although it troubles me greatly, that is how I sew now. I have often expressed to her the sadness and frustration I feel about being creatively closed down. She has been kind to me and pointed out that I'm creative in other ways. But Doozyanner actually sews. She makes the most wonderful seasonal aprons for daughter, Katie, who works at a pub while attending school. She makes such things as pink bunny PJs for grand-niece, the adorable Miss Jadyn. And countless other wonderful projects as her machine whirs and old Netflix movies play. I got my scissors out to cut open the well-taped mailing container, peeked in first, and then put in my hand to pull out something wonderful:

I wasn't sure if I had a tiny purse or perhaps a toiletries kit, but I could see women with butts like women really have, and certainly cellulite thighs, boobs like some of them want to have (not me, thanks!), appearing to be of a particular age group, not looking grand in a bathing suit, and being OK with every bit of that. It was great girlfriending imagery! I reached in to feel a note in the package. She wrote:

Dear Limes, While in Portland last weekend, I just had to go to the fabric warehouse. I had hoped to find a piece of fabric with limes on it - but this print caught my eye and made me laugh out loud. I knew you and my sister Arlene would also giggle over it. This is a square tissue box cover [aha, not a purse or toiletries kit!] - one of the silly things I crank out on my machine while watching old movies on Netflix. I hope you like it! Your 'tend friend - Doozyanner

Doozy's work is very fine. That surprised me not at all. Her seams match and they're flat, straight and pressed open. The tissue box cover is ironed to perfection, creased in a way that shows me how/where to position my tissue box in it. The openings for the red ribbon are reinforced, so I won't tear my gift from pulling too hard at the ribbon when I change boxes of tissue. Although I've never met her, and although I could have never imagined receiving a gift from her, if I could have imagined that, I'd have envisioned her handiwork presenting as beautifully as it does. I wonder what she watched as she sewed this for me? I hope it was a tear-jerker, because this thoughtful surprise surely brought a happy wash of tears to my blue eyes!

Thank you, Doozyanner, and you'll be hearing from me through the mail, as well. I may not be sewing, but I've got an idea brewing. Has anyone ever heard me say how much I love this blogging thing and connecting with others?

In my ears right now: Friend Kass is offended when someone posts a YouTube that goes really long, but this is more like "double the pleasure, double the fun". I loved it in 1978 when I was a young married and I love it now. "People stay, just a little bit longer . . . . " That's the kind of mood I'm in today!

Something that charmed me: Doozyanner and her kindness charmed me. Every bit of the transaction. She went looking for limes but selected something else she knew I'd like. She sewed, thinking to make me a gift. She didn't ask my address. She went and found it. Have I been heard to say how much I like . . . sorry. Never mind.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Sometimes While One Ponders . . .

. . . why she cannot write/is not writing despite being full of much to say, she could just post a couple of fairly credible pictures taken while on the brief outing away from home. I struggled with feeling that might appear just a little bit derivative, since so many bloggers post their photographs of flowers and the desert and - dang it! - some of the very same things I've aimed at. I prickle at appearing derivative. On the other hand, I went where I went and it's in the desert and cactus flowers abound, and cactus without flowers, and other sights that charmed me. If one can't be creative in one way, then try another. And keep trying to figure out about why the avoidance before going on the trip and why the avoidance since coming back. What's going on here?

I've written many times about feeling no urge to be a photographer. I've shared life with two different very talented such artists and it's made it just a little too easy for me to say, "Would you please aim your magical instrument over in that direction and see what you can get for me?" I'm lazy. I have to admit it. And I don't feel any fire to learn the operation of the camera to produce magic of my own. I'd rather play with words. Nevertheless, I'd be an idiot if I didn't know a little bit about how to capture a decent enough picture and I was lucky to do so on my trip.

I walk for miles in the street every day and on my visit to Arizona, I was fortunate to sleep in each day, pushing off at 6:00 a.m. The sun was just rising and the cactus flowers at their dewiest, not yet wilting from harsh sun. It charms me that the streets in Mother Badger's community are filled with walkers and golfers and cyclists and more at 6:00 a.m. And almost everyone speaks to say hello! I'm unaccustomed to that. For my few days, I added a camera to the usual iPod, BlackBerry, bottle of water and other various and sundry items. I was glad I did so!

I found love in the desert!

I'm charmed by a community where the residents
provide their
plants with courtesy umbrellas . . . .

And trim the trees into lollipops with white-painted trunks.
Good morning, Lollipop Tree!

Toward the end of this day's walk I came upon a blooming cactus I've photographed before in past years. I shot from several feet away and people could say, "Oh, nice cactus. Nice flowers." That was good enough for me. This time I approached it a little differently. I dropped to my knees and got in close. Some of the petals touched my hot, sweaty face. I tried a few shots, placing the sun over left or right shoulder. I tried both with and without macro. I like what I captured! I like the depth of the yellow and green pool with little hair-like structures and an alien hand with too many fingers. I like the dots in the far background that are the pores of the cactus plant. I like the milk-white ruffled petals and especially the ones in the upper righthand corner that appear to have sugar sprinkled on them. I'm purposely leaving this one at a very high resolution to keep the detail in. So that's how it's done! There are more to share, but this is my bravely trotted-out first. What do you think?

In my ears right now: Nothing. I'm too busy in my head trying to figure myself out. This is a rare occasion.

Something that charmed me: Mailman Steve just came by and gave me a stack of unremarkable mail. He was almost out the door when he groped inside his pouch and said, "Oh, I almost forgot!' It was for me personally. Both the return address and my address contained our blogger names. It needs its own complete post and I shall turn my attention to that, with the photos. I'm not only charmed, I'm astounded. This isn't the first time, but one of many special times that another blogger has reached out and touched me. It completely blows me away. Have I mentioned I think bloggers lean toward "kinder than most sorts"?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Crack a Champagne Bottle Across My Bow - I'm Sailing

The time had come to leave for Mother Badger's home. She was expecting me. I'd already sent the e-mail to say what time I would leave. She can do arithmetic. She'd know approximately when I'd arrive. Cesar had helped me feel confident about my car. I'd made checklists and cross-referenced information that really shouldn't matter. It's not like there aren't stores down there if I forgot something. The car was fueled up and my things packed inside it. I'd walked a brisk 10 miles, showered, dressed comfortably for a long ride. And that's when I began to fiddle fart around. Uh-oh. What was going on here? This is a trip I very much wanted to take. So why . . . . ? I'm not telling how many times I drove across the street to the convenience store and back home. It is embarrassing. There I bought junk food that I never ate. It went into the trash at Mother Badger's. I'm not telling what the junk food was, either. I left home and headed toward the beltway. Using streets I know do not go through to the major boulevard. I've lived in the same neighborhood for more than 7 years. Why was I purposely avoiding the beltway? I drove in circles for miles. What the heezy?

I stopped living a few years ago. Some events in my life had broken me just a little and I slowed nearly to a halt. Then the headlines began to scream about national financial ruin and I closed down a little more. To the amusement of the homes, I took steps to prevent my decline and potential homelessness. I had my car insurance policy analyzed and tweaked it and, after charting what and how much TV I watch, I reduced my cable TV service. I cut the high-speed internet to moderately high-speed internet. Hey, I don't download large files or play computer games! I began to sell unwanted, unneeded things on eBay and I hunkered down, waiting for the pain. I stopped doing many things I've done all of my adult life. Like a little shopping for pleasure and traveling a little and buying quirky (inexpensive) things to decorate my home and my office. Like reading, a most beloved pastime since the age of 4. Like the annual trip to the beach in July. Like volunteering to help organizations that support causes I embrace. Like being a political activist. Where did I go? I know why I went, but I don't know where I went. I was lost and my world shrunk. If it wasn't about walking, working, haircut, doctor, dentist, it wasn't happening any more. With the exception of the very rare camping trip or cycling race weekend, I literally did not go away. For far too long. I now know that didn't do anything good for me. I didn't get a badge for being the most stalwart shut-in.

I couldn't avoid the on-ramp any longer. If I didn't set out now, I'd arrive later than expected and I don't do late. I merged into traffic and I was agog. I, the decades-long freeway warrior, had dropped into a world I no longer recognized. Commute traffic, and lots of it! I asked myself, "I wonder why I never hear the homes bitch about traffic? This is hideous!" But that didn't last long. Within minutes my old treachery on the blacktop had returned and I was sailing smoothly in the next-to-fastest lane. As my comfort level on the road returned to me, so did many other things. It proved to be a journey of reminders and affirmations, five hours alone with myself, my music, my car, the road, my desert and my confidence. No one accidentally chirped me and I didn't once chirp any one of them. I soaked up sunshine through the windshield and I did not feel pressured or hurried whatsoever. I took a break and did it well.

Although I would rather have a MapQuest printout that tells me specifically to go from Highway 93 South for 132 miles to Highway 40 East for 79 miles, I had a stretch of journey I'd have to manage by eyeballing. The construction delays on the $240 million Hoover Dam bypass are notorious, and I didn't intend to sit for an hour or more roasting in my own juices. There is an alternate route that adds about 23 miles and half-an-hour to the trip, and that suited me. The trouble is, I'd only taken that route once, and in the opposite direction. Some of the highway numbers were not known, and one has to watch for a couple of turnoffs that are easily missed. Mother Badger had reminded me, "One can easily end up in Needles, CA, by missing that turnoff!" Needles is hours out of the way. Comfort and confidence settled around my shoulders, warm like a shawl. I passed through Searchlight and thought of it as Senator Harry Reid's childhood home and a mark along the road to where we camp at Paiute Gorge. I spotted the sign announcing Cal-Nev-Ari in 9 miles, right near where the three state boundaries meet. I was musing about the community established by Nancy and Slim Kidwell in the 1960s, its 400 residents, casino, motel, RV park, mobile home park, convenience store and airport . . . airport? Yep. FAA designated. As I spied the marker for my turnoff, I was reminded I am good at observing signs and landmarks. I have a good head for maps and I'm logical. I know how to get around. And I knew precisely where I was located on the map.

Soon I was descending through the sharp, craggy red and caramel sandstone to the Colorado River gorge where Laughlin lies. No more merry e-mailing on the BlackBerry from behind the wheel, as the road took a sharp downhill grade and there were switchbacks to be dealt with. Now I pulled over, rather than driving while intexticated. I was reminded how much I love my Mojave Desert (and the Sonoran, where I would soon arrive) and how, if one doesn't have the privilege of going to the desert, one can derive much pleasure from driving through it. I crossed the bridge over the Colorado River and into Arizona, which always thrills me. Where I live, one sees more dry washes and sandy creekbeds than rushing rivers. It's exciting! I drove up out of the gorge through Bullhead City and crossed the preposterously named Golden Valley. I call it Arizona's armpit. When I spotted the wide vista of badlands, I knew Kingman was nearing. Kingman was about half-way to my destination, and after Kingman I had MapQuest directions right to Mother Badger's door. I know Kingman well. I know not to get myself trapped on the main drag where the highway dumps all travelers who then converge upon the many gas stations and convenience stores. I know to drive through the long place and stop at the very last truck stop which is never as congested. Although I didn't actually need gas, I knew how far away were the next services. One doesn't take chances. I bought a large coffee and walked through the aisles filled with ceramic roadrunners and resin coiled rattlesnake figurines. One wonders how much "authentic" southwestern merchandise is actually sold by these establishments, because they all have huge inventories of such items. Back in the car, I cranked up the custom music mix delivered to me the previous day, sipped at my coffee and drove out of Kingman. Some miles ahead, I turned onto another highway and it soon became apparent I was no longer in the Mojave and no longer in the transition between the Mojave and the Sonoran. I was there - in the Sonoran Desert!

After one turns onto the highway, there is not much "civilization" until one arrives at the Phoenix suburbs. There are long, long stretches of desert to enjoy and its personality begins to change quite suddenly. I climbed into the high, rocky reaches and was treated to my first view of a jungle of bear grass, green and bushy at the ground, with high, reedy fans standing ten feet tall. Photographing the bear grass has always been a goal of the man with the camera, preferably at a time of day when the sun shines golden through the fan. Alas, unfathomable to me, the desert here is fenced for miles and miles and miles. Pictures could only be taken from a distance, through fence material. Please don't fence in the desert! Finally, I saw the first iconic saguaro - indisputable evidence that one is in the Sonoran. There are some saguaros in Las Vegas, but they are not native in the Mojave. In the winter they must wear a burlap jacket, and they are not easily cultivated here. But they thrive in their home in the Sonoran, clustering into forests of the tall, many-armed cacti. If one steps onto this bus often, it may be remembered that I am starved for the sight of cactus flowers this year. And now I was in for a treat, for the saguaro were blooming in profusion! Saguaros can live more than 150 years and grow from 15 to 50 feet in height. It takes up to 75 years for them to develop a side arm. The state of Arizona takes saguaro conservation very seriously and it is common to see them supported by upright angled boards with soft pads protecting the cactus' flesh from the wood. Often large segments break off of the main plant and some very odd shapes are attained.

Early in my love of the desert, I was terribly misled by a gorgeous Jack Dykinga photo of a saguaro in bloom. I saw that the flower of the saguaro was as huge and showy as the cactus itself, and said so. This brought a laugh, for saguaro flowers are as tiny as the saguaro is huge! The esteemed Dykinga had been fortunate to find a downed saguaro arm and get right in on the bloom with a macro shot that made it look enormous, I was told. Today I know that the flowers are tiny, but can be abundant as they pop out on the very tips of the cactus' arms. Driving along observing the cactus, I got playful. I wanted to see the flowers up close and personal. As I am a woman who will not ascend a step-stool, it is unlikely I will ever be perched in any way at the top of a 50 foot cactus, there to inspect its blooms. However, as I whizzed past a particular saguaro, I saw that its flowers weren't terribly high in the air, and maybe if I made a U-turn at one of the infrequent highway crossovers . . . . It was about a 12-mile detour. I remembered that sometimes I've enjoyed aiming a point-and-shoot camera at something that charms me and sharing the results with others. The reader wants to understand I have no urge and I do not need to make fine photographs. I'm perfectly happy getting a crude likeness of the reality and saying, "Look what I saw!" And so, here it is: look what I saw. Later in my trip I managed some fairly credible pictures, but this was for fun. I remembered that I once liked to go away and see the sights and have some fun. I jumped back into the car and made my way past Snoopys (plural - Snoopies?) on the rocketship in Wikieup (don't ask me, I don't know why!) ~ "Hey, Snoopys!"

The highways almost completely bypass Wickenburg now, rather than go straight through the middle of town. I'd been warned about the two roundabouts I'd need to navigate, but I did that well. I have roundabouts in Summerlin, near home, and I've driven them in the U.K. They don't disturb me. And then it was the long, last, straight, full-of-road-construction 30 miles. Although I have visited many times, I've never learned the layout of the streets in MB's community. For one thing, the streets all curve and change names. For another, I was never the driver. But I learned that both MapQuest and MB had served me well. I pulled into the driveway, took in a very deep breath, popped the code into the alarm system and stepped to the back door. "I knew you were here! I saw the sun shine through Alfie's cat door when you opened the garage door!" Hugs were exchanged and each of us exclaimed about the other's hair. I'd never seen her beautiful silver mane cropped very much like my own, though a little longer. She'd never seen mine since Christine was put in charge of its maintenance. We chatted a little and she told me to take my things to my familiar room. Though I recently commiserated with my friend on e-mail about the stresses of traveling, as I brought my things inside and arranged them, I remembered that travel doesn't stress me. I'm organized and careful. I keep lists and check them. I don't leave things back or lose them. I remembered I'm pretty good at this traveling and visiting thing. I sent the promised e-mails to those who insisted I let them know I'd arrived. It was going to be a lovely few days! I knew it immediately.

In my ears right now: The finger-snappingest, most dance-inspiring hit of 1997, by three children. Amber loved it. I liked it, too. One heard it in the streets and the stores. I confess that I had a little difficulty re-entering my world this week. I was a little down. It's taken a few days, but I'm feeling pretty Mmm Bop right now! I defy the reader to play this tune and not want to dance around. In fact . . . . excuse me for just a moment, please.

Something that charmed me: The arrival of that 23rd follower charmed me. Please note that all followers charm me, but there's a story. For number 23 is Willy, likely the best girlfriend I have ever had, and since 1986. Oh, yes, he is a man, to be sure. And no, not gay. Not at all. But what we have is a deep, understanding, girlfriends kind of thing and I'm pleased he has popped on my bus.

One photo credit: J. D. Morehouse (Snoopys at Wikieup)

Monday, June 14, 2010

Maybe I Should Just Stuff it in the Mattress

I did not find the merry month of May so very. Although our business soared in March and April, May was tepid. Lukewarm. I needed a few more 11,000 square foot church jobs to drop into my lap unbidden. The wind screamed on maddeningly, making me feel low much of the time. My blog birthday would come up at the end of the month and I thought that would set me writing at a quick pace, but May was my least prolific month since I started the blog. I wasn't reading other blogs with the same degree of frequency, nor commenting as much. I dealt with two major stressors during the month, car fears and money fears. I spent a long time trying to land on why I blog, what I expect to get from it, what I do get from it, and whether I want to continue with it. I'd endured a little angst, a little disillusionment, and I needed to rethink exactly what it was about for me. I found my answers.

My understanding of the intricacies of money management has been, mostly, elementary. I learned young that one wanted to earn a lot of it, save a lot of it, spend a lot of it. But I never learned a "plan". Money just "was". One didn't guide money. Until one became divorced and on her own at age 50. Then one learned to build the budget and handle the spreadsheets and of whom to ask the hard questions and which publications to study. Mother Badger has taught me much about money, as has David and I've gained a wealth (great word!) of knowledge from building and sticking to the budget for our company. I'm pretty savvy in my old age!

On the first Sunday of 2009, I drove through Wells Fargo Bank's stand of ATMs and juggled all my cards, seeking to handle my finances the way that I do. My pension is directly deposited to my Sun West Bank account. I do quite a bit of transferring between the two banks and I juggle several different accounts for my personal use and that of my tiny consulting business. Once a month, I go online to make certain the pension was properly deposited at Sun West. No, I don't have to look 16 times. I look once. The reader may believe, I know where my money is parked and I know just exactly how much of it there is.

I was on my way to see Christine for my haircut and color. She prefers cash payment, so I attempted to withdraw $140 from the Sun West account. "Insufficient funds". What? I knew how much money was in that account and it far exceeded $140. I did a balance inquiry that revealed I had the princely sum of $4.20 available. I didn't like it at all. None of my bank accounts ever sinks into single digits. I knew what should have been in the account and I was a bit concerned, but I knew that sometimes information doesn't translate well between banks and I needed to keep my appointment with Christine. I pulled the $140 from my Wells Fargo account and continued with my day.

Arriving at work the next morning, the first Monday in January, 2009, I sent the technicians out on their routes, but was very eager to go online to see what was happening with my account at Sun West. To my shock, there had been a series of large cash withdrawals from my account between Friday night and Sunday morning! I'd been cleaned out. Yes, it was close in proximity to New Year's, but I'd done no partying, and I felt certain no videotape of me with a lampshade on my head at the ATM could be produced. When startled/shocked, I tend to look over my shoulder to see if any Candid Camera camcorders are aimed at me. Is this a joke? It wasn't. I printed the list of transactions and ran into David's office. "Get your coat and purse! Be at the bank's door at 9:00 when they open.", he advised. I did that. I was the first customer through the door that day. I signed affadavits and sworn statements, and they reassured me I'd suffer no loss until the investigation was completed. It took very little time ~ maybe 15 days. I'd been defrauded in some way that was never explained to me. I never lost a penny. That bank took care of me and my dollars.

On Saturday, May 29th, I went online to verify my pension had been deposited to Sun West. I've banked there for 6 years, so their splash page is very familiar to me. Hey! What the heezy? "Where are the pictures of so many of the actual employees I recognize? Where is the picture of my branch in the building that has been there since the 1970s?", thought I. For here is what I saw on the screen:

On Friday, May 28, 2010, Sun West Bank, Las Vegas, NV was closed by the Nevada Department of Business and Industry, Financial Institutions Division. Subsequently, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) was named Receiver. No advance notice is given to the public when a financial institution is closed.

All deposit accounts, excluding certain brokered deposits, have been transferred to City National Bank, Los Angeles, CA. For more information on City National Bank, visit us at www.cnb.com.

The FDIC has assembled useful information regarding your relationship with Sun West Bank. Besides a checking account, you may have Certificates of Deposit, a business checking account, a Social Security direct deposit, and other relationships with the institution.

Please select the link below to read more about this event:

FDIC Bank Closing Information for Sun West Bank

Online service will remain available.

Continue to Sun West Bank's Online Banking Login:
• Personal
• Business

??!!**## ??!!**## What the ??? I reared back in my chair and looked over my shoulder for the Candid Camera that was not there. Yes, I did see the acronym FDIC on the first reading, so I felt somewhat certain the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation was involved, but one wants to feel damned secure in these situations. With my heart in my mouth, I attempted to gain access to my accounts, using my login and password information. I was successful, and everything seemed as it should be in each account. But that was not good enough. I was alone in the office, so I radioed David who was in another county at a race. "Sir, are you actively racing right this moment?" "No, just setting up. What's up?" I read it to him without ever letting up on the talk button. He heard all of it before he could get one word in edgewise. One can't chirp while being chirped. "What do you think, David?" He said his temperature had begun to rise when I began to read, but he also took some solace in the fact that the passwords worked and the FDIC was involved. "But find out for sure on Monday!" No kidding!

I sent e-mails to my personal financial advisor, Mother Badger, and to the Badger himself. "Um, how badly would this disturb you on a Saturday afternoon of a 3-day weekend?" The e-mails fairly flew for awhile, and the consensus opinion was that I was probably OK. I am. David saw it on the news on Sunday night. By Monday morning, City National Bank had a welcome page on the website to reassure Sun West customers and those of other failed banks they've recently taken on. Yow. We're advised to continue using the checks and bank cards from Sun West until further notice, and the existing employees have been retained. The only visible difference to the customers will be the new sign on the building. Relief? No. I'm transferring everything to Wells Fargo. I believe I mentioned in my last post that if a car fails me, I want nothing to do with that car again. It pales in comparison with what happens to me internally when my bank fails.

At work, we slithered out of May on our bellies like a snake, but - to my surprise - when I crunched the numbers, I learned we actually turned a small profit. For reasons I should no longer try to divine, for it will surely make me ill someday, the phones began to scream on June 1. Why that specific day? What were the conditions? Was Jupiter aligned with Mars? Stop it, Leslie! I've booked more jobs in three days than I booked in some weeks in the heart of darkness after the economy slid. We fired a technician we love who had returned on a 90-day trial basis after we fired him at the holidays. He won't get a third chance with us. David started his two high schoolers at work today - their first jobs, with the world in front of them to be enjoyed. Today I ran more vans than I have on one day in months. Some men were running solo, which means they were earning at their highest level of income. We like that.

Matt radioed in after his first job, just like he is supposed to do. "I've experienced a first, Leslie." I asked what had happened and he told me he killed a customer's pet. ??!!**##??!!**## What could have happened? Did he run over a dog or squash a cat in the driveway? Suck a bird up the wand while he was dry-stroking? "Matt, what??" He arrived at the customer's home to find mother and child crying hysterically. In the house was a large adhesive rodent trap and the child's hamster had become stuck in it. The customer had tried to remove the hamster, but he was good and truly stuck and was clearly in distress. The woman asked Matt to kill the suffering animal - to put it out of its very apparent misery. Matt is a big, gruff, tough very emotional and sensitive human being. "Oh, lady, no. Oh, no, no. I can't do that. I love animals. No, no m'am." She begged him, explaining that her husband could not come home for hours and she had no one else to ask. Her small son was becoming more distressed by the minute. Matt took the animal out to the van and attempted to dislodge the hamster using various tools and even some safe cleaning solutions to try to break the adhesive bond. He attempted to loosen the animal by cutting its fur without causing further harm. Nothing worked, and the animal was now in trauma. Matt killed it, out of sight of the mother and the boy. I have seen Matt in deep distress. His ears would have been bright red and his eyes full of tears. No, not crying like a little girl. Just showing obvious signs of pain while he did the right thing. He performed a sterling carpet repair and told the little boy his pet was in a better place now. Then this 23-year-old got in his mighty war wagon and continued to his next job where he was treated badly and thrown out on his ear. So go our days.

In my ears right now: My favorite of Gillian Welch's work, April the 14th (Part I).

Something that charmed me: In huddle, we talked about what Matt encountered, how humane he had been to the animal and how he overcame his own misgivings to assist a mother and child. It took only seconds for him to be dubbed the Hamster Hit Man, but that was done in a pat-on-the-back manner rather than hilarity about a pet that died. The assembled homes began to talk about the various ways each of them would have euthanized the hamster once he made the assessment it could not be released from the trap. I scanned their faces, looking for any traces of inappropriate amusement. There was none. They were serious about thinking how they'd handle a distasteful situation with the least distress to anyone involved. I'd be pleased to have any one of them on my tea, if I were in bad circumstances.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Rehabilitation of a Fallen Female, or What a Difference 24 Hours Makes

Fair warning to the reader: this post will make more sense if you read the previous one. Back here in the little office plaza, after one passes under the stucco arch, are a handful of small businesses. Although different types of operations, they are loosely associated because each is an enterprise of David and George. One doesn't run into many strangers in the plaza because none of the businesses attracts walk-in traffic. There is a pattern to where each person parks and it is easy to understand the workday of others that one sees taking a cigarette break every day at 10:00, 12:00 and 2:00. When one needs certain kinds of services, chances are David and/or George runs a business that provides just what's needed. George pulls a lot of mechanic work from the inhabitants of this small world, just as we clean a lot of carpets for them.

David's comfort zone was announced on my first day of work. "When would you like me to take breaks and lunch?" His reply, delivered with an enormous grin, was along the lines of him being happiest if I'd never leave my desk. Ever. He was pretty serious, though very pleasant. Now, wait. I'm a former labor union rep. I can recite entire chunks of the Fair Labor Standards Act from memory and I take employee rights and benefits seriously. But I looked around me. This wasn't Kansas or corporate. This was different. I reminded myself that stepping away from corporate and trying something new was a gift I gave myself. David fully understands that people have business to conduct. He is reasonable. And so it has developed that, while I still have to leave the desk to see my dentist, most kinds of errand-running is done on my behalf by someone else. Various characters act as my personal shoppers, go to my home to pick things up for me, make bank deposits, take my car for service and other things most people do for themselves. I remain in the first mate's seat. This works in our world.

As I prepare to take a break of several days for the first time in far too long, I've enlisted Cesar to be my go-to man. I want the security of knowing my car is travel-worthy. I don't understand cars and I don't know how to fix them. I will travel a good distance through an area where it would be difficult to gain assistance. I'm not 25 and cute. I could not rely on the first male passerby to stop and assist me. I have been well wrapped up in knots and feel I keep hitting brick walls while trying to move my agenda. And this is all due to the perverse nature of my car, Lucy Sue, who attracts the oddest automobile mishaps I've ever heard about. She is the fallen female referenced in the post title and she has fallen into some disrepair. She's a little worse for wear and tear. The latest freakish fix necessitated waiting for the arrival of a special-order part and I'm starting to sweat whether I'll have decent transportation when it comes time to leave. I have too few men hanging around to caravan to George's shop with my car to drop it off and then come back together. I was terribly distressed by the time Cesar finished his route Friday and prepared to work for me for the rest of the day.

For a week I have driven in abject terror with my hood tied down and gaping open like a slackjaw. The wind has made that hood bounce as I drive into it, and I have suffered many visions of the hood snapping off, coming through the windshield, and slicing my head off. I require the installation of a new cable under the hood of the car so that hood can be opened and closed to allow for other maintenance to be performed. "I'm off, Les. I'll chirp you from George's shop to let you know what's going on." I don't have to see Cesar's face to know when he's funning me. "Uh-oh, Les, they can't do it until tomorrow!" I could envision him grinning, and I told him to stop it. He said they'd been waiting for him and already had the hood up. He radioed again almost immediately. "Les, this is your lucky day." Oh. Oh, no. I don't need any more luck. And I'm convinced that any luck about that car is going to be the bad variety. "Just shoot me, Cesar. What now?" "No, really, Les! It's good!" He told me I didn't need a new cable at all! "Your hood latch was dirty! He fixed you up with two squirts of WD-40 and a shop rag! You just saved $144.25." My hood latch was dirty. And have I mentioned I drove around for a week . . never mind.

"Cesar, come on, let's move this thing along. Come back to the office and get some money. Let's get the oil change now and some of the other things accomplished." Within two hours, Lucy Sue had had an oil change and received a new oil filter and air filter. Each and every one of her body fluids had been topped off , her brakes, tires and wiper blades inspected. The belts, hoses and cooling system had been thoroughly checked out, as had her electrical system. All of this cost me $12.40, for last winter I gave $20 to a man who came soliciting. For my $20, I got a card that entitles me to 3 "free" oil changes and a variety of other free or discounted services. "You need a new battery, Les. We bake them here in the desert and yours is 4 years old. It didn't even register on the voltage meter. They don't give any warning when they are ready to give up the ghost. We'll get it tomorrow." OK, a battery. That doesn't scare me. I have experience in buying new batteries. Minutes after Cesar dropped off the car, Vicente and Lucy appeared to apply the weekly car cleaning and detailing. I pored over the paperwork Cesar brought back and some lights came on for me. I understood what I was reading, in an elementary way. Cars don't literally have a million mysterious systems. They have maybe 20 areas one needs to know a little bit about. And one needs to know where to go to have the car inspected and recommendations made. All of this across the span of one afternoon. I love learning new things!

Mother Badger began a volley of e-mails, so I had a friend as the car repairs shook out. "How could life go on without duct tape and WD-40?", she quipped. MB is in planning mode. She's collecting the coupons for the outlet stores where we shop. In her community, discount punch cards and special shopping days for those under age 50 are a big hit, among other gimmicks. She suggested that with all that knick-knack-paddy-whack, perhaps the stores would owe me money after I finished my shopping! She wonders whether the cucumbers she bought me will still be fresh, but if not, we'll go buy more. She's suggested which stores we should hit on which days, and which days to go to the garage and estate sales. I agreed to her plan immediately. She's good! She's got piles of treasure she plans to donate to charity if I don't want the gems. And she has an upholstered chair for me if it will fit in my car. I give her a tip of the hat for planning all the hunting and gathering first, and then spending some time figuring how we'll get it into the notorious Nissan. "Hang onto the rope that secured the hood. We may need it to tie down the trunk!" We could launch a military offensive between us. She would be the general and I a corporal, and I like it that way.

The morning began like many others. We sandwich the serious part of our morning huddle between two layers of b.s., joking, complaining, whining and telling the stories of what we see and hear in the mean streets. "Les, what was up with that customer?" "Homes, I don't know how you do it. I'd run screaming." I remind them to hydrate as we have turned extremely hot very suddenly. They turn in their work orders and money collected. I tell them every impression their potential customers made on me when I booked the jobs. I give public kudos when one of them has taken a bullet for the company and I give constructive criticism when one of them has done something annoying that the others might easily do as well. I do it gently. I always preface it with, "This is not to beat you up. It is to share details about something that could happen to any of you and to work together on ways we can avoid it happening again." It works in our world. They don't resent me. They try things that their peers and I suggest.

During one of the layers of b.s., joking, complaining, whining and telling the stories of what we see and hear in the mean streets, I heard some comments that suggested everyone had all the scoop about my car's return to respectability. "What, men, do you have a grapevine on those BlackBerries? Each man tells the next man?" This was curious to me. "Well, yeah, Les. We've all been giving input and suggestions. We've tried to think of every possible thing that could worry you and take care of it in advance. We want you to relax and have a good time." Well! And that's when it happened. I took an imaginary step backward and listened to a testosterone-fueled car maintenance confab begin. They tossed factoids and tidbits back and forth and engaged in a little one-upsmanship. Suddenly something happened. A comment was aimed at me: "Les, at about 30-35,000 miles, get your serpentine belt and your brakes inspected. Get the radiator flushed then, too." I'd never been given such advice. "Nah, dude, it'll be three more years before her odometer gets there and we don't want her to wait three years! She needs to do this by the calendar, not by the miles. She doesn't drive enough." I rejoined the party.

"Wait, homes. You know I'm a note taker. Let me get a pad and pen. I've never heard anything like this and I think I'd draw some strength from knowing such things. And be orderly. Stop talking over the top of each other." They spewed forth information for half an hour and I scribbled. I asked questions until I understood. When they disagreed about some of the finer points, I asked them to brainstorm until they could reach a consensus. They did that. I drew a little diagram and chirped a couple of them to clarify fine points. I created a spreadsheet and then a chart. I'm good at that stuff. When Cesar came in from getting the new battery and wiper blades, I asked him to review my chart. "Do I have all of it right?" I did! "Have I missed anything?" Nothing! I get this to the degree that I need to get it. I'm never going to change my own oil or do much under the hood personally. But I'm no longer 100% stupid. I made the spreadsheets. I made the charts. I printed and laminated them. When I got into the car after the end of the workday, I tucked it all into the glove compartment. I don't laminate until I am certain. I am certain. I can learn enough to manage this stuff and not have it overwhelm me.

In my ears right now: When the band split up in 1980, Don Henley said there would be a reunion "when hell freezes over". Hell froze in 1994. I'd always liked them. I liked them better after they'd put a few years on themselves and resolved their differences.

Something that charmed me: The men charmed me. Their conspiring to send me off safe and free of distress. Their willingness to slow down and let me take notes and ask girlish questions until I understood. "What was your father good for, Les?" "Plenty of things, homey, but not teaching me about cars!" "What about Ex?" "He didn't understand them, either. It's a wonder we didn't burn up, blow up and blow out our cars."

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Maybe I Should Just Walk

I come across sometimes as very level, a soother, a comforter, a nurturer. Peaceful like. Optimistic. Philosophical. And I am. Yet, sometimes I have trouble giving myself those gifts as easily as I give them to others. Sometimes, no matter how much I learn about how many things, I jump from earth to the planet Freak Out in a nano-second. Sometimes, no matter how much I learn, I waste angst and energy on feeling certain I will collapse - yes, this latest trial will be the one that fells me! Despite staggering evidence to the contrary. Actually, I do all right for a girl. But I don't like freaky stuff about my money and I don't like freaky stuff about my cars. Occasionally, "I can't handle this. I just can't." flits through the cranium.

I do not understand cars. I do not know how a combustion engine works. I do not get the physics, mechanics, or anything else elemental to cars. I want to put in my key and have the car fly me, like a magic carpet, to my destination. No, I'm neither lazy nor stupid. I have enough IQ to understand about cars. I know how to Google and read. It's just not intriguing to me. That's what the father, the husband and the significant other were for. While I fed them. A fair division of duties. But I don't deny that the ignorance feeds the fear when something goes wrong with the car.

Recently at a staff meeting, the men guffawed at me as I told them whenever a car does something to me - oh, say, like having a flat tire - I want nothing further to do with that car ever again. Sell it! Of course, I don't literally sell a car over a flat tire, but when the occasional car problem arose, I was pretty good at talking Ex into trading cars with me permanently. My current car is an unremarkable, sensible, economical, age and size appropriate vehicle of a color that is variously described as gold, silver, gray or champagne. Its actual color name is radium. The car is four years old and it just turned 21,000 miles. It has been well maintained and has produced none of the normal, pesky troubles that cars sometimes do. No, no, Lucy Sue has been a pretty good car, causing me few worries of the usual sort. She is, however, a lightning rod for the "that can't possibly have just happened" sort of mishap.

During our four year relationship, the side mirrors have been knocked off three times when I've been nowhere in the vicinity of the car. Once the mirror was dangling by its electrical cords and twice it was lying in the street. One morning, as I ate my 10:00 a.m. cucumbers at my desk, I watched as a gigantic pickup truck crashed into my car and nearly tore the back end off of it. Both back windows have gone awry and have been jury-rigged with suction cups to keep them closed with the glass in a completely upright position. Hey, the motors for those windows cost about $300 - $400 each and the economy was scary! I'll replace them now that I'm more comfortable about the economic rebound. And neither of those back windows was heavily used. I don't believe I've transported anyone in my back seat more than 10 times ever. For fixes with suction cups, and to secure a dangling mirror after a 5-mile drive to the office with it dancing in the wind, I rely on Cesar who has been called the Mexican MacGyver. He is resourceful. He knows how to do a lot of things with little at hand.

I've been readying myself for a road trip. On my journey, I will have cell phone signal for only the very first and the very last miles. There are few settlements, with few services along the highway, and only two small cities. One wants to feel secure setting out on a pleasure trip, so I decided to ask for help to get the car in order. Cesar and I are simpatico. He understands which are my hot buttons, what distresses me, and what needs to be explained to me. He completely inspected the car to this standard: "Cesar, I want that car in good enough condition that you'd let Isabella drive it to Phoenix." Isabella is his 3-year old daughter. It is time for an oil change whether I was traveling or not, so that recommendation didn't surprise me. New air filter? Check - expected. "Les, you need to buy tires." What? They only have 21,000 miles on them!" The tires were cracked - baked for four years in the desert blaze. All right. Tires are important. He went and got the tires put on the machine for me. We've talked spark plugs and serpentine belts, transmission fluid and tire pressure . . . and I'm learning some things. Who knew?

The time was drawing near to the weekend Cesar would take my car home to work on it. He went to the parking lot with a pad and pen and came back up the stairs looking a little startled. "Les, your hood won't open. I'm going to call around, but I've heard when this happens, you have to go to the dealer and it can get pricey." Grand! "All right, please find out. My trip has already been delayed twice." All we need is to get the hood opened so I can get the oil change and Cesar can work his magic. It's not like the car is on its last legs, and I don't want to pay a fortune for this.

In our work world, we are nominally related to David's business partner, George, who owns a mechanic shop among other enterprises. He has a relationship with auto body businesses and other helpful services and he's generous with advice to any of us who work in the secluded little office plaza under the stucco arch. He's good to us when we take our business to him, as well. I had the brainstorm that Cesar should ask George if he knew how to apply a can opener to my hood. "Toss your keys down, Les, he's going to take a look at it." And soon enough I saw George ascend the staircase headed in my direction. He opened it! With no special tools, not at his shop, but right in the parking lot with only his know-how at work. He had news of Lucy Sue's latest weird malady. After four years of use, a cable has stretched out like worn elastic under the hood. The expected result of that is that the hood can't be opened. These cables are meant to last the life of the car, but no. "You're going to have to have it repaired. You can't go around unable to get inside the car." Yes, well I intended to have it repaired and asked if this was going to cost me $5 or $5 million. "Would you like me to find the part and take care of it for you today?" I would. I have an agenda to stick to.

George stepped pretty lively coming back up the stairs. "It's a special order part. It will take a week to get here. The good news is I can give you parts and labor for $144.25." None of that troubled me too terribly. The price was far less than I expected. And now the hood would open for Cesar to complete his part of the great send-off. Why was George so distressed? "Do you have any duct tape up here?" I rummaged around unsuccessfully for awhile and he said he'd look for some down in our service yard. "Leslie, the hood won't close and latch now that it's opened. We're going to have to tape it down and wait for Thursday." ?!#*?!#* Tape it down? With duct tape? Folks, I've been married. I don't have all that much faith in the infallibility of duct tape. I didn't say anything. It took me awhile to gather my wits. I walked out onto the deck. Peering over the rail, I spied George and his assistant feverishly applying tape to the car. "Men, does that even have a chance of working? I don't feel really secure about this." They responded that I certainly wouldn't want to drive on the freeway, and there was a chance it might work. ?!#*?!#* "Stop sticking tape on my paint job. Order the part. I've got it now." I radioed Cesar to relate the turn of events and he could tell I was worked up. "We'll tie it down, Les. It'll hold. But he's right! Don't go on the freeway." I vacillated between thoughts of just renting or borrowing a car and thoughts of the hood snapping off, coming through the windshield and decapitating me. Maybe I could drive one of our war wagons for a few days - no, they're not reliably in the lot when I arrive and leave. Have I mentioned it's windy in Las Vegas this spring?

After he tied the hood down, Cesar took pains to tell me all of it. "There's a little gap between the body and the hood, Les. There's some play in the rope, so you might see the hood bounce a little. Come here and give it a tug so you'll know it's well-secured." Driving home the first evening, I learned how fierce wind resistance is and how that affects gas consumption. The next morning, I asked Cesar to check the rope, because the gap appeared a little wider to me. He said it was taut. On Saturday, I drove slowly down rather empty streets against a pretty good crosswind for four miles. That wasn't so bad. When I turned north into the headwind, I knew I was in for a ride! The wind was fierce, and the hood moved up and down like it was breathing. My eyes popped, but I arrived at the office safely. Ten to twelve men have stopped me at various locations to say, "Hey, lady, I think your hood is up." It charms me that people are kind, but I admit to having the occasional crabby thought, "No shit, kind sir. Did the two inch gap between hood and body give it away?" Thursday arrives the new cable kit. I'm ready.

In my ears right now:
The Three Stooges, and you may hear them, too.

Something that charmed me: Some of the homes have taken up golf and this made be grin from the first telling because my men are less like country club types than any humans I can think of. I'm reminded of a line from a really poor movie, "It's a country country club." That would be more suitable to this group. But Cesar has recruited them, and they go quite frequently. They are tearing up craigslist and garage sales finding clubs and bags and shoes. The Badger has a collection of golf balls for them, found in the streets when he rides, and these men are fun to watch. I remembered an old clip from the Three Stooges and located it. The film is old and was made long before my guys were born. But it has made me believe in reincarnation. Cesar is Moe - he's the smartest and runs the show. Justin is Larry. And Matt is Curly - he looks like Curly, he's as loud and goofy as Curly and he sports the same haircut.