Saturday, May 28, 2016

Bonus Post: Book Progress Update and a Solicitation of Reader Opinion

Portrait of the author as a young man

Hello dear readers;

I am currently stalled in my work on the book because I am waiting to print all the chapters into a spiral-bound, double-spaced manuscript to facilitate the proof-reading and note-making process.
In the meanwhile, I have recalled three other things which could be considered jobs, in that I received money for my labor, no matter how middling that was.  I need your opinion as to whether I should: 1) add them to the job count, raising the total to 88; or 2) include them somewhere in the book, but explain why they’re not part of the count; or 3) forget about them all together.

The memory of these jobs came to me in reverse chronological order. The most recent one was about the time that I had my first bus driving job. It was probably shortly after I had quit that job, and was floundering about for a way to pay the rent on my groovy studio apartment. One of my neighbors worked for an above-ground pool and spa merchant. One day he asked me if I would help him set up a working pool on the display floor of his employer’s store. The work only took a few hours, and he probably paid me a flat fee, like 25 dollars (and probably a few beers while we waited for the pool to fill), for my time.

When I remembered this “job”, I asked Mrs. Rimpington if she thought I should include it as one of my 80+ positions. She thought I shouldn’t, and then she asked, “You didn’t include the time you got paid to baby-sit my cousins, did you?” I paused a moment before responding in the negative. She said that in that case I shouldn’t include this pool thing, either, because they were both just minor things I did mostly as a favor for someone and for which I also received compensation.

 However, the reason I paused before answering was because I had forgotten all about the time I watched her two young cousins while their parents were out for evening. I was about 16 or 17 at the time, and they were about seven and nine. I was pondering whether I shouldn’t actually include that gig as well as the time I helped my neighbor.

The baby-sitting thing got me to thinking if there had been any other instances in my life of the kinds of things that children and teenagers typically do for money which I could add to my job list. 85 is a lot of jobs, so I don’t really need any more positions to inflate my numbers, but I do want this to be as accurate a history as possible.

I think I may have once opened a Kool-Aid stand (I didn’t know how to make lemonade) on the sidewalk in front of my house, but I wouldn’t include that as a “job”. However, I did recall that one autumn in my childhood, a chum and I offered our services raking leaves in the neighborhood. We went door-to-door and actually got a few customers. When it came to pay us, one lady asked, “Who’s in charge here?” Without hesitation, we each pointed at the other and said, “He is!” Then we looked at each other funny, and all we and the lady started laughing. I don’t remember whose idea it was – it just seemed to have spontaneously generated between two bored boys without allowances who thought it would be swell to have some money of their own.

So there you have it: three minor tasks performed for cash money – leaf-raking, pool-setting up and baby-sitting. Do they count as jobs, are they noteworthy anecdotes, or should they be consigned to the dustbin of personal history? I value your thoughts.

By the way, even in the mid-1960s, no one was saying things like “chum” and “swell” anymore. It’s just that when I recall my early childhood, I tend to go all ‘Leave it to Beaver’-y.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Blog to Book: An Update

Hello faithful readers!

I've just finished turning my blog chapters into something resembling book chapters. I then assembled them all into one long document to get an idea how long it would be if published as a book.

I had kept a running page count in my head as I went along, and the finished item is 148 pages, close to my estimate of 150. The trouble was, I had no idea how long a typical memoir should be, especially for a nobody like me who hasn't done anything interesting apart from having an insane number of jobs.

When I first started this project, I tried looking up the average length of a memoir. I ran across an article which was a list of "do's and don'ts" for writing a memoir. I started to look at it, but suddenly stopped myself and clicked away from that page as if my life depended upon it. I don't know if you're like me, but unless it's the instructions on how to put together a bookshelf or something, if I read how to do something before I do it, I'm less likely to actually do it. I become filled with self-doubt and the belief that I'll never be able to perform to the "expert's" advice.

I'm also glad that I didn't find out how long my memoir "should" be before I started. As it started to become apparent how long the finished product would be, I began to fret that it wasn't long enough. Of course, I still had no good idea what was typical, but I was sure mine was inadequate.

So when I had the first draft laid out before me in all its glory, then I compared it to what the experts say. Actually, word count is more important than page numbers, which can be affected by things like font and the actual size of the page. I'm happy to report that my first draft of approximately 84,000 words was right in the target area of 75,000 to 90,000 words cited by a couple of reputable pundits for a first time nobody. If I had known that before I started, I would have been constantly nagged by the notion that I was either going too long or too short.

That gave me the courage to go back and actually read that list of "do's and don'ts" I had run away from before I started. It gives me more than a little pride to now know that I did most of the "do's" and avoided most of the "don'ts".

I've still got a lot of work to do before I feel confident in submitting my memoir to a publisher. To that end, would any of my lovely readers care to volunteer to read the manuscript and make corrections, suggestions and edits? It would be very helpful, and you would have my eternal gratitude (and probably your name mentioned in a published book).

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Chapter 30: Chapter the Last

Chapter 30: Chapter the Last

Job #85: Bus Driver

2010 to The Present

It has taken me awhile to get around to writing this, what should be the final chapter in this on-going saga I call life. Part of the delay was simply time constraints. There has been a lot going on around the homestead the last few weeks. The real problem, though, is it just felt weird to try and write a final chapter for a life that is still going on. I’ll admit to a bit of superstitious thinking that writing the last chapter about my life might have the same effect upon my life.

I’ve read a few biographies and autobiographies or memoirs in my time. From my perspective, the biographers have the easier time of it: “So-and-so was born at such-and-such a time, did some stuff, then died, the end”.  I can’t remember how the autobiographers and memoirists ended their tales – probably at some point in their recent past or then-present. What if something amazing happened to them after they published their life’s story? It reminds me of how Trivial Pursuit put out their first 1980’s Edition just before the fall of the Berlin Wall, thus missing one of the biggest events of the decade. Why didn’t they wait until 1990? I guess I’m going to have to go back and re-read some of those autobiographies for some hints as how to wrap this up. But let’s plunge ahead, shall we? After all, this whole blog is really just a rough draft for the book I plan to write.

I’ve already written about some of the differences in bus driving between the mid ‘80s and today in Chapter 16, so there is no need to rehash those.  I’ve certainly had some crazy experiences in the past five years. I could go on at some length about the many weird people I’ve encountered on the bus, but I think I’ll save those stories for my moribund other blog, The Idiots Aboard. The point of this chapter – and indeed, the whole project – isn’t really about the jobs themselves. It’s supposed to be about why I’ve had so very many jobs over a lifetime.

Before we get into that rotten stuff, however, let me catch you up on some of the significant events which have occurred since I’ve been working at job #85. When I first started, I saw it as an easy stop-gap position while I continued to look for that elusive GIS job I so coveted. Unfortunately, I was working long hours and split shifts, so time for job-searching was limited. Also, the nature of the job itself was quite draining. Remember what I said in Chapter 16 about people seeming to be dumber today than 30-odd years ago? I still hold to that, and, if anything, it only seems to have gotten worse in the half-decade I’ve been doing this job. Also, the number of mentally ill people roaming the streets seems to have increased, at least in our formerly-quiet part of the world, and the severity of their illnesses also seems to have worsened.

By the end of a day of driving bat-shit crazy and bag of hammers-dumb people around, I had no energy whatsoever left for job searching, so that quickly fell by the wayside. Before that happened, however, I did try to keep up on my GIS skills. I often had long breaks between my split shifts. It was not economically feasible or practical from a safety viewpoint to try to commute home and back again during those splits. If the weather was amenable, I might nap in my car or in an empty bus at the yard. Otherwise, I was stuck in College Town with nothing to do for several hours.

I approached the good folks at the City of College Town GIS department and volunteered my services, much as I had done with Jesse in O-Town. Just like Jesse, they were happy to have the free help. I did that for a little while, but then my schedule changed. We have new “bids” every three or four months, mainly because whether or not the university is in session has a big impact on the number of riders. Mainly, there are two “student shuttle” routes, which do not operate when the college is “out”, such as the spring, summer and winter breaks. This being a union job, seniority is very important. The drivers of those student shuttles (usually the same two guys year after year) are entitled to bid for a schedule with sufficient hours during the college’s down times, and that is why we all bid four times a year. As a new guy, I didn’t have a lot of options about what I got to bid on, so I had to take what I could get, and that is why my schedule changed so dramatically. I could never be sure what I would be doing from one quarter to the next, so I had to give up on the idea of volunteering at the city GIS department.

We also relocated from O-Town to College Town about a year after I started driving bus. We had contemplated moving to reduce the amount of time and money I spent on commuting, but it didn’t seem worth the effort and expense of finding a new place and packing. Then our landlord and lady made up our minds for us. It wasn’t an eviction, per se. I admit, we had been pushing the limits of their patience for a while. Our current house was only three bedrooms, and it was just supposed to be Mrs. Rimpington and I and our two biological children living there.

However, Step-Rimpyette hadn’t had much luck in the relationship department. She had broken up with Grandrimpy’s father, and she and her son came to stay with us. It was just supposed to be temporary. She slept in the living room, and we put Grandrimpy in a reluctant Rimpy Jr.’s room, which had a bunk bed.

SR soon met another guy (whom I shall call DSB – for “Devil’s Stinky Ballsack”) and…well…ended up pregnant by him. She had been careful about birth control, but this unscrupulous fellow later admitted that he so badly wanted to start a family that he had poked holes in her diaphragm with a needle. So DSB got the kid he wanted (which wasn’t his first, by the way), but it turned out he was no good at providing support for a family. He was just a total loser. Unfortunately SR didn’t realize this in time to avoid marrying the guy. All she wanted was a legitimate spouse and legal father for her second child.

SR’s pregnancy with Grandrimpyette 1 was rough on her, and GR1 ended up being delivered by Caesarean two months early, at the same hospital in Sacramento where Rimpyette had been born.
SR and DSB tried to make a go of living together, but it ultimately failed miserably. So SR and her now two children were back in our home. Some ugly custody battles ensued between SR and GR1’s father, which SR barely won with her sanity intact.

One month lead to another, than a few years went by. SR went through some rough times while trying to recover from her traumatic relationship with DSB. She met a Hmong man with a vast past. He was good to SR, but it was obvious he was never going to be a financially viable partner. At least we didn’t have to worry that he would impregnate the imminently pregnable SR. He had previously been in a long-term relationship with a Hmong woman, and much to his mother’s dismay, they never produced a child. Finally she had him tested, and he was diagnosed as sterile. Still, after her past experiences, SR was taking no chances, and continued to use birth control. Then, one fateful, drunken night, she let her guard down, and a miracle happened. Apparently “sterile” doesn’t necessarily mean “totally sperm-free”, and now a third grandchild was on the way.

SR’s health had not been great since her second pregnancy. You may recall that she was already having problems when she was working for me at Osmosis. This last pregnancy really did her in. SR’s doctor decided to deliver GR2 by Caesarean two weeks before her due date, but SR’s water broke about a week and a half before then.

Meanwhile, our now grown biological children were having grown-up relationships of their own, and their significant others moved in with us. Fortunately, no progeny ensued from any of those relationships. I would like to have “blood” grandchildren someday, but I can wait a bit longer.
So at the height, we had 10 people living in a three bedroom house (with only one bathroom). I can’t even remember where everybody slept, but the living room was definitely doing double-duty as a makeshift fourth bedroom. All this might not have been so bad if our house had been on a sewer system rather than a septic tank. The tank just wasn’t built for that many people, and that was the straw that broke the landlord-camel’s back. They got fed up with having to pump out the septic tank and our seeming inability to get SR and her kids into a place of their own. It’s not that we were unwilling, it’s just that circumstances prevented it. SR had had a bit of trouble while trying to recover from DSB, and was not eligible for public housing. She was sick and couldn’t work. There was no way she could afford full rent on assistance, especially with no support coming from any of her babies’ daddies.

Finally, our landlord, Rich, who was basically a kindly person at heart, came by while I was at work and gave Mrs. R the news that we had 60 days to find a new place. They had rather a long conversation about our situation, by the end of which Rich said we could have 90 days.  Then Rich apparently went home and told his wife (who was not basically a kindly person) what he had done, because he called Mrs. R and said that it was going to have to be 60 days after all.

Okay. 60 days. After 17 years with the same landlords, we had eight weeks to find a new place and move into it. I try not to bear them too much ill will over that. After all, they had owned their house for probably decades, and couldn’t have any idea what it was like for renters in this modern world.

90 days would have been better (and kinder), but I figured we could it in 60. We barely accomplished it, and it nearly killed us. Part of the problem was that potential landlords had gotten a lot more finicky about renters since we had last had to find a place. Now credit checks are much more common, and our credit has never been great. We thought that the fact that we had been with the same landlords for 17 years would impress potential new landlords, but it didn’t. In fact, it seemed to have the opposite effect. It reminded me of when Hank Hill finds out how long an underling at Strickland’s has been renting, and asks incredulously, “Who rents a house for 20 years?”

Mrs. R finally found an apartment belonging to an agreeable fellow. It’s in a somewhat dodgy part of town, and hard by the railroad tracks, which wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t also near a crossing, so the frequent trains have to blow their horns as they pass our building. It was going to be different, adjusting to apartment living after almost two decades of living in stand-alone houses with yards. Actually, I was looking forward to the idea of no longer being responsible for yard care. The backyard at our last house was quite large, but only about a quarter of that was livable lawn. The rest was wild grasses and weeds. When the wild part finally dried out during the summer, it wasn’t much trouble right through the winter, but I dreaded the spring when the new growth came in with a vengeance.

Another complicating factor in our move was that poor Mrs. R got pneumonia and was in the hospital for several days just as were switching homes, so I was on my own trying to wrangle all the other inhabitants into some semblance of order. Mrs. R got released from the hospital just in time to walk through our now empty former home to say goodbye to it. We had been there for 11 years. Our children had grown from actual children to adults there. Just before she went into the hospital, we celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary in the midst of all packing. It was a bittersweet time full of conflicting emotions and stresses.

Man, we had accumulated a lot of junk in those 11 years (plus the six years at the previous house, where we’d had almost nothing when we moved in, after a few years of gypsy-like living). We rented a 4 cubic yard dumpster and filled it to overflowing with discarded items. Even then, we weren’t able to fit what was left into our new place, and had to rent a storage unit. There has always been something reprehensible to me about our culture’s accumulative nature, and what a huge industry self-storage has become. It kills me to have to shell out money to someone else to protect our excess stuff, but I can’t seem to whittle it all down to a less profligate amount.

At last we settled into our new apartment, and now we’ve been here almost four years. Rimpy Jr. broke up with his significant other here, and that was rough. He has since relocated to Portland, Oregon, where we plan on moving in a couple of years. Grandrimpy got old enough to get his own significant other, who moved in with us, so there are now nine people under this roof, only one less than the previous domicile, but at least we are spread out over four rooms instead of three (and two bathrooms), so the living room only sometimes functions as a guest bedroom.

That catches us up on current events. So what have I learned from all this living and working and writing about it? In the introduction to this project, I told the story of an addle-pated woman who had a hard time remembering how to pay her fare on the bus as she commuted to beautician school, and my impatience with her and her slowness. I don’t know what became of that lady. I like to think that she graduated from beauty college and went on to a better life, but I’ll probably never know.
When I wrote that introduction nearly a year ago, I wondered why I was such an impatient butt, and who I was I to talk, anyway - a guy who got hired for 85 different jobs over the course of 35 years? Were the two things somehow related? I think they are.

My parents were both critical in their own ways, but my father was by far the worse. He managed to make me feel like I’d be worthless if I didn’t match his idea of how a man should conduct himself in this life. He did some things right in his life. He was a responsible worker and a homeowner and paid his bills. There is nothing wrong with that. But nobody liked him. He’s been gone a long time now, and all anyone remembers about him is how he made them feel about themselves - which was never “good”. The world he’s no longer a part of doesn’t care about his good credit or what he owned.
For my part, I took a convoluted path in dealing with how he made me feel. Like many children, instead of saying, “I’m never going to make MY children feel bad about themselves”, I repeated the behaviors I’d seen modeled. I’ve had to work hard to change that behavior in my personal relationships, but I’m still prone to dickishness when dealing with co-workers and passengers. After my disastrous turn as a foreman with Osmosis (you know, when I fired my own step-daughter?), I have had no interest in any kind of supervisorial position. Being a bus driver is no picnic, but I don’t think I could handle even the little bit of power that would come with a higher position - like dispatcher, trainer or safety supervisor.

In general, I rebelled against my hyper-critical father’s ideas of what makes a successful man by being about as irresponsible when it came to work and personal finance as I could get. Paradoxically, however, when I did work, I usually tried to do the best job I could at whatever it was. That may have been a combination of nature and nurture (if you can call my father’s approach to parenting “nurturing”). I think I have a naturally strong work ethic, plus I had seen it modeled by both my parents. I just wish it hadn’t taken me so long to come to grips with my feelings about my father and buckle down to being a grown-up. Ah well. Better late than never, I suppose.

It hasn’t been easy accepting my current position in life. I can’t escape the nagging feeling that I could have done better than being a bus driver this late in life. Sometimes I have despaired when I felt like this is all I have to look forward to until I retire. But I’ve managed to hang in there. Sometimes I can’t believe it’s been five years. When I hit that anniversary, my wages suddenly jumped from less than I was making at my previous job at Intersection to more. Finally I’m making a decent living, but it’s sort of a double-edged sword. Even if I found a job that was more amenable in working conditions, it probably wouldn’t pay as much as I’m making now. This is the risk I’m taking with our planned relocation to Portland. If I get the job I want up there, it will pay less than I’m currently making, at least for a little while, so that could be rough. I’ve gotten gun-shy about making risky moves with employment, but nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?

So now I’m a stable worker, but I still struggle with being critical of others. I try to remember that poor beauty college student and her struggles with tickets. We all have struggles. It’s how we deal with ours and how it affects our interactions with others that defines us, and I’m trying to make a better definition for myself.
The end.

P.S.: It’s mostly been fun writing this, but it has been hard, too. Now comes the really hard work of going back over this and trying to work it into a book someone would want to read (and pay for the privilege of doing so). Wish me luck.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Chapter 29: Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

Chapter 29: Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

Jobs 83-84


Job  #83: Intern, Geographical Information Center

When I started the Geospatial Workforce Training Program (GWTP), I was nervous that I would again experience the sort of difficulties with the computer software which had plagued me during my time in college. To my delight, I thrived in it. I knew I just needed a second chance in order to master it. The only part that gave me trouble was our final project, in which we needed to show that we knew how to use the software in order to solve real-world problems. The project was approximately equivalent to a senior thesis for a bachelor’s degree, but geared toward vocational students who perhaps hadn’t had any previous college education. The idea was that we were to partner with a local business or organization which could use some GIS-based solutions to specific issues (even if they weren’t aware they had a problem).

I’ve always hit a wall when it comes to projects of this sort. I don’t mind doing research, and I’m okay at writing papers, but when it comes to thinking up some new and original idea to try to convince someone that I actually know what I’m doing, I blank out. The other students in the GWTP were coming up with some really interesting-sounding and practical ideas for projects, but I was floundering about, trying to think of something, anything.

My instructor, Chris, suggested a possible project. The GWTP shared a building with an electrical lineman college, and they needed some help with something. The facility was located next to the O-Town airport, and so they had to report the height of their practice poles to the Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA has a handy webpage which allows users to enter data about the structures they’re reporting, then the FAA’s software generates a map showing the location of the structure in relation to the airport. The problem the lineman college was having was that their FAA-generated maps were showing their poles as being almost a mile from the airport, rather than a few yards.

The answer to their problem was actually quite simple. It’s been long enough ago that I can’t remember the exact details, and they would probably bore you anyway. Basically, there are various methods in which to record one’s position on the earth’s surface, such as Digital Degrees and Degrees Minutes Seconds. The FAA’s web page only allowed the data to be submitted in one of the methods, but the GPS (Global Positioning System) device the lineman college was using was set to a different method.

The campus director for the lineman college was actually a former classmate of mine from my college geography courses, named Jennifer. Her job at the lineman college didn’t really have anything to do with geography, and it was really just a funny coincidence that it was her responsibility as director to submit the GPS data to the FAA. She didn’t know about the difference in the versions of the GPS data, and the FAA’s website was not particularly informative that the data could only be in the one format. When my former classmate entered her numbers, the FAA’s webpage was truncating the last few characters, resulting in the grossly inaccurate maps it was generating. It was an easy matter to set the lineman college’s GPS unit to the FAA’s required method, and the data that was already recorded was automatically converted.

Jennifer was pleased to have that issue resolved, but that didn’t constitute enough of a “real world” solution for my final project. I decided to provide them with a GIS map of all their poles, with the heights of each one recorded along with their GPS coordinates. Of course, they already knew where their poles were, and how tall they were. But every time they replaced a pole, even if it was in the same place and the same height as its predecessor, they had to submit a new report to the FAA. I figured my map would facilitate this process.

I painstakingly gathered the GPS coordinates for each pole. I often had to work around the student linemen as they were practicing their new trade. Working near all those utility poles and the rough men who serviced them sometimes gave me flashbacks to the bad old Osmosis days, but it pleased me to reflect upon how two past experiences – one good but under-utilized (geography major) and one bad (utility pole inspector) – were coming together at that particular point in time. I felt like I was on the right path to something better.

Unfortunately, a map of some utility poles – while useful to my “client” – still did not satisfy the criteria of the project, which had to involve some actual analysis. I had already spent the majority of my time creating the map, and had to scramble to come up with some way to use the data in a meaningful manner. With Chris’s help I was able to come up with a hypothetical utility company and demonstrate how GIS could be used to calculate maintenance costs based upon the location of different parcels of land.

My project passed the requirements to graduate from the GWTP, but I was not very proud of it. All the other students had come up with actual problem-solving projects for actual businesses and groups. I felt like mine was weak by comparison. Even at that, it did attract the attention of a real business owner with a real problem that needed fixing, which actually lead to a real job…sort of.

We presented our final projects to our clients and pretty much anyone else who was interested. Among the attendees was the owner of the businesses which rented a space in the converted factory where the GWTP was held. This nice lady, whom I shall call Susan, in partnership with her father and brother, was trying to develop a radical new form of clean energy production called flying electric generators (FEGs). They are sort of like little helicopters which are tethered to the ground. They fly to a certain height under battery power. Then high-altitude winds keep them aloft while at the same time generating power by turning their turbines. The electricity is then transmitted to the ground via a cable attached to the tether.

Of course, these high-flying, stationery wind turbines and their tethers present a hazard to aircraft, so they can’t be flown just anywhere. Susan had settled upon Minnesota as the being the best place in the United States for a steady source of high-altitude winds. Now she needed to know just where all the airports were in Minnesota, and other airspace restrictions. She was interested to note that my project had made me familiar with the FAA. There was another student by the name of Dave. I forget what his project was about, but it also attracted Susan’s attention as being relevant to her needs. It probably also didn’t hurt that Dave was from Minnesota.

Susan approached our instructor Chris about the possibility of recruiting my and Dave’s help with her project. Part of the GWTP included a paid internship at College Town University’s Geographical Information Center. The GIC was an off-shoot of the university, but it sold its services to clients in the real world. Our internship was carefully crafted to provide us with actual paid work experience while not violating our unemployment insurance benefits. We had to submit the hours worked each week to the California Employment Development Department, who then adjusted our benefits accordingly.

Generally, the internships ended when students graduated from the GWTP. Special dispensation was made for Dave and me so that we could work with Susan. Susan became a client of the GIC, and my and Dave’s internships were extended so that we could work for our client. We divided up the work. I gathered data and put it into a usable GIS format. Dave was responsible for creating the actual maps. This arrangement suited me just fine. I love finding and collecting data, but my cartographic skills have never been particularly strong. Dave was less keen on data, but he had a real talent for creating attractive looking maps.

In a short amount of time I had to become something of an expert on our nation’s airspace, which is rather complicated. I also had to find data on every airport in Minnesota, and I mean EVERY airport, no matter how small. I actually found one small airport which, when displayed in our GIS, didn’t match the description of its coordinates. In fact, this Minnesota airport was displaying as being in a completely different state when plugged into our GIS software. I discovered that its coordinates had been erroneously entered, much like Jennifer’s poles. I informed the good people responsible for such things back in Minnesota of the discrepancy, and they were very grateful.

I also found two more anomalous airports which at first I thought were mistakes. The first one appeared to be in the middle of a lake, but it turned out to be a sea plane base. The runway of another one appeared to cross the border with Canada, which didn’t seem right. Upon investigation, this tiny airport really does span both countries. You start your take-off or landing in one nation, and end it in the other one. I don’t know how this came about, but it’s the only one of its kind.

All in all, Susan was very pleased with our results. She wrote me a very nice letter of recommendation, which I still have. So now I had a brand-new certificate in GIS to update the one I had received from College Town University and a new-found confidence in my ability to parley my training into a lucrative career, which is something I had not gleaned from my earlier education. We were in a fortunate position at the time wherein we would have been able to relocate if needed, so I began to apply every place I could think of.

Some organizations often offered different positions for which I was felt I was qualified. It started to become difficult to remember just which ones I had already applied for, so in order to avoid repeating myself, I started keeping a very thorough log of the exact details of each position I applied to with the date and other relevant information. Chris had said that on average a person had to apply one hundred times before finally landing a job. By the time I reached about 80 applications in my log book, I figured I must be getting close. Out of those 80, I only got three interviews (all by phone because of distance), but they did not result in an offer of employment. I used to think that I was pretty good at getting jobs. After all, I’d had over 80 of them by that point. Of course, there had been more jobs that I tried to get, but hadn’t, and apparently I’m not so good at getting a very specific job.  It seems rather ironic that the guy who’d had over 80 jobs couldn’t get one job out of over 80 applied for.

Under Obama’s various programs to stimulate the economy, I kept getting extensions on my unemployment insurance benefits, but that was about to end, and I was getting desperate to find a job. This desperation led me to make a very tragic mistake. One of the few jobs which I came close to landing was with Davey Tree, which has a GIS division which gathers data on former trees, A.K.A: utility poles. I was very careful that the job wouldn’t be like Osmosis, and by all appearances it only involved tramping about the quiet countryside with a GPS device. I ended speaking by phone with a (seemingly) nice man who was fairly high up in the management structure of Davey. He advised me that all their data collection positions were on the east coast, and the pay wasn’t high enough to justify me relocating. Despite our previously mentioned fortunate situation, I had to admit the wisdom of his advice. He said he was willing to help me, and he knew someone in my area who might be interested.

Job #84: Utility Pole Inspection and Treatment (again!)

That someone was a woman (whom we shall call Molly) who had been a manager at Davey, and had started her own pole inspection and treatment business. Davey also inspects and treats utility poles, and Molly sub-contracted with her former employers to provide this service for utility companies.
This woman, whom we shall call Molly, upon the suggestion of the (seemingly) nice man from Davey, had one of her foremen contact me. When he told me the nature of the job, I was very apprehensive after my traumatic experience with Osmosis. I asked a lot of questions to make sure this would be different. Molly’s company wasn’t big enough to have recruiters, so I felt confident that I wasn’t being lied to. I eventually agreed to sign on with this small company. I knew the work would be hard, but I wasn’t afraid of hard work. I just didn’t want to kill myself while constantly being told I wasn’t meeting some unrealistic production quota. I was also giving in to my old habit of trying to correct a mistake from the past. I thought if I could do well at Osmosis-type work in a non-Osmosis-type environment, I would redeem myself for the mistakes I had made at Osmosis.

Well, it turns out I had been lied to. Molly’s was just like Osmosis. If anything, Molly’s was worse because they were less well-funded than Osmosis. I reported for my first day of foreman training in Orland. I had been told that if I was working out of town, my accommodations would be paid for. This was in September, and it was still brutally hot in the Sacramento Valley. After that first 10-hour day, I showed up at the local motel where the rest of the crews were staying. When I gave my name at the front desk, I was told there was no reservation for me. I called the foreman (whose name I can’t recall, but he was such a carbon copy of Osmosis’s Rick that I shall call him Rick 2) to find out what was up. Rick 2 informed me that in actuality they only paid for a room if the work was more than an hour from my hometown, and Orland was “only” 45 minutes away. The other crew members were from further away than me, so they got a room. This was bullshit. Now I was faced with a 90 minute round-trip commute in addition to 10 hour days. I should have quit right then, but I had already made an investment in boots and other gear, and I needed work badly, so I grimly determined to stick it out in the hopes that things would be better when I became a foreman again and got my own truck and crew.

I had one near-death experience with Molly’s which topped anything Osmosis had thrown at me. I was drilling into a ridiculously small-diameter pole which supported the cable and fuse-box going to a massive pump on a farm. At Osmosis we had never drilled into poles that small, and also never on privately-owned poles like this one. I had accidentally drilled all the way through larger poles with Osmosis, and now I was a few years’ out of practice, and working on a much smaller pole than previously encountered. I went right through that sucker in no time flat. Oh, well, I figured – it happens sometimes. Then the foreman I was training with pointed at something on the back side of the pole. The 400 volt cable ran down the back of the pole, and my drill bit had come within less than an 8th of an inch of nicking the insulation of the cable. If I had nicked it, the rubber soles of my boots probably wouldn’t have been thick enough to prevent all 400 volts from going to ground right through me. At least I probably would have been dead before the gas in the drill’s tank could have exploded.

Also the intervening years as a vendor and a GIS intern had done nothing to prepare my body for jumping back into the rigors of pole inspection and treatment. Every joint and muscle in my body was screaming. And apparently I had not invested enough in those boots, for they soon started to wear away at the backs of my heels. I tried applying moleskin and an extra layer of socks, but it kept getting worse. One day I couldn’t walk anymore because the pain was so intense.  I had go sit in the truck with my boots and socks off until the crew could take a break and drive me to my Blazer (which was parked at the motel I couldn’t use). When the other guys on the crew saw the hideous half-dollar sized holes on the backs of my heels, they knew I wasn’t just being a wimp. They couldn’t believe I had lasted as long as I did. I then drove home barefooted while trying to keep my raw wounds off the dirt on the floor of the Blazer.

So I had some time off. I had to apply for Worker’s Compensation and Disability. The thing with Worker’s Compensation is that it is paid for by your employer’s insurance company, so trying to get money out of them is no easy task. The investigators I spoke to on the phone were incredibly sympathetic when they saw the photos of my heels, but that didn’t stop them from ruling that Molly’s was not responsible for my injuries. I wasn’t surprised. Disability insurance, on the other hand, is a state- run program paid for by you, the employee. They are usually much more relaxed about paying you if you are injured and can’t work, even if it’s your fault.  So at least I got some disability payments for the few weeks that it took my heels to…heal.

I put my time off to good use. I kept searching for GIS jobs to apply for. I approached Jesse, the head of the GIS department of O-Town city government, and volunteered my time just so I could keep up on my skills and to gain more work experience that I could put on a resume. Actually the GIS department at O-Town city hall was so small that Jesse was not only the head, he was pretty much the entire department. I met him when he came to the GWTP along with some other local GIS employers to tell us about employment opportunities in the area. He was a fairly recent graduate of the geography College Town University, and he had lucked into this real government GIS job because he had gone to school with the person who was leaving the position.

Anyone loves free help, so Jesse took me on. I feel like I did some good work for him during the short time I was there, and I increased my understanding of GIS in the process. Unfortunately, my feet had healed sufficiently to allow me to return to Molly’s. I desperately needed to extricate myself from that awful situation. I had even sent an email to the (seemingly) nice man at Davey, explaining my unfortunate injury at Molly’s, but reiterating my interest in data collection, despite the distance of the jobs from my home. I told him that as long as I was careful and had good boots, I felt I could handle a bunch of hiking. I followed up a couple of days later with a phone call. The (seemingly) nice man must have talked to Molly, because he suddenly wasn’t so nice anymore. In as many words, he said he wasn’t interested and hung up with a bang.

When it came time for me to make my reluctant return to Molly’s, I bought a different pair of boots – ones which seemed like they wouldn’t hurt my heels. When I tried them on, my wounds were still too recent, and the pain was too much. I had to call Molly’s and beg for more time off. I was hoping they would fire me, because I was no longer technically on disability, but employers are reluctant to fire an injured employee under any circumstances for fear of lawsuits.

I was once again in the awful situation of needing to get out of a job, but unable to quit with nothing to fall back on. When I could no longer claim that my feet were preventing me from working, I pretended to have car trouble. I ended up talking to Molly herself for the first time. She asked why I couldn’t take Greyhound to work, which was now located in Redding, more than an hour’s drive from O-Town, so at least my accommodations would be paid for. I tried to be as difficult as possible without actually being defiant in the hopes that she would decide I was too much trouble and fire me, but to no avail. Eventually I had to say I’d figure something out about my car (which was fine except for an unfortunately quart-a-day oil habit), and a couple of days later I  drove myself to Redding the night as if driving to my own execution. I stayed in the motel, but I didn't sleep well because I had tremendous anxiety about what lay ahead of me.

Those first few days back were awful. The crew I had been working with in Orland were there, and they were genuinely concerned about the welfare of my feet. I was going to be working with a different crew, however for which I was glad. I was definitely not planning on being a good employee, and I didn’t want to subject them to that, because they had been decent to me. I had worked with the other foreman a couple of times in Orland, and he had been nice then, but by now I had gained a (well-earned) reputation as a difficult trainee. He was none too pleased to be stuck with me, so that made for a pleasant couple of days.

My new boots protected my feet just fine, but the rest of me was a wreck, emotionally and physically. October in the North Valley is usually still hot, and Redding is notorious for being one of the absolutely hottest places in California. And the soil there is nothing but hard-packed red clay and rocks. One day I had to make a full excavation around a large-circumference pole. The dirt was so hard it was like hacking through concrete. The foreman I was working with kept coming around to check on my progress and couldn’t believe how little of it there was. I didn’t care – I was trying to get fired, after all. In reality, I don’t think I could have done much better if I had cared to. That Redding soil is ridiculous.

An eight-hour day under such conditions would be bad enough, but 10 hours is like a never-ending trip through hell. After 9 hours I couldn’t take any more. I went to the poor foreman who was saddled with me and said I had to go back to the motel because I was sick. He didn’t want to take the time to drive me, so hecalled me a cab, which took a big chunk out of my expenses budget for the week, because we were working some distance from beautiful downtown Redding. I got back to the motel and took a shower. IRick 2 called me and said I was suspended for three days for leaving work early. I thought, “Okay. Now we’re getting somewhere. It’s not fired, but it’s a start".

I began packing up my stuff for the drive back to O-Town. I took my time because it was past check-out time on the room. I was even wondering if I could sleep there and leave in the morning. That question was soon answered when Rick 2 called me back and said that I’d better not be thinking about trying to sleep at the motel because they weren’t going to pay for it if I was suspended. I didn't bother to remind him that the room was already paid for.

So I got another nice little reprieve from that awful job, albeit unpaid. Sadly, the three days came to an end and once again I was forced with having to go back to Redding - and on my 51st birthday, too – but I had hatched a new plan. I didn’t tell Mrs. Rimpington my plan, because she was convinced that nothing I could do would get me fired free and clear, and she wouldn’t have approved of this plan, but I was confident it would work.

I would have preferred to drive up the night before work and stayed in the motel so I could be fresh for work the next morning. Molly’s, however, was not going to pay for a room for me on the last night of my three-day suspension, so I had no choice but to get up extra early (much too early for our family tradition of birthday breakfast in bed) and drive for 90 minutes to report for my 10-hour day. If my plan didn’t work, I’d be in for one fuck of a miserable day.

I left an hour earlier than I needed to, which was actually all part of my plot. About 10 miles north of College Town, I pulled over and took a nap. I figured I could explain later that I had left so early because I wasn’t sure how long the drive would take, but when I realized I was ahead of schedule, I decided to take a nap. You know, out of concern for safety and being a productive employee.

 I actually did sleep a bit, but instead of setting the alarm on my cell phone to allow me enough time to finish my drive in time for work, I set it so that I would be late. When I awoke, I made a “panicked” call to Rick 2 explaining that I had over-slept – I dunno, I guess my alarm didn’t work, or I hadn’t heard it. I told him I was on my way and gave him an estimated time of arrival. He told me to forget it, I was done. I wanted to make absolutely certain I understood him, so I asked him to clarify. He said I was fired –terminated -discharged. Such magical words to my ears! But I had to play along. I said, “Are you sure?” I didn’t want to protest or beg too much in case I accidentally stimulated some long-dead sympathy nerve in him and he changed his mind. He confirmed that they had given me all the chances they could and “sayonara”.  I muttered, “Oh, okay” and hung up and then did a happy jig alongside the Golden State Highway.

I drove back to O-Town with a lighter heart. When I walked into the house, Mrs. R couldn’t believe it when I said I had actually gotten fired. I then explained my brilliant scheme, and she had to admit the sagacity of it. I then sat on the bed and asked Grandrimpy to bring me two slices of left-over pizza on a plate. Those in attendance sang “Happy Birthday” and I had my breakfast in bed, after all. It was one of the best birthdays ever.

So, okay, I committed fraud. I admit. But it wasn’t for long. Barely two months later I got hired at Job #85 (bus driver). I didn’t even put Molly’s down as a previous employer on my application. I knew I wouldn’t get a good reference, and my total time with them hadn’t been long enough to constitute a significant gap in employment.

I’ve been at my bus job for over five years now.  However, I don’t plan on being with them until I retire. Plans are underway for a major relocation and a similar job for a different employer, but that won’t be for a couple more years. I will be very careful to never get myself into a situation where I need to get fired from a job, for any reason. I’m too now old for such shenanigans.

In the next (and hopefully final) chapter I’ll talk about my current job, and we’ll see if I’ve learned anything. I think I have. Ta!
The end.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Chapter 27: Best Job Ever

This chapter is dedicated to Tim “Casher O’Neill” Pouncey, one of the best friends and without a doubt the best writer anyone could hope to meet, in “real” life or on-line.

Chapter 27: Best Job Ever

2006 -2009

Job #82:  Vendor

I seem to operate opposite of the old wisdom “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” I’m finding it difficult to think of anything to say about this employer (whom we shall call “Intersection”), because I have nothing negative to say about them. This was – hands-down –  my favorite job (so far). I’d probably still be working there if fate – in the form of economic forces and consequent corporate decisions – hadn’t intervened.

As mentioned in the previous chapter, Intersection provided what’s known as in-store services to a popular chain of home improvement stores, whom we shall henceforth call Home Improvo. “In-store service provider” is a bit of a mouthful (that’s what she said), so we answered to various titles, usually “merchandiser” or – most often – “vendor”, although vendors usually represent a particular manufacturer. Intersection didn’t do that, instead providing general merchandising services for all the products in the electrical department at Home Improvo.

The job was so simple that I almost felt guilty for making 15 dollars an hour doing it. It really required no special skills or even any knowledge of electricity or electrical products. The going rate for new hires was nine dollars an hour, and 14 for more senior employees, but it tended to vary on a case by case basis. Pete talked his regional manager, Nan, into offering me 15 an hour because he knew I was a good worker and had supervisorial experience, and that they had to make it lucrative enough to lure me away from my higher wage at Osmosis. Actually, I was so grateful for any reason to flee Osmosis that I would have done it for peanuts. Later Intersection officially set the top wage at 14 an hour, but they continued to honor my wage, so I was actually making more than other people who had been there longer than me. I kept that a secret from my co-workers to avoid engendering resentment.

It wasn’t a hard secret to keep, because I rarely saw any of my co-workers. We usually worked alone, which suited me fine. If there was a big project, such as a “reset” of several “bays” (the shelves between the upright supports) of a major group of products, some other vendors would come in to help. I never traveled, because I still had transportation limitations, in the form one crappy automobile which I couldn’t deprive my family of. I spent two days a week in the O-Town store, and three days a week in the College Town store. On O-Town days, Mrs. R or Step-Rimpyette would drop me off and pick me up, and on College Town days I would take the bus.

The co-worker I saw the most often was my supervisor, Pete, at first. He would stop by about once a week to see how I was doing, and to give me any supplies I might need to do my job. Pete soon left for a different job, and he was briefly replaced by another young man whose name I can’t recall. When he departed, another former co-worker was my supervisor for a time, and then my former peer Lisa took over the position, and she remained in that post until shortly before I left Intersection.

My life soon settled into a rhythm of contentedly working at Home Improvo, without actually working for Home Improvo, if you take my meaning. Of course, my company worked for Home Improvo, so I guess the case could be made that I did, in fact, work for HI, although we once worked in an Orchard Supply Hardware Store. For all intents and purposes, HI was basically Intersection’s only client. It didn’t seem particularly wise to me to put all their eggs in one basket like that. What if HI changed their minds? We’ll find out.

It seems like it was almost no time at all before I had passed that mythical two year mark which always seemed to be the death knell for any job I had. I did indeed start to experience that familiar sense of ennui after having done one job for too long. But rather than doing something stupid like quitting, I just kept plugging away, and eventually the feeling passed, and before I knew it I had breezed past the three year mark, which left my previous longevity record at Lear Memorial Chapel in the dust. All told, I was with Intersection for about three years and two months.

Despite the generally non-strenuous nature of the work, I managed to injure myself rather grievously a couple of times on that job. One time, I was resetting a bay, which involved removing the shelf beams from their slots in the upright supports. This usually involved smacking upward on the underside of one end of the steel beams with a small sledge hammer until it popped loose, then repeating the process on the other end. It was usually tricky trying to find a balance between hitting the beam hard enough to dislodge it, and not hitting so hard that you sent it crashing to the floor. Sometimes the end you had loosened first would work itself firmly back into its slot while you were smacking away at the other end, so you’d have to wang away at that end a second time. If you were doing this while standing on the floor, you could support the middle of the beam with one hand while flailing away with the hammer on the end.  I could have recruited the help of one of the store associates, but I tried to avoid having to bother them while they were trying to do their jobs.

One this particular day I had to move the top shelf of the bay, so I procured one of the huge rolling metal stair cases you’ve probably seen in warehouse stores. I got one end of the beam just loose enough to support itself, and then I moved the stair to the other end. From this precarious perch, I couldn’t support the middle of the beam. When the second end came loose, the beam flew out of the bay and went crashing down the stair case to the tile floor below. The noise was incredible. As it fell, the end of the beam struck me on the right shin. While the echoes of my catastrophe were still ringing throughout the store, I pulled up my pants leg to see an L-shaped wound in my leg. A split second later blood came welling out of that new hole. So…much…blood. I think that was the most I have ever bled at any one time. A store associate called out from a neighboring aisle, “Are you alright?” I quietly said, “No”, then sat down on the floor and applied pressure through my pants. The associate ran and got some gauze pads and bandages and did a good job of patching me up. I sat down in the break room with an ice pack on my elevated leg and called Lisa to tell her what happened.

I ended up finishing my shift that day with a goose egg-sized lump and a bloody bandage on my leg. My pants were black, so the blood didn’t show, so I wasn’t frightening the customers. I really should have gone ahead and gone to the hospital to be checked out, but I didn’t want to be any more trouble after my stupidity with the beam. When I got home, I showed Rimpy Jr. my pants leg and said, “You see this dark stain here?” He said he did, and I said, “I’m sorry, son, but that’s blood”, then I showed him my gory bandage and formerly white sock. He said, “That’s terrible, but why are you sorry?” to which I replied, “These are your pants.” I had unintentionally grabbed his pants out of the dryer.

I think Intersection told me to take a couple of days off, which I gladly did. The next day, my lower leg was turning some interesting colors, which concerned me, so went to the hospital after all. I’m a bit of an idiot when it comes to work-place injuries, and the whole miasma of rules and regulations surrounding Disability Insurance and Worker’s Compensation. When I innocently told the doctor I had hurt my leg at work, he had to call my employer. Lisa had to bring me yet another form to fill out. I had already filled one out the day before so that Home Improvo could be exonerated from any blame. She was a little peeved that I hadn’t informed Intersection before I went to the doctor, but I didn’t know I was supposed to. My leg was okay, but it took a while to heal. I still have an ugly mark from that beam. After that I got smarter about how I moved beams. I got a couple of bungy cords and used them to support the beams at both ends while I smacked them loose. I wish I had thought of that earlier, rather than inviting injury, embarrassment and inconvenience.

My other on-the-job injuries were less dramatic, being of the repetitive-stress kind. One of my duties was the care of the “light cloud”, that section of the store with working models of ceiling fans and wall and ceiling lights. The hardest part of that job was hefting heavy chandeliers and other hanging lights up a ladder and into place in the overhead rails.

One day I began to notice discomfort in my shoulders while doing this. I figured it was just muscle soreness and took ibuprofen. When that didn’t help, and the pain worsened, I decided it was time to seek help. I had learned my lesson from the incident with the beam, so I called Lisa to inform her of the problem.

Intersection sent me to a doctor, where I was x-rayed and diagnosed with bursitis in my rotator cuff. All that extending my arms over my head to install heavy fixtures had taken its toll. I had never been at a job long enough to acquire a slow-to-develop injury like that. Intersection’s insurance offered to pay for some physical therapy, but I couldn’t get to it with my schedule, so I let it go. I just made sure to be extra careful when hanging fixtures, but the pain didn’t completely go away until long after I left Intersection. To this day I still have twinges of pain when I reach over my head.

This was in the late summer or early fall. About this time a lot of things were happening at once regarding my future. Because of the great economic downturn which occurred in 2008, Home Improvo decided that they could save money by forming their own teams of associates to handle the merchandising services which they had been paying contractors like Intersection to provide. Now that “all the eggs in one basket” business model I mentioned earlier was biting my employers in the butt. They were scrambling to find ways to survive the loss of their biggest and practically only client. Finally it was announced that almost all of us would be laid off at the end of September

I applied to be one of Home Improvo’s in-store services team members. They had seen my work for over three years, and I was well-liked by the staff of the stores I worked in, so I had no trouble being offered the position. Before I could accept, though, a much more attractive opportunity presented itself.

Among president Obama’s many programs to stimulate the economy was a series of courses to train displaced workers for new careers. In my area, a geography professor at College Town University had put together something with the weighty title of “Geospatial Workforce Training Program”. Essentially this course would train people with no prior experience in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to find work in that field. It was just a stroke of luck that I found out about the program, and just in time to apply and be approved. The best part of the program was that participants could collect Unemployment Insurance payments. Normally UI won’t allow you to receive benefits if you’re in school.

The fact that I had prior training in GIS was not a bar to qualification. One problem was I needed to actually be a displaced worker. It was true that I had been downsized from Intersection, but I had an offer from HI. If I accepted the new job, I couldn’t take the course. So I had a choice: work for HI at about my same pay, or subsist on unemployment for a year or so while getting re-trained for a more lucrative career. I chose the latter. I thanked HI for the offer, but politely declined.

Another problem was that the geospatial program was going to start before my last day at Intersection. I couldn’t leave Intersection early without disqualifying myself from the program. Fate intervened once again on my behalf, albeit in a rather painful manner.

My final on-the-job injury couldn’t have had better timing. Vendors spend a lot of time on their knees, in order to service the lowest shelves. After a bit, my knees were getting a bit sore from this, so I started wearing knee pads, which helped. Toward the end of time at Intersection, and despite the use of the pads, a large lump appeared below the cap of one of my knees, accompanied by discomfort. I dutifully informed my employers, who once again sent me to a doctor. It was my old nemesis bursitis. I had to take a couple of weeks off from work, which meant I missed my last official day there, but I was still a displaced worker, so I was able to start the geospatial course on time.

The other interesting thing that happened near the end of my time at Intersection was that my supervisor Lisa suddenly departed shortly after the announcement of the lay-offs. Intersection needed somebody to fill her position, but apparently there were no qualified people in-house, and they didn’t want to hire someone for a job that was only going to last a few more weeks. I called our regional supervisor, Nan, and offered myself for the job. She said she was very glad to hear me say that and the job was mine if I wanted it, which pleased me greatly (although I wondered why she hadn’t asked me) Actually, I hadn’t properly thought through the realities of the position. I was still transportationally-impaired with the one oil-hemorrhaging Chevy Blazer we owned. I couldn’t go ver well go gallivanting all around the region, checking up on vendors and visiting the company headquarters in the Bay Area (which I never once saw the whole time I worked there). I think I knew these things in the back of my mind when I called Nan, but I really wanted to see whether she would accept me or not. It was an ego thing. So I had to embarrass myself a little by calling her back the next day and admitting that I had made the offer in haste. If I’d had a dependable second car, I probably would have tried my hand at being a supervisor. I hadn’t enjoyed being a foreman at Osmosis, but I think I could have made a go of it at Intersection.

Intersection almost went under after they lost Home Improvo. They went through some serious restructuring and even changed their name. A year or so after I left I visited their website, just to see how they were doing. The employee portal, where we kept track of our current and up-coming projects, had not been updated since that fateful September of 2009 when we were all laid off. It was a little eerie – like a cyber ghost town.

I just checked again to see if I could safely use their real name in this chapter. They’re again using the original name and talking about their glorious history with Home Improvo. I'm glad to see they survived all the economic turmoil.

I was in College Town’s Home Improvo store with the family just before Christmas when we were shopping for a tree. I paid a nostalgic visit to the electrical department. In the bay with demo models of work lamps, I saw that my handwritten “TRY ME” in Sharpie was still visible on the switch box. It made me wish I was still working there, but I’ve been driving the bus for so long that I’m finally making more than did with Intersection. And oddly enough, I don’t hate bus driving so much that I’d be willing to take a cut in pay to get out of it. Funny how life goes, isn’t it?

But getting back to the narrative, I had left job number 82 – the best job ever – and was about to embark upon a new journey with the Geospatial Workforce Training Program, but we’ll save that for the next chapter.

The end.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Chapter 27: Pole Inspecting with the Devil

Chapter 27: Pole Inspecting with the Devil

Jobs 80 – 81


I’ve been dreading the moment when I would have to sit down and deal with Osmosis – the worst job I’ve ever had.  This period was a dark one for me and my family. Osmosis definitely contributed greatly to the difficulties, but there were other unfortunate things which happened to us during this period.

Yesterday I sat down and re-read all the 35 or so pages I had already written about Osmosis years ago. It was not a comfortable experience. What’s even more uncomfortable is I still haven’t quite figured out why I left Lear Memorial Chapel. It was probably one of the biggest mistakes I’ve ever made.

My wage at Lear was pretty decent. Also, Mrs. R returned to the work force. Our youngest was now old enough that she didn’t need her mom around the all the time. J’s health was stable enough to allow her to contemplate employment. Through our family friend Sue, she got a job at a small social service organization. This program provided perinatal support services to low-income families. When J and I got together, she had been an eligibility worker at the county welfare office, but she left there after she got pregnant with Rimpy Jr. Her education and experience in social services put her in good stead for this new job.

J has great organizational and people skills, and her new boss loved her work. J kept getting raises, and was soon making more than I did, which made me a little envious.  It was also the first time in our marriage that we achieved something like a middle-class income. For a little while we had enough money that life didn’t feel like quite such a struggle to pay for rent, bills, food, and all those other necessities of life.

However, having both parents working created a situation we had not encountered before: who was going to do the cooking? We hadn’t intended that our family roles should be divided along such traditional lines; it just worked out that way. J already knew how to cook, and fantastically. I didn’t. Since I was working, it only made sense that she would take care of feeding us.
Now that she was also working, it wasn’t fair to expect her to also be responsible for all the cooking. Unfortunately, I never had been any kind of cook, and certainly hadn’t had any reason to learn in the nearly two decades of our marriage. I was at a loss as to how we were going to handle this situation. We ended up eating out a lot, and sometimes it seemed like the financial gains we were getting from our new two-person income were being negated by all the food from restaurants. It was obvious to me that I was somehow going to have to learn how to cook so we could at least split that chore.
As I write this, it’s occurring to me that it’s just possible that this dilemma may have played into my decision to try my fortunes with a new job. I hope that’s not true, but if it is I will accept the blame for being a wanker. Another bit of wankerishness which probably factored into that decision, has to do with my ADHD. As I mentioned before, up to this point I’d only had a couple of jobs that lasted for a couple of years: paratransit driving and mortuary transportation. If you don’t count the time I returned to the paratransit job after my first departure, both of those jobs, in fact, lasted EXACTLY two years.

In both of those jobs, I had noticed that as I approached the two-year mark, I started getting restless, especially with the paratransit, which was full-time, as opposed to the part-time, on-call nature of mortuary transportation. I became bored with the routine, and the pride I felt in doing a good job tended to decline. When I became aware of this feeling of boredom and frustration in paratransit, I also attributed it to another realization. My dad had always trumpeted the twin ideals of “finding something and sticking to it”, and that work was the only thing that defined a person. I thought that if I just kept working, everything would be fine. After close to two years, I realized I was still struggling to make ends meet. I thought steady work was the cure for such ills. Of course, my dad made much more than I had, and my parents had good credit, and owned their homes, and all the other yardsticks of middle-class “success”, which helped them have a comfortable existence on a one-person. I had not achieved anything close to that.

Also, after long enough in a job, even if it gave me a lot of strokes for being a good worker, I would start to feel like I didn’t want to just be known as good receptionist, or a good paratransit driver, or a good hauler of stiffs. I wanted more, somehow, but I was too scared to attempt anything creative. It’s too bad I couldn’t just learn to accept the fate of so many of us who just have to work to live, and tried to find happiness with in that. I think the “two-year itch” was starting to hit me at Lear, and that may have contributed to my asinine decision to depart.

My memory of the exact timeline of events for this period is a little fuzzy, but in many ways the new problems inherent with a working couple got resolved in an unfortunate way. Poor J’s health took another downturn, and before long she had to leave her job at the perinatal agency. But that didn’t mean I was off the hook about learning to cook. She was so sick, that she couldn’t really do many of her former domestic roles, either. It still causes her great sadness that she can’t do a lot of things she used to do. A sad practical effect of her not working was that now our income had been reduced by more than half (since she made more than me), but we were still spending a goodly amount of money eating out, since there was still no in-home cook.

I got it into my head that somehow I could do better than I was doing at Lear, where I got an annual raise of one dollar, which I viewed as being rather stagnant. I figured I was going to have to do something bold in order to increase my earnings. I wanted to go against tradition and truly apply myself in some job where my income could increase with the more time and industry I put into it, as opposed to a flat hourly wage.

But what kind of job? Incredibly, I began to think about trucking again. The fact that Rimpyette was now old enough for J to work played a part. There were no long any little children who needed a daddy around all the time, as well. But there is another problem with my brain in that I often feel a need to return to things I regarded as failures in an effort to correct the past. I viewed my past experience with trucking as one of those failures and I wanted another shot at being good at it.
And here’s the final, dirty little secret: I was probably running away again. I wasn’t handling J’s illness very well. My dad had been an asshole about people being sick, and it was hard for me to shake that modeling. I think I wanted to distance myself from it, physically as well as emotionally. So, there it is: a whole bunch of poor excuses for a terrible decision. I began to put my redonkulous plan into action.

Job #81: Truck Driver-in-Training (again!)

 My commercial license had long ago lapsed, so I was going to have to find a company other than Turkey that provided training. I found one, and applied and was accepted. I gave my notice at Lear. I then traveled by Greyhound to somewhere in southern California (where is immaterial, since it’s all horrible), and checked into the company-provided motel. I didn’t even last a week. I quickly realized it was one of the worst decisions of my life. It wasn’t a problem with the company - I wasn’t there long enough to even find out if they were bad, although I was already having some trepidation about their strange team-driving set-up. No. The real problem was that I had left a very sick wife back home. Poor J was just falling apart. What had I been thinking? So I quietly slipped out of the motel one night with my bags and  took a transit bus to the Greyhound station and bought a ticket home. I never did hear anything from that company regarding the money they had already spent on me. I guess they considered it too small a loss to fuss over.

So once again I was back home in O-Town and unemployed. I had been warned that anyone who left Lear was never welcomed back, but I tried anyway, with predictable results. Great. I needed work fast. In addition to any job, I also started trying to again find something in geospatial. I didn’t have much hope for success there. Geospatial skills go stale quickly, given the ever-evolving nature of the technology.  I hadn’t been able to get a job immediately after graduating, so my chances three years hence were even more dismal.

I put my meager geospatial resume on To my surprise, I was contacted by a company called (and here I shudder involuntarily) Osmosis. If you haven’t read my lengthy history with Osmosis in this blog, I’ll briefly recap. Osmosis started life back in the 1930s as a company that made wood preservatives. Soon they began specializing in applying the preservatives to wood that’s currently in use, such as railroad trestles and utility poles.

Now Osmosis is a leader in inspecting and treating utility poles. They have a small GIS division at their headquarters in New York, which is what brought my resume to their attention. However, they weren’t really interested in me for my questionable GIS skills. They just needed warm bodies to fill their ranks of foremen for their pole inspection and treatment crews.

I talked to a recruiter from Osmosis, which should have warned me away right from the get-go. Way back when I was in the army, there was a common joke – more commonly attributed to lawyers – that circulated among the enlisted ranks and went like this: “How can you tell a recruiter is lying? His mouth is moving.” After my experience with Turkey, which also has recruiters, I realized that same folksy wisdom applied to them as well. I was slow to realize that any job which has to have people who talk other people into working there is not a good job.

I drove down to Sacramento to meet with an Osmosis supervisor, a pleasant Canadian named Jason. We met at a McDonald’s because due to the highly mobile nature of their business, Osmosis doesn’t really have offices, except at their headquarters in New York. I think Jason had a desk in the SMUD (Sacramento Municipal Utilities District) building, but it wasn’t conducive to job interviews.
After talking with Jason for a bit, I rode with him to where one of the crews was working. I met a foreman named Peter, who later became my trainer. Peter looked a little harried, but he had time to shake my hand and say hello. We watched Pete and his crew work for a while, then Jason drove me back to my vehicle. The work looked a bit rougher than what I had been used to in my comfy job as a funeral director, but I hadn’t seen anything to frighten me away. I told Jason I was interested, and I drove back to O-Town.

Jason must have given a favorable report of our interview to his superiors, for a couple of days later the recruiter called me with a job offer, at the handsome fee of approximately 18 dollars an hour (the exact wage varied depending upon the contracts with the utility clients). That was the highest wage I had ever been offered. There was also the potential for extra income (so they said) from “production bonuses” if I exceeded my daily quotas. That sounded like a fine way to make good on my earlier idea of earning more money for more effort. Too bad it didn’t work out that way.

My only qualm about the job was being away from home. Everyone I had spoken to at Osmosis had openly admitted that the job involved a lot of travel. As with trucking recruiters, however, they weren’t entirely honest about exactly HOW long I would be gone at a time. I talked it over with J. After all, I had just come back from the trucking school because she was sick. She said that for 18 dollars an hour, she could put up with anything. So I signed with the devil.

Job #81: Utility Pole Inspection and Treatment Foreman

2005 - 2006

Around mid-December Osmosis flew me down to Ventura, California to begin my on-the-job training. That was a couple of weeks before Christmas. Osmosis took a break during the winter holidays, and when I returned to training it was in Sacramento. First I stayed in a flea-bag motel in West Sacramento at Osmosis’ expense. Then I stayed in a room over my brother’s garage in Sacto proper. Osmosis gave me a 600 dollar stipend for my own lodging. My brother wasn’t charging me rent, so I got to pocket that money.

I trained with Pete for a few weeks during the rainy northern California winter. Our district manager was a psychotic hillbilly with moldy teeth named Rick. When I finished training, I got my own Osmosis truck and a crew. I even hired Step-Rimpyette for my crew, whom Rick fell head over heels in lust with.

Step-Rimpyette and I were transferred to Turlock. Then things started getting shitty. I had a new district manager in Turlock, so at least I was rid of Rick, but already I was starting to realize that Osmosis and I weren’t a good fit. I was having a hard time finding my groove as a foreman. I had trouble making quota, let alone making any production bonuses for exceeding it. I did one day manage to exceed quota. My production bonus for that day? Five cents. No, really – a freaking nickle. Wow.

Basically working for Osmosis was like living with my father again: I constantly had a critical authority figure telling me I wasn’t good enough. I began to take my feelings of frustration and worthlessness out on those I loved. I actually fired my beloved Step-Rimpyette because she was sick with vague symptoms one day and couldn’t work. Little did I know then that her occasional mysterious illnesses were an early sign of her own future health problems. We now know that she has Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and panhypopituitarism. She’s a very sick puppy, much like her poor mother. But all I understood then was that my father was a dick about sick people, but he was a successful, hardworking man. If I was going to be a successful, hardworking man like my dad, then I had to be a dick with sick people.

And that dickishness extended to my ailing wife. From the faraway places I was working, I thought of my sick wife at home and instead of seeing a person who needed sympathy and support, I saw a weakling, a slacker. Just like Daddy would have done. And J was going through more than just her own illness. Her mother was dying of congestive heart failure.

But I just kept spinning away into more anger and resentment. Meanwhile, Osmosis was sending me to such charming places as Las Vegas (where I nearly died more than once on Mt. Charleston) and Reno. And now I feel that if this memoir is to be any kind of honest history, I must admit to my lowest of lows from this dark time. If I didn’t have kids, I wouldn’t hesitate to tell my readers, some of whom probably wouldn’t think it was that big a deal. But I care what my family thinks of me, and that’s why I haven’t admitted this in previous tellings of the whole sordid Osmosis saga.

My deepest shame is that my twisted psyche actually made me go to a couple of strip clubs and get lap dances. I have heard that some married men do this routinely, and their wives tolerate it. One guy I worked with claimed he did so, and that his wife sometimes went to male strip shows and fondled the dancers’ wieners. When I’m in my right mind, this sounds all wrong to me. When I was a single guy, I went to a few strip clubs, but lap dances didn’t exist back then. I guess I could understand a married man going and looking at strange women’s naked bodies, but anything more intimate doesn’t seem right.

When I went to the first strip club while working for Osmosis, I just wanted to see boobs. I was angry and lonesome, and wanted to do something that I knew would hurt J, if she knew  it – which I didn’t intend that she should.  I wasn’t expecting to encounter lap dances. I had heard of them, but didn’t know they had become a common feature of such clubs. I gave into the temptation of one (the dancers are persuasive salespersons, because that’s how they make more money), and ended up spending way more money than I had intended for my dirty little secret night out. Of course, I couldn’t tell my wife that I had run out of my weekly budget early without coming up with some elaborate lie to explain it, so I basically starved until my next payday.

On my second foray to look at naked women, I was so far gone with seething resentment that I think my psyche was actually splitting. One part of my brain was completely in opposition to another part. The “better” part said, “I’m just going to go and pay only enough to see some boobs, nothing more. I can’t afford a lap dance”, but the worse part was saying, “Fuck it. I’m going to get a lap dance, no matter the expense. That will show my wife!” When I got to the strip club, I tried at first to just look, but the worse part won out, and I paid for another lap dance. I went back to my motel, ashamed but defiant. J called, and we ended up getting into an argument that ended with me slamming the motel phone down so hard I broke it.

In early July J’s mom passed away. I went home and officiated at her funeral (as she had requested), which was hard, because I had loved my mother-in-law, and I was crazed by Osmosis. While I was home, I got a phone call from Pete, the Osmosis foreman who had trained me. He had moved on to a job with a company called which provided merchandising services in the electrical departments of a popular chain of home improvement stores. He needed someone for the Butt County stores. He knew I lived in the area, and that I was a good worker. He also figured that I – being a relatively normal and intelligent person – probably hated Osmosis as much as he had. He said it was only part-time work to begin with, and my wage would be 15 dollars, which was less than Osmosis was paying. The main reason I had stuck with Osmosis for as long as I had (other than trying to work out my daddy issues) was because I couldn’t afford to just quit and start looking for work again. Going down in pay and hours was risky, but it was better than nothing for the chance to be free from those fuckers. I told Pete “YES!”

I dutifully returned to Osmosis, but immediately gave them two weeks’ notice. Going to that hateful job for those two weeks was one of the hardest things I ever did, but at least there was a light at the end of the tunnel. I had barely been with them for 7 months, but it had felt like years.

Sadly, my mental health did not immediately return just because I was no longer with Osmosis. There were some difficult times in the ensuing weeks while I transitioned to my new job. J and I still fought about money. I revealed my secret tryst with strippers, and there were some ugly scenes. I wasn’t done being an angry fuckhead. I discovered social media, in the form of Myspace, and became a little too friendly with a lady I met there. I wouldn’t call it an on-line affair, but it was definitely a heavy flirtation, and not the sort of thing a married man should be doing. There were more horrible fights when J found out. I cut off my relationship with my cyber-friend, but J and I almost separated. All told, my reaction to my time with Osmosis nearly cost me my sanity, my marriage and my family. I sunk so very low, and I am still inexpressibly grateful to my family for not giving up on me.

And that, I think, is enough about that rotten stuff. In the next chapter, we get to the best job ever, and then it’s a short hop (with a brief stumble) to my current job. Bye for now.

The end.