Here’s Why I’m Not A Judge

Besides the absence of a law degree and any legal experience whatsoever…

It wasn’t cloudy, it was ash.

As I’m sure everyone has heard, over the Labor Day weekend, some jag of a 15 y/o firebug was out lighting firecrackers in the Columbia Gorge and started a forest fire, turning this

into this

Oregonians are tearing up when they talk about it.  It’s palpably changed our collective mood.

Too many of us are carrying inhalers as our normally mist-filled September horizons are now hazy with smoke.  Instead of anticipatory pumpkin spiced latte talk and a slightly dreary post summer drizzle marking the onset of the fall season, we’ve got ash raining from the sky and conversation that is reminiscent of the last time it rained ash in Portland in the days following May 18, 1980.

At least Mount St Helen was a natural disaster.

This kid, though.  I’d bet he’s more of a nurtural disaster.

When you hear Oregonians discuss him, there’s not a note of empathy to be found in their conversation, its tone nor even inadvertently in their body language.

It’s an open and shut case.  

You did this.

You were proud enough – the rest of us gratefully call it stupid enough – to have a friend film it.  

Seemingly, just to impress girls?

What none of them realized – surely because of their lack of life experience as much as underutilized intellect – is how cherished our nature is in the PNW.  Not to get into trouble with the Indigenous People of America, but more than anywhere else I have lived, the people of the Pacific Northwest have a connection to this land they inhabit.

I remember Sarah Jessica Parker – I know!  Where the fuck can this be heading? – saying in an interview once that NYC was the fifth star of Sex and the City.  Well, in the PNW, we are all the co-stars to the nature that surrounds us.

So, before he’s even charged, he’s been convicted in the hearts of Oregonians, if I could presume to speak for my people.

I guess I’m on to the sentencing phase in my mind…and I want the punishment to fit the crime.

If you were really doing this just to impress girls, my knee-jerk reaction is chemical castration.  It takes care of the punishment and is also prophylactically prudent – safeguarding future forests against any future humans he might be responsible for raising and releasing into the population.

Or, just to be tricky and humane…life in prison.

I imagine the reflexive objection of his parents as I – as judge in his trial – lay out his sentencing options.  

I offer them a sort of Sophie’s Choice, would you take his place to spare him?

Should this ever come to pass – and fully admitting that outside of any knowledge of these parents, I’m using my post-Trump-election disdain for generic Americans as my guide – I expect nervous and uncertain glances to be shared between the parents.

Nervous, uncertain and hopeful glances: dubiously hopeful that the other steps up.

With a side of the expectant stare of their son as he waits to see which of his parents sacrifices their freedom for his…because he surely has an entirely undeserved sense of entitlement.

I hammer down my gavel as they shamefully and selfishly shake their heads, choosing their own freedom over that of their parental failure, and send the whole family off to prison.  

A sentence of time with each other…I would expect their cell could be in the center of the conflagration of their procreation’s creation and still feel as icy as if it were a Siberian gulag.

Ah, the state of family in our country…so lacking in accountability.

We aren’t that far removed from a time when parents bore the shame of their children’s transgressions as their own.

Decades, maybe?

Or when a family member would sacrifice themselves to save the rest.

A generation or two back, tops?  

Where are those pioneers and parental pillars now?  Too rare, to be sure.

In reality, what will happen to this kid?

He’s 15, only 80% to the threshold for being tried as an adult.

How will he be held accountable for the land he has destroyed?  

The habitats and species he has threatened?

The livelihoods he has doomed?

The tens of millions of dollars his havoc has wreaked in emergency services expenses?

Will his parents be held complicit?

I certainly think they should.  It’s a values issue for me.  Certainly why I – as a judge – would offer them that Sophie’s Choice, in the first place.  A test of whether the value lessons parents are expected to teach failed to take root or if those values were simply never a part of his upbringing in the first place.

A nurtural disaster.

Sadly, my faith in our cultural humanity does not afford me the generosity of the assumption that this kid comes from competent parents.  Too often these days, I see people who are the product of hands-off parenting, abandoned to be raised by the public school system…a system that can barely teach algebra effectively, let alone morality.

Nor should it be expected to, yet here we are.

I’m loathe to agree with conservative GOP rubric on any level, but I’m fairly certain that if we’d managed to create a system of family values in our country – one that doesn’t involve the teachings of one very learned burning bush – that we could have probably avoided the current burning bush shituation in the gorge.

But, no…we didnt get there with family values.  Rather than remain true to our own country’s founding tenants, we were distracted by shoe horning selfish religious interests into law and instead of developing actual collective values as a country, the wedge was driven.  

Commandments or nothing for us!

And here we are.  The fiery result of that political and cultural spiral.

How do we fix that?

In my mind, the politicizing of values came before the actual erosion of our family unit, but I could be wrong.  Either way, we’ve got a country whose population can’t relate to its own extremes with a dwindling middle ground and families whose only bond any more seems to be shared DNA.

Luckily, regardless of which came first, the present day culmination of this failure is 45.

I’d hazard a guess that our ashy PNW sky is a nice glimpse of the impending nuclear winter skyline courtesy of the two pettiest world leaders with maybe 6″ between them. 

Here, I certainly hope to be wrong, but struggle to find evidence to support any faith I could muster in a different view of the future.

Because as complicit as our jag of a firebug’s parents are in their offspring’s fiery magnum opus, we as American’s are equally responsible for the ass sitting behind the Resolute Desk.

And he will not be outdone by some punk 15 year old.

Geez.  Now I’m depressed…

Here’s Why I’m Not A Judge

The Red Shirt Diaries #13

Apoc-eclipse Edition.

Regardless of your curiosity and enthusiasm, this is happening.

How does this fit into The Red Shirt Diaries – given that it’s really just a tongue in cheek monologue about my potential demise?

Well, a variety of ways, depending on your beliefs surrounding apocalypses and the opportunity for either mystical or man-made mayhem.

I can dispatch with the mystical variety pretty quickly…since I’ve been known to be brief never, you can feel free to be skeptical.

I guess if you run into your doppelgänger during an eclipse, you’re supposed to resist the temptation to fight them.

Now, I have no idea where this piece of advice originates or why it assumes my instinct would be to fight my doppelgänger, but let’s be honest here:  does it really seem likely that either of us would win a physical confrontation?

No.  No, it does not.

One of the other things I’ve heard is that animals will behave strangely during the eclipse.  Specifically, I’ve been warned not to respond to talking dogs.  Luckily for me, I just left all of my family dogs in Sunriver yesterday so that I could be at work at the airport during the eclipse, leaving me safe from canine kind as well as the Supreme Overlord of the Earth, Mistress Myrtle.

AKA:  The Most Disturbing Feline In the World

But just to be safe, I think I’ll steer clear of the airport’s Pet Relief Area.

Speaking of vacation…my family planned its vacation in Sunriver last year and just happened to do a Monday-Monday trip to – get this – avoid the vacation traffic that comes standard with all Summer Sundays.

Yeah, that’s Monday, August 14th through Monday, August 21st.

The eclipse is on August 21st.

Sunriver is close enough to totality that I could spit on it…and I’m not a particularly accomplished spitter.

Fretting that my family would be stuck in traffic with the anticipated hundreds of thousands of eclipse watchers – and possibly their dopplegangers – I chose to leave on Saturday versus Monday and risk being late to or unprepared forwork Tuesday.

Not to worry, my boss expected me back on Sunday.  It’s nice to be needed.

Making margaritas of the situation, my family extended their stay until Thursday.

Ah, retired life!

But, since I mentioned vacation in the path of totality, let’s delve into a more likely death scenario:  Fatality in Totality.

Obviously, I’ve already cheated death by flying home in a puddle jumper and evading totality – see TRSD 14 – but it’s still on my mind because I really can’t wrap my mind around 100,000 people surviving a weekend in a town that is normally populated with a measly 6,000 souls.

Or 12,000 soles, assuming a zero amputation rate.  Aw, hell…I’m using round numbers anyway.

Seriously, Capt Can’t has trouble anticipating bottled water needs for our five stores at PDX and its 25,000 daily travelers…and he does this every week and has 11 years experience.  How can we reasonably expect a literal small business in a small town to figure out the bottled water needs for an assumed number of people for an uncertain duration of stay during a once in a lifetime occurrence?

And would that small business want to?

It’s a big risk and logistical nightmare for a small business to assume.  This should literally be BYOEverything.

But last week – no, the week before – I was at lunch with my parents and mom mentioned seeing a story on the news about people renting semi trailers to park on the roadside, stock them with water and essentials and sell that shit right off the back of the trailer.

Those crafty bastards.

Of course, we assumed this would be strictly a cash endeavor…what could possibly go wrong?!?

And there you have the perfect storm for man made mayhem:  demand outstripping supply and a trailer – literally – full of money.

Goodbye, humanity.

Of course, by the time we were on the road, headed toward totality, we’d moved past that fear.

We realized that each of us having packeda case of wine – 24 bottles, total – that we (they, remember…I bailed out early like the corporate coward that I am) could fill our emptied wine bottles with water for the ride home.  This took care of recycling, hydration and waste disposal all in one if the historic traffic jam came to pass.

I wholeheartedly support my family’s decision to extend their stay versus risking getting stuck in 10-12 hours of traffic jam and potentially having to pee into a wine bottle in front of one another.

Our mutual reluctance to end up in that position proves we are related.

And ensures we’ll all live to see whatever the next overhyped once in a lifetime occurrence is!

In case you’re curious, by the way, we order about 13 pallets of water each week.  If I recall, a semi trailer holds 28 pallets.  So for 175,000 weekly travelers – 100% of whom do not shop at our stores, either, because they don’t have to sustain themselves like they’re trapped in a Mad Max movie – we order nearly half a semi of water.  

People camping outside in the peak of the Central Oregon High Desert?  Yeah, that’s gonna be some serious Thunderdome shit right there.

The Red Shirt Diaries #13

Fitfy: 49.21

Here’s a draft from almost two months back from my Fitfy theme of posts.  Look at the second bullet and you’ll see how a little encouragement is definitely not what my innate procrastination skills need.

– I finally started my sugar detox.

– The hall pass from the Fox.

– Watching Working Girl…Melanie Griffith is only 10 years older than me and looks like hell.  Sigourney Weaver is almost two decades older than me and is an untouched, statuesque beauty.  

– What’s that teach me?

I’ve been aware of my lack of follow through on this weekly theme.  It’s a combination of reasons, really:

– I wasn’t feeling 100% physically after my first three months back into a gym routine and needed to let my Needle Man do his thing without interfering in that healing.

– Mentally, right around the end of June/beginning of July was challenging for me because it was right when the work conflict with Capt Can’t began.

– As I was feeling physically better and wanting to jump start myself out of my emotional funk, The Fox went down so my gym buddy was out of commission.

But while in my notes I had made a point of using Melanie Griffith and Sigourney Weaver as a cautionary tale regarding aging and how shortcuts in the moment can cost a lot superficially in the future – something I knew from my past use of fat burners and performance enhancers – it was that last bullet that really proved most valuable.

What’s that teach me?

When I review my posts from the first quarter of this initiative, I can see how quickly they turned into a pedantic laundry list of a workout journal and a food diary.

Neither of those are bad things, in and of themselves, but neither was anything other than a part of the whole result I was aiming for by my 50th birthday.  I wanted to come out of this year with a more whole-istic happiness with my older self, letting go of the narcissistic twenty-something shell person that I was half a life ago and valuing my being based on my internal qualities as an individual.

And I wanted a healthy shell to carry that individual around for the next few decades.

Food diaries and workout journals were really a small fraction of the task as a whole.

Frankly, it was the downward spiral that Capt Can’t initiated that pulled my nose out of the ass of those two elements.

Sidebar:  is “downward spiral” redundant?  I never hear anyone refer to an upward spiral.

So, there I was…all butt-hurt because a co-worker bullied me.

And got away with it.

It took a while to realize – or remember, at any rate – that I have no control over another person’s actions or behavior.  I was stuck emotionally reliving each of the other significant bullying moments from my past – and there have been too many – every day at work and self medicating with comfort food and too much of Oregon’s craft beer and wine every night.  Seriously, in a four week period I drank every night but one.

It was quite a cycle.

So, I focused on letting go of that cycle and embracing a different one.

My bicycle.

Since then, I’ve been wanting to write a Fitfy post about cycling but have also been wary of just falling into that same pattern from earlier in the year.  I will post again in Fitfy, but I’ve spent the last few weeks trying to get back to the right balance before I do.

Y’know, the balance between a person who is emotionally at 100% and physically determined to go from being 110% of a person to just 100% of a person – zing! – without cutting into that initial sense of emotional well-being in the process.

Yeah, that sounds easy.

But standby, maybe your patience will be rewarded…

Fitfy: 49.21

The Red Shirt Diaries #14

I’m waiting at Redmond Airport in Central Oregon for my flight home.  I’m flying home from my family vacation and was reflecting on my growing dis-ease with flying.  It seems the more flights I successfully complete, the more worried I get about becoming too cocky before boarding any subsequent flights.

My palms are actually clammy right meow.

I’m reminded of something I said to my sister when she invited me to go on a rafting trip with her and her family.

I told her that I didn’t want to die with a bunch of strangers.  Further, that I didn’t want to be the only one on the rafting trip to die because I was worried they would all judge me for being weak.  My exact words escape me, but it was something along the lines of, “It’s not like a plane crash, where I die with a bunch of strangers…because we ALL die in that scenario!”

Somehow, that makes it a smudge better, although still far from preferable.

Seriously, though…remember Western Airlines ad campaign from way back?

The Only Way to Fly!

I’m just pointing out that “fly” rhymes with…yeah.  So there.

Then again, as I rode with my parents over the twisty highways across the state at the outset of this too-short vacation, I reminded them of the same trip during my formative years that we witnessed a crashed car being recovered from a ravine.

They didn’t recall.

I did.

For some morbid reason, I took this picture on the drive over.

It’s steeper than it looks, but there’s really no shoulder.

To recap…can’t drive over to Oregon’s beautiful high desert without facing unlikely doom nor can I fly home without the same.  There’s really no pleasing my neuroses.

I had to pause and board my puddle jumper home.  The cute ground crew dude was a temporary distraction…until I realized he kinda held my fate in his hands.

It’s been a bumpy flight.  Hard to believe that I used to find puddle jumpers exhilarating.  

There was a flight I took from Houston to New Orleans for Mardi Gras about…lemme see, it had to be 27 years ago?  Yeah, we flew that bitch right through some crazy southern storm.  Rain, wind…the plane at one point experienced at least a sudden 10-15 foot drop during the flight.

People were barfing and holding their loved ones while I laughed and laughed and laughed.

Maybe my dis-ease with flying is just karmic retribution.

I’m putting the issue aside for now, I’ve just bounced down at PDX…safely on the ground, once again.

The Red Shirt Diaries #14

Well, Here I Am…Again!

The man with many hats.

“Today has been one helluva week” – Me

I think I’ve said that four out of the last five days.  That, or, “This is my xth Monday this week”, which is another Xtopher staple. 

I like to mix my charming sarcasm up a bit. Now that I type that out, I feel it should have its own Chrisism since its so often the case:  charcasm.  

Does that work?  I know it’s no shituation, but…wudyagundo?  Who knows?  Maybe it’s too easily confused in conversation with the gap between a cookout and grilling.  One would need to rely pretty heavily on contextual clues to discern the potential presence of a silent h.  So, back to the matter at hand.

My hats this week:

My normal HR and merchandising awesomeness chapeau.

A handsome bowler for the opening duties I’m picking up for one of our two morning Zone Managers, who’s out on Leave.  Ish.

Oh, and a practical and summery straw hat for the responsibilities I’m picking up each morning for our other morning ZM, who had a planned vacation land during the aforementioned and unplanned Leave.

Again, wudyagundo?

And how about one of those tall, furry marching band hats for our bookkeeper?  He had a planned vacation that was slated to be covered by an associate who was cross-trained in bookkeeping.  Alas, a family emergency put her out of the picture a few weeks back so we needed a back up plan.

“How about that ZM with the straw hat?”  The Boss.  

Me: “Vacation.”

The Boss:  “OK, how about training a new associate, there’s just about enough time.”

After putting our heads together, we come up with a back-up for our back-up.  I check in to gauge her interest level:  super excited.

“As long as it doesn’t mess up my vacation!”

I swear, I can’t make this shit up.

“Well, I guess it’s us”, The Boss says, speaking of himself and his Ops and HR managers.  

The Ops manager in question is someone I cheekily refer to as Capt Can’t.  Not because he’s like a basic white girl who literally can’t even.  No, it just popped into my head one day after I suggested a different way of doing something for yet another acknowledged broken process that was hindering success and making everyone equal parts nuts and frustrated – I’m all about process improvement, which makes one of us.

Here’s how those too frequent conversations kinda went:

Me:  “We should try X”, not the drug, Diezel.  In this case “X” equals any old problem and I’m solving for a solution to X.

“We can’t!”, Capt Can’t.

“OK.  Why not?”, Me, seeking to understand the obstacles.

“It won’t work.”

“Why?”, Me…again.

“Because it won’t!”

Seriously, there’s a solid and well-thought argument, right there, people.

All.

The.

Time.

The Boss and I come up with the simplest of plans, each of the three of us will have one training day a week for two weeks.

Easy-peasy.

I go first.

Now, our bookkeeper…nice guy, bless his heart.  But he spends the better part of 40 hours a week in a 5×8 room with no windows and usually with the door closed due to Loss Prevention protocols.  When he’s not trapped in that eggshell hole, he’ll talk your ear off.

Can’t really blame him.  Plus, he’s usually good for some real dad jokes and groaners.

I go in for my training at 6 am on a Tuesday.

Search and Rescue pulls me out five hours later.

Just kidding.  I tunneled out through the drywall.

The Boss looks up at me over his glasses, “That took a while!”

“Five hours”, I say, carving drywall dust out from under my nails with a letter opener.

“How long should it take?”, he pointedly asks.

Like I’d know.  I’m almost at my one year mark here, he and Capt Can’t have 20 between them, so I give him one of these

…and guess, “Three and a half, maybe four hours?”

He’s moving on, “Can I do it?”

“No.”  

Probably, I shouldn’t just barf out answers like that.  I’m aware of the difference between giving an honest answer and giving the wrong answer, at least.  

However, in this instance, my bald response earns me another over the glasses glance.  This one rather amused looking.

“Oh?”

“Seriously.  It’s unnecessarily complex.  Two different programs, two data entry webpages and a spreadsheet.  I’m probably missing something, too…cuz it’s my first day!  Your head will explode.”

“Can he handle it?”, chuckling and gesturing with his head to Capt Can’t’s desk.

“Probably.  Sure.  His head won’t explode, but he might kill our bookkeeper after 90 minutes of being trapped in there with dad jokes”, I’m not kidding…this is the guy I’ve referred to in other posts as a festering wang of a human because of his bullying and brutish outbursts aimed at my favorite person.

New plan:  me and Capt Can’t will take the training and pick up shifts during the week of the bookkeepers vacation.

Of course, I keep to myself the realization – and subsequent alternative new plan – that I let Capt Can’t do the training but figure out a way to not have to share bookkeeping responsibilities in order to maintain bookkeeping continuity.  It’s a good plan, the second part.  

The first part is me just thinking that I’m helping him be as awesome as he’ll tell you he is by facilitating his learning something someone so awesome at their job would already know how to do after 11 years in his role.

I’m a giver like that.

Still shutting up, Diezel.

I happen to be off Wednesday and Thursday of that week instead of my normal Thursday/Friday – someone needed Friday off, so I switched up my days because I’m also a giver like that…it doesn’t have to be all snarky, all the time with me.  So, I come be-bopping in on Friday morning and during my chat with The Boss ask how Capt Can’t’s training went.

“Oh, it didn’t happen.”

Not for the first time in a decade, I think.

“Yeah, with our warehouse ZM being out, he said he just didn’t have time.”  Which should be partially true, sadly, the irony of the shituation is that he put so little effort into developing the manager he is now – allegedly or conveniently, I can only guess – crippled without.  Had he put in the same time to develop his direct report before losing him to a LOA, he would have had a higher functioning team to support him – all of us, realistically – while the warehouse is down its manager.

But, y’know…can’t.

…And that’s how I got to be the back up bookkeeper.

“But it’s not awful”, says Xtopher as he heads home on his Friday after about a 55 hour work week starting daily at the luxurious time of 5 AM.  

Don’t be jealous.

Seriously, though, besides the start time – MAX gets me there at 4:39, but a couple of days I took the second train and got in at 5:14…don’t tell! – I made a nice routine of it:   

– Check prior day’s time cards and track infractions and missed punches – something I’d usually do;

– Put sales from previous day up on the whiteboard – which is something I sometimes do;

– Run change to each of the five stores and check in with everyone – not my normal routine, but I usually cover for ZM absences or vacations;

– Process the deposit and cook up them books – definitely not something I’d normally do!

After that, I’d have a few hours to return to my normal work flow, writing a schedule or processing and placing souvenir apparel in our shops.  I’m on vacation myself starting this Sunday, so I had my normal schedule to write for the coming week + the schedule for the week I’ll miss + the schedule for three weeks out, just so my re-entry from vacation doesn’t have a looming task…because you all know what it’s like coming back from vacation.  

I’m being proactive!

This usually ended up being about 1 1/2-2 hours of “me” time before I did the second change run of the day between 11 and 12.  After the first couple of days, I learned this is a good time to cram something into my lunch hole since I’d been there at least 6 hours at this point.

After that second change run, I was really pretty much done with any duties I needed to perform to cover our missing compatriots.  Somehow, most days – except Acupuncture Monday – I managed to keep myself busy until 3:00 or later.  Saturday and Sunday because the closing manager didn’t arrive until 3:30 and there’s usually a good 30 minute download as we hand over the reigns for the day.  Those were easy 12+ hours days…although Sunday I was begging to be out by 4:00!

It’s an impressive display of…a complete lack of dignity?

I think what made this week most challenging and rewarding was that first change run of the day.  Normally, I’ll run around the stores and check in as I make a game plan for what merchandising needs are priorities.  Only, then I have the luxury of hitting all or only some stores.  When you got a bag of change strapped to ya, you ain’t got no choice but to hit every stop on the tour.  There I am, literally hitting the ground running each day, and about day three it hits me:  these fine folks that get to work at 4-damn-o’clock every day aren’t looking at the hats!

I can’t say that I blame them.  As managers, the senior team isn’t the most visible to the associates throughout the day or week.  Heck, the day side associates are lucky, most of the night side team hasn’t seen the other two seniors in just about ever!  One night side associate who quit a few months back told me during our casual exit interview that she liked seeing me, because she never gets to see any managers during her shift, “I haven’t seen Gary in a year!” she says, referring to The Boss.

His name’s not Gary!

Anyway, since that talk, I’ve really made a point of being accessible for all shifts – even swapping out two of my shifts to start at 10 AM instead of 6, so that I’m there until at least 6 PM.  On those days, I usually plan on being there until 8, but it depends on how the week has gone…if I’m over 50 hours, I generally GTFO a little closer to 6!

So, being Mr. Accessible, I don’t point out the hat-of-the-moment and just try to do it all.  Usually, this means I’m getting a pocket full of scraps of paper with scribbled things to do between finishing the deposit and that second change run…sorry, souvenir shirts!

Sheesh, people are so needy!

But I do try to do my best to be in service to my team, I expect a lot from them so it seems fair that I meet their expectations, too.

Hat be damned.

<author’s note> I walked away from this post six days ago…I was torn about whether I was telling a story or bitching pointlessly about work.

The point that I originally wanted to make was about how I found myself amused to realize something on that Wednesday morning.

Nothing, too deep – definitely derp – this is me, after all.

I realized that during my normal morning circuit there are a few associates I tend to expose myself to in doses, our Russians.

How timely is that, with Russian election collusion on the minds of most Americans these past months.

Seriously, we have several team members who emigrated from Russia or former USSR countries.  They are intense.  And kinda hard to understand, having not left their accents behind as readily as their former homelands.  I appreciate them all, performance opportunities and accents included, their success in their roles is important to the success of our five store business as a whole.

Still…they are intense.

When they have something to say, it will always be about what they need to execute their job responsibilities to their standards. It might just not be something that there isn’t a process in place to provide already.  A lot of times, I’ll pop into a store shortly after 6 when I arrive.  The common litany is something along the lines of, “I need this or that”.  Stated with an eastern bloc urgency that used to send me running for the warehouse in compliance to the need.

What I’ve learned is to suss out the actual urgency.

These ladies have had two hours to settle into their shift and usually have nailed everything that they deem important to a well run store.  I make that point because one of these associates refuses to comply with the expectation that associates wear a name tag.  

My belief is that she thinks it’s fun to throw down the silent challenge that someone correct this minor infraction of hers.

You know me, I’m rules-y, so we would butt heads on this.

But then I realized that I could leverage her demands with her lack of compliance.

Does that sound like good management? I ask seriously, since the conversation that occurred usually did not sound remotely adult.

“I need paper towels.”

“I need you to put on your name tag.”

Or, even less mature, “I’m sorry…do you work here?  It’s so hard to tell since you aren’t wearing any company ID.”  But I do so enjoy taunting people and she enjoys my verbal parry to her thrusts.

However, that’s not the usual response I expect to my greeting upon entering the shop.

“Good morning!”

“I need paper towels.”

So I’ve also trained her to indulge in a little small talk before throwing out her list of needs.

Plus, that small talk kills time between my arrival in the store and the start time for our warehouse associates, who start at either 6 or 7 each day.  Since “paper towels” usually end up falling into their responsibility buckets, I can put off her request to the rightful owners of the process at issue.

Indeed, I’ve even learned over my near-year on the job that when she wants “paper towels” it’s usually just the tip of the iceberg.

Here’s my observation and rationale.

This person was born into a Socialist culture of bread lines.  Many have observed that her primary store is usually overstocked with stuff squirreled away everywhere.  

This initially prompted me to change my response to her morning demands from “run to the warehouse” to “verify actual need”, which is another dance we do after the Name Tag Dance.

“Good morning!”

<small talk>

“I need paper towels.”

<walks to supply closet>

“You have five rolls.”

“Yes, but sometimes people spill things or the warehouse runs out and then it’s good to have extra”, she counters.

<blink, blink>

“Also, you know I like to keep my store clean.  These other people, they don’t clean enough.  Every day, I come in and it takes 30 minutes just to clean up the mess.  There’s coffee drips and sugar and food all over the tables and coffee bar, you know?  Why don’t they clean?  It’s so dirty.  I’d get bored if I didn’t do anything during my shift.”

And there it is.

Initially I didn’t realize it.  It took me a few months, so I’d respond, “Well, you can probably get by with ‘five rolls’ of ‘paper towels’ until 7, so put it on your list for the warehouse.”

She’d laugh at that last move in our morning verbal sparring, acknowledging my so-called victory.

Until.

One morning she came back with this rejoinder, “I put it on my list, they don’t bring for me.  They don’t do anything.  It must be boring to come to work and not do anything all day.”

And that’s when it clicked with me.  She may only wear one hat at work, but she wears it pretty damned well.

I often say that employees watch their managers.  They take their cues not just from how we manage them, but how we manage ourselves.  Of course, I should have realized this whole time that they’ve been watching their co-workers, too.  Store associate and warehouse associates.

When she says “It must be boring to come to work and not do anything all day”, what she’s really saying is that her co-workers aren’t meeting her expectations.  Up until this point, I’d just leveraged her passive-aggressive complaint against her Russian-bred work ethic and acknowledged to myself that most Americans working lower wage jobs will not provide performance that meets their job description in exchange for that wage. 

We’re lucky.  The Boss and I will routinely discuss our hero associates that have been there consistently over time delivering on their job expectations and then move on to our lament about the millennial work force, which so frequently takes us to our warehouse associates, who are largely millennials.

Who also work under Capt Can’t.

And look to him for their performance management and example.

And they see can’t.

Knowing that, having observed this over time, could I really expect things to change in this he said/she said relationship the store associates appear to have with the warehouse associates?

Well, yes.  But only because I’ve been lucky to find a few non-millennial applicants for recent warehouse openings that also seem to hold themselves to a higher performance than their millennial peers or leader.  

But that’s just luck.

So, on this Wednesday morning, I took off my HR, bookkeeper and morning ZM hats, put on my warehouse guy cap and went and got her some “paper towels”.

If for no other reason than to take a moment and reward both her work ethic and her patience at putting up with an American work ethic – that may never actually meet muster for her, regardless – with some goddamned paper towels.

We both won that verbal dance off, and went off about our respective days smiling.

Well, Here I Am…Again!

Mental Health Day

It’s amazing what a change of scenery can do for one’s peace of mind.  

A change of routine, even for a day.

It really proves the old adage about getting away from it all.

The Silver Fox asked me if I wanted to join him for a day at the Fox family beach house a few weeks back.  Just down and back in a day.  The house actually belongs to his former wife and current traveling companion, Sallory, but he still gets visitation rights when it’s not rented out.  

Or to punch out a honey-do list, as was the case here.  The house has just had its kitchen expanded and a yurt added to increase its capacity.  As if the view alone wasn’t enough of a selling point for potential renters.

But why limit the view to eight tightly-packed-in eyes?  Plus, the one bedroom beach house was perfectly fine when it was just mom, dad and two young sons.  Now that they’ve added a daughter-in-law and grand-toddler to the mix, I’m sure the yurt will make the beach house much more Fox family friendly.

Of course, I declined the invite.

He had planned his trip for a Wednesday.  My typical days off are Thursday and Friday, so the timing was a non-starter for me.  He suggested I just take the day off and I humored him with an “ok” and a chuckle; I think we both knew I wasn’t going to pursue that option.

I’ve never wanted to do drag.  I half-heartedly dressed up once for Halloween back in the 90s and got compared to a True Lies-era Jamie Lee Curtis, but past that, costumes were never my particular brand of escape.

Nevertheless.

I have a semi-roster of potential drag names in mind.  I mention this because in this instance my drag name would be Sarah Dippity.

Yes, in a rather serendipitous turn of events, my boss reminded me of a vendor sponsored golf tournament taking place soon and suggested that I take the Wednesday in question off in exchange for “working” through 18 holes on what would normally be my Friday off.  Now, a) I thought the thing had already come and gone without any follow-up and was fine with that; and, b) the tournament would involve my peer manager who has provided me with enough reason to afford him the absolute minimum amount of attention from my favorite person.  You could say that this golf outing exceeded that bare minimum threshold.  You could also say after his out of control demonstration of hostility toward me in early June – and subsequent absence of apology or even hint of remorse – that I was in no way considering getting within a golf club’s length of him.

One of the primary reasons I needed a mental health day, right there.

So, I told my boss that I would take Wednesday off and then (hu)man the shop while he and my festering wang of a peer went off and played golf.

I probably worded that a little differently, irl.

I excitedly agreed to the day trip with The Fox.  Well, excitedly with conditions: I got to drive.  I don’t drive myself and I’m a terrible passenger.  There’s a winning combination.  Why The Fox is my friend is sometimes so not obvious…but luckily for me, he is and off we went.

The first leg of the trip was Portland to Monmouth.  The first stop was at his youngest son’s house and then we moved on to Sallory’s home, which is located on a picturesque hilltop parcel of land.  

It’s a literal idyll, as was much of the drive between his son’s house and this majestic, old family home.  We took these back roads around fields, along the river, over small hills, through fields.  So serene, calm and beautiful!

Of course, I was manic.  The excitement of driving once again, being out of my routine, with my best friend and out of the city kinda overwhelmed me.  It was euphoric for me.

We had stopped at Costco for gas.  “Because it’s the cheapest price!” – a common consideration in fuel purchasing with The Silver Fox.  

I did my best not to do the Rain Man math on what the savings on that cheapest price equates to in real money.  Last time I’d done that – a total of $2.30, if you’re of a curious mind – I think I’d been kind of a buzz kill.  I mention this because I think the restraint I showed in not announcing the savings our pit stop at the Costco had generated along with the ebullience I was feeling just being out on this day trip left me defenseless against my own personality when I looked down at the dash after a few miles and side roads, only to realize that an idiot light had been engaged.

“Oh, god!  What’s that?!?”  Strangely not the last time I’d blurt that out on this road trip. I sure hope I remember to tell you about the spider!

Jolted away from his true best friend – er…I mean, his phone – The Fox looks up and does that crazy head thing that people do immediately after hearing the words, “Don’t look now, but…”

“What’s the small car over the big car with the squiggly lines between them mean?”

“What?”

I repeated myself.  Enunciating very clearly and speaking slowly as if it were the words themselves that he hadn’t understood.  I knew he was capable of deciphering my gibberish, but I hadn’t provided him sufficient context to really give an answer.

“Google it, quick!  Before we lose cell service.” I commanded, because: country back roads.

A few moments later, he waved something in front of my side-eye and giggled “George” at me.  My first thought was, stop showing me pictures of the damn dog and look up this light!”  In my mind, we were clearly in a crisis situation…not just impending doom but also me breaking his car.  Upon turning to face him, I realized he was showing me the Owner’s Manual for the car, complete with bite marks where his pooch had gotten hold of it.

Ok, maybe I’m his best human friend, third overall.  The top two spots are a toss up.  Hehe.

“It’s a traction control system of some sort”, he mumbled.

I was doing 60-65 on the back roads of Monmouth – which is saying something, since most of the non-back roads we traveled usually came with a brief history of the major thoroughfare that road used to be.

“Well, it seems to be kind of an anti-rollover system”, still distracted.

I semi-slammed on the brakes upon hearing that as we were moments away from a 60 degree turn and still pushing 60 MPH.  I’d prefer to have all anti-rollover assistance functioning properly under those conditions.

Thus began my erratic litany of pointing out each occurrence of potential disaster – I guess “occurrence” and “potential” don’t really go well together, alas – the possibly malfunctioning anti-rollover system would be helpful in avoiding.  You wouldn’t really think I’d have a lot of opportunities to exploit that system failure, but did you know that River Road used to be – I know I’ll get this wrong – the old hwy 99?  

Plus, it just follows the river, so it’s super curvy.

Plus, plus, it’s right on the river, so it’s sunk and warped over the many decades and was super bumpy.

I had many chances to amuse myself before we finally arrived at Sallory’s.

The old family home is beautiful in and of itself, but add in the decades of family history and it becomes so much more than a nice house with a breathtaking view.  Recently, The Fox mentioned the three generations of Sallory’s paternal ancestors’ portraits lining the stairwell walls and I couldn’t recall ever noticing them…I definitely needed to make a point of checking out this additional rich layer of family history this trip.

That moment in the stairwell turned patriarchal hall of fame paired nicely as a bookend to the momento of the more recent family that I encountered as I wandered the grounds.  I’d taken a moment to chase a loose chicken – being away from the city was clearly having a positive effect on my state of mind – I chased the chicken stiff-armed like a child, enjoying the mild alarm the chicken displayed as she ran just fast enough to stay ahead of my shuffle.  

Her alarm suggested she knew a chicken choker when she saw one.

Ok, I couldn’t help that entendres…I threw it in strictly for Diezel’s prurient reading pleasure.  Plus, I’m not really one to abuse animals.  Living with Myrtle is the only defense I need there.

When I stopped, I found myself on an abandoned basketball court.  Touched only by time for the last decade or so.

A testament to the kids who had grown up here in this place with parents who cherish them.

We were just stopping long enough to pick up some items needed to re-stock the kitchen at the beach house and were surprised to find some homemade jam left out for us to take home as a thank you.  Freezer jam is my absolute favorite, so I was touched by the unexpected gesture.  

Sallory had recently confessed to me that The Fox had pretty much converted her to iced coffee drinks over hot, specifically cold brew, and understood that I had turned him on to it.  She then went on to tell me about this great cold brew she’d found at one of her local stores and how she’d convinced the other local store to carry it also.  It’s called Stok, and she loved it.  I told her I’d have to keep an eye out for it, since I trust her taste.

Funny, when I said that, I hadn’t thought that we would find a stash of six bottles in her garage fridge.  Maybe The Fox had, he used to live here, after all.

You know what goes great with freezer jam?

I’ll gotten gains, that’s what.

The car is loaded up.  The grounds are surveyed and revered.  It’s time to point the car toward hwy 20 and get going.  

The Fox asks if I need to use the bathroom before we leave, that’s a negatory.

Strangely.

“You sure, it’s about 90 minutes away”, he persists.  I’m oddly conflicted in my consistent negative response after the Monster I had before we left and the cold brew I had on the way down.

“Actually, I think I’d like to crack open one of those Stok bottles and have another cold brew”, I say.

“That does sound good!  But let’s grab some out of the fridge!” he declares as he emerges from the car with our two empties.

“Are you drinking the melted ice water out of my cup, through my straw?!?”, I demand. The Fox literally stops.  Disengages his lips from my straw slowly and sheepishly responds, “Yeah…oops?” as if it’s more question than answer.

“Do you have another straw?” I ask, channeling my best Chandler Bing.

“No.”

“Fine”, I grumble.  “I’ll just turn it around!  What gets into you?” I smirk at him as he heads into the garage.  I think one of the things I enjoy most about my relationship with The Fox is how my faux exasperation is met so perfectly by his unflappable and amused “who’s going to care in 100 years?” demeanor, which makes him nearly immune to my butt-hurtedness.

We’re driving again.

He’s telling me how they’ve been working on a bypass on hwy 20 that cuts about 15 minutes of old single zig-zaggy lane highway off our trip.  The new construction veers off the old highway and then rejoins it on the other side of the hill, taking you over the top of the coast range, through some of the clear cut forest.

It.

Was.

Beautiful.

I doubt that I’d been on this road within the current century, so every turn was new to me.  I could definitely – usually – tell the old highway from the new, still…it was like seeing it all for the first time.

The panorama of the ocean in the distance over the folds of mountain between us and it from the top of the pass.  Not to mention the briefest glimpses I got of the view 180 degrees behind me.  Well, not for the first time, I resisted slamming on the brakes to get a better look.

Oh!  The idiot light stayed off after I restarted the car when we left the Monmouth house.  So, one less thing to worry about!

I’m overcome by new natural beauty at each turn in the road.  My soul is swelling with new energy.  I can feel the peace of mind returning.

We get into town and it’s time to decide, once and for all, the answer to the question that has haunted the second leg of our drive:  Oscar’s for a burrito for lunch or Mo’s for some ubiquitous beach food?

I confess that I’m feeling some Mexican food, which The Fox says is fine.

We’re driving up the coast highway.  

Newport.

“Hey!  Was that THE Oscar’s we just passed by?!?”

The Fox looks up, “Oh, yeah! I guess we’re going to Mo’s!” and flashes me that sheepish look for not-the-final time on this trip.  Decision made.

Depot Bay.

Beverly Beach.

I’ve moved on from announcing potential rollover situations to declaring “I’ve been there” in a monotone as we pass places where – get this – I’ve been.  

No context.  

Just a simple, “Been there” as we pass by.

For his part, The Fox either ignores me or dismisses me with a “Wow.  You’ve gotten around” that lacks a certain curiosity.

Otter Rock.

I pass the gravel alley known as A Street that the beach house is on and park by Mo’s.  It’s lunch time and The Silver Fox treats me to fish tacos…which I have actually never had before.  I gobble them up while giving the trio of families traveling together the stink eye.  This place, as you can see from the picture, is tiny.  There’s four tables on each side of an aisle that allegedly each seat eight people.  They are occupying two of them and blocking the bathroom door with their sprawl.

Oh, now I have to pee.

Despite my urethral discomfort, when we leave, I bee line it for the railing overlooking the Devil’s Punchbowl.  The Fox bee lines it for the car.

I stop.  

“We’re not going to go look?” I ask dejectedly.

“Nah, I’ve seen it a hundred times” he replies.

I shrug.  I kinda have, too, but I still manage to inject my acquiescence with a qualifier, “It’s just been about a decade”, I mumble, getting in the car.

I mention this for no reason.

Really.

None at all.

Speaking of mentioning things…the beach house is occupied when we arrive.  This fact had been shared with me during the drive.

I mention that fact not because it bothers me…having been an airBnB host for a couple years, stayed in pensiones while traveling abroad and spent a couple of college semesters in dorms…I’ve shared space with strangers.  The house guests are a retired married couple.  Only the husband is home when we arrive and he is outside washing windows.

On his vacation.

People are funny.

He and The Fox are familiar with one another and chatting away.  He’s a bit hard of hearing, I decide, and is yelling in that way people do when they can’t hear themselves that well.  He’s explaining that he’s a putterer and when he sees something that needs to get done he just does it.  

Like the windows.

Or taking the top of those shrubs over there down a few inches to improve the view, he’s yelling.

This view.

Yup.  Nothing wrong with that!

I head out back to check out the new yurt.  Locked.  But I know I’ll get to see it later.  I turn to leave and am hit with this.

Whatever they charge for this place, it ain’t enough.

The Fox shows me my job.  I’m there to schlep stuff out of the bedroom closet and back into the kitchen.  It’s like four shelves of stuff.

Easy, I say.

“Well, there’s stuff in the shed, too!” The Fox says, promising to show me later when he shows me the yurt.

Told ya.

I’m about three shelves complete in the bedroom when the wife returns.

“Oh, I’ve just been out to The Devils Punchbowl for a walk!  It was magnificent!” she says.

She’s not un-right.

We’re introduced, and she finishes her story.

“There was a mother whale and her calf playing right off the shore!” she exclaims.

Thats the last time I see that look of his this trip.  Hopefully, it’s not my last chance to see a mother whale and her calf in my lifetime…from a safe distance.  I just look at The Fox and he looks at me like he’s busted as I think, “Seen that a hundred times?!?” knowing that he probably has and sparing his ears of the actual words.  Poor Fox.

“C’mon, I’ll show you the yurt and the shed” he says, changing the subject.

The shed is about four more shelves of kitchen stuff.  This is the easiest conscripted labor that I’ve been forced into in, like, ever.  I knock that work out in several trips and then finish up the closet.  It felt like it took about 20 minutes, and that includes the time I took to screw around taking pictures and staring at the view in – what was surely open mouthed – awe.

But my best friend made it easy on me, telling me to put the stuff on any flat surface I could find and he’d start putting it away.

Deal.

As I walked in with the last of the kitchen supplies, I announced that I was done, telling The Fox to have fun and that I would be outside if he needed me.

The wife-in-residence chortled, caught off guard by my jovial abdication of assistance.  I’d forgotten that we had an audience, and she had a view of a kitchen with stacks and stacks of wares on flat surfaces that were no longer visible.  

The Fox was standing in the midst in open-mouthed shock at my announcement.  He hadn’t even finished wiping down the insides of the cabinet and drawers.

“A deal is a deal”, I declared, paying him back for the missed whale watching opportunity.

Of course, I helped him unpack and put away.

We were finished by mid-afternoon.

Suddenly, we looked around and there was really nothing to do.  I further realized that for the past several minutes, we had just been kibitzing and tweaking things…and I realized that our definitions of finished would take a back seat to Sallory’s final assessment so we could really just be done.

We still took a few minutes to play with the myriad light switches in the kitchen, realizing that there were lights everywhere in this new space with multiple controls…I say “realizing” meaning he’d turn one light off and I’d see a switch across the room that was “on” and turn it off, reactivating a light that he’d already turned off from across the room.

It was like a chase scene montage in a Scooby Doo cartoon.

Jinkies.

Back in the car, we admit that whichever route we take home we are going to hit the final and unavoidable obstacle in our drive – I5’s Terwilliger Curves – during the peak of rush hour.  The Fox gives it over to the fates of his electronic best friend’s wisdom and tells me we are going home via hwy 18, which will take us north through Lincoln City and the west into Portland.

A route that passes two casinos.

Give me strength.

To distract myself, I resume my monotonous travelogues, keeping The Silver Fox up to speed on places I’ve been.

I even sprinkle in some stories about the context of those visits, once even earning the coveted ✌🏽prize.  That’s an award I’d created for The Fox to stop him when he shared a story with me for the second time. I was very excited to have my old brain validated with this momentary trophy.

But I still finished my story.

We had a few hours to kill, after all.

As if a day with your best friend spent in beautiful, scenic locations needed to be better, we arrived back in town for an impromptu wine tasting being held at our neighborhood wine shop.  

Of course, we stopped in for a taste.

And then split a bottle.

And ordered some bruschetta from the Italian cafe a couple doors down…which their adorable waiter delivered to our sidewalk table in front of the wine shop.

After which, I went home and slept like a damned baby.

Mental Health Day