Friday, April 21, 2017

The Fire of Mr. Green Shirt

“The layouts on fire!” the tall, white haired man in the green shirt shouted as he ran out of my office and almost hitting his head on the overhead “G” gauge train roadbed. He left down the three stairs that led up to my main office floor and shot out the door.
I didn’t move from where I sat in my desk chair with one foot resting on top of my desk. I just watched and thought “Shouldn’t I be disturbed? Worried? Concerned? In a panic?… No. No, I was pretty much worn out for the day and all the cares I’d had when I started had departed many hours before.
I dropped my leg to the floor, shook my head and picked up one of the two mini-cameras I’d been using to record new train layout footage with for the past five hours and wondered if any of the footage was any good. I plugged the camera into my computer and waited for the machines to shake the binary hands and talk to each other.
Sounds of the green shirted man climbing over the protective barrier and hustling around to where the “Fire” was floated into my office. Sounds of visitors talking and laughing trailed in with the frantic pace of Mr. Green Shirt.
I shook my head, tried to concentrate on finding video files on the camera but my mind started to wander…
“Skip, shouldn’t you be concerned?… No, if it were a real fire people would be screaming.”
“Skip, shouldn’t you check out the damage, after all, you designed this layout, poured your heart and soul into it?… No, we have a sprinkler system, and an alarm system and we are insured.

“But Skip, you love this work. Yes, yes I do, too much. But I just can’t muster any strength for another problem today. I’m just too dam tired and I just want to go home and relax.”
“Your job may depend on this incident.”
Which is about the time Mr. Green Shirt walked back into my office holding one of the track cleaning cars between his fingers. “Wow, never saw that happen before. The car derailed and the sparks set the denatured alcohol on fire.” he said almost gleefully.

I looked up at him and said “You know Mr. Green Shirt, I’ve been doing this job for over sixteen years, cleaned the track of this layout and four other layouts on a weekly and sometimes daily basis and I’ve never once set a layout on fire. This truly is a first.”

Mr. Green Shirt laughed, I chuckled and when he handed me the melted felt pads that had only until recently been attached to the track cleaning car I just shrugged and nodded toward the trash can. He threw the pads into the trash can.

He then changed the pads, soaked them with a bit of denatured alcohol and went and put them back on the track.

The trains rolled on.

You see, there are days like this in my life as I’m sure there are days like this in your life.

Days where when you get to work, something small goes wrong, then another thing goes wrong only this time it’s a bit more important, then another and another and another. Soon, you have things on fire, a person yelling and you’re trying to muster the energy to actually not just care but inspect the damage and fix the problem.

This was the low point in my day and all I could do was chuckle to myself. After all, when I thought about what had happened, it was pretty damn funny. So for the rest of our time together, Mr. Green Shirt took my good natured ribbing with a wink and a smile. 

Now, before you say, “Skip, you’re being a bully. You’re pouring salt into the wound of his pride. You’re just being mean.”

No, I’m not.

Mr. Green Shirt and have been working together for fifteen years and have developed an excellent relationship and we consider each other friends more than anything else. Sure, we both have a love of trains, jazz music and old time crooners, but more importantly we have a huge amount of respect for each other. Also; he gives me as much guff as I give him, sometimes more even. Which is good.

Now, I will say this, if someone else had shouted “The layouts on fire!”

I would have been the first on scene. But Mr. Green Shirt, nah, it was his mess, he needed to clean it up and figure it out. I’m not there to hold his hand, I”m there to teach him and work with him. Besides, It was a bonding moment for the both of us.

Have a great week. I hope you have someone at work that gives you as much frustration, joy, laughter and friendship as I do. Oh, and the occasional proverbial heart attack.

Love you Mr. Green Shirt. Hope you dig this blog.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Bad Medicine

“You know, if they put THC in medicine, I don’t think there’d be an issue of people not taking it.” Was the comment I made to a dear friend of mine the other day.
You see, he’s sick, he’s been sick for years and there really isn’t anything the doctor’s can do for him. He has to take about a dozen pills a day, he’s on a restricted diet and stuck in a damnable motorized wheel chair. He hates the pills, he hates the wheelchair and he damn sure hates the dietary restrictions.

He hates the food restrictions so much that sometimes he goes off diet and puts up with the illness that ensues. It’s a conscious decision and I can’t really blame him. He hates the pills so much that sometimes he doesn’t take them because they upset his stomach and make him just a bit sick. (By a “bit sick” I mean he pukes. Then he has to eat bland, food that he hates and then drink some sort of artificially sweetened protein shake that tastes awful, trust me I know, I tried one and it almost made me puke.) I feel bad for him.

His response to my comment was a giant smile and a hoarsely whispered “I wish.”

His caretaker, an elderly woman with a heart of gold just frowned at me and shook her head.

I chuckled.

Then I thought to myself “Why not?” Why doesn’t “Big Pharma” make medicine that makes you feel good and isn’t addictive? It can’t be money issues. After all, if you had a condition that required you to take a pill or three everyday, wouldn’t you want ti to make you feel good? No, I’m not talking about the opiate plague that seems to be the craze on the news on every channel. 

I’m talking about a natural substance that actually makes on just feel good and relax and take things in stride. Yeah, yeah, I know all about Aldous Huxley’s book “Brave New World”. And all that implies. But, I’m not talking about mandatory mood altering drugs.

I’m talking about pills that have side effects that make one feel like garbage when they could make you feel good. After all, have you heard what some of the side effects of modern medicine is? No? Okay, I’ll quote some for you:

        • drowsiness, dizziness;
sleep problems (insomnia);
mild nausea, gas, heartburn, upset stomach, constipation;
weight changes;
decreased sex drive, impotence, or difficulty having an orgasm; or.
dry mouth, yawning, ringing in your ears.
drowsiness, dizziness, tired feeling;
mild nausea, stomach pain, upset stomach, constipation;
dry mouth;
changes in appetite or weight;
sleep problems (insomnia); or.
decreased sex drive, impotence, or difficulty having an orgasm.
headache, and
mild muscle pain.

      Crazy list isn’t it. However that is a list of three separate medicines. I know at least a dozen people who are on at least one of those pills. So why can’t we feel good about the drugs that keep us alive? I wish I knew. I wish some really smart guy in “Big Pharma” would figure it out.

      I hate seeing the people I know in pain and I really hate that some of the drugs they take cause them pain as well. Let alone help them relax. It seems to me that with some drugs you take you have to take more to offset the side effects of the drugs keeping you alive and sort of well while dealing with your chronic condition.

      I don’t know. Maybe that is what “They” want… 

     “Here’s a pill for this condition… Oh, don’t worry about the side effects, we have pills for those too.”

      Then you carry your handful of prescriptions to the pharmacy and find out that you have to spend $150.00 for all of them. Then you go home, dejected, depressed and eat a handful of pills with a large glass of water and your so full from the medicine that you’re not even hungry. Then your family fusses at you for not eating, but you can’t eat, cause you have a stomach full of water and pills and they don’t understand.

      So you call your doctor, he prescribes another drug with a list of side effects three pages long. So you get that medicine, you take it, along with all the other medicine and you repeat this day in and day out in the hopes of a cure or wellness or a life. But you don’t have any quality of life. You just exist.

      You barely take joy in anything. You try to watch television but all you see is bad news and bad movies with bad actors. So you turn on the radio and are subjected to twenty minutes of commercials for things you don’t want, need or events that you wouldn’t go to even if you could. Then you hear a song or three by bands you’ve never heard of so you turn off the radio and pick up a book and try to read it. But with all the drugs in your system you have a hell of a time focusing on the words on the pages.

      So you say fuck it. I’m done. I’m going outside, but as soon as you do, it you regret it. Because you don’t know anyone. Everyone you know is at work, or is with their family or are busy or dead. You don’t want to ask family for help because you feel like a burden and all they want to talk about is your health. And all you want to talk about is anything but that.

      So you go to your room. You take your pills. You lie down on your bed. You stare at the ceiling and remember a life you once lived before all the pain, the illness, the pills. A life that seemed to belong to someone else.

      A life filled with travel, adventure and interesting people. A life filled with lovers and dreamers. A life where every day was a new experience and you never really knew what was going to happen or who you’d meet. 

      You tell yourself this was who you were. But it’s all mist. Mist disappearing in the heat of the rising sun. You try to hold onto those memories. Yet the memories only mock you in who you used to be. The pleasant experiences in your life become painful because you know those days are nothing but fading ink on the pages of your mind.

      Just when you think it can’t get any worse. The little alarm on your watch beeps and you realize it is time for another round of pills…

      So, yeah… why can’t they make something or put something in the medicine to actually make a person feel good?

      Okay, enough for now… I’m going to go take my medicine.

Have a great week. 

Monday, March 27, 2017

A Slight Programing Change

Dave Brubeck is playing “Take Five” in my headphones right now. It’s eighty degrees outside, kids are running up and down the street screaming at each other, but with my headphones on, I can’t hear anything but great jazz. My black beach chair and porch are covered with mother natures excitement. I mean, everything is green, Swamp Thing I’m sure is smiling in his swamp.
The entire day has pretty much been like this. Peaceful, lovely and too short. As I look around at the setting sun, kids across the street doing cartwheels, the occasional vehicle passing by, the smell of someone cooking burgers on a grill, I can’t help but wish my weekend could last longer.

This day marks my first official weekend in eighteen years. A couple years ago I made a promise to slow down. A promise I broke, and a promise broken is a worrisome issue for me. As I can imagine it would be for you. So, after I had an unexpected stay in the hospital where they removed a vestigial organ from my abdomen, I went back to work as soon as I could. This bothered me.
Not really at first. But eventually, there was a tiny silent voice in my head that refused to be ignored. A voice of sense, reason and brutal honesty. A voice I tried to drown out with work and responsibility.

Then one night a strange thing happened, someone I care about, whose been ill for some time and whom I hadn’t even seen for months made me re-asses what I was doing. You see, I had to help out his wife, take her to an eye appointment and when I picked her up I saw him lying in his hospital bed, barely able to breathe or talk and a skeleton of the man he used to be. 

This got me thinking long and hard. I’ve known this man for thirty years. Hell, I worked beside him for ten years. We put in long hours every day. Leaving before the sun was up and coming home after the sun had long went to bed. I admired his work ethic, his advice always landed upon my eager ears and he was someone I am not ashamed to say that I wouldn’t mind calling Dad. But, he is not my dad. He is my friend. And there he was, wasting away and no doctor anywhere could help him. The only one at that moment that stood beside him was his wife. 

Now, I know his kids and they are always around and are to be commended for the attention and care they have given both of their parents, but in that one instance, it was just him, helpless and frail, his wife, who was going in for an eye surgery and me.

It was then that I pretty much made up my mind. Or I should say, my mind made the decision for me without my consent. After that day, working two jobs four days a week just seemed idiotic. I’d been doing this sort of crazy schedule for nigh eighteen years. With very few breaks, usually my breaks end up with me lying in a hospital bed so battered and broken that the Doctor’s have to fill me up with so much pain medicine I don’t even know my name.

These thoughts amongst the thoughts of all the moments I missed of my daughters milestones filled my head as I drove this woman to her eye appointment. The weekends at the beach (I detest the beach), which I missed and where I could have formed joyful memories with my own family raced in my mind. The dinners out with friends I missed. The communion of family I suppose, yes, the communion of my own family is what is missing in my memories. All because I was to stubborn, unwilling, responsible and obsessed with paying bills and providing for things. Instead of being obsessed with just communing with the ones I live with.

That may have been a mistake.

So, last week I told my part time job I’m going to cut my shifts down to three a week. I’m going to spend more time at home. I’m going to rest, I’m going to try and heal my broken body. I’m going to commune with those I see briefly everyday.

I believe this is the right thing to do.

And hopefully, one day my three shifts will be cut down to two shifts, then one shift and then…

I’ll be almost normal.

Have a great week! Now go and enjoy your family.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Shadows of Patters

There was a twenty foot long right triangle outlined in shadow on my neighbor’s lawn. It was ten a.m. and I was standing on my porch trying to enjoy the tepid sixty degree morning weather. For me, this was the fourth? Fifth? Day of chronic neck pain and shoulder pain. My right arm was damn near useless. So when I stepped outside to have a cigar, sit in my chair, try and forget about my ailments in the warm air filled with the smell of spring in a futile attempt to feel normal, I was greeted with a large right triangle.
For a moment I forgot all about my plight. I wondered why the triangle was there. How did the triangle get there and in those thoughts, I became numb to the plight of my deteriorating body. I felt good, or I should say, it felt good.
I’m referring to my brain kicking in and attempting to solve the riddle of the mysterious triangle and where it came from. See, with my brain working, I forgot all about the pain I was in. After all, how often do you see a perfect right triangle in nature? I’m sure I can do an internet search and find out, but, right now, I just don’t feel like it.
I sat down in my chair, lit up my cigar and watched the as the triangle slowly changed. You see, it was made by the shadow of my neighbors roof. As our earth traversed through our solar system, the shadow changed. It transformed into an obtuse triangle and eventually a scalene triangle.
Yet it always remained a triangle.
Which got me thinking about us. You, me, them, everybody. All of us and the craziness that seems to have gripped us in our country.
It seems that there is a type of insanity coursing through our country and it all stems from our capitol. So much craziness, on the internet, television and in scattered bits of overheard conversations from people around me. Now, I don’t normally have much to say about politics, simply because I don’t feel I know enough about the subject to fully have an intelligent opinion.
For you see, that shadowed triangle reminded me of our government, three sides to a triangle, three branches of the government. Now, technically, our founding fathers wanted all three branches to be equal, like an equilateral triangle. I’m also pretty sure that over our countries colored history that on occasion our triangle government has shifted towards an acute, obtuse and even scalene triangle. And it seems to me that it is on that path again.
Which can be a bit scary.
Yet, as I sat there, with the scent and promise of a comfortable spring hanging in the air, I was reminded of a conversation I had with a friend about the state of our country. He was a bit worried, almost to the point of committing to a radical life decision. 
My response to him was simple. “We’ll be fine.”
That’s all I said. Then he sat down and asked me what I meant.
Which is when I went on a self-educated narration of the history of our country. I told him of all the bad things I could think of that our nation has done and transversely I told him of all the good things our country has done.
I explained how the pendulum of radicalism swings and how it will slow and sometimes, we as the citizens get to enjoy some years of moderate rule and sanity.
I also informed him that our country, while being pretty young in comparison to most of the other countries on our spaceship, has advanced faster and further than any other country in the same time period. That no matter what happens we will be fine. We as a nation will eventually find its balance and equilibrium.
I truly believe this. Just as I believe that if I go out on my porch tomorrow morning a few minutes before ten a.m. I will once again be able to observe a shadowy triangle that will continue to fascinate me as it slowly changes into all the forms a triangle can transform into. Just like our government.
Have a great week.

PS. Sorry I’ve been quiet for the past few weeks. I needed a break and I took one.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Candy Politics.

February 4, 2017

This week, on my Facebook feed one of my friends posted a picture of a Kit-Kat bar he was eating. Now to be honest, I don’t eat much candy and I rarely think about eating candy. I do have a few favorites though, anything with peanut butter tops my list, however; I do enjoy the occasional Kit-Kat bar as well. I’d say that I might eat six candy bars a year. I know, that’s not much. But, like I said, I’m not big on candy or sugar to be for that matter.

Now, getting back to my pal’s picture, it was of his hand holding the candy bar. He’d taken two good bites of it and posted it with words “Seeing how many people this makes crazy.”. Now, by the time I saw the photo on my feed there were about thirty responses from folks saying he was the devil, he was evil, a monster, a heathen and so many more names. I laughed as I read all the comments. Simply because I eat them the same way. I can’t ever recall eating one by breaking the wafers apart. That is unless I’m sharing with someone. Otherwise, I just eat the sucker. 

Then, simply because I’m curious by nature, I asked several co-workers how they personally ate Kit-Kats. Come to find out, I’m in the extreme minority. One co-worker simply looked at me in abject horror and said I was the kind of person that would love to watch the world burn. I didn’t contradict her. And, because I just can’t leave sleeping dogs lie, I asked how she ate her Skittles and M&M’s. She said she sorts them by color and eats them from her least favorite to her favorite. I told her I just throw a handful in my mouth and enjoy all the flavors and try to identify them as I consume them. Which brought up Jelly Bellies, I eat those the same way I eat all other small candy, just grab a handful and enjoy, she called me the devil. I laughed. 

All of this got me to thinking. About all sorts of things but before I get into that, my first thought upon us departing was that I needed to do an experiment. So I went and got my test subjects. Three brand spanking new Kit Kat bars. After procuring them, I went back to my office and laid them out on my desk and took a picture. Then I opened one and bit into it like I normally did. Then I took another bite, then a picture of it, then another bite and another bite and all that was left was a little piece. My mouth was screaming at me that the damn thing was too sweet so I washed my mouth out with water and then I finished the last morsel.

I looked at the second candy bar, I didn’t want to open it. I could feel the sugar coursing through my body on a collision course with my brain. But, in the name of science I opened the foil wrapper, separated the wafers and took a bite of each one, set the leftover pieces down and took a photo. Then I proceeded to finish off the last pieces. I was close to vomiting or going into sugar shock. Instead I drank more water and waited for my body to phase into another dimension from all the sugar I had just consumed.

But I didn’t. I sat in my chair, looking at the two crumpled up candy wrappers and realized that I derived the same feelings no matter which way I ate the Kit Kats. There was no difference in taste, satisfaction or side effects. Well, to me at least. I looked at the third candy bar. It sat next to the soon to be forgotten skins of its brothers in sugar. I wondered if the individual wafers inside the uneaten candy knew I’d just killed it’s comrades. I shook the thought from my mind and put the uneaten soldier in my refrigerator with no intention of eating it in the near or not so near future. 

Then I sat down and thought. Like Winnie the Pooh on his thinking rock. I thought about all the people who raised holy hell, good naturedly I assume, but they were adamant in their stance on the particular way they eat their sweets and I can only assume they are as picky about all the other food in their lives.

Also, if they are so picky about food, what of the rest of their lives? Are they that particular in their views, their dogma, their principles, their politics?

The answer I came to was yes. Yes they are.

The people I questioned about candy seemed also to be the most vocal and adamant in all aspects of their lives. Be it the placement of pens on their desks, the charities they give to, the politics they talk about and politicians they support.

Which turned my attention to the news of our country. Some people I know are screaming it is the end of days, some people are screaming it is the birth of a new era. All the while I’m sitting in the middle eating a bag of microwave popcorn and wondering when the next outrageous act of upheaval or intolerance will happen.

Because to me, it’s all a show. A game. A comedic performance. It is life and I am one that takes great joy in watching the comings and goings of everyone. Sure, some of the shenanigans hurts my heart, uncalled for death and destruction, extremism that leads to violence is something I take no joy in, but seeing people get riled up, standing up for what they believe in, well, that fills me with a source of pride. Seeing people act up in outrage and fight the good fight no matter how ridiculous I think they are makes me smile and laugh. 

We live in an age of instant gratification and microwave news. Everyone can see or learn anything at anytime. It’s great. So much so that like most television these days, our political arena has been turned into a reality show that is not only being broadcast on television but the internet as well. Our smart phones give us instant updates on everything and if you don't get an update, I’m sure you’ll get a text from a friend saying “OMG!!!! DID YOU SEE WHAT SO AND SO DID?” and you being the good American Consumer of all things, you click the link, or type in the words to google or go to your news feed. You watch in horror or applause in joy, depending on whether or not you agree or disagree with the shenanigans that just transpired.

While you and the rest of the world are doing this, I’m standing in the corner, you know the one, it’s the one that you pass by everyday, the one that has the shadow in it that no matter how hard you try to see into you can’t. That’s where I am, watching and being amused. It’s what I like to do. It’s what most people like me do. We are in the middle. We are the self educated knuckleheads who never really conformed to any one organization. We watch. Not in that perverted way, we just watch your reactions and enjoy the humanity you just shared. Then we move on with our life. We rarely interact simply because we don't interact with others too well.

All of this thinking has led me to a conclusion though… it is an odd one… What if, and this is a big “WHAT IF…’ what if all the extremists on both sides got together, at some sort of giant table, and they sat down at chairs, and on the table, there were bowls and bowls of candy? Kit Kat bars, Skittles, M&M’s, Gummi Bears, Snickers, Milky Ways, 3 Musketeers, Bridge Mix… and well, any and every sort of candy you can think of. What would happen?

I don’t know, I’ve an idea, but I’d sure like to be standing on the sidelines and watch the carnage of candy and listen to the conversations. After all, how upset can people be when they are eating their favorite sweets?

Have a great week!

Friday, January 20, 2017

Motors and Whales

I like to learn things. Not as an academic. I just like to learn all sorts of different things. I don’t believe I’d have ever made a good college student, simply because I wasn’t necessarily a good high school student. You see, back then and even today, if I find something that interests me, I’m all in. I will go to extreme lengths to learn everything I can about a subject. I’ll even go so far as to memorize as many facts as I can about the subject.

My interests are as wide and eclectic as can be imagined. However; there are things connected to my interests that I have no interest in. Which is odd. For example, as you know, I like trains, a lot. So much so that my primary job is, trains. Toy trains that is. And if you ask me about them, I can talk for hours about them. I also like real trains and how they are made. I also like most modes of transportation. Rail, plane and motorcycle. I’ve almost no interest in four wheel transportation. Matter of fact, I’d say that being in a car or van or suv is barely tolerable for me. Put me on a train, plane or motorcycle… I’m loving every minute of it. Yet, I really enjoyed the years I spent working at a machine shop rebuilding engines. Grinding on the heads, seating the valves, cleaning them, taking them apart, putting them back together and just working with these amazing machines. They’re like a giant working puzzle. 

So, recently, two weeks ago to be factual, I had my appendix out. Which is a vestigial organ. That means our bodies don’t really need them. I’ve known what a vestigial organ is for a while now. After all, I really dug biology at Roncallli Catholic High School as taught by Coach Ron back in the 1980’s. He made learning fun and if I’m to be totally honest, it was the only class where all my pals were with me. We had a blast, especially when we dissected animals.  Which is where we learned about vestigial organs.

So, where was I? Oh yeah, my emergency surgery…

A day after my surgery, one of the many doctors who had a hand… literally… in keeping me alive stopped by to see me. One of the topics that came up was… you guessed it, vestigial organs.

After just a few minutes of talking, the doc realized I knew what they were… so he decided to drop some knowledge on me. That knowledge I’m going to drop on you because it is too cool and something I never learned in school. That being said… I went right on the internet and started to read up on the subject.

Quick warning here. If you don’t believe in evolution, this may upset you.

What the doc said was “Did you know that whales have vestigial leg bones?”

My mind was blown. Seriously. I felt all giddy, excited and the synapsis in my brain started firing at the speed of light. Which is true. That’s how fast they fire. Crazy I know, but true.

When the doc left I picked up my phone and did a quick internet search for whales with legs. Then I clicked the image button and lost myself down the rabbit hole of internet photos of whales walking around on land.

Which is so cool you have to see it to believe it.

Unfortunately the picture that I had in my mind was not one I found on the internet. See, in my head I pictured a giant sperm whale or blue whale crashing through the prehistoric foliage of earth and chomping up everything in sight. You know, one of those “artistic renditions” that NASA uses for out of solar system planets or even some of the pictures of dinosaurs you see in books or museums… yeah that was what I was looking for. Instead, I ended up looking at skeleton pictures, some artist renditions and even directions of whales.

I also ended up reading about a dozen articles on whale legs and the vestigial bones and how they are slowly disappearing. By that I mean they are shrinking because of lack of use. 

You know, maybe I should have gone into marine biology, simply because walking whales is not the only sea creature I dig. I also love the manatee, I think they are cute. Maybe that’s why I like bulldogs so much, because they look like the manatee. 

Anyway, that’s about it for this week. My brain is still happy to learn about walking whale and if I had a time machine, I’d travel back in time to see a  one hundred foot long, one hundred and fifty ton blue whale walking across the continent in search of food. That’d be awesome and probably the last thing I’d ever see because he'd try to eat me.

Have a great week.