Friday, February 24, 2012

Atrophied Bravery

Last week I was on a forced vacation. Now, by forced I mean that I have accrued so much vacation time that if I don’t take some time off of work, my job will take the time away from me. They won’t pay me for it either. So my supervisor took it upon herself to assign me some much needed time off. I didn’t argue or disagree, I just took the time. Unfortunately I was a bit ill during my down time and I ended up sleeping on the couch or in bed the whole week.

I’m not one to just sit around and do nothing. I normally like to stay busy in my daily life but when I am immobile I am usually found with my laptop in front of me or a good book. (Ok, sometimes a not-so-good book) By Wednesday afternoon I was sick of being sick, had not much of a voice left and was burnt out on television and computer time so I decided to do a bit of cleaning around the house. I grabbed my trusty dust bunny catcher and went on the hunt of those elusive beasties that seem to disappear into the cracks and crevices of the wooden floors of my home. This is of course after I’ve chased them down the hallway and into a bedroom, bathroom, dining room, living room or kitchen. But on this particular hunt one decided to hide under my bed. A well known breeding ground of dust-bunnies across the seven continents and even space, or so I’ve been told by some semi-lucid, absinthe filled astronauts who like to wear diapers as the cross our country in search of lost loves.


I spied this obscenely pregnant dust-bunny attempting to squeeze its amble rump under my bed in an attempt to hide from me. I quickly leapt across the room with my electro-statically charged dust-bunny collector in my fully extended arms hoping my five foot eleven inch frame was close enough to capture this indomitable beast.

As I landed face first next to the bed, the bunny temporarily trapped in the force field of charged ions known world-wide as a “Swiffer” my celebratory elation was short lived as I witnessed my prized beastie attempting to break free. As my eyes adjusted to the shadows under the bed my eyes focused on a stack of long forgotten pulped paper. I searched my memory as to what books I may have stored under my nightly support but I those vaporous reminders of my past were as elusive as the dust-bunnies I’d been chasing.

I set aside my cleansing weapon and crawled further under the bed in an attempt to reach the stack of forgotten memories. The lack of light and my aged eyes did not allow me to determine what books I was reaching for and as my left hand landed on top of the stack of slick, soft cover paper and a flood of joy and laughter filled my brain. (This is the curse of having a tactile memory.) I knew as soon as my hand touched the first book what the entire stack contained and I could not help but smile to myself and extract myself quickly from the fibrous underbelly of my box-spring mattress.

I sat up and leaned against my nocturnal comfort and looked at the forgotten treasures that I was placing in my lap. They were of course my omnibuses of some of the best cartoon strips from the 1980’s, Calvin and Hobbes, Doonesbury and my all time favorite, Bloom County. I flipped through the ten pound stack of published goodness and pulled out my favorite of them all. Billy and the Boingers. A book that tells the tale of a death metal band called Deathtongue who gets dragged before the Tipper Gore run PMRC for lyrics of an obscene nature. I remember when the strip first was published how I rooted for the fictional band to stand up for its artistic rights and fight the good fight. But, like real life, the band buckled and they changed their name to Billy and the Boingers, a new political band that is dedicated to helping fix society’s problems through charity and awareness.

But the book held more than just that one story line, there were satires based on the Meese commission, Lee Iacocca, the iron curtain, and of course the wayward travels of the Starship Enterpoop to the lusty, busty and wanton planet of Mary Lou Retton clones… I’m smiling as I type this on my front porch because my frontal lobes are filled with a little ol’ lady screaming “Shut Up Lloyd and arm the photon torpedo tubes!” as she sits in her Chrysler K car with a wheel chair barreling down a hill towards them with Cutter John, Opus, Hodge-Podge and Portnoy screaming for death and vengeance of the occupiers of the Klingon K car.

Yes, I had been truly sidetracked that day and in the days that followed I managed to revisit some of my teenage and early twenties friends from the inky pages of the daily rags that ended up on my porch. I laughed at Calvin’s snowmen, was nervous about what was hiding in Brinkley’s “Anxiety Closet” and cheered when Cutter John was released from the clutches of certain doom from the KGB in Soviet Russia.

When I finished my journey to the eighties I went to the internet to see what sort of madness the modern kiddies are reading, I am sorry I did. The only two strips that seemed to catch my attention were “The Boondocks” and “Luann”. Yes, Doonesbury is still out there and still fun but I think it has lost a bit of its impact on American Politics. (Besides, “The Duke” seems a bit… sad. Sorry to all my HST fans out there. I am disappointed too.) Yes, it seems the great tales in the daily papers have faded out through attrition. I know it is not an easy task to maintain the fires of vigilance against our elected officials and their endless antics in this world. But you would think that someone somewhere would pick up the fallen crown of daily strip satire.

While I wait for someone to be brave enough to fight back against the government, Hollywood, lawyers and big business I think I will go and read the entire catalog of “The Boondocks” I like these characters and the writer is not afraid… of anything.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Visions of Reality

First let me apologize for writing this while I am sick and loaded up on cold and flu medicine as I watch the pink elephants slowly dance to Berlioz’s Symphony Phantastique across the living room floor and into the dining room. I hope the alligators that are practicing their trapeze act on the chandelier in there don’t try to turn them into appetizers tonight. Of course, if the elephants make it through the dining room they will have to fend off the sharks who are playing poker in the kitchen, they asked me to join in but I don’t have the three live chickens buy in right now. I told them they will have to wait until I get paid in order for me to sit in on a hand.

But, I suppose I have just gotten sidetracked once again.

Now, for my dear readers who have kept up with my blog and the comings and goings of my life you will know that one of my first blogs two years ago was about the closing of the museum I work for and how we were going to not just renovate the building but completely transform everything under the roof and add over an additional twelve thousand square feet of space. So it was pretty much an expansion, renovation and rehabilitation of the existing structure. The rebuild took eighteen months and a lot happened in that time, not just in my life but the lives of my fellow co-workers and the multitude of contractors who worked incessantly day and night in order for us to open the new museum on time.

When we did open, everything in the building was shiny, new and unmolested by the hands of thousands of visitors. Including my area, the trains, and that is what I am going to write a bit about today.

When I first was hired as Train Technician for the museum I knew there was a plan in place for an expansion and rehabilitation. So I started to keep a folder of ideas, needs and wants for the new layout. I did not know how much space I was going to be given but I knew certain key elements that I wanted for the new train layout and my office. This foresight helped me out more than I ever expected.

You see, one day, about two years before we shut the old museum down, I received orders from the Director of all the Museums in my fair adopted city, to come up with a layout design and track plan for the new train room. My first response to her was “How much room do I have?” He answer was to show me the rough renderings of where the new train room was to be and where my office would be located. She then informed me I had a week to finish my task.

My brain went into overdrive, I did a quick calculation of how much square footage I would have for my office, the layout footprint and sketched it all out onto a piece of graph paper. I then placed two phone calls to some buddies I knew had layout design experience and asked them for some advice and suggestions on track design. They agreed to help. I also loaded up a C.A.D. software program for layout design and input all the dimensions of the layout and went to work on the design phase. I fueled my creativity with sugar, caffeine, deadlines and the smell of plastic injection molding used to make most of the rolling stock in this day and age.

By the end of the week I had finished my design for a 710 square foot train layout with eight working mainlines and four interactive push buttons for the visitors to use. It took another week for the powers above me to approve the design and then my creative offspring was put on a shelf for almost two years. It became a pipe dream. The plans sat on a shelf collecting dust with my binder full of ideas. Until one day I received an email to send them out to bid by contractors across the nation. The joy of that day was immeasurable. The wait for answers from the contractors was an eternity of nervousness and paranoia.

Only two contractors agreed to build the layout with our terms. One fabricator I did not know, the other, his company is one of the best in the business. I got to choose which of the two to go with. I chose the one whose work I know.

After several thousand phone conversations, emails, texts and FedEx packages of information was exchanged and some track changes the initial substructure was fabricated and the layout underway. All my major ideas and goals were kept in the layout; a few minor ones had to be set to the side for special and operational reasons.

I made one visit to the contractors’ warehouse to see the progress of the layout while it was being fabricated. I was so filled with pride at what my mind was trying to understand that I almost exploded.

A few months after my visit the layout was delivered to the museum in approximately twenty-four sections, and after three weeks of hard work by no less then sixteen men it was installed and operating.

Operating… funny thing about that term. You see, and I guess this is where this whole story has lead me to… you see, while the museum was shut down, the primary supplier for locomotives for the museum made some changes to their operation system. They have upgraded to a better electronic system. What does this mean? Simple, while I do the primary maintenance of the “motive power” for the trains… (Motive Power means engines) I am no longer able to order the computer boards for the engines. They have been outdated. So I need to upgrade.

Upgrading is an expensive prospect. I have a large fleet of motive power that is now pretty much useless. If a board goes bad, I can’t replace it. So I have to order new engines. Engines aren’t cheap. So I sat down, wrote up a plan that will take several years to implement by slowly replacing a small number of engines and or sets each year. I submitted my plan and it was approved. I was stunned. But I quickly called my supplier and placed my order.

Twenty-four hours later I was signing a FedEx computer pad saying I was the recipient of my order. I now have brand new trains to use on our new layout. I wish I could say that all the time I spent writing the proposals, brainstorming over the details of the layout and trying to figure out what I want the visitors to experience when they walk into the train room has been easy. But I can’t, I’ve fought, worried, lost my temper and struggled to hold onto the ideas I first put down in that binder over seven years ago.

I look back now, with a 20-20 hindsight, and see where I could have done things differently, or been more calm in frustrating situations. But when look back now at how much energy I put into seeing this vision become a reality I don’t think there is much that I would change. My overall concept, design and message have been made a reality. Sure, I had a lot of help from a lot of people and we all worked very hard to complete our tasks and we did it to the best of our abilities.

Now when visitors come see the trains and the train layout and ask me questions about the collections or the exhibit, I smile and start to explain what it is they are looking at and how it actually influences their daily lives. They walk away a richer person in knowledge from what I tell them and that is worth all the craziness of years that have passed.

Ok, I am going to wrap this up, the card sharks are teasing the acrobatic alligators with the chickens and I sense a fight is about to break out somewhere between the kitchen and the dining room

Have a good week.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Thank God January is OVER!

I have just woken up from a hibernation of over fourteen hours. It seems my body has decided to take a much needed rest after being abused physically, mentally and emotionally for the past month. But, if I were truly honest I believe I would have to say that the abuse has gone on much longer than a month. Yes, I know I had a very nice family vacation in our Nations capitol over the winter break; a vacation that was filled with visiting some very important places and reflecting on some major events in our countries history.

At the end of those days we spent hours in a refreshing hot tub soaking our weary muscles only to be followed up with watching mindless television so our brains could rest as well. But did we truly get the rest we needed? Maybe… maybe not. If what has just happened to me is any indication of the type of rest which is needed for one human system then I say we did not get the type of break from life our bodies have cried out for. Of course, I could be wrong and it is just my system that needed to be rebooted.

I guess I should explain a few things first so that you might understand what has been going on a bit better.

January can suck it!

It was one hell of a month for me. I lost a family member, whose funeral I did not attend. Another family member of mine is in the hospital for an undetermined amount of time. And both family vehicles have been nothing but a constant source of heartburn and headaches. I’ve been injured, wounded and abused mentally, physically and emotionally. I seem to have spent more time than a doctor at various medical facilities in the greater Hampton Roads area and I just can’t seem to get motivated to write anything of substance.

On numerous occasions I have been overheard saying “I can’t wait for 2012 to be over with, bring on 2013.” And now that it is February, I still feel the same way.

Of course, I am positive that this year will be like most years. Filled with highs and lows with very few plateaus of stability, this is the way of life. It is today and it was yesterday. Our lives on this mudball seem to rarely be on an even keel. If they were, well, I believe we would end up killing each other just for excitement. Hmmm, just had a thought, maybe the reason for all the idiotic television shows that are broadcast into our homes are so we as a human race will feel better about either NOT having enough drama in our lives, OR having too much drama in our lives. (Yup, I’m going to have to think on that hypothesis for a while)

Well, I am going to sign off for now, this is supposed to be a quick update on what has been going on in my mixed up existence here in the heart of the South. I am supposed to go see a nice jazz concert tonight, which I have been looking forward to for several months.

Have a great week.