Friday, October 29, 2010

You Know, The Shriners?

I don't remember how I found the place initially, but I'm guessing it was because of the banner that read "JOBS JOBS JOBS" hanging out front.  People in town didn't know the actual name of the business, but if you told them you worked at "JOBS JOBS JOBS" they would smile in recognition.

It was a series of folding tables - sturdy metal frames with particle board tops laminated in fake wood grain. Stained by years of coffee slopped from Styrofoam cups, they stank like the ashtrays sitting at each telephone. The phones themselves as stripped down and basic as the rest of the room, were black with gray buttons, their cords tangled on the floor.

The sales goal for the night was written on the bottom right hand corner of a small dry erase white board with each of our names listed above. We would fight over whose name was written in what order even though it held no bearing.  Everything was a competition, and nothing was given up lightly.. A notch was made by each name as sales were made. $32 sale was one notch, $64 was two and so forth.

On the phones, my first name was always Frank.  The last name would vary.

"Hello, Mr. Washington?  My name is Frank Stevens and I'm calling with the ______ _____ Shrine Temple Number 53, you know - The Shriners?  How are you this evening?  Great!  The reason for my call is you were kind enough to help us send 6 underprivileged children to our annual variety show last year and we were hoping we could count on your support again this year..."

We always said "you know - The Shriners?" because we wanted the person at the other end of the line thinking of the guys in funny hats and the little cars at parades.  We were told this was preferable to the fact that our contracted client was actually an African American community organization.

I was consistent with my numbers, but I never got the really big sales. I think there was one time where I sold a $128 package, but for the most part they kept the big ticket leads for _______. He would hunch sullenly over his phone, mumbling into the receiver so quietly you rarely heard him until the receiver would go back into the cradle and he’d exclaim “YEAH FUCKERS!” ruining two other potential deals in the process.  He would jump up, his chair tottering on the two back legs until they finally settled down on all four, and run to the board to mark himself four slashes for the sale.

We were children, and we acted like it. 

I was too young to drive when I first started working there.  Some of the other guys drove cars or lived close enough to walk, but I had to be dropped off and picked up each night.  My mom would complain that I smelled like smoke, and I would patiently explain how everyone there but me was a smoker, scared she would catch a whiff of Marlboro under the four pieces of Big Red I would be chomping on.

Occasionally a few girls from our school would get hired on, but the constant smoking or our childish leering meant they'd rarely stick around long enough to see two paychecks.  We were a core group of four or five teenage boys, with a rotating cast of characters who never really made the cut.

We'd work from 5:30 to 9:00 each night, and a few hours Saturday morning, running through the sales script for whatever organization had hired us out for their event.  It was always for the kids though.  Economically disadvantaged, disabled, disenfranchised, whatever.

"Hi, may I speak with Mr. Donaldson?  Hi, this is Frank Griffin calling for Special Heart for Special Children.  How are you tonight?..."

We would walk to the grocery store that anchored the strip mall for snacks during breaks.  We'd stop at the drug store for drinks and cigarettes.  We'd spend our paycheck at the sports card store, and fight over who got the better rookie cards.  We'd brag about the girls we'd been with (or lie about the girls we'd been with, at least in my case), and talk about the beer we were going to drink that weekend until one of the owners would come out of the office in the back and yell at us to get back on the phones.

I don't remember the exact process of how it all came to an end.  One day we had a meeting where the tearful woman who ran the shop explained check kiting to us, a term I had never heard before.  She explained that we would have visits from the FBI and that they were there to just review her books and that we as the sales group had done nothing wrong.  We continued to make our calls, but the two agents in the back office dampened the mood.

No one had been getting rich off the backs of underprivileged kids, she had just been trying to pay bills and cover payroll.  Shockingly, the half a dozen teenage boys they had on the roster hadn't been enough to generate a living for all those involved.  Instead of seeing it as a lost cause, she scrambled to keep things afloat.

The parent company that she worked for said they were going to work with her and she would be able to avoid jail time if she cooperated fully with the FBI and their internal investigation.  She complied on all fronts, and they promptly took her to court.  I had left the job by the time she was sentenced but I'd heard that she'd pulled some sort of weekend only jail time for awhile.

A few years later, I was working the counter at a gas station in Utica, Ohio when a lady came in and asked for a pack of Salem 100's.  I looked up to see it was her.  We chatted for a minute in the awkward way people do when they would really be anywhere else instead of rehashing the past.  I asked about her family, and she asked about mine.  She started to leave, then stopped and said:

"I'm sorry.  I always felt like I let you down.  You're just a really good person...a good guy, and I kind of fucked things up for everyone."

I felt this overwhelming desire to tell her I wasn't great at all.  I wanted to tell her of all the shitty things I had done just that week alone.  I wanted to make up even worse stuff just so she wouldn't feel so bad.  I didn't know where this accountability to me had come from, but I was uncomfortable with the label - unhappy to be seen as a person good enough to warrant this kind of naked apology..  I opened my mouth to say some of this, but she smiled and stepped out...the bell above the door cutting off my words.

Monday, May 24, 2010


A few weeks before Sophia was born, I started an iPod Playlist for the delivery room. I asked Jen for her input and she said "None of that arty horseshit…this is about me" or something to that affect. So, I started through our library looking for things that Jen would love and that wouldn't be horrible for me. After just an hour or so I had 115 songs which I thought would be more than enough to get us through a night in the hospital. I shuffled them up and dumped them on my iPod.

Even by Jen's account, the pregnancy was fairly easy. She had her share of exhaustion and the usual side effects, but had largely been able to avoid the more serious complications that are common. Still, at over 40 weeks, she had been experiencing a few days of feeling really rough and convinced her doctor to see her a few days earlier than their scheduled appointment. After two hours of examination, ultrasounds, and stress tests, Jen's doc told her to get her bag and check in to the hospital at 8:00 that night. Jen cried in relief, knowing that very soon she'd be feeling better…one way or another.

I'll spare you all the push by push replay, but there were a few things worth noting. First, Jen was amazing. From the very beginning until the moment we watched Sophie gulp down her first air conditioned breath, she was perfect. Also, the staff we worked with was great. Jen's nurse laughed at our jokes (we always have jokes), got down to business when needed, and was Jen's champion the whole way. Also, she got down with the Prince that was playing on the iPod.

And that takes us back to the Playlist. We had the music going in the background as we sat in the darkened room watching Jen's contractions on the monitor ("Ooooh, daayuuum…that was a biggun"). It started with Manchester Orchestra's "I Can Feel a Hot One", but then despite the fact that I had shuffled the songs, it mostly went from artist to artist playing songs in blocks alphabetically. We cruised through lots of "B Bands" (Band of Horses, Beck, Ben Folds, The Beach Boys) and then the Garden State soundtrack. We napped through The Mountain Goats and Mojave 3. The nurse came in to get things busy about the time The Postal Service started playing. The moment Jen pushed for the first time, "When Doves Cry" filled the room. Jen finished with the first push and we looked at each other, laughing at the absurdity of giving birth with Prince as the soundtrack. "Pop Life", "Raspberry Beret", and "I Would Die 4 U", one song after another Jen pushed and then we laughed (yes, she had an epidural). The nurse boogied (though professionally) and we talked about how our Twin Cities based friends would be home-town-proud. The assembled grandmothers in the room were less interested, standing on the sidelines with shaking hands clutching their cameras.

Finally the Prince wound down to be replaced with REM, and on Jen pushed. I kid you not, toward the end, with Sophie starting to appear, "American Girl" by Tom Petty was the song playing. And then, finally, Sophie was pushed/pulled into life on the outside. I cut the cord (symbolism be damned), and she was placed kicking and fussing on Jen's chest all the while Wilco's "Please Be Patient With Me" played softly in the background. We toweled off her little arms and legs, alternately amazed and terrified of her, and everything else faded into the background.

I know it might be a little obsessive to pay that much attention to what music was playing and at what time, but a lot of strong memories I have are linked to the music that was playing at the time.

I remember I was sitting in Tyson Downey's CRX in a parking lot outside of Kroger in Brazil Indiana and he was telling me about a song he had heard for the first time. When the weather was just right you could pick up a station out of Indianapolis (not without some static, of course) and this Indy station had promised to play this new song again before 10:00. We sat there in the car chain smoking, our talking stopping as each new song would start to play until they finally played Radiohead's "Creep" and my world got a little bit bigger.

I remember the moment I realized my first marriage was over and a song called "Kerosene Hat" by Cracker was playing in the car. I rushed to turn it off as I drove no where, not wanting an awful moment to ruin a great song for me. (It didn't. I still love that song.)

And I remember walking the streets of Carbon, Indiana when I was probably 13 and coming up on a house that was playing Frampton's "Do you Feel Like We Do". We sat outside on the sidewalk listening to it in the summer night and I remember thinking that it was the best song ever written.

Good and bad, a lot of my memories are wrapped up what was on the radio, and I don't think that's unique at all. Still, I have to admit a pure personal pleasure in being able to tell Sophie one day that she came into this world while listening to Wilco. Since she's a captive audience, I plan on spending lots of time with her in front of the turntable as soon as my mother in law vacates the area that has become partially my den and partially Jen's craft room. I bet Weezy is glad Grandma Helen has been here to protect her so far...

Monday, February 22, 2010

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Random Notes

I'm a fan of the seasons, but my short attention span keeps me from liking any of them for more than just a couple months at a time. Just about the time I start really yearning for warmer weather, winter takes a giant white shit all over my hopes. So, I shovel the walks and listen to the sound of our furnace catching its breath for 45 seconds in between cycles and keep hoping.


Tonight we were straightening up in the kitchen and I was going through some paperwork, shredding dated bank statements and the like. As I was cleaning things out I finally disposed of the remnants of the Paperwhites out a pot we had set aside. For those unfamiliar with the plant, it's a winter blooming bulb that has tall slender stalks and white flowers that grows in a pot of stones with a bit of water. It also smells like a giant pile of buttery ass. I was never more happy than when I got to cut them back and walk the clippings immediately out to the trash.

So tonight, I empty the pot into a plastic bag, planning to salvage the gravel, when everything slides out in a solid mass. The individual pieces of gravel are practically tied together with a slick white root structure that looked so much like a snarl of tapeworms it actually creeped me out.

Horror movies should be written about this plant. It's what should have crawled under the skin of the wayward hikers in The Ruins. It's what Indiana Jones really should have been afraid of instead of snakes. I pray to God Jen doesn't want that evil spawn in our home again next year.


I've decided Facebook would be more fun if people would be completely inappropriate with their status updates from time to time. I'm a total voyer so I don't even get upset with the mundane posts from some; I'm usually on board to see whatever it is you're up to. Still, it'd be nice to see something like:

John Doe... pooping. celebrating some "Afternoon Delight" with a giant sandwhich. caught picking his nose today by another motorist when driving home from work.
...listened to Whitesnake today and loved every second of it.

Not that I'm personally going to open myself up with embarassing posts, of course. I just think you should.

Monday, February 1, 2010

A Bit of This

Hi. How you been?

The Antlers Part I

Jen and I headed to Akron Saturday night to see The Antlers play. It was at a place called Musica, and it wound up being a really cool spot. We met up with my cousin Johnny who is always down for something new, and leaned against the back wall of the venue (for Jen's sake) to watch the show. Jen and Johnny were both good sports, but weren't in love. I, on the other hand, was. I'm a sucker for what The Antlers do, and they sounded amazing.

There was a couple standing beside me that looked to be in their mid twenties. She, a little pixie of a thing, and he a dead ringer for a young Thurston Moore. After the show was over, I immediately turned to talk to him.

"Anyone ever tell you that you look like Thurston Moore."
"Yeah, I've gotten that a few times."
"Yeah well, I'm going home and telling everyone that I saw The Antlers with Thurston Moore, ok?"
"I wish I were Thurston."
"Yeah, who doesn't?"

We stood around and talked for a few. Turns out his name is Mike and he drove in from Cleveland to see the show. We chatted about Shoegaze, why people bother coming to shows if they're just going to stand around and talk during the set, and how it's a shame Spiritualized peaked so long ago. It's rare finding people that dig the same music I do, so it was cool to chat. It would have been cooler if he actually had been Thurston though.

The Antlers Part II

Technically, this was the first show for Weezy. After it was over, Jen told me Weezy started kicking up a bit after the band finished their opener "Kettering" and kept it going for awhile. According to the good folks who post baby facts out there on the interwebs Weezy has been able to hear for a couple of weeks now, though it most likely sounds something akin to what you and I would hear when swimming underwater. Still, I was excited getting her out to her first show already (especially since I'll have to wait so long before we can do another one together).

Then, the new inexperienced father part of me kicked in, and I worried that it'd be too loud for her. I called Jen's doctor's office to ask if it'd be an issue. I could hear the nurse's smile in her voice.

"Just keep her out of the mosh pit and she'll be fine."

Sophia Jerky

While reading about umbilical cord care I got a little grossed out, and was telling Jen about it the other day as we were riding around in the car. Just the idea that it basically turns black and rots off is disturbing. I've read that it can be a little stinky, and then eventually it just falls off, leaving a cute little belly button behind. It creeps me out that we could be changing her one morning and "Pop!' off it goes onto the floor where the dogs pounce on it like so many Honey Nut Cheerios.

Jen doesn't like it when I read.