Clydesdale Rescue

It was early winter in our first year at Comstock when we first began to suspect that something was amiss. While strange thumping and animal noises were commonplace in the rear of the first floor where Aaron and Thirsty bunked down, the quality and characteristics took a noticeable turn. In addition, occasional screams could be heard from Aaron’s room late at night and the following morning he would turn up with massive u-shaped black and blue marks on his face or extremities. He attempted to explain them away as commonplace household mishaps and we took him at his word. The pervasive dung odor was attributed to Thirsty, and perhaps not unjustly.

Further suspicions arose one evening when a massive fur laden hoof crashed through the wall of Thirsty’s room and launched his weak and pale frame spinning askew into the radiator so recently christened with Schultz’s urine. He made claim that in his trip through the air he caught glimpse of a brown behemoth through the hole, but upon regaining consciousness found the far side was conveniently covered by an iconic Cheryl Tiegs poster. We disbelieved him en masse and he eventually let the matter drop.

Revelation came one glorious morning as munched old eggs for breakfast. The smell of them scrambled with the last of the vanilla extract awoke a dark seated passion in the beast. It reared up and brought down Aaron’s door with an irresistible double whammy and strode out. Knaus and I stood by helplessly as the first Clydesdale we had ever seen outside a commercial strode into the dining room and took to devouring our carefully prepared meal. Aaron came running out sheepish and apologetic, full of unfulfilled promises to replace them with fresh or more recently expired eggs.

A palaver was held between the three of us, Thirsty exempt as he took to sleeping more and more ever since the kick. The truth came out, bit by bit, through the course of careful questioning and torment. He had fallen in with a splinter group dedicated to the rescue of Clydesdale horses from all current ownership, and as with like programs for various species of dogs, warriors for the cause were expected to house and care for specimens in transition. He had thought to keep the effort secret to avoid our mocking fun, and with careful timing and the removal of several door frames had managed admirably. With precedent being set by Knaus’s far more destructive cat Malice it was impossible not to accept.

Aaron was relieved to no longer be forced to sleep beneath the ever shifting beast in close quarters, not to mention an impressive defecation schedule. His frequency of showering decreased, though not to Thirsty’s level. For the rest of us, the inconveniences began to grow but initially balanced by Aaron’s jauntier attitude. He lugged about a weighty tome titled “Astounding True Facts and Accounts of International Clydesdale’s” and quoted from it incessantly. The veracity of the claims were questioned but independent research held them true.

Did you know that if the level of Clydesdale poaching in Gabon were to reach a world wide scale, the species would be extinct by 3013?

Did you know that in 1743 a Clydesdale was appointed Prime Minister of Prussia for a period of 17 days?

The quotes were an educational experience, as was the continued presence of Francois, whom Aaron was having a challenging time finding local placement for. An inquiry from the Barksdale dog Food Company was rejected as being contrary to the spirit of the cause, as was a subsequent one from the good people at Elmer’s. An ad in the Pennysaver generated little interest, as did tacky fliers stapled cockeyed to random telephone poles. In the mean time, our lives evolved.

Did you know in 1977 a Clydesdale named Brasie May was the first of her kind to swim the English Channel?

Thirsty was the first to suffer most and as a direct result of the initial beating. The rest of us discovered early on that strategies used to keep the others from our food had little effect on Francois. Even my pizzas covered in anchovies and onion, generally sacrosanct and unmolested in the fridge, would be wantonly removed and consumed by vociferous horse even as I beat at his haunches with my balled fists. We took to taking most meals out of the home except for Thirsty. Three times a day he would cook and bring his meal out to the coffee table, and three times a day Francois would find a new way to distract him and devour the latest offering before Thirsty could react. He grew weak and shaky, but stubbornly determined not to disrupt his routine of taking meals while enjoying reruns of ‘Quincy’.

Did you know that teams of Clydesdales won 4 of the last 37 Iditarod’s?

Without warning the number of horses doubled, but the problems increased by several orders of magnitude. Another daring rescue had been made and Aaron drew the short end of the stick despite much of the membership currently supporting zero Clydesdales. Luck of the draw perhaps, perhaps. Aaron’s German obedience was ours to lament, though he now too would feel the effects as well. The state of the house, deplorable as it was to start, deteriorated quickly.

Did you know that in North Dakota, SD, Clydesdales actually achieved suffrage a full 20 years before women?

I grew enraged on a daily basis. Sitting in the chair with high arms enjoying my stories I would suddenly hear rustling about the Christmas tree I had set up in the Florida room. Each time I would spring to my feet to find the two of them attempting to ascend it for the purposes of batting about and destroying the precious glass ornaments with which I decorated it.  I had filled a spray bottle with water and vinegar and unleashed it full into their faces, but they actually seemed to like it. A full week before Christmas the tree was done, a gnarled mess leaning haphazardly against the glass doors, denuded of even a single bauble. I was despondent with a heart full of vengeance.

Did you know that Clydesdales were critical to the capture of an Enigma machine in WWII in one of the craftiest submarine capers in history?

Food became a problem. Jason’s large pasta dishes were enough to sustain one Clydesdale, but certainly not two. With each meal he would prepare, Francois and Bon Scott would set to battling over it through the living room as Thirsty cowered beside the couch. Growling and fur flying everywhere, the winner would quickly gobble as the loser would eye Thirsty with a cold gleam. I was the unfortunate witness the day Malice was cornered, stomped, and devoured and took no relish in reporting back to Knaus. Aaron, under threat of dire vengeance now had to lug 100 lb bags of Clydesdale chow back from Wilson Farms on his own. I asked him why he chose not to employ the sturdy horses in this endeavor. It was no choice he reported; putting the beasts to work was antithetical to the mission. His back grew stooped and bowed as 4 trips were required per day.

Did you know that Clydesdales, in their most natural form, are equipped with razor sharp retractable adamantium claws?

With an assured food supply, elimination occurred with a frequency beyond Aaron’s ability to keep up, especially since he now spent close to 4 hours a day going to and from the store. We took great care to avoid the steaming heaps until Aaron would come through with his shovel and dust bin, but it was not uncommon to see one indented with a sock print followed by shitty tracks disappearing into Thirsty’s door. The smell grew unbearable and the infestation of large green bottle flies was no longer confined to Thirsty’s bedroom. Female visitors, rare to begin with due to constant substitution for coffee filters for toilet paper, became a thing of the past. One night, drunk on a stash of beer they had not found and consumed yet, I opened the back door and determined that they would be outdoor horses from thence on.

Did you know that Clydesdales are the creation of Poseidon, patron god of the ocean, Budweiser beer, and ironically, the spotted Appaloosa?

Francois and Bon Scott took up temporary residence in the garage, having chased away or eaten Wrinkly Bill, the cat and previous tenant. It seemed a peaceable solution at the outset until they both went into heat at the same time keeping the neighborhood awake with intolerable whinnying at all hours of the night. To our collective dismay the pungent scent of their pheromones combined with the cacophony was enough to attract a local wild stallion that impregnated them both. Hormonal and hungry they terrorized the neighborhood. Aaron attempted to corral them with some chicken wire to no avail. Desperate, he removed the side door entirely and discovered they would roost indoors at night given the option and freedom. We rejoined the suffering of the neighborhood at large; they bearing the brunt in daylight hours and we in the evenings. Miserable all.

Did you know that Clydesdales when viewed from an oblique angel are often mistaken for woodchucks?

They grew fiercely territorial and harder to live with by the day. Thirsty, whom they already associated with meals, was assumed eaten following his sudden disappearance and Aaron’s discovery of a pair of grey underpants amidst the feces. We never really found out for sure and deflected all inquiries from relatives. Aaron grew nervous by the day as they tore into the bags of chow with unholy vengeance before he could even set them down. He lost two digits and part of his elbow in a single week. I tried to keep a locked door to prevent intrusion, but they found a way to pick the lock and I was thereafter treated to frequent intrusion, sometimes in moments most private. Efforts to find permanent situations for them were redoubled, but it was a hard sell.

Did you know that the bones of heroic Clydesdales were used in the construction of the impenetrable Castle Greyskull?

We resented the inconvenience, but in a sense we thought of them as family, secretly approving of some of the services rendered. Change was forced unexpectedly one day by Don, our landlord. Initially, he offered no objection to the great horses and even offered unique praise when learning of Thirsty’s probable fate having once identified him as trouble from the get go. Bon Scott, however, had a bad habit and a beef with Don. Coming over to mow the lawn one spring day he was surprised by a Clydesdale charging full tilt from between two houses and ramming his truck off the road. We explained the dent could be easily buffed out, but he was done; they had to go. He rang Barksdale and they salivated.

Did you know a Clydesdale was the winner of the very first episode of ‘Bowling for Dollars’ and that they were disallowed thereafter, such was the blow out?

Blackjacking Don and locking him in Thirsty’s old room was a calculated risk, but we couldn’t bear seeing their pictures on bags of kibble. With Knaus’s unusually large supply of ether we drugged them soundly and tied them to the roof of his Cutlass. Together, we drove them down to Salamanca and released them into a local pasture, ignoring the protests of the family picnicking there. We drove back in tears, but in ensuing years swelled with pride each time the news reported on the mighty herd ravaging the Southern Tier and northern Pennsylvania. Rescued from commercial labor, they do God’s work now.

Did you know this book was written, published and distributed solely by Clydesdales?

Not the Love Bus

It has been a long time since I graced these virtual pages with an eloquent tale of romance and victory. You will continue to wait. This is a story I though I had already told. It is a story that has left an indelible mark upon Mike, and now so it shall mark you.

Let’s hasten back to our freshman year at UB. I had completed my first semester, and has spent my break back in New Mexico with my family. Boy, what a mistake. Spending four weeks with them conquered me of ever needing to spend more than a few consecutive days with them. My month-long semester break was over. I had used the time to reflect. I had discovered I had some annoying behaviors that I decided to stop, and I had decided I wanted to move out of mechanical engineering and into computer science. Unfortunately I was too scared to switch majors after only one semester so I stuck with engineering for the rest of the year, and it became crystal clear I was correct as I spent less and less time on my engineering studies. Be I am jumping ahead. The long and short of it was it was time to head back to Buffalo, and I was going to travel by bus.

Why on earth volunteer to take the bus across the country? Well, it was not exactly voluntary. My parents were still my primary source of income, and my father felt that taking the bus was a good experience. Just like how on family vacations he felt it was best to start the day by 7AM and was angry I was wasting the opportunity by sleeping in the car instead of staring out the window as we rolled back endless amber waves of grain and cows across the mid-lands.

Knowing this would suck going into it, but ecstatic to get away form my family again, I was willing to take the blow and hightail it out of Dodge, Dodge actually being almost eight hours further east than Albuquerque would have been a blessing. So I purchased my bus ticket, and two days later my father dropped me off at the Albuquerque bus station and I sprinted inside to board my Greyhound. I was to be a 38 hour trip, with 2 stops to transfer buses. Not so bad since they drive through the night, and I figured I could sleep away much of that time. By the end it took 50+ hours. Keep in mind this was the pre-iPod days.

The first leg was the longest. It was a 12 hour drive to a bus transfer. It was early evening when I left Albuquerque, incidentally we took a left turn out of town. I boarded what was the most jam-packed vehicle of any kind I have ever seen before or since. Even though I always board vehicles early so I have a solid choice of seats, I got one of the last few seats. There were several old people and families with many small children who also boarded early. Luckily the last seat was with the only other lone traveler, a 20-something black man who clearly did not subscribe to single-serving friends (a la Fight Club) as I did not. We sat next to each other for 12+ hours in silence. Each of us listening to our walkman and sleeping. Our only communication was the occasional nod or eye roll at the family who took the several rows behind us. This family consisted of a dad who did nothing, a frantic mom, and 3-6 screaming children. I saw 3-6 because they moved in a chaotic cloud of constant motion that made it nye impossible to count them. Kicking seats, running up and down the isle, screaming, poking, etc. My seat-mate and I kept them at bay with an aura of hatred with apathy and disgust. Honestly I did 90% of the work here, providing him a shield, as I had the isle seat. Maybe this is where my desire to procreate dissolved.

When we finally arrived, they took out a giant Spam key and unfurled us like oily sardines, and after that trip we were all oily. Not having a window seat, and avoiding all eye contact I had not surveyed the landscape until I was peeled out the bus. As I made a slow 360 to force blood to once again pump through my extremities, I saw we were literally nowhere. In every direction I was nothing but sand. There was only the bus station. A lone sign of civilization. I wondered if I had slept through the Apocalypse.

The station was one giant room, with a counter, and a lot of seats. They did have the seat TVs, but I had spent my change on the vending machines, and the mutt behind the counter had never heard of quarters.

To enhance our experience they gave us two choices. The transfer bus was overbooked, picking up several lost souls at this station – and I think they were literal wraiths, so we could cram onto the bus that was leaving in 10 minutes, or wait FOUR FUCKING HOURS for another bus. Myself, and two others, including my former seat-mate elected to wait four hours once we learned the later bus would be virtually empty. I had suffered through 12+ hours of excruciating hell already, what was a few more? At least it would be quiet without those damn kids.

I can’t recall how I spent those four hours. Due to the boredom and heat I entered a zombie-like state, and not the fast-moving zombies that are popular today. I was ecstatic, sweaty and exhausted when the bus finally arrived. The wait was well worth it. My row-mate and I joined only three others on the newer bus that had cushy seats and working AC. Did I forget to mention this first bus had half-ass AC and seats one level above the shit bench seats you get on a yellow school bus. I boarded and we sped off above a relative heaven of transportation. A business-class womb with wheels.

I was so enthralled by the new bus that I have no idea what happened until I pulled into the next bus station for my final transfer. According to my original itinerary I should have been setting foot in Buffalo, but due to my self-induced delay I had to wait several hours for another bus. This bus at least knew what the concept of change was, and had some surrounding structures and populace.

I wasted most of the time here studying the Amish family who was also waiting. I was fascinated that the Amish were taking a bus. I was also certain an explosion of famed Amish anger would take place at any moment. The family consisted of a father, mother, and two boys (about 10 and 12); all very Amish looking. What keyed me into the potential entertainment, was not just their handling of their misplacement in modern society (albeit this cruddy bus station was hardly the height of modern society), but that both boys had two black eyes. Was this the result of an improper churning of butter, or a disastrous raising of a barn? I have no experience with the Amish, other than buying a delicious pie on the side of the road once, so I make no commentary on them as a whole. No smiting of furious anger took place. They boarded their bus without incident, but the purpose was served; I had passed the time.

My final bus ride proceeded without incident. I arrived at the downtown Buffalo bus station. Finally, home again! Damn. My trip was not yet over. I had to get my ass back to the Amherst Campus. I struggled my bulky luggage the several blocks from the bus station to the train and managed to board. I spent an uncomfortable ride back to Main Street Campus. All the while I was made more uncomfortable because I had not purchased a ticket, relying on my pitiful looking state as payment enough for any ushers.

I was able to get a ride from Louis back to the Ellicott Complex. That was no joy.

I finally made it home. I derided the bus as the worst form of transportation ever. I vowed to never ride a bus again when traveling greater distances than across the city. I have made many vows in my life, but none was more serious. This is also the only one I have ever kept. The bus sucks.

People I Hate

To those of you with soft dispositions and a warm glowing feeling toward your fellow humans no matter how annoying or despicable they may be; you will probably hate this post and me by proxy. Well, that is just fine by me and I welcome you enthusiastically into my dark little world of unencumbered distaste for certain groups of people I am forced to share this big ball of dirt with. Those of you who happen to be part of any majority, be it race, faith, gender, ethnicity, or orientation are already feeling uncomfortable with where this is going unless you identify with some ultra conservative group. Shellax, I don’t hate you for any of those reasons; only for who you chose to be.

Those of you who like to guess ahead what I am about to write are probably thinking, “Oh, mimes. I bet it’s mimes. Everyone hates mimes.” No, it’s not mimes or even clowns. Yes, everyone hates them and even Obama has been heard to say on more than one occasion, “I motherfucking hate mimes!”, but it’s not them. Frankly, I have to admire someone who goes into a profession that so clearly pisses everyone off by just existing. By the way I do understand that by mentioning Obama by name I run the risk of him stumbling across this blog while googling himself, which may make things awkward at the next State dinner I am invited to, but we can only hope he has a sense of humor about these things. By the by, I’m not going to make a list here but instead force you to slog through this entry in abject terror that your little sub group will be named.

I was driving home from a dinner theater production of The Hilarious Hillbilly Reunion or some similar nonsense at Magruders and turned to my wife and declared, “God, I really hate local actors.” I was surprised at the crisp honesty of my statement, but upon closer investigation found that it was true enough. I held a firm distaste for individuals in my local community who chose to spend their free time excitedly practicing to offend my presence with their jubilant overdramatic little productions delivered loudly and with far more pep than the material calls for while I’m trying to eat my goddam chicken. Maybe I better start at the beginning.

The idea of it all sounded appealing. A night out with the promise of a good meal while being entertained by people pretending to hillbillies. Everyone has a deep appreciation for hillbillies as we can watch their barefoot Appalachian antics and revel in the glorious presumption that we are their betters. Well, everyone but hillbillies who might be inclined to resent the portrayal had the ‘no shoes’ policy been overlooked and were allowed in. The premise was that we, mid-heeled townies, were invited to come on down to some sort of Clampett family reunion where presumably something would happen to keep us interested for a spell. I understood the less inspired of these productions relied on a Clue style murder mystery and was not disappointed.

We arrived late for logistical reasons rather than uppity ones and discovered to our dismay that we were being seated at a large table with other people we didn’t know. I understand this sort of thing is common in Europe, but this was America; hillbilly America, the most American America you get, and we hate that sort of thing. I don’t want to be forced into conversation with people I didn’t purposely come with! My wife will attest that I barely like to converse with even her at dinner functions and now I was stuck rubbing elbows with this asshole who was clearly going to bogart all the cheese. Yes, they actually had cheese and crackers out as appetizers, classy hillbillies that they were. I was already annoyed.

Scowling, I looked about the room and took note of the fact that there sure were a lot of folks milling about in overalls, oversized straw hats, big-ass boots, and even a large fellow in a dress and braids. They were interacting with the other patrons, most of whom looked uncomfortable aside from the scattered few either drunk enough to get in on the “fun” or were cut from the same cloth. So, not only was I going to be stuck talking to this douche in a suit and his elderly companions, but these idiots in costume who felt the need to bring their well practiced drama right up your ass.

“Well I do declare! It’s Cousin Cletus ya’ll right he’ah!” The big fellow in the dress managed to corner me and apparently I was Cousin Cletus. Not only had I paid to be subjected to this indignity, but it seemed I was expected to join in on the act unrehearsed. Only local actors had such balls to pick your pocket then ask for a shoe shine. I tried to mumble and look as uncomfortable as possible, but biggins there just wouldn’t let it go until I said something hillbillyish. I grumbled about getting “my grub on” and he finally flounced off to irritate someone else.

“Do you think that was really a woman?”

My wife was fooled a little easier than I. While I would have sat there happily with an expression that warned someone pissed on my shoes, but my wife and the suit insisted on exchanging introductions. We came to find out we were so lucky as to have been seated at the same table with the husband and parents of one of the cast members, assuring extra attention to be paid to our corner of the restaurant, right there in the middle of the floor. I wanted to leave, but we could think of no exit strategy that did not make us the spotlighted center of attention as we found our coats and the door. It seemed they were the sort not to hesitate to pull out a comedic version of tar and feathers.

Early in the performance they began dragging people out of their chairs and up front for varying pointless reasons in an exercise to increase the relative anxiety of those not yet chosen, but potentially already on a Lost style list. Neither of us liked where this was going, and even the suit expressed worry of public humiliation as he pounded his third pint. He made threatening hand gestures at his wife we hoped might ward them off. His success was the only good part of the evening, as it wore on with an endless supply of tired incest jokes.

Dinner finally arrived and was bullshit. The advertisement indicated authentic hillbilly fare, so we were expecting fried chicken, biscuits, mashed potatoes, corn, okra and similar southern fried crap. What arrived were airline style containers with airline grade meals of lukewarm baked chicken legs, green beans, and a very boring chef salad for the center of the table with those little self serve dressing containers that invariable spill on you when ripping off the tiny lid. I was wiping my pants off when three members of the cast sat down in the three empty chairs at our table. We got the wife, the moke the wife was boning in the production, and the big fellow in the dress. They refused to break character and insisted on speaking through dinner.

Eating poor quality food while being inundated with over exaggerated hillbilly chat should be no one’s idea of a good time. Biggins yakked up a storm and then took to eating directly from the bowl of salad with his hands to demonstrate his character’s bad manners. This was disappointing as I had wanted more, but felt certain he also felt washing his hands after the restroom was also breaking character. Now add in the dynamic that suit clearly had a little jealousy thing going on with the actor fake shagging his wife. The wife also now appeared to be one of those women who hates all others of her kind, and shot eye daggers at my wife for no discernable reason other than she happened to be at the table. It was at this point and forever forward that I was determined to hate local actors for as long as I continued to draw breath. I am fairly certain one of them will eventually find this post and leave an angry comment the nature of dinner theater, how people find it “fun”, local acting and whatnot. Please do, that we may make fun and further brighten my day.

Moving on, as there are so many groups and so little time, I also want to reiterate that I hate contractors. I went on about this some in my October Surprise post, which Aaron insists on calling “October Crush” even though I have never heard anyone else ever call it that, but whatever. My specific hatred is centered on the lying, complete lack of accountability, but mainly for their squirrely little tricks. The one that makes my blood boil the most is, “In all my years I’ve never seen that before!”

Why do they insist on doing that? It always means a price increase of course and leaves you worried that your house was the byproduct of a 3 Stooges movie and left behind as a prop built by knuckleheads. Roofers are terrific for this. There are like 2 types of roof in the Western New York area, all of them comprised of some combination of 3 things – plywood, tarpaper, and shingles. Somehow the devious bastard who came before managed to apply these three basic elements in such an obscure insane configuration while still achieving the same result of keeping weather out, that my roofer was simply stunned. “Holy crap, I ain’t never seen anything like that before! Gonna take me a whole nother day. Sorry pal.”

At that point, what the hell are you going to do? If you refuse, he packs up and leaves you roofless. They never find these jaw dropping issues at the point where you aren’t completely screwed if work is stopped for even 5 minutes. “Gee pal, whatcha wanna do? That there nor’easter gonna be blowin’ in by 5. Just enough time to get cha squared away.” Motherfuckers. My wallet is considerably lighter in moments. In the future I will be sure to have a clause in the firm fixed price contract that the price is the price no matter what crazy jacked up shit they find. I have every confidence though that they will find another way to screw me, and that is why I hate contractors.

I was at the airport a few weeks ago and came to another conclusion; a brand new group of people that made me want to buy a gun. Other air travelers. I understand I was also traveling by air, but comfortable with the opinion that my non-annoying traveling skills were far superior to everyone else. Looking around me, I could not help but feel disgust and seething bitter rage at those human cattle insisting on being transported in the same venue as myself. How dare they? And if they dared, why could they not be more like me. The variety of them is endless, but I’ll expound on some of the worst.

While waiting to get on the plane I have found that people traveling together, other than unhappy couples miserable to be confined to each other’s presence and enduring silently are of the worst type. My experience has been that this breed loves to have fantastically loud conversations about some worthless topic or another that you are forced to listen to. There is no escape and the realization always dawns that they are speaking at that volume because they want you to hear. It is true, they want everyone around them to be educated on the fact that they leave management notes in the break room, or that there are no issues with the shelves coming off the assembly line, or the advice they gave some junior co-worker. Watching them, I can see them performing a peripheral peer around to see who is taking in their golden drops of wisdom and admiring them for it. When they see my red, half slit eyes glaring; they look away quickly, but don’t stop. Oh, how I hate them!

Just as bad is ‘he who must be entertained’. I am one of those travelers with no interest in single serving friendship and relish the time to enjoy a book uninterrupted except to be provided refreshment. Far too often I take my seat, open my book, and have the aforementioned idiot plop down beside me. I make it a point to never look up or over, although I am very aware that this person brought no book, iPod, or laptop and immediately begins the anxious ‘how am I going to kill these 5 hours’ look around. I don’t care for that look at all because it always means that he feels helping him pass that time is my job. After quickly pawing through the Sky Mall catalog and finding a genuine Hammacher Schlemmer home suit martinizer is too rich for his blood, the first question comes and I bristle. When younger and less jaded, I allowed myself to be pulled into these tedious conversations, but older and cagier, I have learned to avoid. I now wear earphones even if not listening to anything for the sake of making a great show of removing them, asking to have the question repeated, give a one word answer and immediately don them again. Even the most bored prick gives up after 4 or 5 iterations.

Then there are people with their damn carry-on bags. Every flight has at least one fucker who manages to sneak their giant bag on to the plane bypassing the ‘green tag’ planeside directions, then blocks the aisle at seat row 8 trying to wrestle it into the far too small overhead compartment. My only delight is seeing their face when the stewardess finally notices and confiscates it. If I’m really lucky they forgot to take out their on board entertainment and are not sitting next to me. Then there those with reasonable size bags but lacking the energy to drag them all the way to the back where they are sitting, effectively screwing the person occupying that row, who is often me. These same inconsiderate slobs then spend the first half hour of each flight poking through all the overhead bins trying to remember where they stashed it to get their M&Ms. I curse them as my feet cramp, jammed up against the laptop bag under the seat in front of me. Finally, people who are perfectly fit, not disabled or decrepit with age, who take a damn year to get their shit and get off the plane already. You know who you are and I pray next time you go to the lav you get trapped for a half hour behind the slow moving drink cart.

The last group I’m going to drone on about is troublesome because I fit very clearly within it. Yes, like all those waitress/ actresses I’d love to call myself a corporate douche/ writer, but who are we kidding. I am a corporate douche, one of a group of people I firmly hate. My actual title is not in fact, ‘corporate douche’ though I’m sure that exact wording appears somewhere in my resume. It is Program Manager, and as such I must model that perceived image with every breath.

What really pisses me off about corporate douches like me is the necessity of peppering every sentence with meaningless jargon we all recognize and no one can clearly define. “Well Roger, that sounds like an actionable plan, but is the additional step really value added? We need to grab the low hanging fruit here, think outside the box and do a risk mitigation analysis. Once we get this vetted through John, I’d say we need to do a baseline kickoff and get some six sigma analyses done. Why don’t you set up a meeting, but before Wednesday when I’ll be out of pocket.”

These are all sentences similar to or exactly like those I utter every hour of every day as do those around me at my “level”. I have no idea if ‘actionable’ is even a word, if I would know ‘value added’ if it crawled out of my ass, what makes something ‘low hanging fruit’, why we can’t use what is already inside the box and everyone understands already, if ‘mitigation’ is anything like ‘migration’, how to ‘vette’ something other than hit it with a Corvette, what six sigma is other than six sorority girls, and why I must use cutesy terms to say I’m too busy to deal with you that day. God, we are such pompous assholes!

What is even worse is when you forget and talk like that in front of your staff. It’s like swearing in front of small children; they immediately pick up on it and mimic it back to you, trying to relate to you on your level. You get it, but it’s so unappealing. You don’t have to sound like that! Go, be young, stick to the engineering technical stuff while you still can! I swear to all that is holy, if I hear ‘ODC run rate’ come out of your mouth one more time, you are getting locked in the lab for a week! Trust me, you don’t want to be like me. I asked my former boss what ‘direct cost allocations’ were and next thing I knew I was stuck in endless meetings looking at ‘return on sales’ metrics.

The only advantage of being part of a group you so actively hate is that you can finally get a little physical revenge in. Sometimes after meeting at which I subject my peers to slide after slide of charts and graphs that apparently indicate how we are doing with respect to what, I roughly push myself into my office and shut the door. All right douche, this is for explaining ‘run rate variance’ for 12 minutes! Whump! My stomach convulses with the blow and I’m down. And here is the ‘return to green’ plan you made up on the fly and is going to cause everyone extra effort and not even work! Gah! My calf muscle spasms with the kick from my right foot. In a few moments I reduce myself to a quivering pile, but the rage has calmed back down to an even simmer; enough to crawl back to my computer and generate a status report or two. Corporate douches man, you have to hate them.

Oh, and there are others, trust me, and perhaps one day I will write about them as well. So, all you truck drivers, Amish, carpet salesmen, celebrity bloggers, people who stand in your office when you are trying to eat soup for lunch, comic shop customers, Wal-mart cashiers, female assembly workers in their 50’s, breakfast eaters who make that loud smacking sound with their mouths, skinny jeans wearers, lighthouse keepers other than Lampy from ‘Pete’s Dragon’, and gamer geeks… your time is a coming too.

A Little Pissed

            I’d like to take the opportunity to share with you, my fine and constant reader who checks this blog out now once in a blue moon, one of my more harrowing work related experiences. You have been regaled to some degree about my glamorous international travel experiences from my field engineer days, so I’m going to leave off on that for now and go in another direction. I understand this is likely to leave you sniffing around about your bottom like a dog after you hide the ball, but we all understand there was little chance of that not happening anyway. Now that we are done with our customary into tête-à-tête, I can launch into the story of the PMR.

                PMR stands for program management review which consists, theoretically, of a quarterly meeting of the minds between a contractor and customer to exchange viewpoints, engage in lively discussions and reach consensus on what is going to be best for everyone. I imagine something like this has probably occurred at some point in the distant past, but I certainly have not been part of it. I’m going to be somewhat vague when it comes to company and program names, the personalities involved and whatnot because I have come to realize that the less attention received from this jaunty group of people the better.

                I started working on this particular program back in January of 2007 and even then when the first article had just been delivered there were already some articles of controversy. Actually said articles existed for years before all through development as the approach taken was new and original, something government functionaries tend to despise. Powerful detractors were in the midst from the get go attempting to spread poison and discord; Machiavellian attempts to get the project shit canned well before it reached the point of no return. We were the rebels fighting the empire of bloated government spending. I had no idea when I stepped into it.

                For those who don’t know me better, I have had a lifelong deep seated fear of having to get up and speak in front of people. Big deal, most people have that, but mine was a tad worse than most. Through my entire academic career, kindergarten through college graduation, I never once volunteered and answer or option to anything. Not once. Never raised the hand. Don’t even know what it feels like. If a teacher was determined to reduce me to a sweat covered, red faced stammering fool, all they needed to do was to call on me. Some were more sadistic than most.

                In spite of all this, I signed up for the MBA program at UB in order to further my education. I came to realize early on that presentations to the class were to be expected. Group ones as well as individual. I didn’t care to hear that at all but fortunately my competitive nature would not let me drop the program. For group projects it was easy. I was the guy who would write the whole paper so long as other people got up and did the presentation. If it was required that everyone get up there, I campaigned for and won the shortest segment. It was horrible, even though the class at large was sleepy and clearly uninterested in the trials and tribulations of the American Connector company. Eyes were far more on iPod and Crackberry’s than on me, but still, you couldn’t get me out of there fast enough. Oh, how Iittle I knew how hard it could truly be.

                The first I became aware of such things as PMRs I was one fine morning in May after I came into work. It was 5 months after I took the job and was still getting my feet wet. The phone rang and it was Mike, the business unit executive my program fell under.

“Yeah, Mike we are having the PMR over here at the other building and these guys want to talk about the support portion. Can you come on over?”

“Uh…. what? I didn’t prepare anything or anything.”

“That’s fine, that’s fine. Just print out some copies of that spreadsheet you keep and c’mon over. They just want to talk. It’ll be good. It’ll be good. But just so you know, they are a little pissed.”

                I printed out about 5 copies of my failure summary spreadsheet and made my way over to the other building. I came into the conference room where the meet and greets were still taking place. Just fucking great. The one day I didn’t think I had any meetings and came in casual in jeans and an old sweater, and now pulled into a room of about 60 people all in suits. A big believer of “dress better than the other guy in business situations”, I felt at an immediate disadvantage. Perhaps I just received at call from the wife that the sump pump was acting up again and I had to rush out. Before I could formulate the thought, Mike spied me and a flurry of introductions was made. I failed to retain a single name or title.

                I sat through the morning presentation feeling conspicuously out of place; the red dot on the cashmere sweater. I was an unknown to this group and I could tell they regarded me with suspicion. I was hoping that no one was really going to want to ask me anything and hoped for the best.

“Well, that about wraps up the production notes. Got Mike here from product support to field any questions you might have, so we’ll have him meet with anyone interested over in the side meeting room.”

                I was immediately grateful not to have to get up in front of the assemblage. I made my way into the side room and sat down at the table, my scraps of paper in front of me, ready to receive any interested parties. To my dismay about 40 people filed into the room. Additional tables were pulled over to adjoin the small one I sat at. Everyone sat down from the highest program manager on the government side to Air Force system users. All eyes turned to me expectantly; suddenly chair of a sizable meeting.

“Uh… I think we need more copies.”

                I was unable to use this as an excuse to break free as an admin suddenly appeared as if from nowhere, took one of my 5 copies and trundled off to make more. I was forced to get started with about 10 people to a copy as I stammered through the first of the issues. I immediately ran into trouble. One of the site representatives, a mid level functionary, whose team my team had been working with on a particular issue suddenly made the declaration that they were dead in the water waiting for us to get back to them with answers. The 80 eyes already on me narrowed as if to say, “Contractor slime, we know your game.” My sweating increased exponentially.

                The truth of the matter was that my team had been hounding his people mercilessly attempting to get the issues cleared. I declared I had email proof of this – proof! – but my word was disavowed. I was simply a weasel trying to slip free the stern hand of government vigilance. After the meeting, by the way, I forwarded every single one of the aforementioned emails to everyone present, but the effect was lost. “Oh sorry, I guess you were right” was the only response from this finger pointing bastard. The remainder of the meeting was similar. I turned at times to Joe, the big production program manager, but my silent entreaties to be rescued were met with silence.  At the end I slunk away with onerous action items and the credibility of a ring tailed lemur caught in a bear trap; questionable that I should even be there and assuredly screwed.

                I managed to turn thing around in the following months and fall finally came. I had established a rapport with the site users but still communicated little with the program office who actually had the power to make me miserable. Executive Mike called me into his office on fine October day.

“Yeah, the next PMR is coming up in 2 weeks and they said they want you there.”

                This was unwelcome news to say the least. This PMR was being held at the home base of the program office on the government side. Their pond in the mountains. It so happened that a large project for school was due at the same time and I attempted to utilize this as an excuse. No dice. I was coming along, hell or high water, and this time I was expected to make a formal presentation. Don’t bother coming for the production day Mike told me, just fly in for your part the following day.

                I did as I was told and flew out; arriving in the early afternoon at the same time Mike and Joe were having their asses handed to them. I arrived, but naturally my luggage did not, and yes, it contained the only suit I owned. I badgered the airlines but they refused to commit. Maybe today, maybe tomorrow, maybe never, who really knows? Oh, how I hate them. Dinner time rolled around and I finally broke down to locate a mall where I could purchase what I needed. Mike called to invite me to dinner with the rest of the crew, but I had to beg off. Too bad, he told me, important information to share, but meet for breakfast. I just purchased a suit, a shirt, new belt, new shoes, socks, and a new tie when Delta rang me up with the excellent news that my bag was sitting at the airport. I went to bed, my nerves shot already.

“Don’t worry; they’re just a little pissed.”

                Mike’s calm demeanor at breakfast did little to quell my nerves. My stomach roiled and the watery scrambled eggs didn’t help much.

“Wait, what?”

“They are a little pissed. Joe is behind on production and they really don’t like the number of field failures they have experienced, so be ready for that. Let’s see your slides. … Hm… Oh, I wouldn’t tell them that; then they would be really pissed.”

                This was really not the sort of thing I wanted to hear. There was nothing I could do to change the slides as my presentation was already loaded in the computer on base.

“Just try and talk around it. Don’t worry, Joe and I will be there.”

                We got to the meeting location and my sense of panic began to grow. About 60 people milling about, most of who had names I had forgotten. All eyes facing front where a large dais with a microphone. No podium to hide behind. Big screen behind, positioned just so that no matter where you stood, someone in the audience would be doing that head craning thing to try and look around you even though they have a paper copy in front of them. We received the agenda and I was pleased that nothing had changed. I would be going after lunch giving me enough time to look over my slides again so I wouldn’t appear too much the fool.

                The morning presentation went much faster than scheduled. I keep peering at my watch, willing the hand to move faster or for some long winded questions pop up in order to stall things just until lunch. Please God just give me until lunch!

“We seem to be ahead of schedule so why don’t we get started with Mike’s portion before we break for lunch.”

                Crap! Visibly shaking, I got up and made my way to the front. I next spent a very awkward and uncomfortable five minutes in front of everyone trying to figure out how to work the damn microphone until someone finally came up, wrestled it out of my hands and flicked it on with an expert snap of the thumb leaving me to look like the inept boob I felt like. In movies this would have been the time when the microphone would have screeched as I attempted introduction, thus breaking the tension and letting me giggle nervously. No such luck. Instead I led off with what I thought was a fairly humorous little joke, or pun if you will, that failed to garner even a chuckle.

                I looked through the faces in the crowd. Everyone from my side of the house was busy buried in their Crackberry’s, blithely typing away with their thumbs as I faced the slow death. As for the customer, a panoply of looks. Bored. Disinterested. Incredulous. Skeptical. Hostile! Angry! … Furious! I had no idea how to feel about that. No one ever looked angry as I stumbled through a presentation about how NASA stores old data. Never once did anyone look furious when I explained in great detail how soy farmers in India were using computers to check the weather. This was not good. I hadn’t even begun and I managed to not only soak through the pits of my undershirt, but the shirt itself and my coat.

                As with any public performance it always is easier once you get going and can lose focus on where you are. Not this time! Every piece of data I presented was cross examined as if by those old timey lawyers you see legal classics like ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, ‘Inherit the Wind’ or ‘My Cousin Vinnie’.

“Well sir, I suppose you can tell me HOW a system that YOU report is meeting the contractually mandated mean time between failures specifications can POSSIBLY have experienced the event by which you describe? Sir that is ONE magic event!”

“Uh. What is the specification again?”

“Unacceptable!”

                They let nothing go, tearing into every disputable factoid with the zeal of a seagull on your unattended fries at Old Man River. These were the best experts the government had on twisting logic, verbal entrapment, cross examination and contractor doublespeak. At one point I somehow got pulled down a path where instead of charging them for something they would normally pay for, my company ended up agreeing to foot the bill. Joe looked up from his Crackberry just long enough to shoot me a glance and an eye roll that said, “You stepped in it good there, stupid.”

                We broke for lunch midway though so that I would be able to eat my chicken sandwich in total abject terror for the interrogation to begin again after lunch.

“Mike, I’m dying up there!”

“Nah, you’re doing fine. They’re just a little pissed and you are an easy target.”

                I felt a tiny bit better, but not really.

“What about that bit about us taking responsibility for all those repair costs. Isn’t our president going to be upset about that?

“Yeah, he’ll be pissed.”

                After lunch was more of the same, but it finally came to an end. I returned to my seat exhausted and full of strong intentions to update my resume. I made it though; the world didn’t come to an end, though once again I was saddled with dozens of onerous action items to report on at the next PMR coming round the mountain in February.

                Flash forward to now. Making travel plans to go out there again for PMR #10. This customer and I have gotten to know each other very well over the past few years and have a well defined relationship where I help them and get blamed for everything, but things are much more congenial for the most part. And yes, they are still a little pissed.

October Surprise!

            Every locale I have ever been do has a pithy homespun sounding saying regarding the local weather, “if you don’t like the weather in, I don’t know, Buttfuck MD, wait ten minutes!”. This is usually espoused by some old bastard who probably thinks he coined it. This is especially true here in Buffalo where the old Polish woman down the block, whatever block you happen to be on, will lob that old chestnut out following a, “was it you who ordered all this hot weather?” and perhaps an f-bomb or two. This isn’t Jersey, so we generally smile weakly and try to get away before being engaged in more inane conversation. Be that as it may, the saying is sometimes, or at least once, true.

            It was Thursday, October 12th 2006, and there arose some cries of surprise when a co-worker looked out the window and drew everyone’s attention to the fact that big wet flurries were coming down. I was immediately agitated by this for a number of reasons. For one, the morning had been unusually warm at the tail end of the Indian summer and I did not bring a jacket. Second, I had not yet armed my vehicle with the usual winter accoutrements meaning I’d have to clean off my windshield with my bare arm if this shit actually stuck. Finally, ever since my wife relocated here I’ve heard nothing but griping about the constant winter snowfall, that I still maintain is really contained between late December to early March, from the onset of fall until close to the 4th of July. This certainly didn’t help my case! I knew as well that my in-laws would sit back and say, “ah, typical Buffalo!” as they liked to express skepticism when calling mid August and being told that not only were we snow free, but roasting.

            I was annoyed to see it not only was sticking, but coming down harder by the time I decided to go home. As I feared I was stuck clearing the heavy fall with my arm. I made a slow way home and when coming down my street noticed that something about my property looked… off. Just not right. I couldn’t pin it down right away. Got it. I was reasonably sure I had not left the gigantic tree in the front leaning down upon the house when I left that morning! Well, this certainly wasn’t good. Not possessing a degree in architecture or anything useful, I had no idea if the weight of the humongous snow covered tree was enough to cause the house to collapse, so I decided to go in and make some phone calls, but smartly leaving my car back at the end of the driveway.

            I got a hold of Molly and suggested she might come home early from her internship and wisely left out any concerns of structural collapse. We did some calling around to see if we could find a tree guy willing to come out that day and ended up booking 4 different ones and figuring we would go with whoever came first. At the time, the whole issue seemed be really nothing more than a minor annoyance. Dave the tree guy came a couple hours later, and by that time the tree had leaned into the house even more and a few branches had broken off. The snow never abated. I took the precaution of parking both cars in the circle of the cul-de-sac where they would be mired in for several days more. Dave put my fears to rest and let me know that the house would hold up the tree nicely, and that if it did decide to uproot completely and fall, it would smash up our neighbor Wendy’s immaculately kept property. He’d come by in the morning to take it down and we decided to have an evening in.HPIM0179

            That evening, as anyone who experienced it, was surreal. We sat on the couch watching TV and listened to the gunshot cracking sounds of branches breaking and the reverberating thud as they hit the ground. We worried of the power going out, but figured it would have already if it was going to. Ha! Optimistic fools. Lightning flashed and the sky had a weird green glow to it. Molly worried of disaster but I found the whole experience kind of cool. Very apocalyptic and exciting; something different for a dreary October day. Around three o’clock in the morning we were awoken to the sound of the power going out. We went back to sleep, confident it would be back in the morning. Our 8 days of darkness had begun.

            We woke from daylight in a silent house, growing steadily chillier without the electric life that was usually breathed into it. The view out the front was almost overwhelming as we could not actually tell what we were looking at. It was an unbroken sea of snow, leaves, and wood at all angles making it impossible to get true perspective. Out the back we could at least tell that it was indeed our yard, but it as well had become a cacophony of branches and snow heaped together as if by the tirade of a mad god. There sure was going to be a lot of cleaning up to do! To our delight, we found the land line still worked and I set about making some phone calls. My first call to National Grid drained us of hope although we received nothing but lies. Our area was not expected to be back up until the following day! My mother lacked power as well, but my sister was still on the grid so we pumped her for news. Hundreds of thousands powerless! Worst natural disaster in WNY history! Abundant use of exclamation points! It was worse than we thought.View out Front Door 101306

            A few things were readily apparent. One, we had to come to terms with the fact that we would go the day and night with no power and must compensate. There was a possibility that tree Dave would not be coming by as not only was our street absolutely impassable, but Harlem road as well. No entry or exit, we were housebound as when they had that blizzard on Little House on the Prairie where Paw almost froze his ass to death on some fool errand. Third, my irritation with the fact that we had an electric stove increased exponentially. Lack of hot comfort food on a shit day is indeed a foul thing, especially after choking down a cold lox sandwich for breakfast; oily chilled fish on untoasted rolls being less appetizing when shivering than even expected. I made instant coffee with hot water from the tap and grimaced at every sip. Yard on 101306

            We spent the morning and part of the afternoon outdoors in the yard with the mistaken notion that we would have things cleaned up in no time. I with my bow saw and Maw with her loppers, we broke down and stacked an impressive 4 large branches that day accounting for a total of 0.3% of those fallen. I campaigned to buy a chainsaw when access to the open road was restored. It was foul sweaty work, rewarded with having to strip off soaked clothing in a cold house before jumping in the shower. Thankfully the hot water heater was gas powered! At lunch I remembered the grill and we dined on the first of many hamburger meals to make use of the huge amount of ground beef we had for some reason. The first was like heaven; the rest, not so much so.

            We felt completely cut off from the rest of the world. The fact that I avoid the neighbors, plus being the ‘that guy’ on the block what with my hole digging and front lawn vegetable garden, we didn’t feel the neighborhood solidarity as others seemed to be experiencing, although one kind woman gave us firewood, whom I still owe. No TV, no internet, just land line reports from Laura or the Jersey folk telling us how much worse the situation was than everyone thought. We wouldn’t hear it – the recorded message on the NaGrid line said we’d be back up tomorrow dammit, and since they never made another update, we could only assume it was gospel.

            As the day drew on the last remnants of heat left over vacated, I decided to make use of the glorious fireplace and heat the place up a bit. The one bit of fortune we had was that the nature of the problem provided as much fuel as one could shake a stick at, even if it was green wood and a good recipe for a chimney fire. Being without TV the first night was a nice experience. Molly tried to teach me how to play the piano and we finally settled into a long Boggle tournament by firelight. Little did we know that the tournament was to last the better part of a week and that I would not, even once, ever win a round despite my English background. My requests to sprinkle a few Trivial Pursuit games in the mix to liven things up were denied.

            Saturday morning came and we tried the tree service again now that it looked like the roads were finally clearing some. According to the receptionist, Tree Dave was AWOL and we may or may not see him. This was depressing and we beat the walls in anguish. We geared up for another day of darkness, cold, and expending massive amounts of energy to clear pathetically small patches of the back lawn while subsisting on tired old burgers and cold fare. Suddenly Molly called from the living room, “Something is happening! Something is happening!” A bucket truck had pulled up in front of the house. It was Dave, come through after all and accompanied by a grown up version of Scut Farkus from ‘Christmas Story’.

            Scut took to taking down our tree almost immediately and had the distinction of being the first and only decent contractor we encountered in the ensuing debacle, as well as one of the most unconventional. While Molly and I chopped away in the back, Scut swung his mighty chainsaw around, lopping tree limbs with a cigarette hanging from his lips and a beer in his free hand. Although I was fairly certain there were OSHA regulations of some sort against that kind of thing, I wasn’t about to say anything. He observed my pathetic sawing and when he took a break to go eat a sandwich and drink more beer, he loaned me his chainsaw with an admonition not to hit the dirt, without ever asking if I knew how to use it, which I did not.HPIM0254

            Later that afternoon, after clearing several more branches with Scut’s chainsaw before he had consumed enough beer to want it back, I was able to make it off the block for the first time. Armed with a clear order to bring back hot food, I ventured out. I found the Mickey D’s closest to us still powerless, as was Jubilee which is too shitty a store to carry hot food anyway. Making my way up Kensington into Williamsville, I encountered my first area where power was restored and pulled into the McDonald’s parking lot along with 100 other powerless people with a yen for a Big Mac. An hour later I returned home victorious with hot burgers and super salty fries. The taste of heaven, though I didn’t know it would be our standard fare for a full week on.House on 101506

            I’m going to decline going into the painful detail of each and every day, except to hit some highlights regarding how bad it sucked. Daytime wasn’t so bad. We had daylight, the house didn’t seem as cold, and for the most part I was trying to spend as much time at work as possible. Night time, however, blew monkey balls. We tried to spend as much time at Laura’s watching her precious TV, even though my brother-in-law usually had some tedious game on, but having to come home after made it almost not worth it. Nothing like leaving the light of civilization to turn down a dark and lifeless street resplendent with shattered corpses of the once fine trees that sold us on the street to begin with. Entering the front door, we would arm ourselves with flashlights and make our way though the frigid environs, change in the cold, and spark a fire to get just a smidgen of heat.

            The silence was broken only by the crackling of the damn fire that always needed tending, the roll of the fucking Boggle cube, and the tell tale hum of the lucky bastards peppered about the area with generators. One night when going to bed I made the galactically stupid mistake of drawing my wife’s attention to a noise in the room (she had been wearing ear plugs and took them out for this) and suggested that it might be a bug. This resulted in a protracted hunt by flashlight in a large messy room for something I had zero chance of finding. Good times, good times.

            Depression began to settle in as friends and co-workers got their power back while we continued to sit in darkness while Buffalo resumed normalcy for the most part. It began to look as if the situation were permanent, that Snyder was being consigned to a green initiative and reverting back to the… well, I guess the Victorian or maybe Edwardian age. The numbers without power dwindled from the hundreds of thousands, to tens of thousands, to simply the thousands. We began to expect to see our house alone displayed on the NaGrid website as the last pocket of Suckstobeyouville.  Then along came Dick. Wondrous Dick! Spewing with kindness Dick! Stop that; that isn’t how I mean it. Dick, a co-worker of mine, announced to me on the Wed morning after the storm that he knew of a generator we could borrow.

            I took off early from work that day and got the thing wired up. My first obstacle was that my damn drill lost its juice, so I was forced to fire up the generator and use it to charge the battery. The genny was a small model capable of putting out just a few amps and needed to be refilled every hour, but during that hour it was able to power the furnace, the sump, one lamp and the TV. Oh how sweet life was again! For the first time in a week we had both true warmth and the awesome glow of the ‘King of Queens’ big fat ass to delight us. The downside of course was that every hour I had to slog out into the rain and slush and refill the damn thing, but by the time we were ready to go to bed the house was toasty and we absorbed enough brain killing programming to lull us into complacency once again.

            Finally, late afternoon on the 8th day, I was in the downstairs bathroom getting my pee on when a miracle occurred. With a resounding thunk and chirp the house roared to life again. Lights came on; as did everything we had left on the week before. Glorious! The initial pain was over, and it was time to face the real music and deal with insurance agents and contractors. Little did we know we would be looking back on the days of darkness with true nostalgia.

            Under the reveling light of best possible kind, humming florescent, it was fairly evident that we would need to file an insurance claim and get a hold of some contractors. Our main roof was battered, the flat roof was punctured and the library beneath said flat roof was inundated with lots of moisture. Now we had planned to get the roof done anyway, but we kept that little nugget from the claims adjuster and let him think the storm was the reason it looked so old and shitty. By the way, State Farm… booya! They managed to find things to cover we didn’t even think of, and believe me, I itemized every little thing that could be linked to the storm by even the flimsiest of associations. This guy bought all that and a whole lot more! It was also the very last time I managed to gain any type of satisfaction in dealing with someone regarding this.

            First order of business was the roof. We had planned on getting it done anyway and had already contracted with the fabulous G Brothers. We went with these blokes who still humped around old timey wooden ladders because not only did they promise to do the roof, but that they could also drop in the solar tubes I bought and install an exhaust fan in the downstairs bathroom, all for only $200 more for the follow on items. A steal! They did quick work on the roof, showed up on time, and managed to raise the price after pulling the old, “Gee, I never saw anything like this before!” schtick regarding the flat roof. Like these assholes in business for 30 years could possibly be surprised by the way some other asshole slapped tar and shingles down in such a way as to warrant an extra days work. Fuckers.

            They finished the roof and immediately began badgering me for payment prior to performing the other two tasks. We withheld, but mainly because the bank was slow to release our funds. They finally showed up to do the tubes, spent an hour hemming and hawing before finally admitting they didn’t know how. The badgering began again and I badgered back about the fan. Their electrician showed up, took a quick look, pronounced the job impossible and left. They finally knocked the $200 off the final price (after raising it $300 for the flat roof) and I settled up. Since that time we have experienced 3 separate leaks in the flat roof, left dozens of messages, and have yet to see them return and honor their 10 year warranty.

            Worse was the crew we hired to do the library. The main outfit seemed to be pretty good at first. They swept in, got everything dried up, then left for several months. In the intervening time we got Slappy the carpenter and his crew of boneheads whom the main outfit contracted to do the actual repair work. Slappy was a real piece of work. Unreliable, slow, and overly reliant on scrounging what he needed from homeowners. Seriously, his first day in he asked to borrow both a hammer and a drop cloth. What kind of goddam carpenter doesn’t have a hammer? Another day I came come to find his crew found, used, broke and then hid my shop vac; another item I would think the idiot would have had. On top of it all, he had one needy schmuck working for him who drove us crazy. Every few minutes he needed something and would appear, looking sheepish, in the living room with another story. “Uh.. Mr. Wolf… I uh, cut myself. Do you have Band-Aids?” or  “Uh… Mrs. Wolf… Um.. can I  uh go to the bathroom?” It never ended with this dill hole. On top of it all, his work was shoddy. On the very last day he came in to replace the two strips of wood between the windows and used different type and color wood and didn’t understand why we had a problem.

            I got a little bit of payback on Slappy when he began harassing me for his money. He was so bold as to call me up and actually threatened to put a lien on my house if he didn’t get paid right away. My response, go ahead and try! I explain the most basic element of how contracts work with this fool who claimed to have been a contractor for decades. Basically, I didn’t have a contract with him, I had one with the drying company who subcontracted him, so really didn’t give a toss if he got paid or not. I only had to pay the drying company, who as near as I could figure, disappeared completely without ever billing me. Oh, the satisfaction of watching him slink away.

            The drying company finally came back in March, finished what they needed to do, and I settled up with them. Apparently they were also tired of Mr. Slappy and his shaggy horde of miscreants.

            The day finally came when there was just one last thing to take care of. Replacing the rug in the library, back hall, and we thought of doing the bathroom as well. We did some shopping around and considered doing the Kenny, Kenny carpet. We walked in and could not get anyone to talk to us, so we walked out and down the street to the venerable Max Pies where we were accosted by their sales douche Mike. A little more savvy in our negotiation skills by now, we wheeled and dealed, dropped a bogus quote from Kenny, and came down to a mutually agreeable price with Mike, or so we thought. Later that evening, we decided we didn’t want to do the bathroom at that time after all, so called Mike and asked for the price with the bathroom taken out and received an answer we could live with.

            Two weeks later the carpet people came on by and I had the old carpet ripped up as per the agreement to save on cost. Consummate professionals, they set to work, but sought me out after a bit. Here is what they showed me. Library, carpeted. Back hall, carpeted. Hallway between library and back hall… bare floor. Dude, they didn’t give us enough carpet to finish the job. I assumed there was an error and called up Max Pies and sought out Mike. This fine piece of work went on the defensive before I even opened my mouth. “You said you didn’t want to do the bathroom!” he whined at me, followed by a quote for $200 to finish up. I had had never done so before on a phone call, nor have I since, but I exploded.

            Ol’ Mike there was chock full of the flimsiest excuses I have heard. First it was that ‘I wanted it that way’, which didn’t hold up because what kind of frigging idiot wants two carpeted areas with a nice hall of dirty plywood connecting them? Second it was that in the carpeting world, that hall way was considered “part of the bathroom” and I should have known that. I got the installer, who was uncomfortably standing right there and asked if that was part of the fucking bathroom and got him to admit that made no sense. Finally, his excuse was that I “beat him up on price”. Don’t sell it to me for that then! I cried deliberate low balling, bad faith, breach, and every other pseudo-legal term I could think of and demanded the number for Max Pie himself. Mike blustered and desperately tried to avoid giving it to me, but I won the day.

            I called Max, who doesn’t actually exist, or whatever the owner’s name is and left a very polite, but quite blistering critique of his salesman’s business practices on his machine. He called me back shortly and arranged to give me the remainder of the carpet needed at cost with free installation. I had the pleasure of calling Mike back to make the arrangements and got to enjoy him getting very passive aggressive until I threatened to call Mr. Pie again, after which he shut up and took the arrangements.

            The install was scheduled for two weeks thence and I had to burn another vacation day to be there. Mike, in his P/A manner, managed to corn hole me one more time and sent the installer over with a close but decidedly different pattern of carpet. I immediately left another polite, yet brutal, message with Mr. Pie, whose number I kept handy. He gave me a blustering apology and offered to have the installed come any time I wanted as to not inconvenience me further. I picked Sunday evening, just to be a dick, but we did tip the fellow well. Over 6 months after the first flake fell, we were almost back to normal, you know, aside from cleaning up the wood, replanting the front lawn, repairing the light post, taking down the awnings, and several other odd jobs, many of which remain undone to this day.

Knaus and I

            Since drafting ‘Thies and I’, it became apparent to me that some of the characters found herein and such probably require similar tales to be told. Chances are that in the collected edition, the T&I story will follow this one and thus what I am writing about probably makes no sense at all, unless you are a clever enough monkey to skip about or perused the formidable table of contents. If not, I’m certain you are already confused and having made your way this far, you might as well continue, as my words, I am certain delight to you even more than fresh cherry cobbler.

            Though it is probably of little interest to the reader, I met Knaus the same way I met Psycho, at one of the Wargames meetings. He had somehow, and without my knowledge or consent, been brought in by Louis to help ‘run the day to day operations’; something I was perfectly capable of pretending to do. Although threatened by the intrusion, I discovered early on that he was mentally in the same magnitude of bizarre that I was; something that I found strangely comforting. We also found ourselves taking the same art class in sophomore year, which is where he picked up the long discarded moniker, Mouse. As each of us took to the comic book style of art, I introduced him to Collector’s Inn, pleasing Jim to no end, as Knaus always seemed to have a wallet full of cabbage every time he walked in.

            That year I also managed to create another connection by bringing Dave to the art show where Knaus and I were showing off our wares. Within 5 minutes of meeting each other the two were wrestling like dogs in heat in the parking lot. A beautiful bromance was born, and one frankly, that I sometimes became the third wheel in. This was my first and only successful attempt at integrating groups of friends from previous periods in my life with newcomers, probably because it is usually something I try to avoid.

            The first time I stayed over at the Knauses over night, I knew I had met my match in oddness. The kitchen table was covered with newspapers, atop which were a collection of batteries in various stages of disassembly. Knaus revealed that he was performing detailed dissections on them, and although I had abandoned my childhood attempts at alchemy, I resolved to put my chemist hat back on and see what forbidden substances I could take apart at home, resulting in many burns. Knaus also revealed that day his own particular brand of logic when making scrambled eggs. I witnessed him dumping in quantities of vanilla extract into the mix, and when I pressed him on why, he stated that vanilla made things taste better, end of story. It was a principle that could simply not be argued with, though I will say they were pretty sucky eggs.

            That first sleepover was also memorable as it revealed Knaus to be as daring an intrepid explorer as I was, perhaps even more so. We decided to walk over to the old Thruway Mall from his house, taking a back channel along some old abandoned rail road tracks, something Dave and I used to do ourselves. After screwing around there for a while, we headed back utilizing a “shortcut” Knaus claimed to have intimate knowledge of. Somehow we became lost in this area, readily observable by entering these coordinates (42.904482,-78.786821) into Google Maps. This delightful looking “park” area is in truth nothing of the kind; the area is actually an industrial dumping ground amidst a swamp treacherous with piles of corroding hulks of strange machinery and murky channels of slightly frozen over sludge and water filled ditches. Did I mention it was February?

            Knaus led us deep into this wasteland with was what I feel were deliberate intentions to cause me the maximum amount of discomfort possible. We scurried around the piles, snagging our jackets and flesh on the razor sharp edges of rusty metal and frequently plunged one or both legs into one of the horrendous bogs. A mixture of snow and drizzle started to come down, further obscuring our limited view and sense of direction. For several hours we wandered, forced back to the center by the presence of trains or some insurmountable obstacle. Eventually we found our way to one of the side streets and took the by ways back, ending up in Town Park on Harlem. There we were accosted by an angry gentleman we affectionately referred to as ‘Dickhead’ afterward. With our muddy disheveled appearances he mistook us for a pair of sophisticated second story men who had been doing some breaking and entering in the local area weeks prior. We managed to convince him otherwise, but he banished us from the premises anyway.

            Despite the horrendous trip through the bog of doom, I let him convince me to accompany him through the tunnel that runs beneath the Galleria mall shortly after it was built. We began the journey in the mall proper and had Jeff along in tow. We got some cheap flash lights at the Dollar Tree, the kind that you have to hold down the button to keep lit, and ventured to the start of the tunnel, resembling old timey Roman catacombs. Jeff freaked within the first few feet and pledged to meet us, if we emerged alive, around the other side. Creepy does not begin to describe it. Pitch black, sterile, with a slow creek running through. At some points you could look up through a grate and see the happy shoppers walking above in a very different world. Near the end we found a side tunnel and began to venture down. An indescribably horrific noise, however, led us to believe a cult of Satanists was looking for fresh sacrifices, so we bolted out of there post haste.

            We managed to maintain a tight friendship through high school even to the point where I hooked him up with my cousin Ann for the senior prom. He was actually supposed to return the favor hooking me up with his cousin Lin, but fate intervened and I ended up going with Ende’s girlfriend’s friend instead. Before high school ended and after we both got accepted to UB, we made arrangements to become dorm mates the following fall; a service UB was willing to provide as roommates with prior friendships were less likely to cause administrative headaches by requesting room changes mid-semester. We were assigned to Schoellkopf hall on the South Campus on the fourth floor reserved exclusively for freshmen men. Not an ideal choice by any means, but it was a start.

            Our living arrangement was an interesting one, defined by the contract we drew up on the first day that allowed for privacy with female visitors (never required) and the settling of disputes on the field of honor. The field of course turned out to be whatever manner Knaus chose to enact his insidious revenge. In order to shield myself from him better, I constructed an enormous wall from the top of my desk, almost to the ceiling that I referred to as my ‘fire hazard’ as it consisted of mostly paper. Knaus respected the wall to a minor degree, though would often tear pages out of the phone book to turn into paper airplanes and launch them over in miniature raids. Fortunately for me, he had not yet stumbled on the notion of lighting them afire just yet.

            At least once a week we would trundle down to Shirley’s O’Aces, with or without the Irish Club, and stumble back in the wee hours of the morning. It was a grand tradition that later moved to Anacone’s but always followed the same pattern of cheap beer, some sort of bar food, and a traditional playing of William Joel’s classic, ‘Only the Good Die Young’ on the juke. On the walks back we would wax into bizarre conversations, such as what we would do if we stumbled upon a patch of decapitated heads on stakes. Knaus, I recall, immediately concluded that he would take as many of them home as he could carry. Hmm… it occurs to me that this post, as well as some of the others, will probably be deposed as evidence against the defence argument that he is sweet and silent as a lamby-pie.

            As a gift that year, Knaus procured for me a small collection of mice, one male and two females. By April the collection had grown to 42 mice and stunk up the room with great aplomb and all too frequent defecation. One weekend, when we least expected it; they made a bid for freedom. I came back to the room Sunday night and immediately noticed something different. The large tank I kept them in now sported a hole where there had been none before and no mice where there had been 42 before. Looking over at my desk I bore witness to the one named ‘Stripe’ after the Gremlin’s character dive into the moldering water in my hot pot, swim across, and jump out the other side slick with putrid grease. Furious, I called Knaus’s house to get him to come help round them up, but no one picked up. By the time he returned that evening at 11, I was sweaty, disheveled and had managed to recapture 3 of the slowest; the rest defeating my best efforts with ridiculous ease.

            Knaus did manage to help me capture the rest in a comedic run about, John Hughes style, with head clonking, crashing falls, frequent collisions, and all manner of events that would indicate the mice were far cleverer than we. At the end it was Knaus and I against Stripe, the lone hold out, and we were hopelessly outgunned and maneuvered. At some point the little bastard made it into the hall and we happily bid good riddance, but he made a surprise return a millisecond before we shut the door. Finally, improbably, Knaus got the mouse and a day later the lot was taken to a pet store with the most likely final destination in a large reptile of some sort.

            Knaus at this point, and for years on forward, became the prime initiator of trips down to Alleghany to get lost, camp, or make every attempt to get injured in course of photographing wildlife and wee pretty flowers. Most of these trips simply involved a lot of hiking, though there were several traditions that had to be met each trip. One was a visit to Thunder Rocks where we would climb around and scale the impressive boulders. Second was the trip to the legendary beaver damn, the jumping off point where we all got lost that epic journey recounted in ‘How I Became a Horseman’. If this chapter precedes that, well, tough luck. Finally, no trip was complete without a stogie enjoyed usually on the trail leading down from Thunder Rocks to the stream that led to the dam. Due to our impoverished condition, these were usually Dutch Masters, but on one occasion toward the end, we enjoyed authentic Cubans.

            Despite the abuse suffered at his malicious hands, and in spite of the fact that he took to calling himself Malfeus for some reason, we decided to room together the following year rather than take chances on a devil unknown. Common adventures shared between all the roommates in that situation are recounted far too often elsewhere, so I will concentrate on a few items unique to point of this post. While it didn’t trouble us in the past, at least not me anyway, a point of contention came up regarding both my habit of snoring loudly and engaging in distracting sleep talking that made little to no sense. These things enraged Knaus and from time to time I would awaken to see him standing over me gritting his teeth in fury. At site to keep you awake at night assuredly.

On several occasions I did some sleep walking as well, always to his inconvenience. One happy night he was treated to being awakened by me piling the contents of his desk on his sleeping head as “they were about to start air brushing”. Another night I somehow found myself in the hall way, locked out, necessitating a furious pounding on the door until he unhappily let me in. His remedy was to play the same Nine Inch Nails CD on auto repeat each and every night; a condition that kept me from ever really falling asleep soundly and led to many missed classes after sleeping through them on the 5th floor of Lockwood.

Knaus also had an excellent habit of distracting me from schoolwork; something I heartily embraced. He’d look over at me from his desk, exclaim, “I have waaaay too much work to do”, then pull out the latest issue of ‘The Mask’ and commence to reading. This always resulting in me aping his behavior as Matter Eater Lad was far more engaging than BF Skinner. He also had a way of dragging me out to Anacone’s and such on nights before an early morning class. Always with the one-upmanship, if I had an important lecture, he would claim a critical final. He probably did as it was shortly after this that it was strongly suggested he change majors from aerospace engineering to something more his speed like basket weaving or photography.

Knowledge of fine and classical music was an area in which Knaus felt I was severely lacking and attempted to educate me in. Prior to knowing him, I was completely unaware of the iconic 90’s superstar band Transvision Vamp and how they rocked the air waves with such classics as Trash City. We had the opportunity to see them in concert once and to this day I contend that lead singer Wendy James was looking me dead on with the hairy eyeball, such was my magnetic presence in the crowd. I also learned of other enduring legends such as Savatage, Shriekback, and was treated often to the cat like wailings of a post-Blondie Debbie Harry. I’m sure it was musical ignorance that I often sought out knitting needles to end the agony.

When we finally all moved to Comstock, Knaus took on a more reclusive role especially once Aaron and I began our reindeer games and intimidation campaign. Still, on occasion, he would emerge from his oft locked sanctuary and announce he was on a quest for alcohol and trundle down to Anacone’s with or without anyone else in tow. Despite his apparent either shyness or unwillingness to speak in general, with a few beers in him a charismatic demagogue emerged who drew in the enfeebled masses. Often in such circumstances we would find him amidst a crowd of drooling hangers on, gulping up his every ill spoken word. If anyone thought to supply him with endless brandy the world could easily have another JFK or David Koresh, such was his inebriated cult of personality. 

In those heady days of yore he introduced us to one of my favorite summer festivals of all, Allentown. His enthusiasm for going downtown on the subway, slurping raw clams and beer, and looking at all the art we couldn’t afford was infectious! Since those days each trip back is a search to recapture the raw joy of Buffalo’s first summer festival of the season. We used to badger Knaus about entering his own photography as the camera apes down there were pulling down serious green for the same tired old shots of the Central Terminal and shit, but he was unwilling to lay down the cabbage to rent some space despite being able to command four digits a pop for abstract snaps of me eating dog food or Litter Box Jam. Even now I hope to run into him down there, but so far he has declined to compete.

As time progressed he emerged less and less unless it was to bang away on the worlds oldest word processor or not clean the cat box which had become an impressive tower of feces. Once, however, he emerged in a manner most unusual. I came home and was surprised to hear a small commotion and a female voice coming from behind Knaus’s door. As ¾ of the house, a demographic to which both Knaus and I belonged, were not currently being seen with female companionship, this stuck me odd. A bold enquiry led me to believe that Aaron and my cousin had ensconced themselves in there, apparently without Knaus’s knowledge or permission. I began to sweat at what he would do to them, or so I still contend, and when he came strolling through the side door like a thundercloud of death I gently broke the news to him in order to bear the brunt of his immediate wrath.

To my surprise he remained nonchalant about his sanctum sanctorum being so rudely violated. I could only imagine that he was saving his volcanic outburst for the soon to be damned. I threw myself in his path, but he simply stepped over me, the ashes from the cigarette dangling from his lips blinding me from making further pursuit. I managed to come up behind him just as he opened the door and prepared to bludgeon him before he could blast them with his eyes with a bolt of eldritch energy, but while I looked around for an appropriate tool, it became clear that the three of them were really in cahoots. The story, as I was led to believe, was that Knaus egged on by Aaron and Ann in their little exclusionary ka-tet, used a bed sheet tied to his handcuff ring above the bed to shimmy down the side of the house if for no other reason than to annoy me.

When the Comstock project wrapped up and Knaus moved back to his folks, much to their soul crushing dismay I’m certain, we worried he would become a fixture in our past; more of a relic than the hideous goat lamp we absconded with. In the final months we saw very little of him as he spent his time elsewhere and discouraged questions as only Knaus could. At times he would bring Malice, his familiar, along with him as they embarked on dark and mysterious deeds. Instead we were delighted to find that he now actually chose to spend more time in our vicinity, often making the long haul over to Princeton and joining us for our very frequent beer and movie nights. The newest recruits to the Whole Sick Crew, like Jenn with the tongue, Mary, Rob, Chet, and even Dave’s new interest Jennifer took a shine to him. It was the silver age of Knaus and we thought it would last forever.

When things at Princeton degenerated in the last year or so, Knaus, perhaps feeling the Discordia when mom and pops were on the outs (I’m pops by the way), kept his distance. Meetings with him became consigned to long evenings of coffee with myself, Dave and Jen or old school excursions to the forest where to my dismay, increasingly longer periods of time were being devoted to setting up complex equipment to photograph wild posies. When I broke the silence about my intended enlistment to him and Dave, I received open support, though some degree of skepticism as to my true intentions. Anyone who knows me well has difficulty pinning me as a ‘Yessir!’ style military man, except perhaps in the tradition of ‘Stripes’.

While in Basic training Knaus became my most frequent writer, a condition I was intensely grateful for. Basic was a dreary place in which I received frequent verbal comeuppances and days would pass without hint of a smile. Knaus, however, managed to coax out of me the very first laugh out loud with his long and convoluted tales of his wanderings with Dave in the land of UB looking to fulfill the Celestine prophecy. I attempted to share with the other folks, who could all use a giggle as well, but apparently I was the only one cracked enough to appreciate the mad ramblings of shellac headed penman.

Despite the distancing he displayed prior to my departure, he certainly made himself available on a near constant basis when I managed to make it home on leave. Although he had a full time job, not to mention achieving high year tenure at Work-n-Gear, he still managed to drag himself out each and every night until the wee hours. Not only that, but since I didn’t have a car at my disposal, he even drove. Fun nights of pool and beer were spent at old Anacone’s, Bullfeathers, old favorite Caputi’s, and of course our new favorite down on Franklin, the Sanctuary (or Spankuary as it was sometimes known) with its midget bar tender and gothic crowd who moved in from the now defunct Icon.

When I returned for good, Knaus came by to help move me in, although he conveniently showed up just as the very last box was removed from the truck, but had a bottle of SoCo in hand and was forgiven. I don’t recall much after that due to the illness, except that the annual Christmas exchange with Dave resumed and that a screening of our old classic ‘Eric the Viking’ was made to break in my new digs. Next thing I knew I was waking up in a hospital, bored from my near death experience only to have it relieved by a considerate Knaus shipping me a hefty load of books overnight.

In the year or two after my return, Knaus was around for a time, but gradually began to slip away into the night. He was a force to be counted on when Tiffany came to visit, once again eschewing work (since I couldn’t, new in my crap ass job at GP:50) in order to entertain her during the days. He was around often in those days and I think made one last epic trip to Allentown with us. He was also instrumental in decorating my pad with his home grown bonsai trees, necessitating me to line up someone to water them every time I went out of town.

Tops Never Stops

Before we discovered the gloriousness that is Wegmans we frequented Tops. It has been well noted already that during the Princeton Era Mike and I made at least a daily trek to Tops since it was so close. Another beacon to the hospital white walls of Tops was Matt’s long-time employ at Tops on Delaware.

Matt was one of the first employees to this branch of the Tops franchise. He had an interview in the trailer on the lot while the building was still being constructed. Some relative of Matt was involved so it was an easy position to acquire, not that cart-boy is an excessively hard job to get. Matt started work in Spring. His plan was to work until the first day of snow, and then quit. “Matt doesn’t work in the snow” was his mantra.

Months later the Matt was pushing carts when he was called into the office. The Tops lords had vision enough to see that Matt was more than a cart-boy. He was immediately reassigned to an inside position in the Butcher’s Block. At the close of his shift that day Matt stepped outside and gazed up into the sky. The first snowflakes of the season gently fell upon his brow. The gods had smiled upon our hero. He was not longer a cart boy. But you must pay the gods a price; Matt was still employed at Tops, or in an indirect way Ahol (the parent, and appropriately named, company of Tops).

Speaking of Ahol, the scuttlebutt is that the local mafia allowed Ahol to purchase Tops as long as they maintained control of the Tops Union. This is all hearsay, so if I wake up with the horse head in my dead tomorrow you will know the arm of the Buffalo mafia extends to the West Coast.

On our way to Comstock to waste time, we took great joy in visiting Matt during his work hours. This was particularly true when he was a lowly cart boy. On one of the rare occasions we had Sean with us we made such a trip for supplies. Sean was known for his fearless driving and his habit of stopping at Noco to “fill er up” with whatever change he had in his pocket. I was once a first-hand witness to his purchase of 32 cents worth of fuel. Today that is not enough for them to let you lift the nozzle.

We spoke to Matt on the way into Tops. He had just spent a considerable amount of time in the classic “stack a fuck-load of carts together from all across the parking lot” so he could push them all back at once. His cart-stack lot was near the Tops entrance, and when we returned from purchase of our supplies (Mountain Dew, pretzels, frozen burritos, etc.) we found Matt no where to be found. As we left Sean took the opportunity to drive his car into the cart-stack Matt had painstakingly constructed. He pushed the cart-stack to the far corner of the parking lot. At first he drove at a slow pack, until we saw Matt running at us, at which time Sean sped up. The exceedingly heavy cart-stack was left in the farthest corner. We sped of laughing. At least we gave Matt something to do for the last hour of his shift.

Once inside, Matt quickly rose to the rank of 95% Butcher. What is 95% Butcher? After a year of working primarily in the Butcher’s Block Matt observed that the only difference between an official Butcher and an experienced meat man, like himself, was knowing how to properly cut 5 specific meats. As there 5 meats are expensive, they did not let anyone slice them, nor were they purchased frequently enough for Matt to get enough practice. We all spurred him on to complete his training and have a viable skill. Eventually Matt was able to get in enough practice in two of these elusive meats, so he settled at 97% Butcher. As I conclude this section it strikes me that this post will burn a few of Matt’s bridges.

Matt was a valuable Tops associate for nearly seven years. He quit before hitting the seven year point because that would be when a part-time associate would be granted a 401k. While the rest of us saw this as an obvious fruit to grab, Matt saw this as a sign he had been defeated by the preverbal Man.

Continuing this HR showcase of Tops benefits we come to the period when Tops began selling Tops branded apparel. Tops management required employees to wear this apparel initially, no doubt to spur on the awaiting masses who couldn’t possibly hold back from spending thousands on Tops sweatshirts. The slap in the face was that associates were required to pay for these required textiles. What a joke.

Tops exposed us to several characters, and once again showcased the intelligence of the average person. The most memorable example of this was when Matt related some story of some random activity of our crew. “What does phallic mean?” interjected one of typical Tops zombies. Matt was befuddled that he did not know what phallic was? He now had is shift project. He left the blob with no better knowledge and spent the rest of him shift polling all his co-workers as the meaning of phallic. To his astonishment one one other employee knew the word. During his polling he even received commentary that phallic was not a common word many people would know. Matt left his shift to relate this happenstance to the rest of us. Until this incident we did not know it was possible to NOT know what phallic meant.

Matt mined a number of girlfriends out of seven year stint. I recall one who became a vegetarian because she was fat. Success! She lost weight. Unfortunately she was still not satisfied, so she pushed the envelope even more, and became vegan. This relationship did not last long.

Matt also met the same girl that absconded with Matt and James in the infamous “I’ll never set foot in a gay bar” story that was the first post on this blog.

An experienced Matt sat in the Tops atrium enjoying his mandatory earned break. A frantic woman ran up, “There is a used condom over there!” “Really? Where?” The woman took Matt half-way across the parking lot to what was absolutely confirmed as a under condom, still filled with a “rush of excess fluids.”

Matt concluded his inspection and headed back, but to the dismay of the woman, he did not return with any cleaning equipment. Matt, instead, plopped himself back on the atrium bench. “Aren’t you going to clean that us?” she explained. “Lady, I’m on my break.”

The bulk of Matt’s time at Tops had him stationed in the Butcher’s Block, or as we more affectionately referred to it – the Meat department. Matt divulged two secrets of the Meat department. One; they kept a small Igloo cooler ready to go at someone, ironically usually one of the professional butchers, cut off a finger and was rushed to the hospital, finger piece encased in the Igloo cooler, to have it sewn back on. The success rate was quite high. Two; the Meat department kept an open bowl into which they threw any scraps, be they on the floor or wherever, into this bowl. When the bowl was full, then they ground up the scraps and sold it under the label of “meat”. Funnily enough, years before, during the Goodyear era, I had spied one of these and bought it for the label humor.

Matt enjoyed a time where he was double employed. His second job, the more prestigious one, was the all powerful Mighty Taco on Sheridan and NFB. Mighty Taco gives you a week to study the menu before taking a test. You have to know all menu items, and their component’s with amounts from memory. Matt passed and became a Mighty Taco employee. We gave him a goal of finding out what the beef was, as he felt Mighty Taco was superior to Taco Bell in every aspect, except the beef. Since this was sacrilege we was to solve the mystery now that he had access.

Matt soon grew to dislike the manager. She ruled with an iron fist, holding weekly meetings that Matt was 2 minutes late for once. She fired him for this. Matt suspects that he was really fired because he was telling the other employees how the manager had terrible skills, and was a bitch to boot. He did not notice until too late that she was in the building, and overheard, walking in on his conversation just at the end of Matt’s tirade. He never solved the “Riddle of Beef.”

Like the recent rash of professional athletes that pretend to retire, Matt too had an encore tour at Tops. I made a visit to him once during this tour. He was working the night shift stocking the frozen foods isles. Like the athlete that plays one more season when he should have walked away, it was sad to see Matt, the once lord of part-time associates, reduced to a zero visibility position.

Another of our crowd spent some time employed at Tops, Chester. He gleefully gave us reports as to his rapid rise to the “Express Lane”, giving us tips as to how he became one of these best of the best. He switched sides from making bewildered fun of the Tops cashiers who wore rubber thimbles to wearing one himself.

Having been a Tops associate for such a long time, Matt was well versed with the employee handbook. There was a statute of limitations on anything you did of five years. The exact day the limit was us, he spilled the beans of what he had done to his co-worked in the back of the store, as he was leaving for his shift. It took Matt 2 minutes to walk our the front of the store, and by then the news had traveled faster than his ironically unmeaty legs could carry him. An example of just how efficient the Tops grapevine is.

What was Matt’s hidden crime? Back when he was still a cart-boy he abandoned his post, walked across the street, and saw a movie at the old Super Saver Cinema. When the movie was over he walked back across the street and took his break.

Saving You More?

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