21 December, 2013

An overload of pain

I don't know why I put myself through such emotional circumstances, but I do.  I'm not even Catholic.  It probably has a lot (everything, really) with the fact that I'm drunk.  It's a vicious circle I throw myself into.  Drinking to forget what I do for a living, thinking about my Dad and  Brother, songs that remind me of them...  Throw in some memories of "Her" for good measure and I end up with a serious case of the blues.  So far there are only two songs that are guaranteed to make me cry like a baby.  Vince Gill's "Go Rest High On That Mountain" and Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run."  The former hit me a couple of years after my Dad died.  I was listening to it while standing in the upper parking lot of the daycare center I worked at.  The sun was on the western horizon, it was a warm day and I cried my guts out.  It was the beginning of dealing with the pain I had bottled up after my Father died.  I deal with pain of that order as if it were a time release capsule.  My first concern is taking care of others so I package everything I'm feeling and put it on a shelf to deal with it "later."  I'll then break open that package, break off a piece and deal with it.  I can only do it in that way otherwise I would go insane.   The thing is, I'm not breaking off big enough chunks.  Which is why I'm still dealing with that pain so long after.  As I've written about  previously, my level of grief got to the point where I had an alcohol fueled breakdown.  My mind was not capable of processing enough through the "time release" process and decided "Well, we have to save ourselves so, it's all coming out NOW."  I'm embarrassed of the things I admitted to my Mother but I'm glad those demons were expelled.  I had simply bottled up more grief than my mind was capable of handling and it all spilled out in one shot.  A more humiliating, yet liberating, feeling I will never experience. 

It just goes to show how important music is to us.  A song some dude wrote as  tribute to his late brother can make hundreds of thousands of other people feel the same way.  Songs that were recorded by a miraculous voice over 40 years ago, in mono two track no less (take that Britney!), can still make us cry just by hearing the intro... Music is important to us whether we realize it or not. 

16 December, 2013

So Long, YouTube

I've finally reached a decision.  I've already written about Google fucking up YouTube so I won't flog that dead horse.  I miss the community of the old YouTube from the days before Google fucked everything up.  Back before people started making money off of their videos.  Google has succeeded in driving away the people that made YouTube what it was.  It is now nothing but a cash cow.  Google knows that the SxePhils, Shaytards and others will drink the Google+ kool aid and follow along because those users depend on the income GoogleTube supplies.  If they wish to continue as they have been, they must conform and take whatever Lord Google tells them they must.  Google+ is a failure.  They're forcing it upon YouTube users in order to make their huge failure look like a success.  I won't take part in that charade.  Many other YouTubers aren't either.  I've been on Youtube since 2006 and had a miniscule part in making the website what it is.  No more.  I will no longer upload any videos to GoogleTube.  I've moved to Vimeo and hope I have found a new home.  If you have followed me on YouTube, you'll have to go to Vimeo in order to see any new content or have any sort of interaction with me.  I will not be having any sort of interaction through YouGoogle from this point on.  The videos that are there will stay there.  If they're going to treat their users as cattle, I will reciprocate and use them as nothing more than a file whore.  I have some resignations, but I'm surprisingly not all that sad about leaving YouGoogle behind.  So, those of you who have been with me for so long, I hope you'll continue to tag along.  For those that choose not to follow me over to Vimeo, I offer my sincere thanks.  I was never all that popular on YT, but I enjoyed the small batch of subscribers that I had.  Without you I wouldn't have any motivation for continuing.  I have never made one cent from my videos, so my "payment" was from you, the viewers and subscribers.  I'm going to lose a large part of my "audience", that much is true, but I still hold out hope that you hardcore Hopper1 fans will follow me into this new adventure. Goodbye.

14 December, 2013

Phys. Ed.

I didn't dislike PE as a kid but I wasn't good at sports.  Like everything else in my life I'm mediocre.  I usually passed PE with an A; a person would have to be pretty bad to not get an A in PE.  Even for someone like myself who is horrible at any sport that involves striking one object with another.  It comes as no surprise that swimming was something I was pretty good at.  I only participated in two sports throughout my time in school.  Both eighth and ninth grades I was on the swim team and in ninth grade I was on the golf team.  I got a pretty darn good life lesson from my Dad during my first year on the swim team.  The junior high I attended (opened in 1923 and now closed) had two pools.  Neither were "regulation" size.  The junior high swimming season started in January.  Being an old building, insulation was not part of the original design.  One of the walls around that tiny pool was an outside wall.  Not a big deal if we were talking about Florida, but this was in Wisconsin.  In January.  We started daily practices in this tiny pool and when the high school (which I later attended) was done with their swim season we had to find our own way to that pool.  So every day after school I would walk two miles, in January, February and March to the high school for practice.  The high school we practiced at had a pool unlike the other pools in the city.  Every other pool (the tiny junior high pools included) had decks flush with the water line.  The high school pool's deck was about 1.5' above the water line.  The coaches used that as a training aid.  We did what we called "push pulls."  we would start by holding onto the gutter (at the water line), go under water, pull ourselves up then push ourselves out of the water.  Not a big deal, but that was just the warm-up.  After a series of push pulls from the gutter we had to do them from the deck.  1.5' above the water line.  After that we would perform all manner of drills.  Whole pool lengths under water, whole pool lengths without taking a breath etc.  After a week of being miserably cold, sore and dealing with dry skin (chlorine is really hard on people with already dry skin) I wanted to give up.  A couple of teammates told me to give it just one more week but my mind was made up.  Then I went home after practice and told my parents that I wanted to quit swimming.  My Father said a few short sentences that affected me to this day.  He told me "You started swim team.  You're obligated to finish the season.  I won't go into how that bit of advice changed me.  That's for another post.  I stuck with it and eventually liked it.  I enjoyed being part of a team, I enjoyed the Kameradschaft and I enjoyed the satisfaction I felt at the end of a meet.  So much so that I did it in ninth grade.  I also enjoyed the time I spent with Dad. I rode a bus with the rest of the team to the meets, but usually went home with Dad.  I'm the least sport related kid of my family and I think he was concerned that I wouldn't ever get into any sports.  Sports were important to Dad but don't get me wrong, he never pushed me into it and I didn't do it for him.  He would have supported me in whatever interests I had.  Again, that's for another post.  I think Dad was at every meet.  Can't remember exactly.  One meet that sticks out in my mind was from the ninth grade season.  One particular junior high had the worst starting blocks I've ever seen.  Fiberglass boxes they were.  I don't care how much grip tape they put on them, they were always slippery.  I can't remember what event I was swimming but I was on the block and nervous (always was), waiting for the starting pistol.  The official fired the pistol, I pushed off with all my might... and slipped.  I had zero forward motion because of that slip and hit the water with what was the world's biggest belly flop.  The last thing I heard before hitting the water was Dad yelling "Noooooo!".  It was a bad race.  Very bad.  That same meet coach put me on the 50 butterfly.  He knew I couldn't do the butterfly, I knew I couldn't do the butterfly but he put me on it anyway.  Me trying to swim the butterfly looked more like drowning than it did swimming.  I finished last (by a pool length), got disqualified for not keeping my feet together and generally embarrassed myself.  I imagine the boy Dad saw after that meet had his head hanging very low.  We didn't discuss it, we just got in the car and headed home.  Being my Dad however, he knew I felt horrible.  Even though dinner was going to be waiting at home he stopped by a hamburger joint (long gone I'm sorry to say) and got me a burger to raise my spirits.  Hell of a guy he was.  I eventually made it to the "city meet" and almost won an event for the first time.  I won't go into why I lost right now.  I earned a letter which made me proud of myself.  Junior high ended and I went on to high school.  In tenth grade my former teammates made sure I knew when tryouts were for the swim team.  I passed, they tried to get me to join, I passed again.  Despite being a naive teenager, I knew high school sports were far above the junior high sports.  I stuck to it for eighth and ninth grades, but sports just weren't my thing.  I concentrated on music.  Both of my brothers swam through junior and senior high, Mark also ran cross country and Chris also played foot ball and soccer.  Donna played volleyball and was on the pom pom squad (a whole other arena of athletics).  All of my nieces and nephews have played (or are currently playing) soccer.  Some also played hockey, some football, some softball, track...  I'm the odd duck in our family. 

High school PE was interesting to say the least.  I had "Coach" all three years of high school.  He knew my siblings and, I assume, initially expected the same from me.  It was not to be.  Coach was a good guy but you could definitely see his disdain for students who weren't involved in sports.  Especially football and basketball.  Both of which he coached.  The only time I remember Coach praising me was during the swim unit we had every year.  He always used me as an example of how to do a certain stroke properly.  I always seemed to be the only swimmer in the class.   Hmmm....  Anyway, during tenth grade "swim" Coach saw that I was actually a little better than most at swimming.  He showed me a little more respect after that.  I still sucked at just about everything else, but I could swim well.  He also had a dead-pan sense of humor that is just classic.  One year during the volleyball section someone spiked the ball.  When it rebounded it went directly into my, uh, jewels.  I  hit the floor like a sack of potatoes.  "Not wearing your jockey strap, eh Tim?" he said without  even changing facial expressions.  "Go sit out until you regain your composure."  he said matter of fact.  Coach was a jock who grew up to teach jocks.  He was fair, he was a great coach and just about everyone liked him.  He knew all of his students by name within the first week of the school year but he liked you just a little bit more if you were on one of the teams he coached.  Meh. 

Coach never had anything to do with the "dance" unit when it came around every year.  That was left to the female coaches.  The dance stuff was seriously outdated.  Even in the late '80s they were teaching us the Foxtrot, a waltz and square dancing.  I found it to be a breeze.  I realized in junior high that not all people are capable of dancing.  The forced pairing of boys and girls from all cliques made me realize that the "hot" girls weren't always that great.  A lot of them were pretty, sure, but a surprisingly large amount of them had no concept of rhythm.  None.  They were horrible dance partners.  Thankfully, somewhere along the line Brenda, a girl I had known all through elementary school, always seemed to have PE the same period I did.  Thank God!  She had been in "show" choir and could dance very well.  Much better than myself.  At the very least both Brenda and I had a sense of rhythm.  Her from choir, me from band.  We also had the comfort of familiarity with each other.  I loved dancing extremely outdated dances with her.  We were used as examples quite often and we enjoyed it.  Coach never saw any of that.  After that brief interlude it was back to sports.  As always I was neither good, nor bad.  I enjoyed softball in the spring.  But maybe that's just an American thing.  Baseball, Spring, Mom, apple pie... I definitely didn't like flag football because some of the guys turned it into tackle football.  Pat totally drilled me one morning.  It was no accident.  He plowed right into me and knocked me on my ass. Boy, it hurt something bad.  Coach, barely looking up from his clipboard said something like "Nice hit, Pat.  But we do that on the football team.  Not here.  Five days of detention starting tomorrow."  I never spoke to Pat after that.  It was a cheap shot and it didn't even phase him.  Pat lacked the important thing required of any sport.  Sportsmanship.  Even someone as bad as me was a good sportsman.  Coach saw people like me trying our best and respected that.  He knew about sportsmanship.  He wasn't my favorite teacher, I wasn't his best student but I like the guy to this day.  Simply because he was fair with everyone.

02 December, 2013

"She" has moved on

Well, "She" has moved on and found herself another man.  I kinda figured she did as she, pretty much, dropped off the face of the planet.  Having known her for so long I've learned that when she stops calling and emailing me all the time, she usually is involved.  Like most women she never tells me because she "doesn't want to hurt my feelings."  It's not like we've been in a relationship or anything but still, it would be nice if she'd flat out tell me she has a new man.  She doesn't want to hurt my "feelings" but she's perfectly fine with letting me make an ass of myself.  I'll see some event, concert, movie etc. that I think "she" might be interested in and I'll email her asking if she would like to go.  Usually no response so I'll wait a couple weeks and send another email.  She always had something going on.  On Halloween of this year (my favorite holiday) I asked her if she wanted to come over and carve some pumpkins.  We had done it before and we both enjoyed it.  She said "yes" and, as usual, I took it with a grain of salt.  "She" has quite a track record of bailing out at the last minute.  So, I waited for the cancellation email to come but it didn't.  I figured it would be a good idea to set a general time frame and sent her another email.  We settled on a time a few days before the event and I realized I should probably clean the house and actually get some pumpkins.  So, I clean the house, get two nice pumpkins, got the other supplies ready, made some food in case she wanted to stay for dinner (my Momma raised a good host), woke up earlier than usual and waited.  The time for her to show up came and went.  I sent her a slightly nasty email for bailing out on me and not even bothering to let me know she wasn't coming.  I was seriously pissed.  She finally responded with a lame excuse (she's a really bad liar.)  The middle of November witnessed another few emails between us and she finally let on that she had a boyfriend.  Well, no shit.  I'm guessing she's been with him for quite some time, and that's fine.  She doesn't fare well as a single person.  I'm just pissed that she, again, let me make an ass out of myself.  A simple "Hey, I just started dating this new guy and it wouldn't be appropriate for me to do things with you." would have saved me a lot of time and effort.  But, I should have known better.  "She" hasn't changed, I know her well, and it's on me for getting burned again.  On the flip side, she also knows me and should have nipped it in the bud from the start.  I'm glad our relationship didn't work out way back when because we would have been a completely dysfunctional couple.  I'm sure if it had progressed to marriage (highly unlikely) that it would've ended in divorce.  Either because she would have cheated on me or because we would have, finally, realized that we just weren't compatible.  It still hurts a little though.  Knowing that despite all of I've done for her and for sticking around through all the shit she's put me through, she didn't think I was good enough.  Meh.  If this current relationship of hers doesn't work out, and I hope it does, and if she's true to her style, I'll her from her when things go bad.  I'm just wondering how I would react if she broke up with the new guy and called me.  I think, considering how's she's treated me over the years, that I would give her back, in spades, exactly what she's given me.  Assuming I'm single at the time, which is likely.  If by some miracle I actually find a woman that gives a damn about me I think I would probably tell "Her" right from the start "I'm sorry to hear about your bad times.  I'm seeing someone and I don't think it would be appropriate to continue communicating with you.  I will always be available for you in an emergency, but casual contact is not a good idea."  Not so hard is it?  "She" knows right away that I'm involved with someone and am unavailable.  I also get to give "Her" a slightly veiled "Fuck you!" and can soak in the Schadenfreude.

She still has a claw or two in me.  I just realized I wasted all this time writing a blog post about "Her".  Salt.  Wound.  Gullible.

29 November, 2013

It shouldn't hurt so much



It's been 19 years since my Dad died and 10 years since my brother, Mark, died.  Every now and then something will trigger an uncontrollable fit of crying when I think of them.  The crap we hear, the advice we're given suggests that things get easier as time goes by.  As your politically incorrect resource I can say this.  It doesn't get better.  You merely learn how to cope with your loss just enough to get by.   The mere suggestion of "It gets better."  pisses me off.  It's as if to say the person you're missing decreases in value as time goes by.  That's a lie.  Not having my Dad or Brother around hurts just as much as it did when they died. I honor their memories whenever possible.  My house for instance.  My brother had planned for his nephew's and niece's education.  Education held some serious value for him.  He had, somehow, allotted funds for the education of his nieces and nephews.  He knew that he would not reach old age.  I was living in an apartment with shitty neighbors when by brother, Chris, knocked on my door to tell me Mark had died.  Long after Mark's funeral I found out that I had a rather large amount of money coming to me.  I can't even keep a relationship going, much less get married and have kids.  That money was intended for my children's education but, let's face it, I'm never going to have children.  One of me is enough for the world.  I agonized over what to do with that cash.  After some discussion with Mom, I decided that I would use that money as a down payment  on a house.  I hope Mark would have approved.  I'm now a home owner, but its bittersweet.  I got this house with blood money, plain and simple.  I would happily give it all up if I could get my brother back.  But he's not coming back.  So here I am, in the house Mark provided for me, crying my guts out because it hurts as much as it did the day he died.  I would give everything I have just to hear Mark call me "Champ" one more time.  It won't happen.  You know it and I know it.  The hurt you feel when someone you love dies doesn't go away.  We simply learn how to live with it.   We will all suffer episodes of intense sorrow for the rest of our lives.  We just don't show it in public.  But, it's there.   It's nothing to be ashamed of.  It should be taken as the ultimate tribute to the people we're crying for.  It doesn't get better.

14 November, 2013

Where I Come From

I don't care where your family line comes from.  Some are more strict than others when it comes to marriage and the continuation of that line.  Me, I'm half Danish and damned proud of it.  My Mother is a full blood Dane.  My Mother's Father and Mother are both from an unbroken chain back to Denmark.  Copenhagen mainly.  In my youth I concentrated on my Father's side of the family but, in my "wise" years I cannot ignore Mother's side of my family.  Being 50% pure Dane, my Mother's side (well documented to boot) doesn't require much explanation.  My Father's side on the other hand... Potluck.  The remaining half of me is German, Welsh, Scottish and a dash of English.  There's supposedly some Native American in there, but it hasn't been confirmed as of yet. I live inWisconsin, a predominantly German state (beer, brats, sauerkraut).  We also have concentrated areas of Swiss, Poles, Irish, Italians and, if you're looking at Milwaukee (pronounced Muhwahkee, locally) a whole range of people.  Each of which has left their mark upon this great state.  Still, as I grow older, I can't help but notice the German and Danish in me.  I know it may seem stereotypical but I abhor disorder and have a passion for neat, orderly, paperwork.   I also have a desire to promote workers' rights and make sure society in general is cared for.  If that isn't the Dane and German coming through, I should probably be committed to an institution for being way too liberal.  There just has to be something in our genes that passes along the traits of our origins.  The German part of me comes through with these things, some of which I've already mentioned.  I abhor disorder, I love paperwork, I respect the "chain of command", I can't stand deviating from schedules, I'm not "upper echelon" but I can lead when necessary, I follow orders, I expect people to follow my orders.  If that doesn't sound like the stereotypical German Feldwebel, I don't know what does.  "But what about Denmark?  They're a neighbor of Germany." you say.  Well, so is France.  The French don't have those characteristics in spades to be sure.  As far as my Danish traits go, I think my maternal Grandparents, Arnie and Dorah, are a perfect example.  The worked hard, they followed schedules, they had rules and enforced them (not too the point Germans tend to),  they liked a little flash for ceremonies.  Where the maternal Grandparents differ from the "Teutonic" side of my family is in the liberal aspects.  Arnie and Dorah would help anyone.  Arnie started as a farmer in the Plains states but, somehow, got the call to be a man of the cloth.  Farming was (and still is) a difficult career.  But to leave that, go to college and enter another low paying career?  Insanity in this modern age.  Still, his wife and family supported him completely.  It was an extremely rough transition for them.  They often had to rely on others for the most basic things.  Food, furniture, clothing... The basics of life.  But they persisted.  Arnie was a damned good Methodist minister.  If you pare it away to the minimums, he was an evangelist.  He thrived on going out and visiting the members of his congregation.  He would visit people in hospitals, those sick in bed in their homes.  He had a knack for, somehow, being there when someone needed him.  And it wasn't limited to his "holy" duties either.  Arnie dressed as a man should.  In those days he would wear a pressed suit, shined shoes, the whitest shirts you've ever seen (not one wrinkle), polished tie clip, perfectly starched and folded handkerchief in the pocket... The works.  The farm boy was still in him though.  There's a story in our family that exemplifies this.  Arnie was out on his visitation rounds visiting a member of his congregation that was ill. During that visit someone mentioned that the family's tractor wasn't working.  Arnie took off his coat, rolled up his sleeves and went to work on it right then and there.  Dorah was the same way.  They say that behind every great man is a great woman.  Dorah and Arnie were a team more so than man and wife.  If you've been to a wedding lately you've probably  heard some bullshit about "Teams, partners... blah, blah".  Most of it is crap.  Arnie and Dorah were the real deal.  I'm a bit of an evangelist because of them.  As a mechanic I get asked, often, to do side work.  Most of the time I tell those people to, in a polite way, go fuck themselves.  Excepting family and the few friends I have, when I set the alarm and walk out the shop's door, the "shop" stays behind.  I don't bring "the shop" home.  Period.  There are exceptions.  Say I leave work and stop at the local convenience store on the way home.  For beer.  You know, to drink away the realities of my shitty career choice and the woman who's ruined my life.  I'll be walking out of the door all excited the 18 pack of Pabst was on sale when I see some poor sap looking under the hood of their car, completely clueless as to what they're looking at.  In about one second the following thought's go through my mind.  "Someone is having a shitty day", "It isn't my problem", "That could be me", "I wonder what's wrong", "GODDAMMIT! I'm going to end up helping them!"  I just can't help myself.  Somewhere in the Danish tree is an undeniable desire to help people who need help, regardless of myself.  I don't want their praise, I don't want their money, I just want to brighten their day and make them realize the world isn't full of shit-bags.  To a point.  I'm not going to stop in the south side of Chiraq to help someone.  I might toss out a first aid kit and some extra ammunition as I drive by, but I ain't stopping.  My Momma didn't raise no fool.  On the darker side, I sometimes do it because I love a good challenge.  I couldn't give a fuck about the person, but I want to find the problem, explore it and then conquer it.  I'm a goddamn viking.  Explore!  Conquer!  Move on to the next one!  So, let's move on to my Dad's side of the family.

Like the maternal side, the paternal side of my family were hard working, benevolent people.  To a point.  Both branches of my tree suffered the Great Depression.  My Paternal Grandparents, Howard "Smokey" and Esther, reacted differently than did Arnie and Dorah.  Arnie and Dorah suffered, but they kinda rolled with the punches believing things would change for the better.  They just had to hang on a little longer and "make do".  Grandpa Smokey, on the other hand, suffered through the Depression and never quite recovered.  Smokey's (as was Arnie's) first priority was to provide for his family.  That was his job.  Roof over the head, food on the table.  From the stories I've heard, Smokey had a hard time providing even those basic necessities.  He took whatever work he could get.  He even went off with the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps.  Thank you President Roosevelt) for months at a time.  Smokey even did CCC jobs in my hometown.  In fact, the house he was quartered in during one trip is but a mile from where I currently live.  Smokey was a man who did not show his feelings, but he loved his family deeply.  His actions are proof of that.  Smokey was driven to the point of borrowing money from his father in law.  The FIL lorded this over Smokey.  Smokey was a proud man, but when driven to it, he sacrificed his pride in order to provide for his family.  He was a damn good man.  But it changed him.  Esther actually had a better job before he did.  She got a job at the Post Office and was the "bread winner" for awhile.  When you take into account the "traditional family" thing that existed in the late 1930s that was quite a blow to Smokey's pride.  He eventually got a job with the county's highway department (I have his union badge) and proceeded to work his ass off.  Smokey and Esther squirreled away as much money as possible.  Having made it through the Depression with their family and their home, they would NOT be caught unprepared should it happen again.  Smokey eventually stopped traveling.  I think the last time I saw him at Mom and Dad's house was for my Sister's high school graduation in 1977.  He did not like the unknown (after the Depression, who can blame him?) and he stayed in his "known" world.  Then he was diagnosed with emphysema, crawled into bed and gave up.  That's mostly how I remember him.  I was born too late to have more than a few "traditional" family things with Smokey and Esther.  I saw Arnie and Dorah more than Smokey and Esther, but whenever I was with Smokey and Esther, they were just like any other Grandparents.  The "normal" times I had with Smokey were so few that I hold them close to my heart and will cherish them forever.  I also am disappointed with myself for not talking with him more than I did.  I was a teenager during Smokey's final years on Earth and I was completely clueless.  I regret not making the most of opportunities I had to just talk with him.  I know I've gone off the path but it's necessary in order to explain the next parts. 

The German in me comes straight through Smokey's family tree.  I wish I had a photo handy, his eyes had that steely German gaze, his nose was purely German, etc.  Orders were to be issues and then followed.  Period.  An example of that is this little tidbit.  On the second floor of Smokey and Esther's house there were four rooms.  Well, three actually.  The fourth was the open space at the top of the stairs that had just enough room for a bed, night stand and dresser.  One of the rooms was always closed.  I never, ever, saw the door open or even saw anyone go into that room.  I was never told I couldn't go in there, but following the general rule of "Don't monkey with anything" that they had around there, I never even considered opening the door to that room.  Until I was 17.  When I was 17 I was at Smokey and Esther's to help with getting things ready for the auction.  Grandpa had gone into a nursing home and Grandma was going to an apartment.  The house and any unnecessary items were to be sold at auction.  Grandma told us we could take anything we wanted as long as we told her what we were taking.  She wanted to know where things were going.  All of us "kids", my siblings and cousins, still followed the "Don't monkey with anything" rule.  I took a small tool box and some other doo-dads, one of my brothers got some fishing poles and other small items...  None of us wanted to be "tomb raiders" and it bit us in the ass.  A lot of important stuff ended up with people who didn't give a rat's ass about the "family value" of what they were bidding on.  Early in life we were given our orders and we followed them to the letter.  Germanic sounding, isn't it?  I did go into the "room" though.  It was a treasure trove of family stuff.  All of my late Uncle Jack's stuff was in there (that's a story for another time), loads of old photos... a family gold mine.  Thankfully, most of that was saved from the auction block.  When the house was sold, the "stuff" auctioned and Grandma moved to her new apartment, I learned about Grandma's part of me.  Grandma, in a nutshell, brings the Welsh and Scottish into my bloodline.  That's where my independence comes from.  Esther could take care of herself and woe to the person who tried to change her.  She was an outstanding human being and she loved her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren to pieces.  As with everyone, time had its way with Esther and she was put into the same nursing home that Smokey was in (Smokey died long before Esther).  It made me very sad to see Grandma slowly waste away though her mind was sharp right to the end.  I was living near her the last time I saw her alive.  I made a visit to the nursing home to see her (I should have done it more often) one weekend.  She was very frail by then.  I remember walking into her room and saying "Hi Grandma."  She turned, saw me, gave the sweetest smile I've ever seen and said my name.  "Timothy Jack."  My middle name, Jack, was the name of my late Uncle.  Esther, as was Dorah, was concerned with her "flock".  Both of my Grandmothers were happiest when their children, grand children and great-grandchildren were around.  I'm quite sure teaching me life lessons was the furthest thing from Esther's mind but that last visit with her taught me so much about life.  By that point in her life Esther had outlived her husband (Smokey), all of her siblings and her two sons.  She could have been completely soured to life but she wasn't.  Like Dorah, Esther believed "It's sad that our loved ones are gone, but there's nothing we can do about it.  Let's be thankful for those who are still here."  It really sank in at her funeral which, I might add, was at a church Grandpa Arnie had presided over at one point.  Also the same church my parents were married in.  Anyway, during Grandma's funeral service I was sitting next to my Aunt and Uncle.  My Aunt being Esther's daughter.  Having seen Dad's side of the family as mostly matter-of-fact, not a bit of emotion shown publicly and rarely withing the family, I was taken aback when my Aunt started sobbing uncontrollably.  At that moment (yeah, yeah.  I'm slow) it hit me that I was seeing a daughter at her Mother's funeral.  Up to that point I saw it as My Aunt and myself at Grandma's funeral.  I thought "Geez, what if this was MY Mother's funeral?"  Then I started sobbing uncontrollably.  I began to start thinking of my family as a whole.  Not two separate entities.  I then started to see how all of those branches in my family tree had come together.  In me.  I'm an individual, yes, but I'm really the sum of my parts.  I'm just one lucky son of a gun in that both sides of my family, despite the nationalities, had the same core values.  Work hard, provide for your family and help those in need.  I am, quite simply, in awe of those people who made me. 

11 October, 2013

Music and the Internet

I'm very thankful the internet exists.  The important part of it for me is meeting people who have similar interests.  Music has always been a very important part of my life but my tastes in music have not always been "in line" with my peers.  Being the youngest of four children (next youngest is a whole eight years older than I) my musical taste has been a little, er, off.  We had a stack of 45s around the house that, I think, came from an Uncle and others.  The majority of it was from the 1960s and I loved it.  I also loved listening to the "do-wop" stuff at my Grandparents' house.  When I got my first tape recorder as a Christmas gift; it was one of those single speaker things, my parents included an Elvis Presley "Golden Hits" cassette along with one or two others.  I don't remember what they were.  There was such a wide variety of music in our house that I could never have settled on just one niche.  Thank God!  I listened to KISS, Ted Nugent, Black Sabbath, Henry Gross, Dan Fogelberg, Seals & Crofts, Jerry Rafferty, The Doobie Brothers, Cheap Trick, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Sammie Davis Jr., The Sex Pistols, Iron Maiden, Rush...  When I got my first radio, an old clock radio, from the neighbors' rummage sale (75 cents!) A whole other musical world opened up to me.  New Wave, current (for the time) pop music and, most importantly, I found a station that had what they called "Nostalgic Rock" every Sunday morning.  I heard a lot of songs that were "new" to me and a lot of songs I may have heard only once or twice before.  Ya see, before I could operate a record player, a lot of the music I heard was coming through the AM radio of my parents' car.  There's a few songs that I MUST have heard in the car because when I hear them these days I'm instantly thrown back to my very early days.  In elementary school we didn't discuss music.  Kids at that age, back then at least, didn't really have cliques.  Sure, there were the "cool" kids but, generally speaking, everyone got along.  I joined "band" and started learning how to be a drummer.  Then came junior high school.  Cliques formed, the small group of kids I had spent the previous seven years with got mixed in with kids from other elementary schools, we started becoming moody teenagers, emulated the people we saw on TV and in magazines (no internet back then!)  I slugged on through band and became a mediocre percussionist.  Then, as if it wasn't complicated enough to fit in at that age, I joined a fife and drum corps.  I instantly fell in love with that music and spent the rest of my teenage years happily playing it with other like-minded people.  It was my first musical revelation.  In the corps, regardless of any perceived social status, everyone was there because they liked the music.  Each person did their best because they wanted to.  Not because they had to.  Those of us within the corps rarely, if every, spoke of it with anyone outside of the corps.  It was, kind of, an "uncool" thing back then.  My experiences with the fife and drum corps dovetailed with something else.  Jazz band.  Contrary to the band experience my brother had, there was a serious lack of drummers in junior high.  Me and the other guy became rather good at covering multiple parts.  In ninth grade the other drummer, Darin, talked me into joining jazz band.  I had never played a drum set before but since these were desperate times the band director took it upon himself to help me.  I went to the band room after school for lessons, fumbled around and just couldn't "get it."  The band director gave me a simple bit of advice that, unknown to him or me, would help me for years to come.  I had been struggling (and failing) to learn a drum part when the director said "Tim, nobody said you had to learn all of the parts at the same time."  I just wasn't able to read the music and use both hands and both feet at the same time.  So, he had me learn what each appendage was supposed to be playing individually.  Then I would put two together, then three and finally both feet and both hands.  It worked like a charm.  The part I was learning was for "Runaround Sue."  The director was amazed that I knew the song.  I could even recite all of the lyrics.  In high school I was in band, marching band, jazz band...  Mostly playing songs that were chosen for our parents but, still, songs that I really liked.  It was still a social no-no to admit liking big band, swing, soul, blues...  When most of my classmates were being brooding teenagers to The Cure, I was brooding to the Temptations.  This situation carried on for years afterward.  I had very few ways to express myself.  However, certain songs would make me feel a certain way and the emotions I kept bottling up would be released when I would hear some of my favorite songs.  I've always had the ability to recall a song for any given situation.  In fact, during high school and a handful of years after, I would attach a song to each girl in my life.  Girlfriends, crushes, the girls I daydreamed about.  They all had a song.  For example, the Temptations' "Just my imagination".  It was one of those 45s I mentioned earlier.  That's Karin's song.  I didn't pick that song for her, it just happened.  During my 11th grade year I had a huge crush on Karin.  She was the beautiful, sweet pom-pom girl, I was the dork.  Typical teen movie stuff.  Anyway, during Christmas break that year I put on that song and I instantly thought of her.  Despite my best efforts, she wanted nothing of me but that song still "belongs" to her.  Every time I hear it I can picture, in detail, the day it became her song.  I remember what the weather was like, I remember what my room looked like...  That is what my life has been like.  Songs attached to people, places and things.  But I couldn't discuss this stuff with anyone because none of my friends knew the music.  About the same time I attached a song to Karin I got my first CD player.  CDs were new and having a CD player was a big deal for me.  My parents went out on a limb to get it for me.  Then I discovered the CD collection at the public library.  They had lots of big band and jazz stuff.  I absorbed it like a sponge.  Then, I went in a whole new direction.  The woman I wrote about previously came into my life and during our turbulent relationship country music and the blues took hold of me.  Real country by the way.  Not the vaguely disguised pop/rock shit that's masquerading as "country" these days.  It's very true that you can never truly understand the blues or a sad country song until you've given your heart to someone and had them rip it up and throw it back at you.  The classic "You been done wrong" songs.  Stevie Ray Vaughan had more than his share of demons to cope with.  If you haven't been done wrong, you'll probably think "Wow, that guy can really play guitar!"  If you have been done wrong, you'll hear the pain in his playing.  Music was SRV's release.  He was putting all of his troubles out there for the world to see, if you were capable of "seeing" it.  I didn't at first, but after I met "Her" I got it.  Go out and buy SRV's "The Sky Is Crying" CD (Sadly, it was released after he died) and listen to the track "May I Have A Talk With You."  Either you'll get it or you won't.  Don't pay attention to lyrics alone.  Listen to Stevie.  Hear the story he's telling you, not the song.  I drove my friends nuts as I played that track over and over and over.  In retrospect I was hoping someone else would "get it" and I would have someone to talk to.  My relationship with "Her" was unique.  Nobody else would understand, nobody really accepted it... I had nobody to talk to that could help me through those hard times.  By playing those SRV songs, blues and sad country songs I was desperately trying to find someone who understood what I was going through.  I even played an SRV song ("Texas Flood" from SRV's first appearance on "Austin City Limits") to "Her" and said, flat out, "This is how I'm feeling."  She didn't get it.  Went right over her head.  She's a Top 40 person and has zero ability as far as music appreciation is concerned.  It's one thing about her that's always annoyed me.  Throw in the deaths of my Father and Brother and I was a seriously troubled twenty-something.  Music was my only release.  Even into my early 30's when I was again a professional mechanic, had my own house, things were going well... I had to crawl into music in order to sooth my soul.  Not long before the alcohol fueled breakdown I had in front of my Mother, I would put on "Patsy Cline Sings Songs of Love" and listen to it for hours trying to sooth my soul.  I was just beginning to accept the fact the "She" was not coming back.  "Crazy" was our song by the way.  Enter the internet.

The internet allowed me to chat with people who are interested in the same music as myself.  I could find songs that I was never able to find in a store.  I was no longer a slave to some corporate executive's choice of music to have in some blasted chain store.  I realized that I wasn't such an oddball.  I freely admit that I love Soul, Blues, Country, Western Swing, big band, jazz (not the Kenny G "jazz" shit), swing, punk...  I'm also old enough to not care what people think of me.  Do yourself a favor.  Stop listening to the radio.  Radio stations play shit to get listeners.  The more listeners they have the more advertising they can sell.  You're cattle.  Nothing more, nothing less.  Go find an independent record store, get a Patsy Cline "Greatest Hits" CD and go from there.  Don't think about what other people with think.  Just listen.  If Justin Bieber is your thing, go for it!  If Eddy Arnold singing "Make the World Go Away" makes you cry, then cry.  Fuck everyone else.  When you find a song that makes you feel something more powerful than you've ever experienced, embrace it.  The music you listen to is your unique experience.  If you're lucky, you'll find someone to share that experience with.  Now, get on with it.  You have a CD to find! 

21 September, 2013

Education. Doesn't mean what it used to.

First and foremost, I'm not a normal college graduate.  I went to a technical college, which is a step below a typical community college.  I didn't graduate.  I never finished a required "shop math" class because I stopped going to that class.  At this particular school, the "shop math" classes were the same damn thing I had in seventh, eighth, ninth and tenth grades while in high school.  It bored me to tears.  Looking back with the wisdom of a 41 year old man, I should have sucked it up and completed the damned class.  But, I was 19 and not very wise.  This little trip down memory lane is the build up to the main point I'm trying to make.

Regardless of not being a graduate of any type of college, when I left that place I still had a better education than most of today's university graduates.  Just think of how many university graduates still don't know when to use "you're, your" or "they're, there, their."  See what I mean?  I was talking to a young man this past week, a university graduate, and I used the Latin phrase "Modus operandi."  The young man looked at me and asked me what that meant.  I replied, "You're kidding, right?"  He was quite serious.  Not only did he not know what it meant, he had never heard it before.  Pathetic, absolutely pathetic.  I've noticed a severe lack of spelling and vocabulary skills in young people.  Find an average high school student and ask them what a conjunction is.  Hell, ask them if they can SPELL conjunction.  "Conjunction junction what's your function?"  "Hooking up words and phrases and clauses..."  I know that and I was a C student throughout my school years.  So, considering my not being able to have any decent conversation with newer generations, I don't understand how there can be so many straight A students these days.  In my day (and especially the generations before me) a straight A student was rare.  The class valedictorian (ask a kid to spell THAT word) really was smart and earned that title.

On a side note, I ran into the valedictorian of my graduating (high school) class.  It was in my early twenties and at a bar, which I frequented quite often in those days, when I bumped into her.  She was, I'm guessing, a year or two out of university when I saw her.  She was also stinkin' drunk, as was I.  Due to, I'm assuming, the large amount of alcohol we both had coursing through our bodies, recognized one another and struck up a conversation.  In high school we never said much more than "hello."  I enjoyed talking with her and got some comfort seeing that the "smart" kids were just people.  Again, we were both drunk.  Alcohol is a very effective truth serum (ask a college student to spell "serum" without using their phone or computer for reference.  It's good fun.)  If you don't mind, I'm going to scare you a little bit.  Think about what these "straight A" university students become.

They become doctors, lawyers, biologists, photographers *snicker*, psychologists... they become *GASP!* teachers.   The teachers I had all had similar educations.  Read the classics, memorize words, learn how to divide fractions... They may not know much  about classic literature, but they'll probably "get" a common Hemmingway reference.  They would damn-sure know what "Modus operandi" means.  Modern teachers (most of them are good, don't get me wrong) just aren't as good as prior generations.  I've talked with a lot of them.  It can be quite painful.  A conversation with a brand new teacher.  Again, it was in a bar, years and years ago.
Me:  "I finally forced myself to read 'Grapes of Wrath' last month..."
Her:  "Is that out now?"
Me: "What?  No, it's classic.  You should know that."
Her:  "I don't like Hemmingway.  He was a misogynist."
Me:  "It's Steinbeck.  John Steinbeck."
Her:  *blank stare*
Me:  "You're fucking kidding me, right?  You've never heard of John Steinbeck?  You're a university graduate for fuck's sake!!  I learned that shit in junior high!"

I really know how to pick up the ladies, don't I?  It's no wonder I'm still single.  With people that dumb teaching the children of today, it's no wonder I have to dumb things down in most conversations.  And I didn't even graduate from a technical "college."  For cryin' out loud, people.  Read the classics (some of them are just horribly boring), do a lot of crossword puzzles, run through the multiplication tables from time to time, multiply and divide the occasional fraction...  It may seem that kids are getting smarter but it ain't so.  The bar has just been lowered to make it seem like they're smarter. 

13 September, 2013

"Her"

In a post long ago I said I would write about a certain lady "later".  I'm thinking now may be the right time for it.  I met her a long, long time ago when I was a maintenance supervisor (read: janitor) at the daycare center.  I think it was the first company Christmas party when I, unknowingly, fell face first into the most complicated relationship I've ever experienced.  Until the night of that party I only knew her in passing.  Just one of the staff.  Nothing more, nothing less.  That Christmas party (which was just after the start of the new year, btw) started out different than I had expected.  First off, I was in my early twenties and didn't know my head from my ass.  I had just broken up with the previous girlfriend (my fault, "foot in mouth" situation) and didn't know what to do.  I didn't want to go to this party alone so, like any young man, I invited one of my best friends.  He also happened to be my partner in alcohol in those days.  He was fresh out of the Army, I was clueless, neither of us had a woman and we both had a love affair with alcohol and bars.  God, I really hate when I divert from my intended topic but, I have to.  My friend, I'll call him "Pokey" had a twin brother, "Gumby" and also two younger brothers.  I initially met Gumby and Pokey then met the rest of the family, we all "clicked" and here we are at present day.  Shenanigans, women, marriages, kids... You know the story.  Anyway, back to the original route of this post.  Since I didn't have a "date" for the company X-mas party, I thought "Heck, I'll just invite Pokey."  If I hadn't gone to the party, I would have been at the bar with him anyway.  Going to the party we'll get some free dinner, a couple of free drinks, meet a shit-load of people who have no idea that we were about to turn their world upside down...  Great fun.  I found out later that since I showed up with a guy, they all (I worked with ALL WOMEN) thought we were gay.  I still think it's hilarious.  Both Pokey and I are straight but, at that time, were also both very bad with women.  It's probably why we spent so much time together.  Anyhow, after the formal dinner the staff ended up at a local (local for them) bar.  Ahhh, we felt more in our element.  After dumping a few drinks into me I opened up and was chatting with coworkers I would have not otherwise chatted with.  I played some pool (I'm the worst you've ever seen), then moved on.  To the dart board.  I was fairly good at throwin' darts.  I was also smoking like a chimney (you could actually smoke in bars back then.)  My Sister was there, having been the person mostly responsible for my employment at that daycare center, and I think she was probably taken aback by her baby brother's behavior.  There's a thirteen year difference between us.  Sister was gone to college before I entered my formative  years.  Our relationship has always been more of a parent-child thing than a Sister-Brother thing.  Worked out well because she's largely responsible for raising me.  Mom had two other boys (both older than me) to deal with.  I adore my Sister.  Anyway, this party was the first time we had both been in an "adult" situation at the same time.  I felt weird drinking like a fish and smoking like a chimney in front of my Sister and I think she felt weird seeing me as a grown man.  I was noticing these things as I was playing cricket (darts, not the ball game) with Pokey and "her".  "She" and I were on the same team and after she had thrown, she passed my darts back to me.  This is where the whole thing started.  As she passed my darts to me, she held onto my hand just long enough to make me think something was not as it should be.  Game over, she and I were sitting at the bar and she just opened right up to me.  She told me all about her relationship troubles, about her life in general... Normal situation for me.  I'm one of those guys that women find "safe" and feel secure enough around to unload their woes upon me.  It happened to me so often that I started tuning her out.  Besides, she was married.  I was having a good time and then I found myself, again, as some gal's confidant.  Lovely.  Then she shot me "the look."  I can't describe it, but I can still picture it as if it was yesterday.  She told me more with that look than she could have with thousands of words.  Weird, but I took it in stride.  Pokey and I went back to our town and hit "our" bars.  I didn't think anything more about that weird situation.  Until the following Monday, that is.  She had left a card in my mail box at work.  The first of many, many letters between us.  In this card (I still have it) she explained that what she said was told to me in confidence because she thought I was someone she could trust.  I really had to work to even remember what she had told me at the bar.  In a nutshell, she married because she thought she had to.  Not necessarily because she wanted to.  The rescuer in me kicked in and it led to years of lots of turmoil, but also lots of good things.  We were an on and off couple, she divorced, had issues with being alone (I won't go into that ball of wax) and, as I was planning my escape from the daycare center, she bought a house with her ex-husband.  Made it really easy for me to leave her behind.  She eventually realized living with her ex-husband was a bad idea and she moved out.  The last I had talked to her, she had just met "Mr. Wrong #2" and was starting all over again.  That was the last communication I had with her for nine years.  I was stuck on her and couldn't shake her from my memory.  One relationship I had in the interim failed, I'm guessing, because I was still hung up on "her."  Not going to go into details about that right now.  I made it to about seven or eight years since last talking to "her" before I was able to let her go.  When I did let go, it was in the most embarrassing way possible.  In front of my Mother.  I had gone to a bar near my house with a friend of mine and between the perfectly mixed drinks and the Patsy Cline on the jukebox (for once, nobody in the bar complained) the things I had bottled up came to the surface and erupted.  After I was home and in bed I realized that I was stinkin' drunk and might have some problems.  I panicked and called Mom.  I flat out told Mom that I was seriously drunk, was scared and that I needed help.  Once she had arrived I poured out every bit of anguish I had acquired since high school.  My Father's death, Brother's death, three Grandparents, a Cousin...  It all came out.  Including me spilling my guts about "her."  Mom knew all along that I was still carrying a torch for her.  It was the most embarrassing moment in my life, the most vulnerable moment in my life and the most liberating moment in my life.  I had finally let go of her.  In the midst of that alcohol fueled breakdown, in front of my Mother, I accepted that "she" was gone, she was never coming back and I should get on with my life.  I truly was a new man.  I was given a great gift.  A fresh start, free from the baggage I had been carrying around for so long.  What a marvelous new beginning!  Then I did something stupid.  A year after my breakdown, I found "her" on Facebook.  I just couldn't help myself.  I sent here a message.  We eventually met again and that old spark was still there.  At least she wasn't married this time around.  A few months after that initial meeting we spent a day together.  We were in a state park exploring things and found ourselves deep in the woods.  I stopped her and I said something like "Well, we're in about as private a spot as we'll ever be.  If there's anything we should discuss, now is the time."  Considering the beginning of our relationship, neither of us had anything to lose by being completely honest with each other.  It's the part of our relationship that's most important to me and, probably, why I'm so attracted to her.  Anyway, I was expecting to discuss the fact that what we were doing, seeing each other while she was living with another guy, was wrong and it should probably not go any further.  She blindsided me.  She stopped in her tracks, turned to me, looked me in the eye and said "I love you."  I was speechless.  We spent the rest of that day feeling a bit awkward.  Things, uh, "progressed" and her boyfriend eventually found out.  She cut me out of her life instantly.  It hurt, but I understood why she did it.  I didn't hear from her for about another year.  She eventually contacted me again.  She had left her man and was living on her own.  She, oddly, asked if she could come and see me.  I said that would be fine and she came to my house.  It was awkward, but it was nice to see her again.  Then she disappeared again.  The next time I heard from her she was in a hospital.  She had become so despondent that she had tried killing herself.  I was instantly walking on eggshells around her.  I found out that her last visit was her saying goodbye to me.  I get the chills whenever I think about that day.  We've seen each other on and off since then.  One day, while riding in the car, I brought up her attempted suicide.  I told her it was not like her to take the easy way out.  I told her that life was a game and the only way to win was to see it through to the end.  Quitting meant losing the game.  Then I told her something that shocked me as much as it did her.  I said "How dare you!  How dare you try and leave me like that!"  She's been seeing a therapist and has turned her life around.  She's no longer afraid to be by herself, she's become more independent, she's my hero.  And I still love her as much as the day she shot me "the look."  I only see her a handful of times throughout the year and we're not an "item", but neither of us can deny we're connected at some deep level.  We're not lovers, we're not soul mates (I hate that term), we're more than friends... We're Kameraden!  I just realized what we have as I was typing it.  What a relief.  I can describe our relationship!  Kameradschaft!  You'll have to read up on German military history to understand.  She and I, though we may not like each other all the time, share a foxhole as life charges at us.  She confides in me and I in her.  I've told her things I've never even hinted at with anyone else.  She's told me almost everything about her life, even the dark bits that society would frown upon.  We're true kameraden, and not in the dictionary's definition.  The German definition of Kamerad is much different than you'll find in Merriam-Webster's grand book.  Our relationship is like no other and I will never have the same closeness with another human being.  It's more than friendship, it's more than love...  I treasure her and will forever be grateful that we got to know each other.  That's the story of "her." 

08 July, 2013

Dorah

As of about three hours ago, I now have no living Grandparents.  Grandma Dorah slipped away quietly and peacefully at the nursing home.  She was 97 years old.  A heartier woman I have never met.  Grandma Dorah was a full blood Dane (As was Grandma's husband, Arnie) and was born (if I remember correctly) in 1916.  Earlier in my life I attempted to put Grandma's life in perspective.  When this great woman was born America west of the Mississippi river was still, largely, untamed.  She grew up on the plains.  She lived through WWI, WWII, the jet age, the Korean war, the space age, the Vietnam War, the digital age, Both wars in Iraq...  She grew up in a good family, married a good man, raised three children, eight grandchildren and ten great-grandchildren.  My Mom is, understandably, having a difficult time.  Grandma has been deteriorating quite rapidly over the past few years.  Having been a woman with a sharp mind, it was easy to tell when things started going south.  Grandma was moved into an "assisted living" apartment and then into what, for lack of a more accurate description, a hospital room with her own things in it.  It was clear for some time that the writing was on the wall.  My Mother, as are most children, has been very distraught seeing her Mother wither away.  The only comfort I could give my Mother was the truth.  Mom's Dad, my Grandpa Arnie, was a Methodist minister for the majority of his life and some of him is within me.  I can't quite recall exactly, but I don't remember Grandpa being the kind to be stereotypical by saying "I'm so sorry for your loss."  I have always imagined him saying something that would be comforting and matter-of-fact at the same time.  As a minister Grandpa, obviously, performed a great number of funeral services.  He was good at his job.  He wasn't phony about it either.  The man was doing what he was meant to do, and he was good at it.  So when Grandma told Mom that she was ready to die I consoled my Mother as best as I knew how.  I told Mom that Grandma had led a long and fulfilling life and if she wanted to go, she had every right to do so.  97 years is an awfully long time to be alive.  Grandma occasionally had enough clearance of mind to realize she was fading.  As my family is much too aware, a long drawn out descent is much too painful for everyone involved.  I think most people would agree that a quick death is preferable.  My cousin Micky for example.  He was taken from us much too soon, but it was quick and he didn't suffer.  I miss my Grandma, but I'm also glad that she has finally been released from her pain and is now among the stars.  I've accepted Grandma's death though I'm sure it will hit me later, but with the amount of loss our family has experienced I've a different view of it than I did twenty years ago. I'm sure most people go through the same things.  Maybe it's the pain we deal with when a loved one dies that ages us more than time does.  For me the deviation from what is supposed to happen has been the hardest to deal with.  We expect natural progression of the oldest generations of our families to die first.  So when things happen out of order, we're hit harder than necessary.  I know it hurt Grandma Dorah very much when she had to see her sons-in-law (my Dad and Uncle Mike) and three grandchildren (my brother Mark and cousins Mickey and Orabelle) die before she did.  I would guess the premature deaths of these people can be offset by knowing that they were loved by Grandma.  Now she's among them.  I have so many good memories of my dear Grandma, but maybe I'll tell those stories at another time.  Grandma was often heard saying "Oh my stars"  Now, she's among her stars.

 "High Flight"
 Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
 And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
 Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
 of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
 You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
 High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
 I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
 My eager craft through footless halls of air....

 Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
 I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace.
 Where never lark, or even eagle flew —
 And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
 The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
 - Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.


John Gillespie Magee Jr.

05 June, 2013

Sometimes, I'm proud of what I do.

I've written about my entry into the crazy field of auto mechanics before so I'll spare you the details.  For those of you who are new here I'll do a brief recap.  I grew up in a blue collar family, in a blue collar town and never imagined doing something other than blue collar work.  My senior year of high school the guidance counselor pulled me out of class, asked me if I had given any thought to what I wanted to do after high school, I ran through my options and told him I wanted to be a mechanic.  Graduated high school, went to tech school and landed my first auto job.  Went to the second auto job for more money (I'll never make that mistake again), got fired and took it harder than I should have.  Up to date now?  Good.  On with the ramblings of a slightly drunk mechanic.

Having grown up in a blue collar town I always thought (and still do) that manual labor and the skilled trades were a respectable way to make a living.  Somewhere in my youth something got me thinking that certain jobs were things to be ashamed of.  A janitor for one.  When I was young, my Dad worked at "the plant" which is what everyone in town called the local GM assembly factory.  Dad worked on the line, doing various jobs, and ended up as a janitor in the EDS offices.  I never gave it any thought until I saw how the janitors at my junior high school were treated.  As I passed on through junior high and high school in the late '80s, the term "blue collar" almost became a four letter word.  Blue collar parents, which were usually the traditional family of working Dad and stay at home Mom, naturally wanted better things for their children.  Emphasis was put on "white collar" jobs such as doctors, lawyers, accountants etc.  In large part this was due to money.  Overseas labor was cheaper than paying for union labor at home.  The bean counters were looking at the bottom line and didn't consider the long term consequences of their actions.  America was once the industrial giant of the world and that distinction has evaporated.  As have an alarmingly large amount of the skills we (America) once had.  The white collar/blue collar pendulum had swung over to the white collar side and the blue collar professions suffered accordingly.  The day I told my counselor I wanted to be a mechanic, the move to white collar was already in progress and I didn't know it.  The day I got fired from auto job number two devastated me.  Not so much from the fact I would have to find another job, but because I had to go home and tell my Dad I got fired.  Before I even graduated from high school, my parents had instilled certain values in me.  My Dad may not have liked his job at the "plant", but he had a family to provide for, and that was his first (and only, looking back on it) priority.  Food on the table, roof over the heads.  Dad spent four years in the Navy and when he got out he was unemployed for a short time.  When his first child (my dear Sister) was born he didn't have a job.  In those days birth certificates had a spot where the Father's employment was written down.  My Mom told me that when my Sister was born and Dad had to write "unemployed" on the form, he was devastated.  So, getting that "mundane" assembly line job was a gift from God to him.  Dad had a union job with good pay and good benefits which allowed him to care for his family.  That job put money in the bank with which my Mom could go and buy the food she would feed us with and the clothes she put on our backs.  That "shameful" factory job also gave my Dad the option to buy bonds and invest in retirement accounts and life insurance policies.  I didn't realize until my adult years that the reason I had to do without certain luxuries (popular brand name clothes, cable TV or even color TV) was because my Dad was socking away money for his family's future.  My parents sent all of us to college of some sort.  And my Mom?  She worked for a short time before my Sister was born, for a few years when I was a teen and a few years after Dad died.  But, she didn't have to.  Those lowly blue collar jobs allowed comfortable lives for families across this nation.  This is the situation in which I was raised.  I never expected anything else for myself.  But things changed.

I'm the youngest of my siblings.  The next youngest being eight years older than myself.  The oldest, my Sister, 13 years older than myself.  The next youngest (I'll call him Spaz) suffered through the horrible early '80s when it was hard to find a job at McDonald's much less at the "plant".  As a kid, I watched Spaz go through some really hard times.  He eventually got a job at "the plant" but, unfortunately, it was towards the end of the "happy times".  Spaz got a layoff notice more than once.  But, he made it in with enough seniority (which unfortunately doesn't mean jack-shit these days) that he was able to support his new family and have a pretty decent future.  He's now just a couple of years from being able to get the decent retirement which he has most definitely earned.  However, that short time span of eight years between us may as well have been 100 years for me.

In high school my first real job was at a Chinese restaurant.  Spaz was the host/bartender there during one of the layoffs he suffered through at the plant.  One night as I was eating dinner with Mom and Dad, Spaz called.  The guy who was the busboy at the restaurant didn't show up (he was worthless from what I heard) and Spaz apparently told the owner he could get someone in to work that night.  My brother thought of me.  I showed up, was given the briefest of training and started my new job.  The other guy eventually showed up but, from what I gathered, was fired on the spot.  The restaurant owner apparently appreciated dedicated employees.  I guess he saw that in my brother and assumed that if my brother was recommending me he could expect more of the same.  I cleaned tables and poured water and made coffee.  Not terribly difficult but it was a job and, for the first time in my life, I had money coming in.  Spaz got called back to the plant and when summer came I quit because the fife and drum corps I was a part of was more important to me than money.  That was my sophmore year of high school.  My junior year I was completely unemployed except for the random baby sitting I did for Spaz.  I guess you could say that was my only experience with being unemployed.  I applied for a job at a local greenhouse and didn't get it.  Failure.  Not something that sits well with me.  As I began my Senior year of high school I was informed that the restaurant was looking for a dishwasher/side order cook.  I hemmed and hawed over it because my pride prevented me from what I thought would be crawling back to the restaurant.  A short lesson from my Dad cleared things up.  He told me that the restaurant had given me a job, on the spot, before and they were giving me the chance to be employed again.  Applying at the green house was one of my first "independent" moments and it had failed.  So, I became a dishwasher/side order cook.  I don't regret it at all.  Then, a bigger leap.

I was expecting to spend the summer after my high school graduation with the fife and drum corps as usual, but things took an unexpected turn.  My best friend, Pete, had applied at a grocery store and when they didn't respond quickly (he's a seriously motivated individual) he moved on.  The grocery store eventually called him and though he told them he'd moved on he called me to let me know there was a job opening.  I applied, interviewed and got hired as a dairy/frozen foods assistant.  My first grocery store job.  This job was short-lived as the place went out of business a little over a year after I was hired.  The things I learned from that job were many.  I was given responsibility for certain (though menial) tasks, I learned that I was capable of doing all sorts of things and, most importantly, that when you work with good people a job can be enjoyable.  I guess I learned that at the restaurant but, being my first job, I had nothing to compare it to.  Sadly, one day my boss called me at home and told me not to come into the store because they were closing for good.  I was crushed because the people I looked forward to seeing every day wouldn't be around anymore.  Then the things I learned from Mom and Dad kicked in.  "I need to find another job.  Fast."  My brain was screaming "You need to provide, provide, provide!!".  I was still living at home and had no debts except to Dad.  I borrowed $500 from him to buy my first car.  The day my boss told me the store was closing, I went to the store to turn in my shirts and name tag then went directly to every other grocery store in town.  I got an application from every store, went home, filled out every application and then went out and returned them.  All in less than twelve hours.  The next day I went down to the unemployment office.  I walked in, got in line, picked up the first form and started filling it out.  At some point I thought "This is ridiculous.  I need to get a job."  I was unemployed for less than a week when another grocery store called.  I didn't care what the pay was or what the job was.  I took it.  Again, I ended up in a great place.  New people, new building, but the same "family" atmosphere.  Somehow, the manager thought I was responsible enough to be "promoted" in a way.  I delivered flowers for them.  This was during my second year of tech school, the '91-'92 school year. 

Tech school, of course, helped get its students into the jobs for which they had been training.  My two professors, Mike and Bill, knew their jobs well.  Still do.  They had the the know-how to place their students in jobs that were appropriate.  I didn't go searching for my first auto job, Mike told me about the opening and suggested to me that I apply for it.  Mike knew me better than I did.  Interviewed, hired...  Food on the table.  I still remember asking the manager at the grocery store for a minute of his time.  I still feel the shame of telling Ken I was leaving for another job.  I was raised to be grateful for a job, any job, that allowed you to provide for your family.  Job hopping was frowned upon.  If someone gave you a job, you showed that employer some respect by staying with them and giving them your all.  So, having only been at this second grocery store about four or five months, I felt horrible telling Ken that I was leaving.  Ken being older and therefore wiser than the 19 year old me, therefore, knew that I was trying to begin a professional career.  He understood completely and even gave me his blessing.  I still felt terrible for leaving.  But, I did move on.  I won't rewrite my experiences with what happened next.  It's all in the "Career Blues" series of posts I have on here.  I will, however, fill in the blanks.

I went to the first auto job, went to the second and got fired.  The day I got fired I went home, early, and walked in to the house.  Mom and Dad were eating dinner at the kitchen counter as I walked in.  Neither of them were expecting me for another three hours.  They both stopped eating, at the same time, and stared at me.  Probably trying to figure out why I was home at that time.  With my parents I never really tried to cushion things.  I simply looked at them and said "I got fired."  I don't remember what happened after that.  The incredible shame of having to tell my parents that I was fired from a job must have been so great that I've blocked it from memory.  I was a product of my parents, however, and the next day I was out hunting for a new job.  Gotta keep that money coming in so you can provide for your family!  Here's the twist to my story.  Just after I started auto job 2, the first grocery store I worked for had reopened under new owners.  My former manager had called me, along with other former employees, asking us if we were interested in coming back.  Prior experience = less training.  I thought about it and politely declined.  I had changed jobs so frequently (restaurant, grocery 1, grocery 2, auto 1 and auto 2) within the past three years that I didn't want to change yet again.  Besides, I was just starting out on my chosen career.  I thanked Dave for even thinking about me for the job.  A few months later I got fired from auto 2.  I weighed my options.  Barely one week passed before I went back to grocery 2 (I'll call it grocery 3 from now on) and asked if I could meet with Dave.  I was honest with him and told him about being fired from auto 2.  I told him that I needed a job and if he had one available would he please consider me.  He hired me on the spot.  I told him that my intentions were to get back into auto and he was understanding.  I put in four years at grocery 3.

Though I hadn't planned on staying at grocery 3 for four years, it just worked out that way.  The shame I felt from being fired from auto 2 was so great that I thought I wasn't good enough.  Why would any shop hire me after finding out I had been fired?  I dealt with this while I advanced through grocery 3.  So many things happened in that time.  Dad died.  Dave came to the funeral and gave my family a card, signed by every single one of my coworkers.  What a great place to work!  People cared about one another.  Why would I leave that kind of environment?  Most of my coworkers were from grocery 1, who had come back, and the business was in the same building.  I started as a third shift stocker and was quickly moved to second shift supervisor.  I had no clue how to run a store but Dave saw something in me that I wasn't able to see in myself.  I alternated between dairy/frozen manager and second shift supervisor for most of my time at grocery 3.  They eventually moved me into the meat department.  I did NOT want to go there, but I did because I wished to remain employed.  Reluctantly, I started in the meat department.  Long story short, if the shit hadn't hit the fan, I would be a journeyman meat cutter right now.  I eventually liked the meat department and the guys I worked with in that constantly chilly environment.  It wasn't going to last.

Having been through one failed grocery store,  I started to see the writing on the wall for grocery 3.  Nobody wanted to admit it because those of us still there loved that place, but the ship was sinking.  My Sister had talked to me about an opening at the daycare center she worked at, for a "maintenance man" i.e "janitor" and I told her I had no interest in commuting or cleaning toilets.  Three months after that conversation I finally realized that grocery 3 was as good as gone and I had better jump ship before it sank.  On a lark I called the administrator of the daycare.  I explained who I was and inquired if the job was still available.  It was.  I drove up there and interviewed.  Honest as always, I said that my current employer was sinking fast and I needed a job.  Period.  Pretty much got hired on the spot.  I'm a lucky son of a bitch aren't I?  So began another career path.

Again my best friend, Pete, came to my rescue (see the Career Blues series) and I'm back in my chosen career.  But, at the daycare center I was ashamed of what I did.  Think of how janitors are looked down upon.  My official title was "Maintenance Supervisor" but I knew, as did everyone else, that I was a glorified janitor.  I cleaned toilets and floors for a living.  I decided early on that I wouldn't try to bullshit anyone.  When asked was I did for a living, I came right out and told them I was a glorified janitor at a daycare center.  Then, finally, things started to change.

I got back into auto repair and started to respect myself more.  There was never any reason to not respect myself.  I have never, ever received unemployment compensation from the government.  Still, I felt ashamed to be working a blue collar job as a mechanic.

Thank you, Alabama!  The band, not the state.  I first heard Alabama's song "40 hour week" when I was cleaning toilets at the daycare center.  At the lowest point of my life (up to that time anyway) hearing that song started to give me back some of my pride.  Sure, I was cleaning toilets and changing light bulbs but I had a job.  I was providing for my (non-existent) family and doing something somewhat useful for society!  Then I moved on to auto 3 and auto 4.  Mike Rowe had his "Dirty Jobs" show on TV.  For the first time I felt no shame in being a blue collar professional.  Sad that it took 40 years to get to this point but I'm here.  When you get down to the bones of it, there's no shame in being blue collar or white collar.  What matters is providing for your family and those who depend on you.  I don't care if you're digging ditches, vacuuming the shit out of porta-johns or crunching numbers.  Family is what matters.  Feed them, shelter them and clothe them.  The rest is immaterial.

In my relatively short life I've seen America swing from blue collar to white collar and back towards the middle.  Jobs are coming back from overseas because the bean counters are, I hope, finally starting to realize that you can't get quality products made overseas.  Here, in America, were able to be both concerned with providing for our families AND providing quality products and services.  I hope things keep going for the middle.  Blue collar or White collar, we both have red blood.  Red, White and Blue!

03 April, 2013

The New Guy

The "New Guy" at work isn't going to make it in this line of work.  He went to a tech school, albeit a government funded "school to jobs" thing and, by his own admission, spent a lot of the time high or not paying attention.  He went to school (got a tool kit too) on our tax dollars.  He wasted our money.  He's been with us for a year now and has shown improvement, but he isn't going to cut it in the end.  He has a severe lack of problem solving ability.  He's the kind of person that did poorly in the comprehension part of those lovely standardized tests the public schools use.  He's also lazy and selfish.  I thought I was a selfish bastard, but I look like a martyr compared to this guy.  Some examples.  He'll drive a truck up to a shop door, honk the horn and then wait for someone to open the door.  All the while there's a walk-in door not fifteen feet away.  Whoever is inside has to stop what they're doing, walk over, push a button to open the door, wait for lazy-ass to drive in, close the door and then get back to what they were doing.  I explain to him that certain doors are close enough to walk-in doors that it's more efficient for everyone if he simply opens the door for himself.  The new guy also seems to give up frequently when the going gets rough.  Just last night he had to put a treadle valve in a spotter for one of our best customers.  First problem is that a treadle valve has more than two air lines.  Not good because, as I just mentioned, he doesn't have problem solving skills.  Problem number two was the replacement valve was a different brand and had a different port layout than the original.  Problem three, he expected me to take him parts all the time.  As with the door thing, he doesn't even consider that other people might just happen to be busy doing other work.  I was busy getting things done in the shop because I knew he wouldn't be done with the treadle valve for a long time.  Still, he got frustrated and kept calling with stupid questions that he already knew the answer to.  It seems that the moment something doesn't go according to plan, his brain goes into screensaver mode.  One of the times he called me last night, he somehow had the idea that I knew exactly what he was looking at and what needed to be done.  "Uh, dude, I don't know how a treadle valve works.  I don't know how the old and new parts compare and I can't read your mind."  Not wanting to discourage him further I said "I'll find some literature and bring it over to you."  I looked up an air system diagram for the truck he was working on, a diagram for the old treadle valve (ports weren't labeled, which they should be) and took it over to him.  It took me two minutes of looking at this information to figure out how the new valve would probably need to be plumbed.  Staying there would only reinforce his belief that someone will always come to bail him out and trying to explain things to him would be wasted time on my part.  So, I left.  He's a big boy now.  He's working in the real world, in a real truck shop.  He needs to learn that it's up to him whether he sinks or learns to swim.  He's going to get thrown into the after hours service call rotation in the near future and it's going to be a rude awakening for him.  He's gone a year without being in the rotation.  The rest of us had, at the most, six months before we were thrown to the wolves.  I was in the rotation three months after starting at this shop!    Anyway, I got the current job I was working on finished and was getting ready to go get the next one when the new guy calls yet again.  "The brakes work but the air gauge, air seat and fifth wheel release don't work.  I can't mount the valve because of the air lines.  The cab is stuck in the air, the switch is bad.  I'm done.  I'm packing up and coming back.  Somebody can finish it tomorrow."  Oh, I can't tell you how pissed off I was.  I hung up on him because if I didn't, I would have been screaming at him.  I put my tools away, got in my service truck and went to clean up his mess.  Again.  You see, this isn't the first time he's done something like this.  I arrived to find the spotter, cab sticking up in the air, batteries disconnected, treadle valve dangling by the air lines, parts and a couple of tools laying on the ground...  I was livid.  I diagnosed and fixed the cab issue (lift motor solenoid was stuck).  I figured out a way to bolt the treadle valve down.  I disconnected all the air lines and plumbed the valve so the brakes and air accessories worked.  The brake lights stayed on but I was still too pissed, too tired and too cold to fuck with that.  I pulled the circuit breaker for the brake lights and left it.  But, the spotter was usable for our customer when morning came.  The new guy needs to get it through his thick head that even though the hours suck and some jobs are going to kick his butt, he still needs to get things done.  The rest of the guys in the shop know this and we'll all help each other as much as possible because we know we can count on each other to get shit done.  I can't count on the new guy.  As I've said, this isn't the career for him.  I always get stuck with the new guys on night shift.  The fifth mechanic position is a revolving door.  For some reason it's a hard spot to fill.  It's been years since I've had an experienced coworker on night shift. 

To be a mechanic requires the right mind.  Tech school is important, but a person without the proper head for it isn't going to become any better from school or experience.  Example, "Jimmy" came to us after getting kicked out of college.  "Jimmy" is the son of another employee and worked in the office.  Filing, billing, stuffing envelopes, going on parts runs etc.  He tinkered with his motorcycle some, but had no formal education as far as trucks or cars.  After a little over a year in the office, he decided he wanted to work out in the shop.  We all told him he was crazy for wanting to work in the shop.  "You'll be sorry!" we said.  I'm happy to say we were all wrong about Jimmy.  He's been in the shop just a few years and he's one of the best mechanics we have.  He's done well because he has the right tools in his head.  Hell, he had never used a welder and asked me to show him how to weld.  I gave Jimmy the basic "Here's how to turn it on, this adjusts wire speed, this adjusts voltage, you need a spotless ground..." I showed him some basic techniques for welding vertically, horizontally and overhead.  Showed him what under penetration and over penetration looked like.  Showed him a lap joint, butt joint, fillet.  Had him try the welds that we had just covered, let him practice a little more and that was it.  It took 90 minutes and he pretty much had it down. 

As for me, I don't like my job but I've come to accept that I'm pretty good at it and it's the kind of thing I was meant to do.  I don't like working twelve hour shifts having to babysit the new guy.  I don't like knowing that I'll probably get yelled at the next day for not getting more done instead of getting some praise for saving the day after the new guy gave up and left a mess behind.  But, deep down I love the challenges.  I also get satisfaction from knowing the boss can depend on me and trusts me enough to run the shop at night.  The boss knows that I know what needs to be done, and how he wants things done. 

16 March, 2013

Professional athletes

It is my opinion that the majority of pro football players are in it for the ridiculous amounts of money they get paid. "It's all about the game. The money isn't that important." Bullshit. I'd like to see how many of them would still play if their salary was put on the same level as the average professional worker. There's always going to be the argument that they have to stay in top form, have to travel extensively, have to stay on top of the game etc. What about an airline pilot? They have to travel extensively, constantly learn new things to stay current and, despite what you may think, aren't paid very well. Many airline pilots have second jobs! If an airline pilot fucks up, people die. If a football player fucks up they only have to deal with an overpaid coach and face paint wearing fans.

What about a diesel mechanic who's been busting his ass 12 to 15 hours a day, five days a week, for months on end only to be yelled at for "not getting everything done"?  That mechanic doesn't have an off-season to look forward to.  That mechanic is also just barely above what is considered a poverty wage.  No sponsors, no million dollar contracts, no glory, just the desire to keep a roof over his family's head and food on the table.

Who's more important, the mechanic or the professional athlete?  Think about the uniforms, shoes, balls, fertilizer for the field, the paint used to mark the field, the programs, the band, the team's transport to the field...  Who do you think keeps the trucks, cars and buses running?  Certainly not the athletes.  When a "professional" football team flies to another city, think about the woman standing outside in freezing temperatures, in a little basket on the end of a boom truck, spraying deicing fluid all over the "professional's" airplane.  That woman serves a purpose. She's helping to keep the "professionals" inside the aircraft safe.  That woman probably earns less than an eighth of what the "professionals" inside the aircraft are raking in.  All she wants to do is give her kids a good home.  What are the professionals doing for their fellow man?

All of you fuckers who might bring up the whole "Oh, they might get hurt because they have to work so hard playing their game..." thing.  Fuck you.  I cut my head open on a truck and bled until the emergency room staff stitched me up.  Did my pay go up for getting hurt?  Fuck no!  I was expected to be at work the next day.

"But what about the professional's donations to charity?"  Fuck you.   Deep down you know it's only them jerking you off.   They'll pick a charity and donate pittance to make it seem like they're not the money-grubbing sons-of-bitches that they are.  The salt in the wound is some of the people who actually make this country go 'round are relying upon those charities.

I went to school to learn my trade.  I've spent years and years improving my skills.  I'm ASE certified.  I have to buy my own tools.   I provide an useful service to society.  I'm sure most athletes couldn't do my job and I'm sure I couldn't do their job.  Why is the pay scale so lopsided? 

Dear Vatsim Pilots

Dear Vatsim Pilots,

As a Vatsim controller, there are some things I would like to say to you.  These mostly involve misunderstandings due to lack of information.

1.)  Air traffic control services on Vatsim are "top down".  This means a controller works all positions that are under them.  For example, an approach controller provides not only approach and departure radar services to all airports within their airspace, but also tower, ground and clearance delivery services for those airports.  A lone controller working center has a LOT of airports to provide services for.

2.)  Flight plan clearance is the LAST thing on my priority list.  A lot of you new pilots are very impatient and it drives us controllers nuts.  If center is the only controller on when you call for clearance and the controller tells you to stand by, STAND BY.  Don't badger us every two minutes.  Airborne aircraft have priority over an aircraft sitting on the ground, safely at a gate or on a ramp.  We will get to you when we can.

3.)  If you are told to stand by, do not use the amount of radio traffic as a gauge to figure out how busy a controller is.  If you don't hear much radio traffic and are waiting for flight plan clearance, chances are we're coordinating with another controller.  Again, we will get to you when we can.

4.)  Don't file flight plans that you don't completely understand.  Controllers have absolutely no way to know what your limits are until you exceed them.  I you file airways, know how to intercept an airway.  If you file VORs, know how to fly direct to them and how to fly on specific radials.  If you file all GPS waypoints, expect to be told to go direct to any of them.

5.)  Learn what an equipment suffix is.  It's very important.

6.)  When departing an airport and are told to go direct to a navaid or waypoint, it means direct FROM YOUR CURRENT POSITION!  DO NOT intercept the pink line on your damned GPS.  The pilot should be in control of the aircraft, not the othe way around.

7.)  For chrissakes, learn how to use the "direct to" function on your GPS unit.

8.)  Your first flights should NOT be in a 747 out of a major airport.  If you're new to flying it's probably a good idea to learn the basics of flying and aerial navigation offline.  A green pilot, at a major airport, in a large airliner that they do not know inside out is a major source of frustration for controllers.  We will not let our frustration come over the frequency but, trust me, we're cursing you six ways to Sunday off frequency.  Stick to smaller, easier to fly aircraft at small airports where you won't get in the way of people who know what they're doing.

9.) Pilots in the real world start in small aircraft to learn the very basics of flight.  Just because you're in a flight sim doesn't mean you shouldn't do the same.

10.)  Pay attention when a controller is issuing you your clearance.  The controller may have changed your route (usually to comply with traffic volume, facility procedures or Letters of Agreement with neighboring ARTCCs).  When we read you a clearance that differs, even slightly, with what you filed and you read back "Cleared to XXXX as filed...."  We start pulling our hair out because we will then have to reissue the clearance until you read it back correctly.  This is a huge waste of time.

11.)  If you are given an instruction that you do not understand, tell the controller "unable".  If we tell you to do something and you read it back to us, you have just agreed to a verbal contract and we EXPECT YOU TO FOLLOW THAT INSTRUCTION!  We would much rather have you admit you don't understand what we told you.  We can then find another way to do things.  If we tell you to go direct to some point in order to keep you clear of conflicting traffic, you read it back and then don't go direct because you don't know how...  Again, we will be cursing your name off frequency.

12.)  DO NOT FALL ASLEEP DURING FLIGHT!  I generally don't send "contact me" messages unless you're going to be in conflict with other traffic, but if I send a "contact me" and you don't answer, the first thing I'm going to do is find a supervisor and start the process of getting you booted off the network.  If you're sleepy, disconnect from the network.

13.)  The Golden Rule of interacting with ATC is "Aviate, navigate, communicate."  That means if I tell you to fly a certain heading you should start turning towards that heading FIRST, then read the instruction back to me.

14.)  When reading instructions back to a controller phraseology is everything.  If I say "Cessna34A turn right heading 100."  and you read back "one zero zero for Cessna34A"  I have no idea if you are turning to HEADING 100 or are maintaining 100 KNOTS".  Pay attention.  Altitudes, headings, speeds etc should all be read back exactly as the controller issues it so we know you understood.  Altimeter settings don't need to be read back.

15.)  Eliminate the words "Roger" "10-4" and "wilco" from your vocabulary.  Anytime I hear those words it is like you raising a huge "noob" flag and waving it proudly.

16.)  Despite what you've already read, controllers are not pissed at you.  If we sound like we are, you probably picked the wrong situation to try something new or ask for help.  Controllers are more than willing to help you become a better pilot WHEN TIME ALLOWS.  The middle of an event is not the time to ask for help.  Look for a controller who's not busy or has no traffic.

17.)  Controllers are REQUIRED to meet a minimum of standards set forth by Vatsim before they earn their ratings and are allowed to control live (meaning you) traffic.  Pilots have no such restrictions.  An alarmingly large amount of pilots simply keep clicking the "next" button when signing up for Vatsim until they receive their pilot ID number and password.  New pilots are SUPPOSED to read the Code of Conduct (CoC) and the Pilot Requirements, but there is no way to verify a new pilot has actually read those documents.  A simple check box at the end of these documents would solve a large majority of problems, but it isn't so.

18.)  READ THE PRC (Pilot Resource Center) BEFORE YOU TRY TO FLY ON THE NETWORK!!  Sooo many problems I see with new pilots would never have happened had they actually read all the information in the PRC before flying on the network.

19.)  In US airspace, eastbound IFR flights (0 to 179 degrees MAGNETIC heading) should be cruising at ODD altitudes.  11000, 9000, FL210 etc.  Westbound flights (180 to 359 degrees MAGNETIC heading) should be cruising at EVEN altitudes.  12000, 10000, FL220 etc.  VFR cruise altitudes are much the same except you would add 500 feet.  Eastbound  11500, 9500 etc.  Westbound 12500, 10500 etc.

20.)  THE HIGHEST VFR FLIGHT ALTITUDE IS 17,500!!! Anything above that is IFR territory and requires clearance and contact with ATC.

21.)  Class B airspace is sacred!!  When flying VFR Class B airspace requires explicit permission from a controller to enter, leave or transition.  Default flight sim GPS units depict Class B and Class C airspace.  Even if you do not use charts there is NO excuse for you to be violating Class B or Class C airspace.

22.)  Learn the US airspace system.

23.)  Learn how to turn your damned transponder on.  Personally speaking, if you don't squawk the proper code and turn your transponder on (for IFR flight) I will NOT let you depart until you comply.

24.)  If I assign you a heading or altitude I expect you to fly it.  If you do not comply, you are in violation of the pilot requirements.  I will have you booted off the network.

25.)  If you are being an idiot by not complying with Vatsim requirements or by not following a controller's instructions, we (controllers) WILL fuck with you and you won't even know it. 

26.)  According to Vatsim, you are allowed to simulate emergencies, but we all know you're faking it.  If I hear the stupid "mayday, mayday..." bullshit (usually new, teenaged pilots) I'll give you lip service, but that's it.  I'm secretly hoping you'll just disappear and let me get back to helping pilots who give a damn.

27.)  Using the callssign "AIRFORCEONE" or "AF1"  will make controllers fuck with you.  Again, using either of those two call signs, though it may seem cool to you, just let us know you're a noob and are most likely not going to have a clue what you're doing.

28.)  Ask for progressive taxi and you're almost guaranteed to get the scenic (read longest) route to your parking spot.  Airport diagrams are plentiful and free.  There's absolutely no reason why you shouldn't have one ready for your departure and arrival airports.  Same for sectional charts, low altitude and high altitude enroute charts and approach plates.

29.)  Learn the difference between controlled and uncontrolled airports.  Ask for taxi instructions, take off clearance or landing clearance at an uncontrolled field an you will either get vectored around the "scenic area" or will have your departure release revoked.  Try me.

30.)  As queer as it seems, a "visual approach" is an IFR procedure.  If you're flying VFR you'll be told to enter the traffic pattern.

31.)  We're air traffic CONTROLLERS.  Not air traffic SUGGESTERS.