Wing Men

Their work area looks as if a goat exploded inside their cubicle, they collect graphics and obscure references to zombies and tack them up on their walls, they’re obsessed with fantasy football, science fiction, and South Park, and they have the collective sense of humor of a classroom full of eighth grade boys.  Don’t leave an open bottle of water near your desk, because, more than likely, you’ll find something floating on the bottom of it, like a swollen gummy bear that’s been God only knows where before succumbing to its watery grave. 

Brent* and Joe* (not their real names) are two boys with whom I work in the QA department of a worldwide software conglomerate that may not be a household name to most readers, but leads the industry in designing manufacturing software.  Not only does this most profitable enterprise work the proverbial room that is the global marketplace with its state-of-the-art product and successfully markets it, it seeks to recruit only the most talented individuals who, behind the scenes, make the magic happen.

Which takes me back to Brent* and Joe* (not their real names).  Both survived matriculation at Kent State (surprisingly without any intervention from the Ohio National Guard) and now work with me at the software conglomerate; or rather, I work with them.  Or, rather, they put up with me and my inane and asinine questioning without any visible eye rolling or finger pointing (you know the finger), while I blithely return to my neat-as-a-pin work area and attempt to decipher their complicated solutions to my simple problems.  You have no idea how often Wikipedia has saved me from the abject anxiety that only the technologically-limited have experienced.

Here’s what we—Brent* and Joe* (not their real names) and I–do at the software conglomerate:  Brent* and Joe* (not their real names) test the software enhancements that are made by the über talented software developers at the global software conglomerate, then, once vetted, they pass along the enhancements to me to update or document in the software applications’ users manuals.  Sounds simple, right?

Simple for them maybe; not so simple for me.  I have many talents; following directions is not one of them.  But I’m getting better.

I won’t elaborate on the sad and sorry months when I wasn’t dead sure how to download and install a program onto my PC, how I had to look up the word ‘algorithm’, how I had to pretend that I knew how to take a screenshot, or how I had no idea of what a virtual PC was even though I worked on one every day.  Those were the darkest of my early days at the software conglomerate, the days when I’m sure Brent* and Joe* (not their real names) wondered just how I ever managed to part my hair in the morning.

But like I said, I’m getting better, and so, hopefully, the relationship between Brent* and Joe* (not their real names) and me is also evolving. 

Now that I work in the private sector for a worldwide software conglomerate, people ask me all the time if I miss teaching and the answer is “Hell, no!” except for one thing:

I miss sitting among my students and clandestinely listening in on their conversations.  I miss hearing the two boys in the back of the room trading Anchorman and Office Space lines and trying hard not to crack up or pee in my pants.  I miss the little jokes, the “joning”, and the playfulness that exists among folks who actually, deep down, like, respect, and cherish one another.

Brent* and Joe* (not their real names) are like those two boys trading Anchorman and Office Space lines, and they could very well have been my students when they—Brent* and Joe* (not their real names)– were eighth graders.  While they like to cut up and have a good time, these two men are also very committed to their work.  They take very seriously the task of testing—testing up, down, diagonally, sideways, around curves, and under any and all possible scenarios. 

The takeaway?  It is possible to develop good working relationships with your colleagues even if, seemingly, you have little if anything in common with them.  And it is most definitely possible to find good help these days—Brent* and Joe* (not their real names) are proof of that. There’s a certain level of respect that exists among the three of us—Brent* and Joe* (not their real names) respect me because they have to since I’m old enough to be their mom; in turn, I respect the two of them for their intelligence, their work ethic, and, lastly, their combined sense of humor.  And so this is my homage to them—to my wing men, who, without their patient instruction and tolerance of my dumber-than-a-box-of-rocks-ish-ness, I would still be trying to figure out how to access the VPN.

Kids these days…

For God’s Sake, Get Me to the Church on Time!

famIt was the nicest wedding I never went to.

My beautiful nephew Lynnie and his equally gorgeous bride Ashlee tied the knot in Denver, Colorado this weekend.  Or so I’m told.

I traveled to Denver in style—my magnanimous brother-in-law Randy procured a large, spacious vehicle for my sister Becky, my nephew Adrian–Lynnie’s brother and the best man, Adrian’s darling wife, and the two best little girls on the planet, aged two and four months.  Kids that age require a lot of stuff, in case you didn’t know, and that stuff takes up a lot of room.

I had the seat in the chair strapped to the roof á la Aunt Edna in National Lampoon’s Vacation.  At least I wasn’t wrapped in a sheet and thrown in the back like Grandpa in Little Miss Sunshine.

Road trips often inspire writers to use movie metaphors.

The fifteen hours to Denver was punctuated with lots of laughter and just a little bit of fussing from a two year old who isn’t quite used to such confinement.  Our entre into Denver and the subsequent influx of more family and friends heralded the beginning of the wedding weekend which, for me, would not begin until Jamie and Rena would arrive.

The reader must understand first the delightful and captivating character that resides within my sister-in-law Rena.  Her first accomplishment as my brother’s wife was transforming my formerly staid and uptight sib into a fun-lovin’ party animal; secondly, no function is complete without her presence.  Why?  It’s hard to explain, but she’s the kind of person who makes any situation—good or bad—a memorable one.

Take for instance Sunday afternoon—the day of the wedding.  Jamie and Rena picked me up at my hotel and after the requisite cocktail at the bar, we headed downtown at two o’clock, our respective GPSs programmed to find the Denver Community Church.  It only took us ten minutes to get downtown—plenty of time for a three o’clock wedding.  We were feeling good.

The invitation had included a directive that asked that we not park at Whole Foods or we’d get our un-pot smoked-in car towed.  Fair enough.  The GPS took us to Washington Street—the address of the church– which was a stone’s throw from Whole Foods.  So far, so good.

There was only one problem:  we couldn’t seem to find the church.

Okay, we thought.  Some churches don’t look like your average brick-clad-steeple-stained-glass-window-cross affair.  The neighborhood was made up of quaint, shabbily classic older homes, its residents comprised of twenty and thirty somethings enjoying the beauty of the day; however, none of them knew where the Denver Community Church was located.  Heathens, we figured.

On foot (and me barefoot–I simply cannot abide high heels, especially when trekking the streets at what was beginning to develop into a panicked pace), we schlepped up one block and down another.  We asked no fewer than twenty-five fellow pedestrians and their canine companions where this church was located, if they had ever heard of it, or if they had any friends who had heard of it.  Nope.  Sinners all.

We got back in the car, this time with my brother uttering a litany of colorful references to the city of Denver and its Godless residents.  The very last person we asked was an older gentleman—eighty-ish—who we figured must have a better notion of where to find the Denver Community Church.  Jamie stopped in the middle of the street, and Rena did the asking.

“Sir.  We’re late for a wedding.  It’s at the Denver Community Church.  Can you possibly tell us where it is?”

“Is it a gay wedding?  Because I’m heading to a gay church for a gay wedding.”  I almost think he wanted us to come with him as his gay guests.

Were we going to a gay wedding?  For a split second, I hesitated; but no, Lynn and Ashlee were having a traditional wedding, or so I was told.

Hell, at that point, we should have just gone with him.  At least we could have said we were at a wedding.

We went back to the Whole Foods where my brother went inside and shook down a cashier for directions.  He learned that there is another Washington Street next to another Whole Foods, but it was another whole five or six miles away.

Ergo, no wedding for us.

Jamie, uttering more epithets for the city of Denver that would melt my keyboard if I were to write them here, managed to get us to the Denver Community Church just as the newly married couple and their families (minus two aunts and an uncle) were having pictures taken outside of the church next to the other Whole Foods where we parked the car—just out of spite.  The three people most upset at our absence were Jamie, Rena, and me.  Everyone else thought it was hilarious.  That’s my family.

We had no problem getting to the reception, quite possibly because the prospect of a stiff drink compelled my brother to develop an inner compass that guided him through the mean streets of downtown Denver right to the restaurant where the reception was being held.  That’s when the fun began, because Lynnie’s Aunt Rena was the life of the party.

“Aunt Rena?  Oh, you mean the hottie with the bubbly laugh and the million dollar smile?  Or Aunt Kelly, that sweaty lady with the dirty feet who smelled like a guinea pig?”

My own children and my nieces and nephews will all agree that no party, no gathering, no meeting, or association is complete without Aunt Rena.  Expressive as I claim to be, as a writer, I’ve no words that can adequately describe how Rena’s attendance at any function turns it into an occasion to remember. She lights up the room upon her arrival, and by the end of the night, she’s everyone’s best friend. However, be forewarned:  You had better rest up, because she has more energy than anyone I know.

And she transformed what could have been an altogether disappointing and devastating afternoon into one that I’ll long remember because I think I laughed harder than I ever thought was possible over the complete failure to show up at a wedding I had traveled over 1,000 miles and halfway across the continent to attend.

That’s why I love my family.

Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby

Okay, so here is my big reveal:  I am writing a novel.  And I am pleased to also reveal that I am nearly finished with the first draft—that is, I’m sure that there will be some editing, adding, subtracting (hopefully no multiplication or division) and tidying up, but I can see the ending—in fact, I am so obsessed, at this moment, with getting to the ending that I feel, in my professional writer’s experienced opinion, that I need to take a break and write about something else.

So I’m writing about the writing—meta-writing we writers call it.  I think. 

I realized early on, you know, as an experienced novelist, that I must write the truth—not the “truth” that reveals that the characters are all based on real people, because they’re not—they’re not!  The truth to which I am referring is the truth of what would really happen in certain situations.  We writers call it verisimilitude.

And what’s a good story without some sex in it, huh?  I mean really, is it enough to read about bucolic landscapes and quirky characters and their clever antics juxtaposed with evil characters and their diabolical plans without the addition of one of God’s greatest—um—gifts to mankind?  You know the one:  it’s the gift that keeps on giving, the one that keeps the species from going extinct.  It’s sex, silly!

Now hold on, Scooter, aint no Fifty Shades of anything going on in my story, no sir.  This piece of fiction is PG all the way.  For the record, I detest gratuitous references to sex.  For the uninitiated, gratuitous references or retellings of sexual encounters that are thrown into a story in order to titillate the reader and are not germane to the plot are known as gratuitous.  That’s how we writers define it, anyway.  There exist, as of today, no gratuitous sexual references in my soon-to-be literary masterpiece.  At least I don’t think there are.

Occasionally, as I write, I like to stand back and admire my handiwork and seek some sort of gratification for what I’ve accomplished, and so I often recruit my husband to sit across from me and listen to certain passages that I’ve just written and get his take on the language I’ve chosen, the imagery present, and the connection of the character’s feelings to the actions described within the passage.  In exchange for his attentiveness, I promise him certain things, but I digress, and I don’t want to be accused of being gratuitous.

Last night, I asked him to listen to a recently penned portion of my Pulitzer-bound tome, one that had a—ahem—rather remarkable reference to an altogether different kind of gratification.  My husband never strays far from his über conservative roots.  As he does after every one of these readings, he remarked, “Are you sure you want to put that in there?  What if my parents happen to read it?”

It got worse.  As I was reading to my husband, my mind at one with the mind of my character, my sixteen year-old son, apparently unaware that his mother was in the throes of, well, in the throes of what we writers like to call ‘a reading’, walked into the room, stopped, turned, and walked back out.  I haven’t seen him since.  Quite honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if he hitchhiked to Grandma and Grandpa’s house.  Nothing like having your mother sitting at the kitchen table in front of her laptop reading to your dad her very own version of a particularly gratifying experience.  The boy’s scarred for life, I’m afraid.

Admittedly, I am somewhat uncomfortable writing about sex—actually putting pen to paper (or keystroke to Microsoft Word) in order to describe the most private and intimate of subjects, is, well, daunting, to say the least.  Add to that the inexperience of the writer (that’s me), and I’m blushing all over the place!

Most writers will laugh at my Puritan-driven mindset with regard to sex, but despite my hubris, writing the truth is hard work.  Writing strips layers away from the writer’s soul; it forces the writer to examine feelings of joy, pain, sorrow, fear in their most naked and raw form.  Naked and raw. 

Practice makes perfect.

 

Steadfast and Resolute, We Will Prevail

It’s now day two of the government shutdown.  Tim, Christian, and I have enough provisions to see us through until the end of the week, but we’re about to run out of dog food.  Rationing has begun, and though Bella and Emmy appear to be holding up well, I fear that by the end of the day they may revolt and start begging for people food.  I’m beginning to see it in their eyes.  As a last resort, Tim may have to make the trek into Specks Pet Supply today, but his journey will depend entirely upon the atmosphere out there.  With media coverage still available, we have yet to hear of rioting and looting in our sector, but without the federal government’s intervention, we can’t possibly avoid the inevitable.

My greatest fear is for our daughters.  The town of West Lafayette, Indiana, sits west of the Wabash River.  What if the federal government shutdown leads to the secession of this predominantly collegiate town?  If West Lafayette becomes its own sovereignty, would their provisional government deny us entry into their kingdom, effectively using the Wabash to cut West Lafayette off from the rest of the country?  I must find a way to rescue Julianne and Caroline from what I can only foresee as West Lafayette’s long-awaited opportunity to use this federal shutdown to intern thousands of young men and women, possibly forcing them into slave labor.

For now, our power grid remains safe from the federal government shutdown, but how much longer can that last?  Certainly, with the dearth of federal agencies regulating the coal industry, Indiana is facing an energy meltdown the likes of which our generation and those before us have never known.

The prospect of living without the protection of the federal government is beginning to weigh heavily on my mind.

The State of Indiana cannot possibly function without the federal government and its vast, vast panoply of sage advisors controlling their federal dollars.  Just how long can the post office function?  Am I facing a future that does not include my daily trip to the mailbox to retrieve the circulars, the flyers, and the occasional notification from the credit card companies that I’ve been approved for a platinum card at the rate of 21% for the first six months?

I must, I must focus instead on our survival.  Like my father before me, I must become part of the next greatest generation.  We will prevail.  We will prevail. Federal government or no federal government, Tim and I and the children must learn to live without that long-wondered-about trip to The Smithsonian and it doesn’t look as if we’ll be able to renew our passports anytime soon for that European vacation we hoped to take next year as soon as we save enough money to pay our 2015 federal taxes.

Steadfast and resolute, we will prevail.

 

Kidding aside, what began as a tongue in cheek bit of satire regarding the federal government’s shutdown—a result of Congress’ not-so-surprising inability to pass a budget–got me thinking about the actual efficacy of the federal government.  I certainly do not want to see anyone with a government job go without pay—since there are so many government employees that would be as devastating to the economy as some of the draconian restrictions Congress forces upon private sector businesses and their ability to add to the GNP.  Aside from our military—the one federal entity which I wholeheartedly support and which should never lack for anything—I cannot think of a thing that the federal government does for me today that I cannot live without for a while.

I’ve read that non-essential government workers have been furloughed.  If they’re non-essential, why are they working for the federal government at all?  Gee, I’d hate to be the guy who was told to go home this morning because his work is “non-essential”.  There’s a motivator for success.  And what happens to the money that is not paid to these furloughed workers for the number of days they’re furloughed?  Any chance those dollars could be applied to our skyrocketing debt so that the Chinese loan sharks don’t come a-knocking for a while?

If I didn’t anger you with my aforementioned parody of life without a federal government then consider this:  During a government shutdown, Congress still gets paid!  I submit to you that if I was a Congressman looking at an interruption in my pay that might just be enough to light a fire under my fat cat behind.  That would motivate me to want to pass a budget.

What is Congress’ motivation, then?  Could it be that their collective inability to come to an agreement further pushes ahead their own personal agendas?  Gives them more face time in front of the reporters who are living large when things start to go south on Capitol Hill?

Democrats are blaming Republicans for the government shutdown because of their stubborn resolve to delay the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.  I refuse to enter into any rhetoric concerning that sea of quicksand, based in part on my inability to reckon how the federal government is going to run health care when they can’t even properly run the Veterans’ Administration, so my thoughts on Obamacare end here.

Not surprisingly, there is much whining about how our elected officials are failing to lead.  This may be true, or, it could be that this is exactly what democracy looks like.  It’s cumbersome, often ugly, smelly, and fraught with warts, and at times, tends to reflect poorly upon the greatest country on our planet. Like now.  Furthermore, I certainly don’t believe Congress should be paid while they throw their toys up against the wall and threaten to go home and eat worms.

On the other hand, it is democracy; if you don’t like it, there are other places you can set up shop—like China or Russia.  So when it comes time to re-elect those who represent you in Congress, become informed, read about both sides of an issue before deciding which side you’re on, and whatever your position, vote based upon these facts and not what the media’s narrative brainwashes you into thinking.

Gotta’ go…the mail’s here.