1917: A Discrimination Tale

 

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All of my ancestors that decided to come and start a new life in the United States during the early 1900’s came from Poland.  Yet, I have a German last name.  This is the story of how my great-grandfather created an alias to attain better job opportunities and avoid the overt discrimination that dominated American life during his time as a steelworker.

THE ARRIVAL OF “FRANK”

Between 1892 and 1909, my ancestors passed through Ellis Island on their way to the South Side of Pittsburgh.  With Polish diacritics in their surnames, they settled in the same pocket of town, married and started families.  My great-grandfather Frank Golebiewski arrived sometime in 1904 or 1905, and I’ve never heard of somebody calling him anything other than Frank.  Coming from Poland, there was no way his birth name was Frank.  My family was never sure if it was indeed Francizek.  Even before he settled into his new life across the Atlantic Ocean, Frank was creating a new identity for himself.

Upon arriving in Pittsburgh, Frank went to work in one of the many steel mills on the South Side.  In 1904, there were at least six that sat along the Monongahela River in the city limits and many more just outside of the city.  Frank worked for two mills: Oliver Iron and Steel Company and another owned by Alexander Byers.  The mills sat three city blocks apart and produced piping, nuts, bolts, rivets and many other specialty parts used in construction projects.  Working in these mills required a higher level of intelligence than most of the South Side factories.  Many machine operators had to have a basic understanding of math to create dies (metal forms), molds, production tools and other site specific items used in the manufacturing process.  Frank started out at Byers and basically held the same position for about a dozen years.  He was a ground level production worker with no authority.

Over the years Frank noticed that all of the higher level positions in the steel mills were controlled by mostly English or German men.  When job openings would be posted for such titles as, “Crew Foreman Wanted”, somewhere under the heading would read, “No Poles Need Apply”.  Other select ethnic groups would also be shunned in these advertisements, but the Poles were always included on these posters around the South Side.  Frank knew he was qualified for a supervisory role, but he also knew his last name was hindering his ability to earn more money for his growing family.

All of the Catholic Polish families attended church at Saint Adalbert parish and were members of the Polish Falcons of America, which is a fraternal society that has had its national headquarters in Pittsburgh since the 1910’s.  For years, “Falcons” (As my grandparents called it) had two buildings in the heart of the South Side.  Many of Frank’s Polish co-workers were also friends to him.  They drank, smoked and played the card game euchre with each other at Falcons or at their houses when they weren’t working at the mills.  Over time it became apparent to his friends that Frank wanted to move on from Byers, but he didn’t know how.  Even in 1917, “glass ceilings” existed at the workplace.

A CARD GAME, A NEW NAME

One Saturday night during the usual euchre game between the guys, a close friend and co-worker of Frank’s–a person that I have never learned the identity of, came up with a plan for Frank to get a promotion:  Frank had to get a foreman’s job at a different mill but with the German last name of Kress.  Employers didn’t check for proper identification until they were forced to by law in the 1930’s, so Frank simply could use the surname Kress as an alias.  Of all the surnames Frank could use, why was he instructed to use Kress?

I don’t know if it’s a generational trait or if my family was very uninterested in their family history, but I never got a straight answer as to why Kress was the consensus pick to obtain a job promotion.  Over the years I pieced together some facts about Frank, the name Kress and what the name meant to “Millionaire’s Row” on the other side of town in Pittsburgh’s North Side:

Kress wasn’t as common as other German names in Pittsburgh.  If Frank chose “Miller” or one of the many spellings of “Schmidt”, eventually one of the higher supervisors who did have the last name of Miller or Schmidt would have found him to be a phony.  In traditional German, Kress is spelled Kreß, with the eszett (ß) representing the “sharp S” and replacing the “ss” at the end of the name.  So if Frank was to be German, his friend sure picked a hardcore, badass southern German name for him to use.

Frank knew how to speak the German form of broken English.  Over the course of twelve years at Byers, Frank heard his German supervisors speak to the English heirarchy in English when the production process was discussed on the floor of the mill.  Frank had to have some experience with German culture when he grew up in Poland as well. Poland and Germany shared a border then (Poland was a territory of the Russian Empire) and they still do in 2017, so being exposed to German culture as a boy gave Frank confidence that he could portray being German in the “theatre” of steel mills.

Early automobile owners on Pittsburgh’s North Side relied on the Kress name to keep their cars moving.  The North Side and South Side of Pittsburgh are less than four miles apart, but to the people of 1917 Pittsburgh, they were very far from each other since automobiles were only owned by the upper class.  Many of Pittsburgh’s wealthiest families resided in what was deemed, “Millionaire’s Row”, a few blocks of very large mansions on the North Side that were primarily built along Ridge Avenue and North Lincoln Avenue (Many of them still stand today).  When the automobiles of the wealthy needed work done on them, servants were dispatched to handle the problems. The rich rarely interacted with the working-class, especially immigrant workers. For car tires, a man (Or a few men) with the last name of Kress provided good, affordable tires to the people of the North Side.  Their reputation grew from their roots as horse carriage builders and they eventually got their own automobile repair garage in the 1920’s. Pittsburgh’s elite might have not interacted directly with their tire repair and service shop, but the name Kress represented hard work and provided a good product on the other side of town.

DEEMED QUALIFIED (EVEN THOUGH HE LIED)

A few months after Frank’s promotion plan was outlined, he secured a foreman job at Oilver Iron & Steel as Frank Kress.  He kept this job until the mid-1930’s, when employees were required to provide legal documentation for work due to the Social Security Act of 1935.  Poles in 1930’s Pittsburgh did not suffer from the same level of discrimination as their ethnic group did twenty years prior, so Frank found suitable work as Frank Golebiewski until he retired after World War II.

I theorize Frank’s friend knew about the Kress family and their budding business on the North Side.  He also knew that the owners and higher managers would never strike up casual conversations with Frank.  Frank’s secret would be safe, and his plant supervisors could see that he was capable of supervising workers while delivering quality products.

Frank must have been well-respected by his friends and fellow co-workers, because I’m sure there were plenty of people that worked under him that could have “ratted him out”.  I guess all of the Poles that worked for him didn’t mind working for their “German” boss.

THE ALIAS AND MY FAMILY TREE

My grandfather (Pap), Frank’s son, was the only one in the family to legally change his last name to Kress in 1953.  I think Pap might have pissed his dad off when he made Kress his real name, because Pap never really gave me a good reason why he did it.  Personally, I love that Pap changed the name because it preserved this story about his dad and what he had to do to succeed in America.

Many other families around the world have similar stories to mine.  I even have a few more examples within my own family.  Solarczyk is another name throughout my family tree.  My grandfather who had this name had step-brothers who legally changed their name to Solar.  They also changed their last name to attain better job opportunities.

DIFFERENT ERA, DIFFERENT COUNTRIES, SAME STEREOTYPES

In 1917, immigrants that resided in the south neighborhoods of Pittsburgh came from many different countries in eastern Europe.  In 2017, the same south neighborhoods I grew up in still have an immigrant population, but from entirely different parts of the world.  Today, former citizens of Nepal, Bhutan, Mexico, Laos and Somalia seek the same opportunities that my great-grandfather Frank did.  The discrimination might not be as overt, but long-time residents seem to have a hard time accepting foreigners into their communities.  Long-time residents who have apparently forgotten the fact that their ancestors were the target of the very same abuse that they shell out on our 21st century newcomers.

The United States of America is known as a melting pot.  It was in 1917 and it is in 2017.  Hopefully in 2117, there will be another third-generation American sharing a tale about how their great-grandfather arrived in New York in 2004 or 2005 and found a way to succeed in an foreign country in search of a better life.  A third-generation American that is not a victim of discrimination, but remembers the stories from his family of when they endured it on a daily basis.

***

Thanks great-grandpap Frank.  The story of your drive to succeed, your emphasis on family and your courage to take risks to benefit your sons and daughters in the future is not lost in time.  I’ll make sure my son knows your story too.

Your great-grandson,

Larry Kress

(Image found via Google, traced to an advertisement found in “The Daily Free Press”, June 19, 1910.  Carbondale, Illinois had a newspaper under this name in 1910 and they have a rich history in coal mining.)

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The Firefighter: A friendly haunting of my father

During the 1950’s my late father was busy running around the alleys in Pittsburgh’s South Side Flats neighborhood.  It was a typical big city atmosphere, where shop owners lived above their store fronts, everyone was within walking distance of their jobs and churches and small grocers popped up on every block to serve the needs of the community.  For a few years when he was between eight and ten years of age (circa 1951-1953), Dad and his friends would occasionally see a older firefighter walking down their alley on his way to work.

Dad described him as a tall man in his early sixties, with a full head of silver hair under his hat.  He didn’t know what his rank was within the firehouse, but based on the uniform he could tell he was one of the chiefs (There are a few of them in the United States anyway).  When the man was wearing his long company overcoat during the colder months, he had these amazing gold buttons or clasps that would run down the entire front.  Dad thought his uniform was really cool.

Dad never got his name, but he and his friends interacted with the firefighter enough to remember his voice and gait.  They talked to the firefighter in the street when they were pushing toy cars off of a stoop, playing sports or just sitting around enjoying a nice day.  When the man spoke to them, he came down to their level, never standing tall and hovering over them.  These interactions were never more than a few minutes at a time since he was heading to work.  Dad never saw him again after the age of ten or eleven, but he just assumed he retired.  The old firehouse was down around South 21st Street, and the man was always walking east from S. 17th St.  With all of the local grocers, churches, shoemakers, theaters, etc., people could live six short blocks from one another in 1950’s South Side and never meet.

Life went on.  After graduating high school in 1961 Dad worked in downtown Pittsburgh at a few places and then decided to join the United States Navy in mid-1960’s.  He came back home from the Navy in 1968 and continued living with his parents right off of the main street that runs through the South Side, East Carson Street.  After being in Hawaii for two years one would think Dad would complain about coming back to a congested house in a congested neighborhood, but the constant buzz of cars, trucks and trains twenty-four hours a day didn’t bother him since he grew up in that environment.

It was a Monday night in October, 1970.  Dad knew this because it was the first year ABC aired NFL’s Monday Night Football and he went out with a few friends to watch the game.  It was probably the fourth or fifth Monday game because Dad remembered wearing a light jacket that night.  The bar was on East Carson in between S. 14th and S. 15th Street.  After the game was over around midnight, Dad set off east toward home, which was between S. 18th and S. 19th Street.  The usual midnight buzz was around the neighborhood at the time, with trucks driving to and from the steel mills and workers walking to and from hospitals, steel mills and other jobs that required a nighttime presence.

Dad said it recently stopped raining that night when he set out for home, so a slight fog was in the air.  With no wind in the air, it made for a nice walk home despite the oncoming changing of the seasons.  He was walking alone because his other friends either stayed at the bar after the game, or lived in a different direction.  He couldn’t pinpoint the exact moment, but when Dad started walking down East Carson with his head down, he noticed everything was quiet.

The constant midnight buzz that I mentioned (and witnessed myself in early 1980’s) was silent.  Dad picked his head up to see no street traffic, no pedestrians, no sounds of trains, nothing.  Quiet.  Up ahead on the same side of the street, Dad saw a silhouette of a person coming toward him.  The wind suddenly picked up.  As the person got closer, it was clear that it was an older man in his sixties with unkempt silver hair and he was wearing a long overcoat that was unbuttoned and flapping in the wind. He had a hurried gait like he was walking urgently without having to run to his destination.

Right before they crossed paths, Dad looked at the man.  He looked familiar but he didn’t know why.  The man then said, “Good evening.”

Dad replied in the same fashion, and in the few seconds after this encounter he figured out how he knew this person–from the voice of the man.  It was the old firefighter from when he was a boy!  But there was so much that was different about him from what he remembered!  The voice was the same, but his hair was wildly out of control.  He had the overcoat with the gold buttons but it wasn’t neatly buttoned as it used to be.  The gait was the same, but the calm pace that the firefighter used to walk with was replaced with a pace of desperation.

Dad was also amazed that he didn’t age.  The firefighter should have been around eighty by now and he was walking very fast for a person that old.  When Dad turned around the catch up with the man, there was nobody there.  A few seconds prior, they crossed paths in the middle of a block and now, the mysterious man had vanished.  No businesses were open to enable a quick getaway off of the sidewalk and no apartment doors were nearby to quickly escape the cool weather.

While standing on the sidewalk in disbelief, Dad noticed that the wind that accompanied the man had dissipated, there was still fog outside (which didn’t make sense because the wind should have killed off the fog), people were walking all over the sidewalks again and all of the car, truck and train traffic had returned.

Dad continued to walk those same South Side streets until 1973 but he never saw the firefighter again.  He was never afraid during that strange encounter in 1970.  Dad felt that the firefighter wanted him to know that he remembered those innocent encounters years ago and was giving him a final goodbye before moving on.

October 1997: The Party At “Slim’s House”

Nineteen years ago this month I arguably had the strangest house party experience of my life and it had nothing to do with sex, drugs, beer, fire or some form of property damage.

There was this guy my friend Amy occasionally hung out with and my circle of friends knew him because he would occasionally pop in when my group would go out drinking.  I’ll call him “Slim” for this story.  Slim was a fat schmo who was arrogant, condescending, sloppy, cheap and a consistent jerk for no good reason.  I still remember Slim going out for chicken wings with us and always ordering french fries with a water.  I’m a “go big or go home” type of person when going out for food and drinks, so I thought he was an asshole just based on his food order.  I was never the sucker who would buy Slim a beer.

My friend Dave and I worked with Amy and she told us that we were invited to go a party at Slim’s house.  Apparently Slim had a new house and my cynical self was telling me that Slim wanted to show off his bachelor pad to EVERYBODY HE COULD because he wanted everyone to know who was boss even though he looked like total garbage.  How ironic.  Even though Dave and I couldn’t stand Slim, we agreed to make an appearance out of pure curiosity.  At least Slim would serve all the french fries and water we could eat and drink.

The party took place on a Friday night in mid-October.  I drove with Dave in his car and we got to Slim’s about an hour after the party started.  When we got inside we saw Amy, Slim, a few other friends of ours and about fifteen other people that I didn’t know.  The home was built in the 1950’s, a typical small suburban ranch house like many that were carved out in Pittsburgh’s south hills post World War II.  It was a good size for Slim but it was very small to house a family in.  The strange part about Slim’s house was the decor.  I didn’t ask, but most of the furniture was old.  Not retro chic old but 1970’s tacky old.  I assumed the furniture came with the sale of the house, so I grabbed a beer and hung out with Dave, Amy, Jill (from the “Rocker Girl” tale) and Jill’s boyfriend Jerry (whaa whaaaah).

About thirty minutes in, Dave and I overheard a conversation from a few guys that were coming up from the basement.  Apparently the basement was finished with a large television down there, and Slim had a Sony Playstation hooked up to it.  Some of the guys were taking turns playing Madden 98, which was and still is the best American football video game franchise produced.  Becoming bored with the conversations upstairs, we ducked out and descended the stairs to see if we could play a game against each other.

The room was simple but nice, with plenty of seating and good lighting.  There were four college age guys sitting around, two playing the game and two watching the game play.  Since the 1998 version was fairly new, Dave and I wanted to view the game even if we killed the vibe in the room.  Usually when guys get together to play video games everybody is loud and throwing snacks at each other.  These guys were quiet and calm while we sat around with them.

After the game was complete, we were asked by the four guys if we wanted to play since they were all heading back upstairs.  We agreed to take over the game and decided to play the longest amount of minutes per quarter since we were anticipating a few more people wanting a turn.  We wanted to get our thirty to forty minutes in and be done with it for the night.

About forty minutes later Dave and I completed our game, but there was nobody waiting to use the game console.  Having lost faith in the atmosphere upstairs at Slim’s, Dave and I fired up another game.  An hour (and a few beers) later, we apparently started to make a noticeable amount of noise.  In our eyes, Dave and I were just being typical twenty-one year old’s playing video games.  Slim came downstairs to see what the commotion was about.

“GUYS!  I don’t care if you play down here, but you have to be quiet.”

Dave and I looked at each other, confused.  I spoke up.

“Slim, what’s the big deal?  We’re just down here by ourselves playing Madden.  Why does anyone upstairs care about how much noise we are making down here?”

“Because my grandmother is sleeping in the other room.”  Slim points at a door on the other side of the basement.

Dave and I looked at each other again.  Dave had this look of both confusion and amazement  while I could not wipe the smirk off of my face.  I tactfully replied for the both of us.

“Oh, okay Slim.  Sorry, we didn’t know she was there.”

Slim went back upstairs, and we immediately started laughing uncontrollably.  Of course, we were laughing uncontrollably QUIET.  We finished our second game and went back upstairs.  We wanted to share the hilarious news that Slim’s grandma was sleeping in the basement, that it wasn’t Slim’s house and the party was lame, but we didn’t say anything to our friends until the next day.  Me, Dave and some twenty-five other people went to a house party…at Slim’s grandmother’s house.

So the revelation of Slim’s grandmother holed up in the basement confirmed why all of the old furniture looked like something my grandparents would have owned, why those four guys were acting so reserved in the basement and that Slim was indeed a poser.  He made it sound like the house was his, and we discovered the truth when we played drunken video games in his grandma’s basement.  I mean WHO THROWS A HOUSE PARTY IN THEIR GRANDMOTHER’S HOUSE!?!?!  Slim does.

Dave and I left the party pretty quick after our conversation with Slim.  We went to a local bar where a lot of jolly older guys hung out and told tall tales and laughed at each other for hours.  On this night we had our tall tale to share with them, and we didn’t disappoint them.  They never heard of anybody doing what Slim pulled that night.

 

 

Rockin’ The Dad Bod

When I’m in blog land or jumping on Twitter (Facebook free since 2013!), I find it humorous when I hear a parent complaining that they cannot find time to lift weights, run, do yoga, etc.  It’s not because I’m a hater, it’s because it sounds like the parents I speak of are going to transform into a slob overnight if they can’t find time to do what they want.  Those darn kids, they can really take up your free time!

Holy crap people.  Having kids means sacrifice.  Well, it’s supposed to anyway.  My wife and I both work during the day so when we have our son in the evening, we enjoy spending those four to five hours each day with him.  Even if he throws tantrums.  Even if he throws blocks at my head.  We take turns getting daily chores done, but we are always falling behind on a few tasks.  It’s not because we have a ton of things to do, it is because we would rather sit on the couch and read a book with our son.  I sit on the floor so much with my son I find myself sitting on the floor when I’m alone watching television.  We have fun with him and he has fun with us.  We are both there for him as much as life allows.

Before this post turns into an annoying rant, I’ll pump the brakes and have some fun regarding the first two paragraphs.  I’ll recall a moment in time when my wife and I were a couple, then compare that moment to a current situation now that we are a family.  Here I go:

August 2011 – My wife and I played tennis two or three nights a week.

August 2016 – My wife and I are weak from playing with our son two to three hours a night.

All of 2012 – I would lift weights in the basement using my new bench that my wife bought for me.

All of 2016 – My wife bought many things for our son in 2015 and stacked many items on top of my weight bench.  I think I can see it down there again since I moved some boxes from that area of the basement.

Most of 2012 – I would run around our neighborhood three to four nights during the warmer months.  Nothing crazy, about 10-15 miles per week.

Most of 2016 – I run around our yard with my son three to four nights a week during the warmer months.  It’s crazy, he’ll circle the house 10-15 times per night.

As I mentioned in some of my other posts, my wife makes the money and I find work that fits into our schedule.  I don’t make much money, but I rarely work weekends.  I don’t have a prestigious title at my job, but my job allows me to see my family every day.  In my first year of employment at my new job, I’ll have 21 paid days off.  In America, many people can work 20 years or more at a company and not get 21 paid days off.  These days with a young son growing up before my eyes, I’ll take time over money.

When my son gets older, I’ll work myself back into a decent looking shape.  I look forward to turning my man boobs back into fresh elderly pecs.  I know my abs are still in there somewhere, but I have more important responsibilities to attend to right now.  I’ll find my abs in 2021 or 2022.

When I was under age 25 I was chasing my dreams.  Between 25 and 34, I was chasing a career.  From 34 to 39, I was chasing the money.  Now at 40, I’m chasing my son.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The Fuel Pump: A sign from God in 2008

In April of 2008, my wife finished up the classroom portion of her doctorate in physical therapy.  We moved about 60 miles away from Pittsburgh for her to go to school while I found a job in the local town to help pay the bills.  When it was time for us to move back home, I had problems finding a full-time job.  This was due to the economy being sour at this time and my resume still having an address from 60 miles away.

I held on to my job far from home until I took a position with a fire protection company in the east suburbs of Pittsburgh.  I was just happy to find something local after driving 110 miles round-trip each time I had to work back in the town we temporarily moved to.  Gas prices at the time were an astonishing $4.00 a gallon and I put on a year’s worth of miles on my car in three months.  After paying bills, my net savings per month averaged a loss of $70.  I was putting $300 to $350 of gasoline into my car per month, so I was looking forward to saving money again.

An acquaintance named Tom was responsible for me landing this job.  He installed, repaired and replaced Ansul fire suppression systems that are attached to kitchen hoods.  I never held a job where I had to be capable of using a variety of tools, but in a few months I was able to complete tasks without too much supervision.  I was even allowed to take a work van home with me after 60 days of employment.

During the interview process I was told that the job would have a variety of hours since the company had to work around the needs of the client.  I was fine with that since I didn’t have any family obligations yet.  It was to be a standard 40-hour work week with occasional overtime, and 90% of the work would be within a 75-mile radius of Pittsburgh.

In the first two months, the job description stayed true to what I was told from the beginning.  I would work with Tom each day and on longer runs we would meet at a location and drive to a site in Tom’s work van.  I worked 40 hours a week and the only location that was beyond 75 miles was a diner in Moundsville, West Virginia.  If we completed a job out in the field, our boss “Steve” would inform us of our new job for the next day by 5 p.m. via cell phone.

Around the second week of September, the job took a drastic turn.  Steve would occasionally call me after 5 p.m. to inform me that there was no work for the next day.  The jobs that were supposed to be local became further away from Pittsburgh.  Four job sites were over 200 miles away.  One was outside of Philadelphia in West Grove, another site was north of Baltimore in Rising Sun, Maryland.  West Grove was 262 miles from my home, a six hour drive one way, five hours if I didn’t hit traffic or construction delays.  When Tom and I would take his work van on long runs like this, he had satellite radio.  When one of us would sleep in the passenger seat the driver always had something to listen to in the desolate Pennsylvania mountains.  We would drive out to the site, work four hours and drive back home.  The company would pay us both 16 hours a day each time we made these long trips, so we tried to work fast just so we could get back home at a reasonable time.

Since I was the new guy, I got the oldest work van.  It had all the basic accessories for a common work vehicle including the radio.  It had no compact disc player so when I got away from civilization, I had nothing to listen to while driving.  Using earbuds wasn’t an option since the van was very loud when driving on the highways.  I needed to hear traffic around me, especially when large trucks were recklessly speeding everywhere.

Occasionally Tom and I had to take both vans on long runs because we couldn’t smash all of our materials into one vehicle.  When driving in rural areas for long periods of time, I was alone with my thoughts while growing more frustrated with how this job was evolving.  At this point I started doing something that I never did before: I started talking out loud to nobody!

What I was actually doing was praying to God in the form of a normal (!) conversation.  I expressed my fears, hopes, gratitude and anger about what I was doing in that time of my life.  It became a form of meditation and it allowed for some self-analysis when cutting across the Appalachian Mountains.  My biggest fear concerning work was breaking down far away from home and not obtaining support from the home office.  After months of observing the lines of communication between different departments, I was sure to fend for myself if I encountered a problem on the road.

In the first week of November Tom and I had a job at a school cafeteria renovation in a town called Homer City.  It was a two day job and on the second day we completed everything by lunch, so we decided to head back to the main warehouse and re-stock our vans while we had some time to do it.  We got back to headquarters around 2 p.m., parked our vans and started refilling our supplies.

At about 3 p.m., we were ready to head home and I went to start my van…it wouldn’t kick over.  I tried a few more times and it wouldn’t start.  When I informed Steve of what was going on he told me to swap out my supplies and put them into a pickup truck they had sitting at the shop.  Steve accused me of not keeping enough fuel in the vehicle and causing the stall out.  I knew I kept enough fuel in that van, and I thought his finger-pointing was childish and what I call a “very dick move”.

When my van was towed to the repair shop the shop manager informed Steve that my fuel pump was shot.  In pure Steve form, he never apologized for placing the blame on me for the van failure when it was purely due to the age of the vehicle.  It had 113,000 miles on it at the time and most fuel pumps can freeze up at around 100,000 to 125,000 miles.

When fuel pumps die, they provide no warning of an impending failure.  After all of the long runs I took in that van at all hours of the day, for it to die RIGHT IN FRONT OF THE MAIN WAREHOUSE is remarkable.  I announced to God my fear of being stranded on the side of the road a few weeks prior, and at this moment in time the inevitable van failure occurred at home base.  It was God’s way of saying, “Hey Larry, I hear your concerns about the organizational structure at your current employer and I agree with you.  They will leave you stranded, but I will not.  I’ll make sure their ineptitude doesn’t affect your life in a negative way.”  I left that job in December for an office job.

Many people pray in a ritualistic manner but I prefer to keep my conversations with God informal.  Whatever angelic forces that are assigned to my case file, I thank you for listening to my one person talks over the last eight years.  I never intended to creep out all of you.

My High School Homecoming Disaster of 1993

(BLOG NOTE: I’m sorry this tale is so long, but it is what it is.)

In my senior year of high school I had two extra elective courses on my schedule due to completing my requirements for science and math during my junior year.  One class was drafting (technical drawing) where I met my first long-term girlfriend and the other was home economics.  “Home Eck” had about twenty students in it, and I was one of two guys in the class.  The room had seven tables with four chairs at each table.  I sat next to my friend Barb, who worked at the neighborhood McDonald’s with me.  Across from us were her friends Jen and Sara.  In early October, Jen started a conversation prior to class about a friend that couldn’t find a date for the homecoming dance in mid-October.  I’ll call her friend “Millie” for this story.

At the time I wasn’t dating anybody.  To be completely accurate, I never dated at all.  I had bad acne between 7th and 11th grade and socially I was immature and awkward during that same time period.  I also had no style, no money and no direction.  So in hindsight I can see why the girls stayed away from me for so long.  All of the senior girls wouldn’t date me because they assumed I was the same person they were around the last three years.

Millie came to our school in her junior year.  I saw her around school but I never talked to her before.  We had 1,200 students in our high school, so it was easy to attend four years there and not interact with someone (I actually met a girl at my graduation because our last names kept us next to each other in the procession line).  Since Millie didn’t see me before 11th grade, I knew I had a chance to go to the dance with her.

“Hey Jen, I’ll go with Millie if she can’t find anybody.”

“OK, I’ll let her know.”

THE BLIND AUDITION

About ten days went by, and the possibility of me going to homecoming with Millie seemed slim since I did not get a confirmation from Jen that Millie wanted to go with me.  I saw Millie a few days prior but she didn’t go out of her way to talk to me, so I assumed she found a date.  With this moment in mind, I thought Jen was avoiding the topic with me because she felt bad that my offer was rejected by Millie.  The dance was on Saturday night and here it was Tuesday, so I decided to carry on with my normal routine for the remainder of the week.

On Thursday night I stopped by McDonald’s to check my schedule for next week.  When I came in the door, I saw Barb behind the counter.

“Hey Barb!  All ready for Saturday?”

“Yeah, how about you Lar?”

“Oh, I’m not going.  I didn’t find a date.”

“Um, YES YOU DID!!!  You said you would go with Millie!  She already has her dress!  You HAVE to go now!”

Stunned, I explained to Barb that I would have gone if she could not find anybody.  Apparently Jen took my answer as an automatic yes, and Millie was content on going with me.  Millie had spent money on the dress, shoes, etc., and I had no decent clothes to wear to homecoming.  It was a good thing I ran into Barb that night, because Millie might have gone to homecoming alone.  If Millie walked in by herself, the mean girls would have preyed on her and I would have been locked in the “Friend Zone” by all of the girls until the end of high school.

I cut school that Friday to buy shoes and clothes.  I had no flippin’ clue what was trendy in regards to dress clothes, so I tried to keep my look basic in case I made poor fashion choices.  Having said this, the first thing I bought was a $40 pair of black WINGTIP shoes.  In 1993 this look wasn’t completely “old man” yet, due to the mid-nineties fad of swing music bands.  At least I wore them for the remainder of the nineties without TOO MUCH ridicule.  The rest was plain: Black pants, white shirt, black tie.  After three hours and $95 spent, I was ready to hit the flower shop.

I got a nice corsage for $15 considering it was the day prior to the dance.  When I got home, I called Jen to get Millie’s phone number and to find out when I was going to pick up everybody.  My car at the time was one of the cooler rides with its chrome wheels and sunroof, so I didn’t mind showing it off.  I was responsible for my expenses, so I was already out $110 before talking to Millie!  This was to be my most expensive blind date of my life, and it was my first one ($110 in 2016 dollars is about $185)!

Friday night I talked to Millie on the phone.  We talked for over an hour until my dad needed to make a call to my grandmother (remember, no cell phones then young whippersnappers).  Out of all the teenage phone conversations I ever had with girls, this one was the most engaging.  It was like I knew Millie already.  We laughed, shared the usual high school gossip tales and she even let down her guard and told me about an old family tragedy.  I was really touched that Millie would share such personal information with me and it came across that she was interested in me.  I made sure she knew that I was coming by her house with Jen and Jen’s boyfriend Bill around 6 p.m. Saturday to pick her up.

I headed over to Jen’s house at 5 p.m. to meet her and Bill.  I met Jen’s parents and immediately Jen takes me into the bathroom.  Apparently my hair didn’t look very appealing so she remade my hairstyle.  I didn’t mind because she made it look better.  It was an odd start to the night, but I wasn’t used to the correct protocol concerning school dances and fixing my hair to be neat.  After Jen and Bill took photos with their families, we went to pick up Millie.

THE BATTLE ROUND

We got to Millie’s house at 6 p.m. and I met Millie and her family.  Everyone at the house took photos of both couples and I was aware by 6:15 that this wasn’t going to work.  Millie was ignoring me to the best of her ability and the outgoing, interesting girl I spoke to on the phone 24 hours ago was gone.  I assumed she didn’t like the way I looked, but I know she had seen me at school before!  Maybe Jen should have kept my hair the same way?!?

We left Millie’s house at 6:30 because Bill had a friend that was of legal drinking age that was going to buy us beer.  We met him at the store to buy a 24-pack and since I was driving, I would get to keep the leftovers.  Since Jen and Millie hated beer, the plan switched to a new lemon-lime malt beverage that hit the market a few months back: Zima.

Yes, flippin’ ZIMA.  Since Coors quit making Zima in the US years ago (thank God), I would describe the taste of Zima this way:  Take a Smirnoff Ice and pour it into a pint glass.  Next, take a piss in the toilet.  Next, take a double-shot glass and fill it with the piss water from the toilet, adding it to the Smirnoff Ice.  Stir and enjoy.  Lucky me got the leftovers.  They sat in the trunk of my car for weeks until I got rid of them.  At this moment I wasn’t sure which house we were going to party at after the dance.  My main concern was if Millie would actually stay with me at homecoming.

When we arrived at the dance, Millie saw a few guy friends that I didn’t know.  They were better-looking than I was and she was having a good time talking to them.  I figured this was the moment where I would be left to fend for myself among all of the couples.  I was really disappointed how this night was shaping up.  I was kind enough to take Millie, to drive her, Jen and Bill to homecoming and I was staring isolation in the face.  I sat quiet, alone, thinking about leaving the three of them at the dance and taking my shitty box of Zima bottles and using them as bowling pins.

After about ten minutes of loneliness, Millie came back to me and we talked to a few other couples besides Jen and Bill.  Millie danced fast and slow songs with me throughout the night, and all of a sudden things were a little less awkward between us.  Jen and Bill were ready to crack open some more Zima bottles (HOO-frickin-ray), so the four of us left homecoming around 10:15 just before the dance ended at 10:30.

THE KNOCKOUT ROUND

When we got back to my car, I asked Bill where I was going.  Bill told me to head over to a main road west of Pittsburgh so he could ask what the nightly rates were.

“Bill, are we getting a hotel room to booze it up?  I thought we were going to somebody’s house!”

“Well, yeah, those plans fell through, so we are going to see how much money it is for rooms.”

“Rooms?!?”

“Well, you and Millie get your own room.  You can party with us until at least 2 a.m.”

This blind homecoming date was becoming more complicated by the minute.  I’m not even sure if Millie liked me, and now we were going to share a bed on the first night we met?!?  Between our phone conversation Friday night and now there was no even ground with her.  She would either show interest in me or none at all.

Including taxes, each room was $61.  I had to pay for our room because Millie didn’t have any extra money for it.  She was just as surprised as me about our post-dance plans.  The four of us drank in Jen and Bill’s room until 2 a.m. and decided to split up after a noise complaint was called in on us.

When Millie and I entered our room, the tension and the awkwardness between us was tangible.  When we changed into more comfortable clothes for sleeping, she went into the bathroom and I changed near the bed.  We were both tired, so we didn’t turn on the television.  We actually stayed up and talked for an hour on the bed.  Being seventeen at the time, if Millie wanted to have sex I would have said yes, but I’m glad we didn’t do anything.  I didn’t bring sex up at all because at times during the night she seemed pissed to be stuck with me!

Millie and I went to sleep and I woke up around 7:30 when I heard a crash by our door.  It turned out to be our complimentary newspaper so I stayed up to read the sports section.  Millie stayed in bed until about 9:30.  I think she was awake based on her breathing but I didn’t look her way.  If she wanted to avoid me I wasn’t going to make things anymore awkward than they already were.  The four of us left the hotel around 10:45, stopped at Wendy’s for some hamburgers at 11:00 and then headed for home.

Dropping Millie off at her house was uneventful because I told everyone that I was supposed to be at work for a 12 to 4 shift.  After I basically tossed everyone out of the car at their houses, I took off for home, called my work to tell them I was on the way in, and worked a 12:30 to 4:30 shift that Sunday.  When I got home from work that day, I showered and went to sleep early.  I ended up sleeping fourteen consecutive hours since the adrenaline finally wore off from the last few days.

THE STEAL (THE AFTERMATH)

I drove Jen and Millie home from school a few times after the homecoming dance took place, but I could tell Millie really wanted to move on from me.  I quit calling her two weeks after the dance and I never spoke to her again.  Not because I avoided her, but fate kept us apart during our senior year.  I didn’t have a lunch period, study hall, co-ed gym class or lab with her, which was stunning since we were both taking the same caliber of classes.

Other people noticed that Millie was ignoring me after homecoming and I was glad to have friends show support for me after what went down.  One particular girl in my drafting class was really pissed at how Millie treated me.  This girl was “Peach”, my first long-term girlfriend (I mentioned Peach in my leather pants tale from a few months back).  Peach and I started dating in late 1993 and we finally broke it off in late 1999, with the last two years being on and off.  The $200 I spent last-minute on homecoming wasn’t in vain after all.  Peach witnessed my loneliness at the dance when she was with her date and she wanted to leave with me instead of the guy she came with.  If I would have known what Peach was thinking, maybe this tale would have been even better.  It might have included desertion of friends, sex in a tub filled with piss-water Zima (eww, not really) and an early start to a relationship that shaped my life going forward for the better and for the worse.

 

WARNING: Parenthood may result in “fluffiness”

(BLOG NOTE:  Since I’m watching my son more often over the next several days, I’ve decided to post a “fluffy” tale before delving into another mind-bending post of what the kids would call “awesomeness”.  You’re welcome.)

A year before my son was born, I was still pretty active despite venturing further into the dreadful 35-44 age bracket.  This age group is the transitional period between hanging onto your youth and the new challenge of realizing your body’s limitations.  Up until my early 30’s, I could go several days without exercising and not lose results.  I had no problem keeping up with where I left off.  Now at 40, forget it.  Now as a parent, really forget it.

I’m not a total mess.  Yet.  I still have three pairs of mesh shorts that I purchased in 1996.  They are now stretched out to the point that they won’t fit me when I lose the weight, but I have to say we had a good twenty year run (I have shorts older than some of my readers).  I still manage to follow the main guidelines of the Pittsburgh Yinzer diet, which consists of the following food groups:

Milk, Meat, Vegetable, Fruit, Grain, Fried Food, Soda Pop, Coffee, Beer, Wine, Spirits, Doughnut, Birthday Cake, Catholic Fish Fry Friday and Fire Hall Wedding (rigatoni with meatballs, fried chicken, macaroni salad, some type of potato dish and rolls with butter)

When my son was born, many healthy aspects of my life became a low priority, and rightfully so in my eyes.  Obviously sleep became fractured, I consumed WAY more caffeine, I chose snacking over having a real dinner and I also chose catching up on sleep instead of using any leftover spare time to exercise.  These four factors led to my chest becoming boobs, my waist showing a small beer belly, my legs becoming thin and my face looking a little rounder than before.

Even after two bouts of kidney stones (due to too much Mountain Dew soda pop) and all of the illnesses acquired from day care the last few years, I wouldn’t change a thing.  Being a dad is the best thing that happened to me.  My son loves it when I chase him all over the house, when I take him for walks around the neighborhood, when I pick him up if he needs a hug and when I sit with him reading, playing with toys or watching television.  He’s getting heavier and I carry him for at least an hour each day.  At least my arms and shoulders are still somewhat beefy.

I’m a new dad, recently unemployed, out of shape, scared about the future and frustrated.  To remain positive, it could be said that I’m a hipster stay-at-home dad who is weighing his options before embarking on a new career path.  I’m also self-aware of life’s everyday challenges and that the path I have walked until now has not been in vain.

Hey, whatever.  I’ll figure it out.  Somehow, I always do.

Rocker Girl: My moment with a Pittsburgh 9

(BLOG NOTE:  I know the title sounds shallow, but please remember that I am a schmo.  If you are scoring at home, a Pittsburgh 9 is equivalent to a New York/London 8 and a Los Angeles/Paris/Milan 7.  Any city smaller than Pittsburgh would have scored this girl a 10.)

My previous tale about going to bars and clubs sparked a memory that could be categorized as my moment of oblivious joy.  An oxymoron yes, but once I’m done telling this tale, you’ll see why I say this.

Last post I mentioned how my friend Dave and I used to drink on the South Side of Pittsburgh.  One night in the fall of 1997, we went to Dee’s Cafe with a group of people from our work.  Dee’s was always a good place to start the night since drinks were cheaper than most places in the neighborhood.  The problem was that many other groups started their night there as well, so acquiring drinks from the bar was usually a headache since you had to wait so long to get the attention of a bartender.  To alleviate my time waiting for beer, I always grabbed two each time I fought my way to the front.

Dee’s was two floors and shaped like a U downstairs.  It had an entrance on each side of the downstairs, but you had to enter through the door to the right, which brought you into the bar side of the downstairs.  The bar was the longest in the South Side.  It was shaped like a J, with the curved part near the front door.  This little alcove was where many of the regulars sat and where the local celebrities (Usually band members after a gig) sat when they stayed on the bottom floor.  The upstairs was spacious with full-size pool tables and a smaller bar, but it was really stuffy and there was less room for the cigarette smoke to circulate (No restrictions on smoking in bars in 1997!).

On a busy night when we finally received all of our drinks from the bar, my group usually walked to the back of the first floor and made our way to the quieter side of the U.  The left side had three bar-size pool tables, bar tables and four seats at each table along the far wall.  No bar, but if we had our drinks, we didn’t care since we were probably leaving soon anyway.  On the night of my encounter with a “Pittsburgh 9”, we stayed on the right side for drinks 3 and 4, and it was really getting crowded in Dee’s.

On my own, I noticed there was an open chair toward the front end of the bar.  I walked up to the chair and asked the girl to my left if I could sit there to get a few beers.  She told me that nobody was sitting there, and after I sat down I started a conversation with her that I had no expectations of making a lasting one.

“I figured if I’m going to wait fifteen minutes for my next two beers I might as well get a front row seat for the request.”

She laughed.  “Yeah, this place can get crazy on the weekends.  Are you here with anybody?”

“Yeah, they are all toward the back trying to wave their money at anybody behind the counter.  Even the bar backs are getting an earful from them.  Are your friends back there with them?”

She pointed behind us at a cluster of people who all had drinks and talking to one another.  “My friends bumped into a few friends that I don’t know, so I stayed here to save our spot at the bar.”

“Well I’m glad I can keep you company among the madness in here.  I’ll give you back your chair when I get my beers, whenever that will be.”

Her response shocked me, and I suddenly forgot all about ordering beers.  “It’s cool that you’re here sitting with me, they (Meaning her friends) won’t mind.  I’m Nikki by the way.”

Nikki was easily the most beautiful girl I ever saw in Dee’s.  She had shoulder-length wavy black hair, a plain white top with a chic black leather jacket, jeans and black boots.  To paint a picture for you, she looked like Selena Gomez with the personality of Elizabeth Banks.

To explain what I looked like then will take a few references since the first one might not sound familiar to many people.  I actually looked a lot like Jay Mohr back then, since I still had my hair and my chest muscles didn’t become boobs yet.  For a more modern reference, give Charlie Puth 90’s hair and mix in Rupert Grint.  Yeah, I was definitely floating between a 5 and a 6.  So for me to be seen talking to Nikki was a victory already.

Now that I had the information that I was welcome to sit with her there, I remained in that seat after I got those two beers.  For roughly the next ten minutes after I got my drinks, we small talked about a few topics and we were both laughing it up pretty good.  At one point, Nikki actually reached out to touch my arm!  This isn’t supposed to be happening to me!

Right when our conversation started taking off and I was inching in closer to Nikki, my friend Jill from work rushed to the front.  Jill grabbed me around my shoulders and almost knocked me off the bar chair.

“Larry, we have to go NOW.  Come with me to the back.  HURRY UP!”

“Why?  What’s….!?!  It was nice talking to you Nikki!  Have a good night!”

Nikki looked shocked at first but I think she understood what was going on, based on information that I didn’t receive yet.  “You too Larry.  It was nice meeting you!”

Jill had me by the hand.  For her to make a run to the front to get me was confusing.  Why didn’t my guy friends come get me?  Why didn’t her boyfriend come get me?  What was so urgent that I had to flee the main bar area?

When Jill and I made it to the left side of the bar, we stayed in the back for a few minutes.  She told me that everybody in our group noticed that all of the band members from (A famous local band in Pittsburgh) and their friends were looking upon me with hatred.  Apparently one of our friends pointed out that I was talking to the lead singer’s girlfriend, and he wasn’t looking very happy (What a puss I say, he should have told me to go and I would have been alright about it).  The guys were afraid if they went up to get me, it might have caused a fight to start and we would have been kicked out for good.  The local band could have stabbed all of us and we still would have been in the wrong.  That’s why Jill came to get me.

Still stunned at this news, I thanked Jill for uh, saving me.  I knew I was way over my head anyway.  Unless money is a contributing factor, you never see relationships work where the imbalance in the appearance “rating” is at or beyond +/- 2.  I was lucky if I was a 6, so there was no way Nikki as a 9 wanted anything to do with me.  The ironic part about this tale is that the best moment of the night was being alone with Jill for those few minutes.

I worked with Jill for a few years.  I always had a girlfriend when I worked with her and she always had a boyfriend.  I never questioned her when she dragged me out of that chair that night.  I willfully went with her and held on to her hand as we turned around the back of Dee’s to get to the quieter side.  When she explained to me the possible scenario I was taken away from, we were actually standing face-to-face, holding each other’s hands by our sides.  Jill was way more compatible with me, for me.  She was a 6 for sure and she loved being around my 5/6 ass.

Jill already knew that I drove a shitty fourteen year-old car, still lived with my parents, had no credit, no ambition and hardly any money.  And yet, there she was, going out of her way to corral me back to the group, but allowing for us to be alone with each other.  Her boyfriend was no more than ten steps from us, and when I was with her there that didn’t matter to us.  I could just tell by her eyes and how she was holding my hands.  My girlfriend at that time (Who wasn’t there) couldn’t duplicate the charge of absolute love I felt from that moment with Jill.  Maybe Jill didn’t feel the same way, but if my heart was right on that night, she did too.

If I had to choose a girl from my past that defines, “The one that got away”, it would be Jill.  I never asked her out on a date because of our own relationship ties.  I really believe she would have said yes to me.  We’re together in some parallel universe I’m sure and on that night when I fatefully sat down next to a “Pittsburgh 9”, Jill ended up being a 10.  That’s the score I would have given her anyway.

The Car Fire Incident Of 1996

It was either September or October of 1996 when Pittsburgh was hit with a tropical storm.  Usually a hurricane would lose all of its wind strength by the time it hit western Pennsylvania, but this particular storm was moving a little faster than other storms of this magnitude.  Rain came down all day, and high winds of 40 to 60 miles per hour accompanied the rain.  So with those facts in mind, this story begins, “It was a dark and stormy night….”

On the day of the storm, I worked the 1 p.m. to 10 p.m. shift at a big box sporting goods store.  I didn’t move my car the whole day, and there were about six other guys on my shift that had the same routine that day: Bring your own dinner from home or run across the parking lot to the mall and get something at the food court.  Nobody wanted to drive to the local fast-food joints in this storm.

All of us guys were college age, so we weren’t wise enough to know that in hard rain storms, you should run your car on occasion to keep moisture away from the engine (Heating the engine up reduces moisture).  Cars of today can experience this problem, but it happened way more often with cars built in 1980’s.  Fuel injection engines were a new feature to these vehicles, and my clunky 1983 Oldsmobile still had an old carburetor engine, which was very temperamental.

I clocked out of work a little later than the other guys, so I was surprised to see all of them standing around in the parking lot at 10:15.  It was still pouring down rain, and the wind was still whipping sideways as it had when I started my shift.  Apparently two of their cars were “flooded out”, meaning they had so much moisture in the engine block the cars wouldn’t start properly.  They pushed one car under the overhang at the front entrance of the store and started to work on it.  I went to my car to see if it would turn over properly.

My car started fine.  I think I had the oldest car and the only one with a carburetor.  How that worked out in my favor I’ll never know, but I did know at the time I had to run my engine for ten to twenty minutes before I made my journey home.  While I was waiting for my car, my buddy John called me over to his 1987 Honda sedan.

John found out that his car would not kick over as well, so his Honda made three cars having issues with the rain.  He opened the hood and he handed me a can of starting fluid that he had in the car.  He asked me if I knew where to spray the fluid, and I told him that I had a good idea even though my car had a different engine than his.  The plan was to spray the distributor cap in order to get the moisture off of the spark plugs, then try to start the car.  At this point John and I are soaked.  I am buttoned up in my Nirvana 1990’s grungy green, brown and black flannel, John in his leather college lacrosse jacket.

At least in 1996, starting fluid had diethyl ether in it.  I’ll save 2,000 words to this post by simply saying it is a very volatile flammable liquid that is harmful to skin and harmful to breathe.  When I sprayed John’s distributor cap the first time I let him know that I was done.  He tried to start the car and it cranked, but did not kick over.  Over the next five to seven minutes, we repeated this process a few times and we got the same result.  We were close to getting the car to start but did not succeed.  Growing tired from the work day and becoming ill from standing in the rain for over fifteen minutes, our next move was a sign of our desperation to get out of the weather and home.  It almost burned me.  Literally.

I can’t remember who came up with the idea, but I know we agreed it was a good idea at the time.  I would spray the starting fluid and at the same time John would turn the key and try to start the car.  About five seconds after I started spraying, John turned the key.

WHAOOOOOOOOSH.

I remember when I was spraying a fairly large fireball emerged from the distributor cap area and spread over the hoses across the top portion of the engine.  I jumped back and I thought I was in trouble for sure.  As the fire continued to burn, John jumped out of the driver’s seat frantic and asked me what happened.  As I told him I didn’t know, I realized that I had suffered no burns.  My flannel was intact as well, and I proceeded to take my flannel off to put the fire out.  The fire started to worsen, and I told John to forget about putting the fire out.  Being his car and not having to worry about unbuttoning a tight flannel, John whipped off his leather jacket and starting slamming the thing into the fire.  Since his jacket was soaked from the rain, the flames went out and his jacket remained intact, but dirty.

I had a flashlight and I started looking under the hood to see if the flames were indeed out.  I was checking the hoses that were on fire a few minutes ago, and remarkably they seemed to look normal.  Our theory was when I was spraying the starting fluid, the strong winds caused residual amounts to land on any car parts around the distributor cap.   When John started the car while I was spraying, vapors from the fluid came in contact with a spark plug via the distributor cap, which caused the fire.  Since my spray was probably flying everywhere in the wind, the trail of ether spread to the other areas of the hood that had a coating of fluid on it from the previous attempts to start John’s Honda.

After inspecting everything under John’s hood for several minutes, we couldn’t see any damage.  We didn’t smell anything burning, we didn’t see anything burning and the engine looked the same as it did before the fire.  Puzzled, John turns to me:

“Should I try it again?”

“Go ahead, see what happens.”

John turns the key, and his Honda started up fine.  I was almost sure something was going to start ablaze but nothing bad happened.  The car sounded normal with no signs of stalling out.  We were stunned.  How can this same car that was going up in flames fifteen minutes prior able to run without issue?

Apparently when diethyl ether comes into contact with water during a fire, the fluid will layer on top of water due to its lower density.  So the rain water that got on all of the wires, hoses, engine parts and plastic pieces before the fire saved the car.  The entire event ended up being a huge surface fire, and when John put out the flames with his lacrosse jacket, the components of his Honda stayed intact thanks to the water all over the parts.  The fire created heat, which dried out the moisture under the hood.  That’s why John had no problem starting the car after the flames were put out.

John drove home that night, and when I asked him how the car was running over the next few weeks, he said it never ran better!  The sludge that caused his car to run sluggish under normal driving conditions was literally smoked out of the Honda.  Or more appropriately firebombed out of the Honda.  Yikes.

 

The Comedy Of Unemployment

I’ve had many jobs in my 25 years of working.  During my time in high school and college, I held two or three jobs at one time to pay the bills and knock out some school debt.  I always had a good work ethic, and I always took a direct approach toward management when dealing with issues connected with a job.  In many cases, the results were beneficial for both parties and the work environment continued to be positive.

In October of 2015, I was fired from my job of five years.  This was the first time I was ever let go from a position.  It was clear that I did not agree with how day-to-day activities were being managed and my work performance suffered because of it.  I held my ground and stood up for myself, for I believed in my heart I knew what was right for the company and my own sanity after working without much strain for the first four years I was there.

Without going into too much detail, the drastic change in the final year of my job was the attempt of management to combine our billing system with our inventory management system.  I was their warehouse guy, and I never had real issues with the existing application I had all along.  Once the launch of the new system took place, my job became harder to do, especially when somebody in my department had the day off.  Did I mention we had two people in the department?  The old system was more efficient and allowed for some cross-responsibilities; the two of us could help each other when one got caught up with their work.  I had a hard time keeping up with the volume in the new system when we were both there five days a week!  So my co-worker and I were separated most of the time under this new application, which cooled our relationship with each other.

So where’s the comedy?  This sounds dreadful so far, right?  I will spare you the rest of the details and I will share with you what the heck I have experienced while being out of work during the major holidays in the United States.

The most important event that came from my job loss was the ability to be with my two-year-old son more often that normal.  To save money on day care I have watched him 17 days and it would have been more days if it was possible (We have to keep his spot there in case I find work, there is a waiting list with many day care centers near us).  Being with him made the sting of receiving 60 percent of my original pay worthwhile.  It’s pretty funny how this worked out in my favor, right?

I remember the days where the local newspaper would have hundreds of jobs in the Sunday edition.  There, I found many of my old jobs, including the one I was just sacked from.  It was easy to navigate the pages since everything was grouped together by occupation.  I knew what I could and could not do, so I knew what pages to look at when I would scan through them.

NOW, every online job board claims to have filtering devices to make your job search easier.  My ass they do.  I probably waste two to three hours per week looking at jobs that I would never be qualified for.

I have read these so-called “Career Experts” in various publications over the last three months.  99 percent of the time the advice is the same to stressed out career-minded individuals with real problems, using fancy words to tell people to kiss their supervisor’s ass no matter what the problem is, and MAYBE the situation will get better.  And if you are having a hard time finding work, check with temp agencies to see what openings they have.  Because a TEMP AGENCY is a long-term solution.  I’ve worked at two temp agencies over the years and they were a complete waste of time if you are looking for meaningful career work.  People get PAID to give this type of advice!  Where did we all go wrong!?!  What a life.

The state I reside in wants to see progress in your job search.  I get it, because I am sure there are thousands that try to work around the system. But have you ever tried to find work around Christmas and around Thanksgiving if you live in the U.S.?  It is next to impossible because the people who post the jobs are all on vacation!!!  I found myself applying for jobs I would never consider just to fulfill the requirements of the state.  Now that January is here, more promising positions are popping up online.

Even though I have been humbled by this experience it is nice to remember that I have had many positive days during my job loss.  If you think your time without work is hard, just remember that there is a man of middle age out there who is trying to reinvent himself while he has many worries on his mind.    A man of middle age who will share 1,000 words when he can to calm his nerves and maybe help somebody laugh in a tough time.