February 18th, 2011

#2557: Another life lesson learned!

Sometimes milk can smell okay and still be sour! Also, when they say that milk has "soured", they actually mean it tastes sour!

The milk looked okay and smelled okay, but it certainly didn't taste okay. Blech. The worst part is, I had already swallowed the mouthful by the time the warning signal from my tongue lazily ambled its way to my brain.

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So--because of breakfast--I need to go buy milk, eggs, and bacon. Argh etc.

* * *

The damn window well has started flooding and leaking again. If I had any idea where the freakin' post hole digger is, I'd go out there this afternoon and dig the damn thing out--but I don't.

Dad's solution was to put a sump pump into the window well and run a discharge hose to the side of the house. The problem is, that was done about 15 years ago, and the window well has silted up something awful. There's not enough room for the float switch to swing; so the damn thing either doesn't run at all, or it stays on continuously.

So now I get to go down to the basement every 2 or 3 hours, plug the thing in, and let it run until the window well is empty. But at least now I'm staying ahead of the water, so it's no longer leaking.

My idea of digging the well out--as far down as I can--and filling it with gravel is looking better and better.

I think the guys who built this house half-assed the drainage system, though. Window wells are supposed to drain into something, and usually the concrete foundation of a house is poured onto a level bed of gravel. This provides a sump underneath the concrete box for water to drain into; and the window wells (if any) should be connected to it. Water collects in them, it drains into the gravel, where the sump pump can pump it out.

Apparently there was some thought given to connecting the window wells to the sewer tile--yeah, that would be cheap. That's probably why it was never done; it would simply cost too damned much. The remaining window well is right next to the patio; any such project would mean removing the patio first.

Another alternative would be just to fill the damn thing in with concrete--plug the damn hole and forget about it--but that might violate the building code.

The thing we can't do is leave it be. It's going to be hard enough to sell this place; if it's flooding periodically, that's going to make it even harder--so the leak has got to be fixed, and it'll have to be fixed properly, not with something like Dad's kludge. We'll end up replacing the carpet down there, as well.

* * *

Since the snow was nearly gone, when I went to the range yesterday I took the Escort.

The tires needed air, and the compressor's tank was empty, so while it pumped up I shoveled the few inches of remaining snow off the driveway. It was two patches, neither very large; it took maybe five minutes for me to shovel both of them off the driveway and I was finished with that before the compressor had finished pumping up.

Got the tires to the right pressures, checked the oil--added a quart--and then off I went. It started right up despite sitting for...how long?

The last time I remember driving the Escort was on the 26th, when I got home from Louisiana. I could have driven it subsequently to that, but I don't remember doing so. Certainly the car has sat, unused, since before Feb 1st, because that was the day we got hit with the blizzard. And I'd primarly been driving the Jeep even before that out of laziness and inertia, anyway.

Well, it's all good.

* * *

I'm surprised--though perhaps I should not be--at how quickly the snow melted. It's nearly gone now, but for certain larger piles (such as where the snowblower deposited its discharge).

They're predicting a 50% chance of snow on Sunday. Spring ain't here yet!

#2558: A crushing disappointment.

Yeah, that place I interviewed at--they hired two other guys, and not me. So it looks like my app got ashcanned after all.


You know, the legend of Pandora's Box talks about how when it was opened, all the furies were loosed upon the world--all kinds of really bad crap, all the ills of mankind--but, the legend adds, "there was one more thing in the box: hope."

You know why hope belonged in that box? Because hope is the worst of them all. And unleashing that on the world was probably the worst consequence of Pandora's curiosity.

Hope has never helped me one iota. All hope has ever done for me is to lead to utter dejection when it was dashed. This time was no exception.

By itself, it's no big deal. WTF, no one ever gets offers for all the jobs he interviews at (except my Mom, who was lucky that way). I had even been cautioned not to get my hopes up too far. But I kinda thought, "This would be a good thing and it would offset all the crap that's happened to me. I did really well on the interview, and I've never lost out on a job when I inteviewed that well!"

Yeah. Well, there's a first time for everything.

The hope I had for landing this job has led to bitter disappointment. The hopes I had for marriage--both times--led to bitter disappointments. The hopes I had for my various career attempts...well, same shit. Hope is cruel: it leads you to think that you might actually be able to improve your lot in life, that you might be able to make things just a little bit better than they are--and when those hopes are inevitably crushed by reality, the pain is excruciating. And the worst part is, the hope doesn't die. It stays, even when you know that the situation is unsalvagable. Hope is cruel.

The past ten years have not been kind to me. In the past decade, I've had three careers, all of which were crushed out of existence by issues beyond my control. I've been engaged twice, and both times I was dumped. I lost both my parents. I went from being a moderately successful technical worker, living on his own and trying to build a good future, to being an unemployed lonely douche living in his parents' house and on their dime.

I have nothing to show for any of my accomplishments (such as they are) and I don't even have a freaking family. Women won't give me the time of day and I can count my friends on one hand. Even when I manage to get something to go right for me, it always comes at a cost--and usually I don't see the cost until it's far too late; and further, the good thing disappears long before that cost has been paid, so I suffer far longer than I enjoy the good.

Life is full of disappointments; I ought to be used to that by now. But I feel like I'm still paying an outrageously high price for bad decisions made more than a decade ago--decisions which were correct based on the information I had at the time, decisions which turned out to be wrong only in the sober light of experience. I could not have known beforehand that they were wrong--such as my decision to take a job in Iowa rather than one here in Illinois--and in fact every single piece of information I had to hand told me that I'd be better off there rather than here.

The major mistake I made was not applying for a job with Garmin in Kansas City in 2001. I should have gone ahead and made the application and done the interview and moved there if I got the offer, because all else being equal I'd probably still have a career right now. But my entire career up to that point had been in the technology bubble economy, where computers were a quickly-growing industry and there was plenty of money to be made; I had never experienced a normal tech economy in my life. The information I had--faulty as it was--told me that I didn't need to move to another state to continue working in technology.

When I was still in school, I interviewed with someone for some position, and I mentioned that I was interested in robotics. The interviewer shut me down: "It's not a good field," he told me. "No one uses robots. Unions are powerful enough that they keep robotic use in factories to a minimum. If this were Japan, you could do that, but not here." So I gave up on the idea of working with robotic and instead focused my attention on computers and technical writing.

Sure...in 1994, no one was using robots. But in 2011, they're all over the goddamned place, and I just lost out on entering an excellent and lucrative career fixing them because I haven't had a technical job since 2001. This means that I'm stuck looking for an unskilled position, and guess what? We're still at 17% unemployment! Borders is going to lay off enough workers to man 200 stores, making the pool of unemployed unskilled laborers even bigger!

It seems to me that over the past ten years, the light at the end of the tunnel has been a train more often than it's been anything else.

You know, I landed that job at Target, and thought, "This is a good break! I can work my way up!" ...and it turned out that I was working for a couple guys who only promoted their friends, so no matter how hard I worked I was never considered for any promotions. When I heard the story about the two executive team leads playing Xbox in the conference room with a team member (who later became a team lead) and a seasonal team member (who was kept on after the holidays and who later was promoted to be the music and movies specialist despite his functional illiteracy) I realized what a break my employment there wasn't; by the time I heard that story, the company was already in "trimdown" mode and very, very few promotions were happening anywhere.

If you work hard and do your job, it's supposed to lead somewhere; but even though everyone in that place knew I was a hard worker who was smart and disciplined and capable of self-supervision--even though I was a "Wow!" hire, hired permanently on the spot rather than given a seasonal slot--there was no way I could advance there, because I wasn't friends with the boss. No amount of hard work and perserverence could or would lead to a promotion under those circumstances: instead of hanging around the office schmoozing with the boss, I was getting stuff done, but the primary criterion for advancement there was--you guessed it--how well you schmoozed with the boss, and performance be damned.

It seems like I always end up excelling in the wrong damned things. At the nursing home, nearly all the residents loved me, and I tried to give them my best care at all times. But the director of nursing was always telling me that there had been "complaints" that I wasn't working fast enough.

I worked for the Linn County IT department for six weeks in 1997; it was the job I originally moved out there to take. I was fired the day after Labor Day because the boss had decided I wasn't a "people person." And here I'd thought I had been hired to fix computers. I guess I should have gone to school to be a people person, instead of learning all that useless technology! After working as an on-site computer technician for seven years with nary a complaint about my personality, suddenly it was important that I be better at schmoozing than fixing machinery.

So I guess this most recent reversal is not terribly surprising. Thinking about it now, really, it was too good to be true: the prospect of working for a company which actually rewards loyalty and hard work, doing a job which promised variety and interesting puzzles, something that would have used my brains and my hands and my talents--it's just not possible in this universe for me to get a job in which, y'know, I might actually be able to succeed.

When the fuck do I get a break?

#2559: Was I a GIRL when I was in high school??

I sure wrote like one. I don't think I was a girl--I'd expect to remember something as drastic as sex reassignment surgery. Still, memory can be a funny thing; I have to wonder about it. But let me explain:

In the process of going through some of the stuff downstairs, I came across my "stash".

Every teenage boy has one, of one type or another. Some have certain back issues of National Geographic. Some scored some battered Playboys from a neighbor's unlocked garage. Some swiped copies of Hustler from their live-in uncle. Some end up with their collection after their dads move out and forget their pile of smut.

Me, I bought my stack of Penthouse one issue at a time, from about mid-1985 onward. I was already 18 when I started this; before my brother began attending medical school he had a nasty tendency to go into my room when I wasn't home and paw through my stuff. (He had admitted to reading some of my writing, without my permission, and it had not been left laying out. Do the math.)

Anyway, the first issue of Penthouse I got was actually given to me by a friend. I still have it, though it's missing its cover. To keep my brother from finding it, I modified one of my stereo speakers--well, one of the side panels had fallen off, so I made a couple minor changes to it and ended up storing my smut inside the speaker. And once I was old enough (and had gutted it up sufficiently) I began buying the rag myself.

Strictly for the articles! --not; I wanted to see tits and ass and pussy, and Penthouse was the best way to accomplish that. Playboy was too tame, seldom letting the reader see between the model's legs; but Hustler was too explicit for my taste. Penthouse was the happy medium.

(Eh? "Why didn't you just go on the Internet?" My dear boy, this was 1986. You could get a 1200 baud modem for about $300, and it would only take about FIVE HOURS to download one picture. And CompuServe charged $10 an hour.)

Anyway, I never threw any of them out; so I still have the collection, in a banker's box in the basement. There's also some...other stuff...in there.

My journals.

The journals are primarily two wire-bound notebooks covering early 1984 through late 1985. They're daybooks; they talk about things that happened and so on. Unfortunately, about 90% of the writing in these journals is about one Vicki Olsen, the absolute worst crush I ever had in my entire life.

So I sat down with this box of...stuff...and reread these words from half a lifetime ago. (More than half. 26 years. Jesus.)

...it read like something written by a girl.

I mean, it's full of gushy crap about Vicki, Vicki, Vicki--how she looked at me twice one day, what she was wearing the other day, how I found out who her favorite band was, blah blah blah, etcetera. And so I was sitting there, reading this crap, slowly growing more and more horrified as I realized Yes, you wrote this, and No, it's not fiction; it's fuckin' real.

Even better, though: every so often I'd come across a wisecrack or annotation, penned by me and dated sometime in June of 1995. (I couldn't resist adding a couple dated with today's date.)

Vicki lived in my neighborhood, one street over; when she first moved here, around the time we were eight, she was a gawky colt of a girl, about my height, with mousy brown hair and glasses. For a couple years I was friends with one of her neighbors, and she was friends with that kid's older sister, so we ran into each other once in a while but never said anything. The kid's sister didn't like me, so therefore Vicki didn't either, and I didn't really care anyway.

In junior high, she had braces and these hideous octagonal framed glasses, and the same mousy hairstyle. (She sat a couple seats over from me in 9th grade Biology, next to Alice Houston, with whom she was friends. That's a whole other story, right there.)

But all that changed over the summer of 1983. Since I no longer had friends in the neighborhood I lost track of her; and when she sat down next to me in Algebra II one fine late August morning in 1983, I lost my mind.

Glasses: gone. Braces: gone. Mousy hairstyle: gone. She was wearing jogging shorts and ankle socks, and I never noticed what kind of top she was wearing because OH MY GOD THOSE LEGS!

"Legs that wouldn't quit"? Her legs didn't know the meaning of the word. It didn't exist in their dictionary. In fact, just to make sure, her legs had carefully excised every last word starting with Q from their dictionary. If you asked her legs what the definition of "quantum" was, they would tell you, "There's no such damn word!" because "quantum" was too close to "quit", and they didn't even acknowledge the existence of the concept of quitting, much less that there should be a word for it. These legs were the Platonic ideal of legs for a caucasion human female aged 16.

The legs led me to notice the other things, the hair and glasses and stuff. And after that, I realized, Y'know, Vicki is actually really pretty.

Here you have a girl who's probably in the upper third of the popularity scale--if not higher--who has just managed to escape her chrysalis and is fanning her dazzling wings in the summer sun. Then there's the supremely unpopular guy on the branch next to her, a fuzzy brown caterpillar looking at her and thinking about how nice it would be if she were his girlfriend.

I never asked her out; I never even really spoke to her. To be honest, I couldn't: I was at the very bottom of the social ladder. Nobody liked me; my friends had to pretend they weren't my friends, lest they end up in the same shit I was in. Actually having a girlfriend was an impossible dream for me, in high school. Dating someone like Vicki, especially after her transformation? Forget it.

I knew it was totally hopeless; as far as I know there was never any girl in my class who was ever interested in me, any time after June of 1979. Like I said, "impossible"...so all my thoughts and hopes and dreams went into the notebooks.

And it was all gushy adolescent crap.

The worst thing about it is that--except for the vagaries of youth--it's so damn well-written. It's well-written gushy adolescent crap; it's the kind of thing a good writer might put in his story about a love-lorn teenager to lend versimilitude to it.

I say that 90% of it was about Vicki; but in fact it wasn't--it just seemed like it. There were a total of four girls I had crushes on during that time period. (I actually had conversations with one of them. How's that for revolutionary? 9_9) Vicki was just the one I kept coming back to. She'd get a boyfriend, I'd force myself to stop thinking about her; then she'd break up with the guy and I'd be right back in it.

She was the reason I started writing a journal in the first place, anyway. I kept it up for years; once I learned how to hide files on C-64 floppy disks, I began writing it on the computer. The only way you could open the file was if you knew the trick; and occasionally I worry that I might have forgotten how to recover those files. (I think you append ",s" to the filename when you want to load it...crap, now anyone can read that stuff.) But I wrote journal entries for quite a while.

I think partly that it appealed to the adolescent romantic in me; perhaps I thought that if I wrote about it often enough, I'd find the magic words that would make her mine, like the poetry of Cryano to Roxane. But all I ever managed to do was to write a bunch of sloppy guck.

* * *

Feb 18, 2011: after I had put everything away and put the box back where I found it, then I thought, WTF, was I a girl when I was in high school? Shit.

The last entry in the notebooks was dated August of 1985. That was 25 years ago (a bit more) and--predictably--it was about Vicki. I had written two love letters to her that summer, and actually sent them; neither ever prompted a reply, which really is just as well, considering.

She married a guy from our high school who was a year ahead of us, and they live somewhere around town. (Her surname is no longer "Olsen" which is why I use it here.) He's heavily involved in the local lodge. I have seen her a few times over the course of the years; why she--of all people!--was the classmate who also ended up living in Crete is beyond me, unless it's Fate wanting to flip me the bird Yet Again. I haven't seen any of my other classmates since 1985 and feel no poorer for it, but of course the one person I really don't want to see is living right here in town.

Hell, in 1998 I went to Bristol Renaissance Faire, and I saw her there. WTF.

I'm not interested in her; I haven't been for a long time. I don't want to see her; I don't want to talk to her, I don't want to have anything to do with her. I had a stupid adolescent crush on her, and I handled it badly; that's embarassing enough without having my face rubbed in it approximately at random.

* * *

On the plus side, if you ignore all the adolescent mush, it provides interesting insight into my teenage years. Oh, it's utter crap I don't want anyone to see until after I'm gone (say, 100 years from now or so, that'd do) but there are some neat bits in there about my day-to-day life in the 1980s.

Thanks to my journal habit (since abandoned) I know that my first kiss occurred on August 17, 1989. Whee! There's also a...detailed...description of one early make-out session with my first girlfriend in there. For some reason I printed those journal entries out and saved them; not sure why, but it makes for entertaining reading.

I feel as though I'm missing a journal notebook, though; I could have sworn there were three--but I have no idea where that third book would have gone, since there was absolutely no reason to split up the set; there's more than enough room in the box for more stuff. And no one should have been rooting around in that box, either. So it's likely just my imagination.

* * *

All of this kind of makes me want to dig out the C-64 and the floppies and see if I can read any of the other stuff. I could hook the computer to the laser printer in Mom's room and print the stuff out, too, so that it doesn't perish.

*sigh* Just what I need: Yet Another project.