Thursday, August 10, 2017

for my sister

     We sold the house and disposed of much of our stuff in the summer of 2007; the MG, the hot tub, years of decorative country crafts, saved pieces of pvc pipe and lumber, books and magazines and piles of cable TV bills and bank statements, the lawn mower (good riddance), beds and furniture, the RonCo salad spinner…all the knick-knacks of life. Those invaluable things that were left; video tapes and picture albums, great grams quilt, dad's snow blower, fit neatly into a small storage unit with room to spare. Years later, we don’t remember much of what’s there. Obviously, nothing we have needed. Through the years the stash has dwindled as stuff got distributed to those who could use it. Our goal is to empty it.

     The rest of the summer/early fall was spent in a small rented camp on a lake in Maine resting, swimming and canoeing, preparing for our journey. I finished up at my job, trained my replacement and signed up for individual health insurance coverage, a high deductible, expensive safety net. We bought a Town and Country Touring Van with “stow n’ go” rear seats, power adjust front seats and a roof top Thule carrier. We established gmail accounts and purchased a nationwide cell phone plan. The laptop and phones would be our invaluable communications links to family and friends, banks and investment accounts and provide us the tools to stay connected to those who wished to stay connected to us. We established a budget.

     We also established a travel blog; www.gdfoss.blogspot.com in order to provide our kids with pictures and prose of our journey. As of this date, there have been over 86,000 hits on the blog. Clearly our adventure has piqued the interest of so many more people than we had expected. And it has provided me an opportunity to practice “the craft”. 
   
     Writing is something I undertook in the painful aftermath of the loss of our son. It was a way to process my thoughts and emotions, an attempt to capture the lessons Life was serving up, at times shoving down our throats. Like the blog, writing led us into incredible experiences, contact with thousands of “strangers”. It cracked open doors that we had never imagined were available to us. 

     October rains stripped the leaves from the trees and ushered in chilly mornings and teeth chattering nights in our little cabin. The wood stove could not keep us comfortable and we began packing for a drive down the east coast. We outfitted the van with a cot, porta-potty, tent, sleeping bags, books, tools, clothes, maps and scores of other personal effects. Over the years we have added and subtracted from this list of necessities as we ventured into unforeseen living and travel situations. It is less a science, more an art. What can you live without? What items bring the most utility and joy? Everyone will refine their own list. Our partial list of “essentials" include; a guitar, a massage table, a GPS, a camera, a good set of binoculars, a magnifying glass, our Cutco "cultery", a wok, journals, computers, jumper cables, pillows and down comforter and an old school file box where we kept track of contact information of our people and the people we met on the road. 

     We visited doctors and dentists, friends and family, accountants and financial advisers and said our good-byes to our son and daughter. They arranged a wonderful send-off party for us at their apartment in Portland and we basked in the love and well wishes from loved ones. Stops in New Hampshire and New York for more good-byes and we were on our way. 

     Leaving a life behind, the people and places that were and still are so much a part of us, is no easy task. We are now 10 years down the road from that point in time. My sister and brother-in-law have just begun the "downsize exercise" and they are feeling all those emotions that go along with it. Are we doing the right thing? It's scary. Can scary be right?  

     But we know what we know. We have lived long enough, experienced enough, watched others reach the same fork in the road. Should we stay the course? Go down with the ship, so to speak. Or are we brave enough to move forward and grab some of a life we have dreamed of, but not yet experienced? It's a very personal decision and it depends very much on your choice of a life partner.
   
     I have always been the adventurer in our relationship, always up for new places and new faces. Connie has been the nest builder. So asking her to consider such a radical step was a multi-year conversation. We talked and we talked. And then we talked some more. I couldn't answer her questions; what if this happened or where would we spend Christmas or what will people think.  

     In the end, we knew what we knew. Life was for living. It is short and uncertain. People die and move away. As much as we all crave security and live like there will always be a tomorrow, life can change in an instant. There are no guarantees. We saw our window of opportunity open. And we jumped. 

     In hindsight, it was the best decision for us. Over the past 10 years we have been stretched and tested. It has not all been fun. It has been challenging. We have grown. I can't recommend it to everyone, but I can encourage those who have it in them to live life fully and to suck the marrow out of life. We like this quote 

“Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, champagne in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming “WOO HOO what a ride!"
 
     And so, little sister and her wonderful partner, we are very proud of you. Your eyes are wide open. It's scary and you're doing it anyhow. Do we ever regret our decision? Not once. 

     What a ride...

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Timing is Everything

We just attended my 30th MIT Sloan Fellows reunion. It was wonderful reconnecting with this extraordinary group of individuals from all over the world. Made me think about how each of us were selected for this prestigious opportunity. I'm sure no one in my class shares my story. It's an ignominious story that is over 30 years in the telling and one that I have told to only a few... until now.

Our little family was living in a raised ranch in a rural farming community in central Maine. The boys were 6 and our daughter was 2. Connie was a very busy young mother and I was working shift work as a supervisor in a pulp and paper mill. My undergrad degree was in biology and environmental science and upon graduation had earned an undistinguished 2.5 accum. My meaning and purpose (being a breadwinner for my family) had not yet been revealed to me and I  was just doing just enough academically to stay out of Vietnam, Anyway...

So when I found myself working nights in a pulp mill, I realized that I had made my own bed. In truth, there was much I enjoyed in my work. The men and women at the mill were hard working, hardy people who had resurrected an outdated and broken down 100 year old mill. With an infusion of cash from the new owners, a Finnish paper conglomerate and the New York Times, we  did whatever it took to compete in a global paper market. That included me giving up my initial job as an environmental engineer and strapping on the shift supervisors job. But, after 5 years, I was pretty much over it and wanted to get out of the mill and progress in a career.

Much had changed in those 5 years. The leadership in the mill changed as the NYT brought in their hard nose, high pressure management team. The new CEO immediately fired a dozen of our little mill family and instilled fear throughout the organization. Management through fear and intimidation; effective, brutal, cutthroat.

In those years our family had grown. I had installed an above ground pool (nothing says success like an above ground pool...) and a deck. We heated the house with 10 cords of wood each winter all of which I cut and split from tree length. And there was the acre of lawn to mow in the summer. It was a good life, but we wanted more.

I applied for an MBA program at a local business college and was accepted provisionally upon successfully passing the GMAT exam. In those days we bought huge books of practice tests to prepare for the test and I used my night shifts to prepare with a vengeance. Remarkably my score was in the 96th percentile and I started taking one class a trimester in accounting, statistics, marketing and finance, all of which I Aced. What a difference a meaning and purpose makes. My company paid for my courses and took it as a sign of ambition to advance in the company. I really just wanted to work my way into a new job and away from this corporate bullshit.

One evening, after an exhausting 12 hour day shift, I drove my little rusted Mazda GLC to the top of the hill and was about to turn onto the 20 mile stretch of road to home when a silver Audi came screaming down the highway. I watched as the new CEO went flying by. He pissed me off. Several of the recently fired employees were friends. So I pulled out right behind him and stayed close for 10 miles to Norridgewock. Not too close, but close enough.

There was a traffic light in Norridgewock, just one, and, as fate would have it, it was red. I pulled up right behind the Big Boss and we waited for the light to change. Suddenly a head bobbed up in the passenger seat next to him. She was smoothing her hair back and I recognized her as the Bosses new administrative assistant. I looked back to the rear view mirror and into the eyes of the Big Boss as he peered back at me. OH GOD!

Why had his secretary been laying down in the front seat with her head in his lap for 10 miles? JESUS H. CHRIST ON THE CROSS! A panic gripped me. The light changed. He turned left and I turned right and pulled over into the Grange Hall parking lot, shaking. I was a dead man. How was I going to find another job. I wasn't ready for the next step. Not yet.

After 10 minutes, I turned around and drove slowly to the house. I told Connie what had happened and that I would surely be fired the next day. I tried to eat, but couldn't, and I tried unsuccessfully to sleep in order to get up at 4:00 AM to start another day. So the next morning, by the time I got on the production floor in the 100 degree heat and the deafening sound of machinery, I was a wreck.

It was around 6:30 when the door to the pulp mill flew open and the Big Boss walked in in his Gucci shoes and his Brooks Brother suit. He pulled off his Foster Grants and looked around the huge machine room floor until he spied me. I quaked in place as the Big Boss strode toward me.

"Good morning, Glen," he said cheerfully as he slapped me on the back.

"Morning Chief," I squeeked.

"I heard a good joke the other day. Have you heard the one about the executive and the secretary who..." and he proceeded to tell me a sordid story of a carnal nature. For the life of me I don't remember the joke, but at the end of the story I do remember laughing politely.

"That's a good one, Boss," I mumbled.

He slapped me on the back again, a little stronger this time. "Have a good day. Keep these machines rolling." he said as he winked at me and sauntered across the floor and out the door.

For the next six months I kept my mouth shut and waited for the other shoe to drop. Then one night shift, I got a call from my Superintendent. "The Boss wants to see you in his office at 6:00am sharp."

"About what?" I asked fearing the answer.

"Don't know. Who ever knows with him." he said.

I showered at shift change and put my dirty, sweaty, stock covered clothes back on and headed up to the executive offices. His secretary scowled at me and said "What are you looking at?"

"N-n-nothing," I stammered. She turned and marched away in a huff. I thought my worst fears were being realized.

The door to the CEO's office swung open and my Superintendent stuck his head out. He motioned me in. The Mill Manager and the Paper Mill Superintendent were also in the room. The CEO sat at in his leather office recliner with his feet on his polished desk.

He said "Some days are better than others... and this is a good day for you."

I was stunned. How could getting fired be a good day?

He continued "We are making investments in our most important asset, our people, and today we want to invest in you."

I swallowed and smiled.

"We want you to go back to school and complete your MBA. We have plans for you." he waxed.

I said, "Wow, you want me to go to Thomas College full time?"

He said "No, I want you to go to MIT as a Sloan Fellow. It's a very expensive, one year intensive. I want you to take your family and move to Boston. The Company will pay all expenses and provide you your salary and benefits."

I was incredulous. "MIT? Have you seem my undergrad records? I'm not MIT material."

He exploded "GOD DAMN IT! If I want you to attend MIT that's where you are going! I'll attend to that. Just get busy filing the applications. You will need to fly down for an interview. Now, congratulations and get to work." He walked me to the door, winked and slapped me on the back.

I drove home in a fog and found Connie in the kitchen. I explained that the Boss wanted me to go to MIT in Boston for a year. She said "Will you be coming home on the weekends?" I said "He wants the whole family to go." She said "NO WAY. I'm not taking my family away from our home. You can go by yourself!" It took a lot of talking but eventually she grudgingly agreed to accompany me. But that's another story.

At the interview at the Sloan School the Director sat at his desk across from me and reviewed my application. He said "Your undergraduate record...ahhh." I said," I know. It lacks luster. But I promise you, if you let me in, I will not fail." He said "Fair enough. And in light of your GMAT scores, I'm going to approve your application for review."

The next week the Boss had the NYT make a call and, undoubtedly, a contribution and just like that I was in. Like the Boss said, he always got what he wanted.

I'm not going to write about that year or the amazing people and experiences we had. It was life changing. And although I eventually left the company and the Big Boss passed away and his secretary left the company (after suing the company and me for a million dollars for sexual discrimination... another story) and the mill was shut down, I think back to that time at MIT fondly.

It taught me so many lessons, made us wonderful friends and gave me the tools and self confidence to reach my life goals. But, perhaps most importantly, it taught me to keep my mouth shut and to pay attention, to expect the unexpected and to appreciate the value of timing... even the timing of something as inane as a red traffic light.




Monday, June 19, 2017

Fathers Day


I once said to him "Some people just shouldn't wear hats..." It made him laugh and months later he repeated it back to me. Miss him.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Truck Driving

I found this old, unposted piece of writing in my files. Adding it to the mix...

Poverty. I have immersed myself in it this summer. Poverty of spirit. Poverty of hope. Poverty of materiality. And I feel humility and heartache.

The waterfront is not a soft and cuddly place. It is a place where hard working men and women labor in the heat and the cold each day, a duality, both cruel and compassionate.

The work begins before the day begins, typically 3:00 AM, sometimes 1:00AM. The men straggle in, a few in beat up old automobiles, most on foot or on bicycles, driving licenses long gone. They are running on empty, exhausted, some drunk or high on drugs, whatever gets you through the day. They suit up in greasy boots and skins, baseball caps, rubber gloves and meet the work at hand, unloading trucks with fork trucks and pallet hoists, rolling 500 pound barrels of bait, winching fish onto waiting boats. Plodding, surviving, meeting the pace of the work required, no more, while the boss pushes them to perform.

Mondays are the worst because there is a brutal week facing them and they have the memory of Sunday where they lie down or drown their misery for a day. The mood on Saturday is markedly improved because it is usually an overtime day and there is the promise of a day off.

This summer I am driving truck, delivering barrels of poggies, herring and red fish up the coast to the buying stations, Boothbay Harbor, Georgetown, Harpswell, Orrs Island, over narrow, shitty roads in the big 54,000 lb box trucks. The crew loads me with 8 tons of fish on pallets and I head out in the dark on my first run, down the cobble stone, rutted and potholed Custom House Wharf and onto Commercial Street, up the hill to Congress Street and down the Franklin Arterial to I-295, North to the peninsulas of Casco Bay. I stop for fuel and coffee in Brunswick, then down the rutted, crowned roads to the docks. Backing the truck in for unloading is always an anxious moment. Each drop is unique and the perils are always present.

Albert Poggie  and Dane Allen at Allen's Seafood, Jim Dandy at Five Islands, ex-Navy Larry at Georgetown Coop, Stoner Larry at Ash Cove, every drop has a personality. Dave and his black son, John, at Bristol, Crazy Rick and Linda at Merriman's, 84 year old Bob Waddle (like a duck) at Quohog Bay. Mike and Pete at Cook's, Toby at Erica's Seafood, Jim and Johnny at Reversing Falls... hard working me and women trying to eek out a living on the Maine Coast.

Albert Poggie is a hard working, small, tanned man with tattoos across his back. He rails against the lobster buyers as they squeeze his margins. I saw him standing in the parking lot of the Brunswick Variety after work one night dressed in white pants, white shirt, white hat, looking like John Travolta because he has the hots for the girl behind the register.

Dane is 75, can't read or write, but has built a business on the rugged coast. He builds a lobster boat every winter, chews tobacco and is a gentle, joyful person.  He fishes for tuna and sail fish, a genuine old salt. I wish I had more to speak with him.

Jim Dandy never has a hair out of place. A large, powerful man, he played football for Michigan, running back, and has had both knees replaced. He coached football for 30 years and his son plays at the college level. An educated man, living his dream.

Larry at the Georgetown Coop is a skillful forktruck driver. His autistic son, Matt, helped load barrels onto my truck on day. He is all business, not long on small talk, but one day he told me his story, 30 years in the Navy driving “anything that could be driven”. On Saturday mornings he drinks whiskey while he unloads.

Stoner Larry is perhaps the best fork truck driver. He talks to each pallet as it comes off the truck all the way into the cooler, typically cussing them into place. He loves heavy metal music and weed, a joint between his lips as he works his magic.

Dave Bean owns Bristol Seafood and I see him running his truck up and down the coast picking up lobsters. His black, adopted son, John, is studying Funeral Home Management, a rugged college football playing young man.

Crazy Rick is bipolar. He will erupt into profanity and abuse at the slightest provocation, so last week when he dropped a pallet of four barrels of poggies off the fork truck all over the yard he exploded. “Son of a whore! God damned, c*** sucking bitches! You shit ass cocksuckers!” On and on and on... I shoveled up the fish and still he raved. A few days later, his wife Linda told me he smashed all the dishes in the kitchen that night. He is also a brother... a Mason. One day I was broken down in my truck up the bay from his dock, but he came by on his lobster boat and I flashed him the Masonic sign of distress. He tied up the boat and drove over in his front end loader to give me a jump start. The good and the bad...

84 year old Bob Waddle is an ex-marine, ex-plumber who came back to Maine to do what he loves. He is a demanding old codger, doesn't tolerate bait-juice in his yard or wear and tear on his drive. The truck approach is ridiculous and my heart is always in my throat driving around the tight curve, down the steep sloped hill to the waters edge. He fired his help and now I put the 12 floor loaded barrels into his cooler single-handedly. I take it as a personal challenge. One day he tipped me $10. I refused it after that.

Cook's is a busy drop and the road down Bailey Island and across the single lane Orr's Island crib bridge,  is always adrenalin producing. There are always multiple trucks in the yard. Tractor trailers, box trucks, deliveries and there are only inches within which to maneuver.

Toby is a good shit. He has a 7 ton industrial class forktruck that breaks through the planks of the dock if he strays off the reinforced section so I try hard to position the truck correctly. He is engaged to Erica who doesn't speak to me.

Jim at Reversing Falls is strong and silent. He hasn't said 30 words to me this summer so I try extra hard to make the unloadings uneventful. Perhaps I am succeeding. Last trip he said “See you next time buddy...”   Probably not.


Of all the jobs I have had, this one has the greatest risk and the least reward and I’m not talking about the money. I have enjoyed the people and, to some extent, the challenge, but my truck driving days are over. Nothing but respect for drivers. It’s tough work.


Rereading this material has been enjoyable. Helen Keller wrote "Life is an adventure, or nothing." Ryan said, "It's all about the people." Eric wrote, "Life isn't difficult. We just make it that way." Katie wrote "At least you're a self aware asshole." Craig said "I knew there'd be issues." I am continually surrounded by snippets of brilliance and wisdom.

Just need to learn what words to pay attention to...

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Funny Story...Or Not

Social anxiety is no laughing matter... but it sure can lead to some humorous outcomes... sometimes.

I knew that my beautiful bride had social anxiety before I knew the name for it. I guess we all change our behavior to suit what we think is appropriate for whatever social situation. For me, I tend to get more quiet, more alert, as if waiting for some threat to emerge, for the tiger to leap out of the darkness. Must work cause I've never been cornered by that tiger. Although I have had some nasty confrontations with occasional assholes... another story. Not this one.

My wife, of 41 years yesterday, does just the opposite. She starts to chatter and talks and giggles her way through every situation. How do you know when Connie is nervous? Her lips are moving... She talks to everyone; people in lines, people in stores, receptionists, waitresses, police officers, TSA agents... And that's where this story begins as we embarked on our journey North on JetBlue for a baby shower. We parted the car at the discount, long-term parking lot, got on the van and she started talking. The Russian van driver loved the chance to practice his English and to hear the most intimate details of his passengers lives.

At check-in she informed everyone that our daughter was having her first baby and that we were going to a baby shower. Most people are kind. They smile and engage, especially when the talk involves grandkids, babies, puppies, kitties and rainbows.

We proceeded through the security lines. I asked her to relax, to stop talking. I would sooner have asked the tides not to ebb and flow. We got split up in different lines approaching the X-Ray machines and I could hear her anxiety cresting.

"Oh...Oh... Wait. I'm with him. Can I just get over to that line?" she babbled as she turned around and walked into the oncoming flow of people cueing up to remove laptops and bags of 2.5 oz beauty products, removing shoes and belts and jewelry, preparing to pass through security, like herding hogs to slaughter. The snag in the process attracted several TSA agents. They escorted her to my line and provided her with the gray plastic trays in which she was to place her personal effects for the x-ray screening. She never missed a beat and proceeded to inform them that when she went trough the x-ray machine all the alarms would go off, because she had a new knee and a new hip put in this past summer, and this was her first time flying since then, and, now that she was bionic, she was sure she would have trouble going through airport security.

I was in quiet mode on one knee removing shoes just listening to her stream of consciousness rant when I heard her say, "And one time, HE WAS CHECKED FOR EXPLOSIVES!"

It was true that on one occasion the technology at Reagan International Airport decided to flag me for detected explosive residue. The technology was subsequently found to be faulty and taken off line. But for her to relay that story, at that time, just blew my mind.

I slowly stood up and placed my shoes in the tray. Several TSA agents busied themselves around me and Connie was escorted through the gate, happily telling everyone about her surgeries and how good the outcomes had been.

I was directed through a different gate and halted.

"Please go back through the metal detector" said the huge black man who had just materialized out of nowhere. I complied, once, twice and then a third time.

"Please step over here," he instructed.

He pulled out a wand with a swab on the tip which he rubbed on various parts of my clothing and then placed it in a machine for evaluation. "BEEEP" went the machine. Still not satisfied he approached me closely, face to face, actually my face to his chest. Biggg black man!

He didn't make eye contact as he recited the prescribed words. " I am going to conduct a thorough body pat down using my hands. I will be touching your groin and buttocks. I will do this with the back of my hands. I will wear rubber gloves." I nodded.

At this point he made eye contact. "Do you want this pat down to take place in a private room?"

"Hell no! This is fine." I blurted.

I was cleared and instructed to gather my belongings. Finally I stumbled out to the security gate and found Connie talking to a maintenance woman pushing a cart filled with cleaning supplies and trash. "This woman is so nice. She's from Afghanistan. I told her our son-in-law was from Azerbaijan... where have you been? They were so nice to me. I told them I had a new hip and a new knee. The machines went off... beep, beep beep. Why are you smiling?"

I started laughing. All to way to our gate.

Funny story.


Thursday, December 8, 2016

17

“You are immortal; you’ve existed for billions of years in different manifestations, because you are Life, and Life cannot die. You are in the trees, the butterflies, the fish, the air, the moon, the sun. Wherever you go, you are there, waiting for yourself.”
― Don Miguel Ruiz

Love you, family.




Monday, September 19, 2016

Messing with the Press

The media is wacked. Freedom of the Press is a fundamental Constitutional right. But what happens when the press shows all the symptoms of out of control ADHD? Should mandatory Ritalin medication be legislated? Yeah, let's just pass another law. That usually works... Or maybe we should just mess with their heads. It's definitely more fun.

Last month the press in Maine went absolutely spastic when it was discovered that an Iranian refugee who had lived and worked in Portland and Freeport had joined ISIS.  He had abandoned his wife and children, traveled to Turkey, crossed the border into Syria and was killed in a terrorist attack in Lebanon. 

The right wing went nuts that our immigration process had not weeded him out. The Governor was outraged that our welfare system had supported him. The left wing went ballistic that confidentiality of welfare recipients had been compromised. And the hyperactive press responded like a classroom of 3rd graders in insulin shock the morning after Halloween. 

I didn't know anything about Adnan Fazeli. I certainly didn't know that in 2014 he and his family had lived across the street from our little rental house here in Freeport. 

The day before the Big Story broke the press was working overtime. The light blue Prius (of course) pulled up to the end of my driveway. I was working in the garage with the door open and watched the professionally dressed young female journalist exit her car and walk confidently toward me. She had her expensive brown leather folder clasped firmly under her left arm and a cup of Starbucks Mocha Chi Latte with cinnamon and a shot of espresso in her left hand. 

She extended her right hand and spoke. " Good afternoon. I am Emily Dickinson, Investigative Reporter from the Portland Press Herald." She flashed me her press badge.

Here eyes kind of rolled back in her head as she continued. Reminded me of the crazed look in my dog's eyes when I would take him to the vets for a shot. She was clearly stressed... on a deadline... anxious to receive her Pulitzer prize.

"I am speaking with neighbors on the street who might have known Adnan Fazeli," she probed.

Like I said, I didn't have a clue who the guy was. But why pass up a chance to mess with the press. 
I laid down my tools and looked her dead in the eyes. "Oh no! What happened to my good buddy Adnan."

Her reaction was Pavlovian. Her eyes glazed over. She dropped her folder. She spilled her Latte. She seemed to have lost her ability to speak as she groped for a pencil. A major rush of adrenaline surged through her veins. Finally she had her reporter notepad and a writing utensil, ready to capture my every word.

She answered my question. "Adnan Fazeli was killed in Lebanon while fighting for ISIS. So how long did you know Mr. Fazeli?" She moistened her lips nervously.

It was borderline sadistic what I was doing to this poor kid, but it was just too much fun to pass up. After decades of the press pushing my buttons (before I had sworn off the news on TV and had cancelled the morning newspaper) with overblown, inflammatory, untruthful  reporting and reactionary weather forecasts, I was enjoying pushing theirs. I suppose I could have fabricated stories about Adnan beheading chickens in the back yard, or carrying an AK-47 in his truck gunrack. Kinda wish I had. But I am not a cruel person. So I said, "Oh, we just moved here. I never met the man."

The confusion in her eyes took a minute to dissipate as her balloon, the story already half written in her mind, deflated. She gathered herself and her latte before wandering back to the Prius and drove away. 

I felt bad...but only for a second.



Wednesday, September 14, 2016

You Can't Make This Shit Up...


I wandered down to Custom House Wharf this morning to meet up with my cousin for a cup of coffee. It felt strangely comfortable returning to this place where I had spent several summers working at his lobster and bait business. The road down the wharf had received some much needed maintenance; a new layer of tar on the section closest to Commercial Street near Harbor Fish and the Port Hole Restaurant, but the condition degraded quickly to pot holed dirt and cobblestone near the lobster shop and the fishermen's shanties. The road at the end of the wharf was unchanged; craters, mud and pools of fetid fish waste.

The cast of characters on the wharf seemed the same at first glance. Lance sat on a milk crate outside the Port Hole kitchen smoking a cigarette. The Port Hole had reopened since being shut down by the Department of Health for sanitation and vermin issues which had resulted in a rash of food poisoning. Still the tourists and the fishermen love the place as do the bait shack workers. It's one of the few places left in town where a man smelling like rotten fish wearing slime covered skins and boots can be served coffee and breakfast at the counter.

Back in my corporate days I remember I was in Portland for a meeting with the lawyers about some moronic labor relations issue, dressed in my suit, power tie and wing tips. I was early and tried to stop by to see my cousin but he was not at the shop and I walked into the Port Hole looking for him. Lance was behind the counter.

“What do you want,” he asked. His eyes seem to look in different directions so I didn't know if he was talking to me or the fisherman sitting at the counter. After a pause I said “Seen Pete around?”

He cocked his head so that his left eye focused directly on me and shook his head slowly, warily, side to side. Of course he knew Pete. Pete had loaned Lance money; Lance and half the other characters on the dock.

There was nothing else to say so I turned toward the door. He called after me, “You with the IRS?”...

Further down the wharf Sam and Harold, the scruffy guys who maintained the dock, were carrying pieces of rotten timbers to a job site. Sam's arthritis was clearly getting more problematic and he hobbled along like an old dog with hip dysplasia. Harold, the younger man, was wearing the same dirty, grease covered clothing he always wore. He looked like the picture of Saddam Hussein when they dragged him out of his hidey hole.

Mick was standing outside the lobster pound talking with a truck driver and I enjoyed catching up with him on this years lobster catch and the family. Another cousin walked out to the shop and put me in a friendly bear hug. And the catching up continued.

Pete had yet to show up on the wharf so I walked toward the bait shop trying unsuccessfully to keep the fish gore off my good sneakers. The bait shop was, as usual, a circus of activity with forks trucks delivering pallets of poggies and herring in blue and white, 55 gallon barrels to the truck dock and salter. Several men I didn't recognized were loading bait onto fishing boats on the wharf side of the building. Several more were loading a truck. I shook hands with the foreman and three of the old crew and felt the water which flowed across the work floor from hoses and leaky pipes as it soaked my feet.

Pete came around the corner and we entered the fly infested office so the foreman could download his daily issues. Nothing had changed. The fly paper strips hanging from the falling down ceiling were covered with thousands of insects. The tools were rust covered. Bait slips hanging on nails covered the walls. I listened as they talked about the supply and demand and quality and location of bait. And then I listened as they talked about the comments and behaviors of their customers.

The new truck driver, Henry walked in the office. He was late for the second time this week and the foreman and Pete took him to task. Henry begged forgiveness and tried to explain.

“I've got this new girlfriend.” he began. He dropped his voice and said in almost a whisper, “I'm afraid she wants to kill me.”

Pete said, “Well that sounds like a problem, but what does that have to do with you being late for work?”

Henry explained. “Well I've hidden all the kitchen knives and I wait for her to go to bed and then I sleep on the outside of the bed and throw my arm over her... so I will wake up if she tries to get out of bed... so she won't stab me... but I'm not getting much sleep... so I'm late for work...”

Pete said, “Henry, have you thought about getting another girlfriend? One who doesn't want to kill you?”

Henry said “Yeah, that's probably a good idea. Thanks Pete.”

As we walked down the wharf bound for the Irish breakfast at Ri' Ra's, I noticed new stenciling on the side of the big box truck.

Coastal Bait. Don't Call Us. We Don't Want Your Business.”

Kind of counter intuitive marketing. But business is up 35% this season, so, guess it's working. Of course, it's better than the last truck stenciling put there as a joke. It remained on the side of the truck for five years.

Coastal Bait. Maine's Only Homosexual Bait Dealer.”



You can't make this shit up...

Monday, February 29, 2016

Kenny's Work Camp; The Trailer Edition

Just spent a week helping our friends Ken and Beth relocate and install a 68 foot, single-wide Horton house trailer. It's 10 years old and needed some loving attention, but the first challenge was to hire a professional relocation and installation crew. Not as easy as it sounds.

The trailer seller turned out to be a crook and refused to deliver on his relo/install services. He has yet to return the fees paid. A real snake. Thankfully, you don't run into those kind of people too often. I'm not a vengeful kinda guy, but I admit I'll find some satisfaction when the Universe kicks him in the nuts. Just sayin...

Ken must have worked for a week finding someone who could do the job. He finally hired Uncle Norm and his nephew Ricky from Moultre, Georgia.

As we drove the 3 hours to Lake City Florida at 4:30 AM to help with the tear-down Kenny said "We're gonna hear some real Georgia speak today..." If ever an understatement.

We arrived first even with Ken's Garmin taking us 10 miles out of the way eventually running us down a dead end dirt road. It was not the first time that particular piece of technology waylaid him, but it was definitely the last.

The duel axle, mud covered pickup truck pulled into the yard hauling a flat bed with bald under inflated tires. It was loaded with cinder blocks, sewer pipe, chains, all manner of implements of destruction. Three men dressed in worn and dirty clothes climbed out of the cab. Handshakes all around. Not many words.

The sign on the truck said Ricky's Trailer Installation. Ricky (pronounced Reeeky) did not make eye contact. I found it hard to not stop looking at him. His face and his hands were entirely covered with scar tissue and skin grafts from some earlier terrible injury. His second in command, Jimmy, probably 30 years old, shook hands and nodded silently.

There is always a pecking order, in the barnyard, in the wild, among men. The last man neither spoke or shook hands. He, too was around 30, but it soon became clear that his job was to do whatever anybody else told him to do. After working side by side with him for a couple hours I said to him," I didn't catch your name."

"The name's Earl... but everybody calls me Turtle... because I'm so slow."

I said "No you're not. I been watching you work. You're a hard worker. You all are."

His eyes shown. I think it was pride. Shortly thereafter he smashed his finger with a hammer and howled like a banshee. He made a point to show me the quarter sized blood blister. "It ain't nuthin. Been hurt worse." A while later he was up on a ladder with an electric saw trimming branches off a Live Oak tree and cut off the branch  that the ladder was resting on narrowly missing a nasty fall.  Ken and I watched. He turned to me and said," Who woulda thought THAT could happen."

Ricky and Jimmy were busy hauling 5 foot anchors out of the ground with a chain and the pickup. Clearly they had done this many times,, but we were shocked at the violence of the operation. The truck would have to make 2 or 3 hauls for each anchor, wheels spinning, chain straining. Each pull, Jimmy would call the same directions, "Mon back Reeky, Mon back. HO!", before reconnecting the chains for another haul. The chain  snapped twice. Kenny and I stayed clear.

The boys did watch with rapt attention when Ken took a framing hammer to his Garmin. Never uttered a word. Just watch with perverse interest as he smashed it beyond recognition and I stood by laughing insanely. I think they felt more comfortable with us Yankee boys after that. Yup, those boys are crazy, too.

Six hours later we had disconnected power, water, sewer, heat exchanger, pulled all 36 tornado anchors, installed the tongue and wheels and  stacked the existing cinder block piers and pavers on the trailer. It was then that Uncle Norm called to say there were issues with the haul permits and that the transport wouldn't take place until the next day.

Among men, whether from the North or the South, respect has to be earned. Hard work paid that bill. We stood around smoking, drinking a Coors Light and made plans for the delivery the next day. Ricky' clear gray eyes peered out from behind his ruined face. I told him that I was impressed with his crew. He said "Their ok. Hard to find workers who can cut it. They don't last long. 2 other boys supposed to be here today. One is laid up with burns. His wife was cooking french fries on the stove and caught a pot of hot oil on fire in his trailer. He yarded it outside and spilled it on his leg and hand. Said it hurt like hell. I said tell me about it. I know burn."

I probed. "What happened?"

The boys were all ears. " It was 38 years ago. I was 13 and we were installing a propane water heater in a trailer. The guy who hooked it up stepped over to the door and lit a cigarette. The blast blew me through a wall and burned me over 75% of my body. I walked home and passed out. My folks drove me to the hospital. I don't remember much after that. I spent a year in the Shriner's Burn Hospital. If I had a million dollars I would give it to those people. They saved my life."

I said "Most people with that kind of injury don't survive it. I'm a Mason. I know about those men. They do good work."

He shook his head. "Damn straight."

The trailer arrived on the island early afternoon the next day. They backed it into an impossibly narrow slot just inched from a huge Live Oak tree first shot. Real professionals. The boys got to work hooking up all the utilities and we began demo-ing the interior. The rugs and linoleum came up, walls were repaired and preped. The next day we oil base primed everything and started laying floating flooring.

The boys jacked and leveled the trailer three times, ran sewer line and installed tornado anchors. They worked like dogs, crawling around in the dirt and sweating like hogs. Jimmy and I talked about playing the lottery. He perked right up. "I figure somebody's got to win it. Could be me."

I said, "If there's a God in heaven, I'd a won it by now." He grinned.

Turtle talked about being a foster child and being placed in 170 homes in a one year time span. He told of the beatings he had received.  At one point there was a loud crash outside as we were laying floor. I said to Ken, "They must have just dropped the tongue." He said, "Naw, don't think so. Turtle's not screaming."

And then they were gone. I didn't even get to say goodbye.

The next days were filled with pressure washing, bathroom installations and building steps. And then Ken was gone, back to the Caribbean to get his 47 ft. catamaran ready for four charters. The boy operates on a different level. If you look up "multitasking" in the dictionary, you'll find his picture. Never met anyone like him. Proud to call him my friend.

I've worked on dozens of Kenny's Work Camp jobs; house jacking, speed hump installations, porches, sheds, fences, floors and tile jobs. Some were more strenuous than others. This one was "the best of times and the worst of times". It came out great. Beth is happy and working hard to get all moved into her new home. Her good friends, Kevin and Jim, are busy painting and setting up furniture. It takes a village. As the Beatles wrote "We get by with a little help from our friends."

Glad it's over. It will take me awhile to get rested up. Skin of a nightmare.

Kenny's Work Camp. Can't wait for the next one.