Sunday, September 15, 2019

Fixing The World One Cup At A Time

Every Thursday morning I have coffee with 2 or three friends at Cafe De Arts in Waukesha. I look at this time as some of my favorite discussion time every week. It is a group I was invited to years ago by one of the regulars, and thinking it was another myopic Christian men's Bible study, of which I was still in recovery from, I rightfully declined. Within a week, I got another invite after running into another regular of the group at a different coffee shop.

I took this as a sign that maybe I should give it a shot.

Well, suffice it to say it was not at all what I feared. When I first joined, I found out that these guys sometimes did a book study, but with very loose rules to it. If you didn't get to the reading for the week, there was no shame, heck some guys never got around to buying the book. That's about as loose as you can get.
A few Thursday Coffee Guys. -Photo Courtesy of RoostMKE

It is not always a religious book either. We've read books by Buddhists, hippies and recovering evangelicals. Put another way, we are NOT reading the likes of Purpose Driven Life.

Anyway, sometimes it's not a book at all, like the current moment. We are "between books" and just get together to talk, laugh and have coffee. And it is interesting the subjects that come up from week to week.

This week, one of the guys expressed his guilt at having just traveled to Scotland for vacation. He said he was feeling guilty for the "irresponsibility" of the air travel he'd just undertaken in the name of personal entertainment. Now, to be fair, this guy drives a hybrid vehicle that gets 50 miles to the gallon. Despite that he was still feeling guilt because we are all dreadfully aware of all that is going on with the climate and carbon buildup.

It was then that one of us pointed out that a plane burns 17 gallons of fuel a minute. 17 gallons a minute!* I was horrified. How could anyone travel internationally anywhere with a clear conscience I wondered?

Well that led to how we take car travel for granted and that the real problem is too many cars. We noted that in the 70's, a 20 minute ride across town was a lot! A distance that made you think twice, not due in part to gas prices. Now, people think nothing of a 40 minute commute. Daily!

The discussion digressed from there, as they sometimes do and turned to how we all should resort back to ship travel if we're going to go international. It is at least more economical.

I mentioned how the president of ESRI, the software company we use at work, donated enough a few years ago to plant a tree for every person at the conference, thereby offsetting the carbon used to get people there. I thought that was a novel concept.

I told them that I have environmental guilt too, but that now that I've been to London, I have a travelling bug and want to go back to Europe. So, basically, while I feel bad about what it takes to get there, I still want mine. That is the way entitlement feels. I know it and I'm not sure I'm ready to give it up. I am, therefore, the problem. I shoudl ideally bend to my guilt and stay in my neighborhood for the rest of my life. And wow, that is so fun.

So, instead of flying as a tourist or even taking a ship overseas, my friend said I should go to Africa, and plant some trees when I get there. When I asked if I could do it in Scotland or Italy, as I'd rather go there, he said, "They don't need trees. You have to go to Africa."

So that is how the conversations go from serious "How to save the planet" to lightening it up in the name of keeping our sanity. I am at least happy to be among company that thinks at this level. One week we are talking about micro-plastics in our water, the next about the military war machine, and the next about solar arrays that will one day soon will provide 7% of a California city's power need. Not only that, but you can plant crops in the shade of these solar arrays, that could not formerly be grown there because of the sun. Ideas on top of ideas.

I told these guys if we met for coffee every week, we could achieve energy independence and global peace.

And I believe that, if only everyone else in the world would listen.

Blogging off...

*(I later looked it up and it turns out it a 747 burns one gallon a second. One a second! At the same time, when spread over a 500 person plane, it turns out to be more efficient than a car. Well, who knew? I feel slightly better. See the article here.)

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Working Up The Food Service Corporate Ladder

In my work in progress book about my days at Cretin High School I talk a little about another job I had at The Lexington Restaurant in St. Paul. The manager of the place at the time, Don Ryan, actually lived across the street from us. His kids were pretty good friends with our family, so pretty much any of us who wanted to work there had a job if we wanted one.

I think it was late in my sophomore year that I applied and got the job as a dishwasher. Dishwashers were also called pearl divers, for some odd reason, but it was pretty much the starting position for any teenager at the place. You could work your way "up" to salad chef, busboy or even waiter if you worked hard and didn't piss off the management too much.

It was hard work, especially on busy Friday nights. Busboys brought in trays stacked with dirty dishes almost faster than you could clear them. There was always two dishwashers and a pot washer. The dishwashers would split duties, one working trays and the "clean end" of dish runs, the other was relegated to the hole, as it was affectionately called. The hole was where all the dirty dishes went and were rinsed and the resulting garbage sent into the garbage disposal.

I worked the hole enough and occasionally pulled some interesting things out of the garbage disposal. Bottle caps, bones and cocktail forks. The best find though was a pair of dentures. Well, it was the bottom ones anyway. It sorta skivved me out to tell you the truth. I can see how it happened though. Probably took them out to eat and wrapped them in a napkin that got shook out to the "hole."

Good times.

I remember the industrial dishwasher that sent dishes out the clean end at about a zillion degrees. We had to quickly stack them and get rid of the rack because another rack was usually right behind it. It  was a little like Lucy and Vivian n the chocolate line. Between the heat and the industrial detergent, my hands peeled, cracked and dried.

But the job taught me a good work ethic. You had to work fast, hard and long hours. Some weeknights they'd stay open till 11:30 or so and after running our last load, we'd go home and try and get 6 hours of sleep before school the next day. It was brutal, didn't help my grades any, but the money was good.

I eventually worked my way up to Salad Chef. It was an upgrade from the heat and garbage of pearl diving, but had stress of it's own. I worked there a few months and then went over to "the dark side" as busboys and waiters were called. The kitchen help always called them that. As a busboy I made great tips, but again, it was stressful. Lots of heavy trays of food and dirty dishes. Then there was the time my armload of soups got caught in the "automatic" doors that were finicky to open and time your walk-through.

My days at the Lexington helped pay my way through Cretin, which was not cheap. And while it taught me that hard work can make you rich(ish), it also taught me that there was no way I wanted to work in the food service industry. It also taught me the value of getting a good education so I wouldn't have to.

The restaurant still stands today. Check out their website here.

And if you should go there, tell them busboy Jim sent ya.

Blogging off...

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Thoughts From A Cover Reveal

So here is the cover to my forthcoming poetry collection. I can't say enough about how happy I am with it. It is perfect!

For starters I have to give full credit to the artist. His name is W. Jack Savage, a fellow native-Minnesotan now living in California. I have touted his work on my blog before, right here. You should check out his work if you get a chance. He is also a prolific writer and a Vietnam Veteran, making him a hero at many levels, in my eyes.

His artwork has always fascinated me and I am lucky to have a couple print copies that he has sent. One is in my office at work, the other in my home writing office. I'm not sure what you would call his style, but it looks Impressionistic to me, and I've always favored the impressionists. I don't claim to be an art expert or historian, but I know what I like.

I approached him and asked first for some pieces for ideas and secondly for permission to use one for my cover. He was gracious enough to both requests. He sent half a dozen images all with the theme of a line of some sort. I had two that I really liked but ultimately chose this one.

It has been a goal of mine for some time to collaborate with either a graphic artist or fine artist friend of mine with a book, so this fits that goal nicely. The fact that we both hail from Minnesota makes it a little more special as well. His work has appeared on many magazine covers as well, so I am fortunate to be able to share his work as part of my own.

Once I sent the images to the publisher, Kelsay Books it was only a matter of a couple days before they had something back to me. The text alignment on the cover fits with the "line" theme and the back cover blurbs speak to the books content nicely. I'm just so pleased with all of it. Kudos to W. Jack Savage and the team at Kelsay Books for everything.

The book marks my sixth since 2014, with number 7, another chapbook (Genetically Speaking) pending for later this fall on Local Gems Press. It's funny, but what keeps coming to mind through all of this are the lyrics from the Talking Heads' song, Once In A Lifetime:

"And you may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?"

How, indeed. LOL.

The book is not due out until November, but as I've said before I am so excited about the breadth of poems in this collection. It is my best work. A number of them have been previously published so are road-tested so to speak. When the date becomes firm, I will let people know where it is available as well as where I'll be promoting it with readings. Looking forward to all of it.

Blogging off...

Thursday, September 5, 2019

That First Job

My memoir in progress (MIP) is coming along well. I'm just over 70,000 words into it andI've got the chapters roughed out. Now the hard part of slogging through edits comes into play.

Tenatively titled, Cretin Boy, it is about my teenage years in an all-male, Catholic, military (JROTC) school in the late '70s. The book is not solely about the school, but also about all that comes with being a teenager and all the changes that life brings.

One of those changes of course is a kid's introduction to the working life. Once you hit 15 back then, you were expected to start looking for a part-time job. It was in part to keep you off the street but also a way of teaching you work ethic and helping take the load off of Mom and Dad's need to supplement your income (or lack of it).

In the book I talk about my first job at Tu-Way Car Wash on Cleveland and Randolph in St. Paul, Minnesota. I was a freshman in high school and my brother Tom worked there and got me the job. I think it paid about $3.85 an hour or so, but was decent income for the work.

The job required pumping gas when people drove up to the pump, back in the day when that was the way gas stations worked. Now it's "Do it yo-sef, chump!"

The other part of the job was running the car wash, which was the equivalent of the automated ones you drive into now, except it required some human intervention. Well, there was something wrong with the switch that stopped the upper brushes from spinning. Or maybe it was just me. But it seemed every time I tried to stop the brushes, it didn't work.

This operator error usually meant the car aerial was wrenched to new, ungainly angles, or in some cases snapped off altogether. Aerials were mostly hard mounted to the frame and not nice and flexible like they are today. I'd prefer to call them less-forgiving. In some cases, they could be bent back to their original tilt, but in others, the owner of the station got a phone call the following week.

Of course there were some folks that, if I didn't tell them, didn't notice the aerial pointed toward Shanghai, China, and that was okay with me. I'd rather deal with it after they had some time to cool off and fire a letter to the owner or come back and chew me out the next day.

I didn't much care for the job actually. It seemed like a lot of responsibility to dump on the back of a 15 year-old, especially at the end of the night when you had to reconcile the gallons pumped with the money in the till. I was grateful when track season rolled around and I had the perfect excuse to bail on the job and just practice my high and long jumps.

I figured there would be plenty of work ahead of me later in life, I might as well get one last shot at a life of relative leisure. It didn't last long as I took a job at a restaurant late in my sophomore year.

In any case, there's all of this and many more tales in the book of my days at Tu-Way and Cretin. It's been fun recalling them and I can't wait until it's done.

Blogging off...

Sunday, September 1, 2019

August Fondly Remembered

Another August has gone by and the unrest has settled upon me again. This is always a weird time of year for me. If you know me, I am happiest in shorts, a T-Shirt and sandals, so any time that fashion feng-shui is threatened by the dreaded long pants and flannel shirts, well, you're going to get some blowback from me. If you're one of those "I love the cool fall weather" people, we probably can't be friends. It's nothing personal, oh, wait, yes it is.

Don't get me wrong, I love fall as well, all 3 weeks of it. The problem lies immediately following fall. Namely the 'W' word. In my eyes, Fall and Spring are equals, only spring holds the hope of summer following it. Winter, well, I'm going to stop saying it for now.

But as I said, Labor day weekend is the stake in the heart of summer. Around here. the Carroll University students are back in the neighborhood and with it, increased foot and street traffic. I don't mind that so much, in fact in a lot of ways it is nice to have more people around. (Although my dog barks at anything that moves outside, so that gets annoying.

So I am trying to live this season one day at a time, appreciating it for what it is without thinking too much about what lies just a few months ahead. There will be more warm days for a few more weeks, and I am committed to taking advantage of each one, as I can. I'll get out on my bike, walk my dog, and get outdoors as often as I can. Tomorrow there's talk of going for a hike along Lake Michigan, so I look forward to that.

At the same time, I will miss those nights sleeping with three fans blowing and the windows wide open. I'll miss the sun staying up until nearly nine o'clock every night and all the long shadows that come with it. And believe it or not, I'll miss changing my shirt because it's been sweated out over the course of my day.

Back in the day in Minnesota, I had a friend who called me "Beach boy." It was a backhanded nickname he gave me because I was often the shirtless kid trying to soak in the sun when I could. I think there's still part of Beach boy in me.

Unfortunately his season is waning, and I'll be back to "Fleece boy" before too long. Until then, I'm going to take what I can get.

Blogging off...