Archive for June, 2006

It takes a village to exchange this propane

Posted in hit bull win steak on June 25, 2006 by samsondoggie

A lot of people have said, “Gee I like this blog!” But some others have said, “It tells me nothing about industrial management theory.” I have been thinking about that. I believe that my experience on Thursday evening can resolve that dilemma.

Let me set the scene:
I am home from my afternoon swim. Susie wants me to grill. Tonight is David Post’s birthday. We are serving ribs. This is odd to begin with, because David and virtually all of the guests are Jewish. But don’t worry about that. The important thing is that it is 82 degrees, humid, and I am eviscerating some beautiful ribs. To help me with my objective, I have carefully selected a handcrafted beverage.

Then….my propane runs out. We have a big tank. Even so, this happens about once every eight months. And it threatens a perfect afternoon. Not to mention these ribs.

I have lost face.

There is an exchange place nearby. The ribs still need another fifteen minutes. I could put the ribs in the oven. That, to me, strikes of a disastrous choice. Like buying a Porsche, and then getting it with an automatic transmission. I will get more propane.

I put the propane in the passenger seat and head over to the neighborhood exchange at Handee-Hugo’s. This is a Carolina institution. They sell cheap gas. They sell money orders. “We love our troops,’ says their sign in the window. They keep fresh barrels of propane outside on the sidewalk in a locked cage.

I lug the tank into the store. Empty of gas, it weighs 20 pounds. Three employees stand up behind the counter. Two flank a set of registers to the right, while the third sweeps in the back.

I look at the man on the right, lift the propane with my right shoulder.

“I need to exchange,” I say. Its obvious, right?

He looks at me for a second. “I do not have the key,” he mumbles. Then he looks back out the window. Maybe he is scouting for a more preferable customer — one that will busy his register without asking him to lift heavy tanks.

The other one behind the register continues staring past the Bud Light Display. The sweeper has moved on to shuffling napkins at the hot dog rotissiserie. Its just the four of us. Looking four different ways. Like U2’s cover art on the Joshua Tree album.

“So,” I feel I have to mention it, “I was hoping to get more propane.”

I believe that each one of these clerks hopes the other will fall for the dreaded propane job. I am just caught in their little war.

“But if you don’t have it,” I continue, “now would be a good time to speak up.”

This drives me nuts. Back home, I am losing more face. Yet, we are talking about propane here. I set down the tank in the middle of their store. Let them go about their business of selling cigarettes, lighters, and 40 ouncers. Deal with me. Or my propane tank will just wait.

I guess my gambit was rooted in the right logic. A whirlwind of boxes, clip boards, cell phones and keys crosses the room. Its the manager.

He knows what’s up.

“Like I said,” he says to the man at the first register, “any register key will work the propane. You got a register, you can do the propane.”

I can barely say anything before they are ringing me up.

So the answer is — it takes four workers from two different management levels in order to exchange one tank of propane.

So there are two sides to everything.

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Grand Opening

Posted in hit bull win steak on June 21, 2006 by samsondoggie


People often ask, “where do you work?” It is one of those questions that everyone wants to know, maybe because they can think of little else that would prefer to know instead, or because maybe they sense from my presence that I am a Guy with a Story.

Say, for example, that I am at a dinner party. There’s a tv on in another room. Susie is in the kitchen with a friend. And I’m out in the living room. Sprawled out like a tamale in the sun.

“Where do you work?” says the Other Husband.

I am not sure if he actually wants to know. He is not looking at me. He sits way back in his soft couch, a finger lingering on a remote. He is waiting for dinner.

We are two lame non-cookers. Kind of like those pirates who don’t do anything. Except we watch kids.

“Oh, I work at CRA-NC.”

His eyes continue to follow his son. The toddler, about 3 as far as I can tell, nears a lamp. This furrows his brow. He looks back at me for a second. His lips open, but no words come out. As if my words have failed to spark a signal synapse of interest.

“You know,” I say, “The Community Reinvestment Association of North Carolina. CRA-NC.”

This does not advance his understanding. It does shorten whatever window of interest existed. If my answer led to dinner, now that would be interesting.

But I go on, because now that I am married, I have grown accustomed to droning on when no one is listening.

“We work on housing policy. We work on manufactured housing. I have a book on manufactured housing. We think manufactured housing can lead to opportunities for asset building. We organize. We have alternative media products. I work on HMDA data. We just got a loan from the FHLB. CRA-NC works with CFED.”

I have totally blinded him. Maybe I can clear it up for him:

“CRA-NC,” I say, is not unlike ACORN.”
—-
But…CRA-NC did have some big news the other day. We opened our new building officially. Last year we bought a ransacked 1920 brick building in the otherwise disinvested streets of North Central Durham. Since then, we’ve been fixing it up. On Friday, we opened it to the public.

It was a great day, with jazz music and karaoke. I have some pictures of the day. Notice who is sitting in with the band.

Father’s Day

Posted in hit bull win steak on June 14, 2006 by samsondoggie

We had two driveways, separated by a long row of hedges that flowered in late May. In the fall, brown leaves slid across the shiny blacktop that sloped down and left near the basketball. We had a two car garage. That was once the standard. Now I suppose it designates the property as a fixer-upper. Nevertheless, with all of that black top we always kept one car outside. My dad used most of his side for tools. He had a tool box with wheels, Snap-On Tools calenders. Bosch and Castrol — Sebring 94! The works.

Dad had a wooden board with wheels that he used to slide underneath our cars with when he fixed things. I’d stand there. Mainly, I did nothing useful. It looked like the scene in the Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy lands on the Wicked Witch of the East. Just a pair of feet. Except there were no ruby slippers. More likely, it was a pair of Bass Weejuns and some paint stained khakis. No socks, so that you could really see his skinny pale legs.

Dad’s hand would jut out. Get the 3/18ths Lassiter!!! Don’t just stand there! Its next to the ratchets, by the Hanover Set.”

Then his figures would snap. And snap. And then his wrist would rotate while his finger jutted out to the back of the garage.

“Uh,” I’d say, “where do you mean, specifically?” Because basically there were hundreds of tools in that garage. Each one was soddered with his code number. They all looked like they were in the Hanover Set.

The feet would pull a body out from under the car about now.

My father would emerge, his fingers dripping with oil, his white t-shirt so worn as to resemble gauze, and look puzzled. I think he wondered how someone could be smart in school, and never bother to find out how an engine works.

He would hold an oil filter gently, considering its manufacture more as an effort at art than as an example of blind reproduction. Did it have a good seal? Would that gasket last? He’d pour a few drops of oil on the seal. Those fingers, already oiled, spread the viscous clear liquid evenly across the circumference.

Pretty much I was quiet at this time. I could hear his breath. Always heavy. And the fresh scent of Speed Stick.

He would set that filter down in the crook of the hood. He’d take his glasses off, blow his nose like a fog horn, wipe his forehead with a cloth diaper, and expound.

It could pretty much be anything from the canon of Awesome Pieces of Fatherly Knowledge. They rotated. The effect was something akin to classic records in a juke box. Few new ones were ever invented.

Here are ten all time Faves:

1) Shift down, stay off the brakes, accelerate through the curve.
2) Get with the program
3) Order the adult donut
4) Don’t smoke those damn cigarettes
5) Just make sure its from my store. And, get your gig line straight.
6) One Day at a Time
7) The job expands to fill the available time.
8) Adoption would be a good thing for you to think about. It is nothing to be afraid of.
9) We have more than some, less than others.
10) Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints.

Yard Sale

Posted in hit bull win steak on June 10, 2006 by samsondoggie

The smell of a baker’s dozen of chocolate bagels hangs in the cabin of the Sienna. It is 8:40 am on Saturday morning. I am out with my buddy, cruising. If we find something to extend the trip back from Brueggers, then Susie will have more peace.

And there it is…a yard filled with junk.

“John” I say,”this is called a garage sale. Or, in some cases, a tag sale. It is where people sell stuff for nothing. Don’t touch.”

The sale fronts a smallish brick ranch. I can see crock pots, golf clubs, records, books, latin american weavings, Yankee candles.

“Are you the host-ess?” I ask. “How much are cd’s?”

“They are a quarter,” she says. She appears to be about my age. All of her junk is here, but I can’t make any demographic analyses. Lots of books about sermons, but then it is too disparate after that: Etonic golf spikes?

“We just want to keep it from the landfill,” she adds.

I think, how nice. I think Dick Cheney would say that you have a wonderful ethic there.

I see that she will not be offering me “grandfather’s mysterious German travel camera” with the Zeiss lens.

But the compact discs are a bargain. Behold, not just any songs, but the ones that bring back high school in full technicolor. My parents sent me to one fancy prep school, but it didn’t help to change the music that I heard while I was there.

“Rock’N the 80s, eh?” I say, giving her a glance that suggests that I too share her guilty pleasure.

She is a quick one, too, because she knows that acquisition of an 80s disc, or mere possession, could need an explanation among strangers.

“We get XM Radio,” she says, “you know?”

I do know. But for now, I leave her to explain. Let her twist in the wind. I had XM for a week last month in California. It was great. All the baseball that I wanted to hear. Plus, times for bluegrass. I succumbed to the 80s channel at the end of a long day of talking/shooting/talking.

But she doesn’t need to say anymore. I know she knows. I know she knows about so much else, too. 80s music, before it all happened.

It would be too much, but I know that:

She remembered when Coke Classic was not, and when New Coke was.
She watched music videos
She wore “leggings” and wanted to look like Cyndi Lauper
Her husband probably has one of those thin shiny ties. Also one of those square woven jobs.

The cd collection tells more of her narrative. Right next to it are some of the things that came next. I’d say what came next was better, too. We were the same people, but the world let us grow up.

There’s Tracy Chapman. The whole UnPlugged Genre that is represented here by 10,000 Maniacs and Eric Clapton.

So I also know that:

She knows what ACT UP stands for.
She remembers PETA

She thought Clinton was a little to the right.

We got a lot of stuff. But all of those days carrying shoes from Payless and not eating for Oxfam, where did that go?
Its time to go. I have her music now. She’s got my five bucks.

What will he say next

Posted in hit bull win steak on June 7, 2006 by samsondoggie

John: “Why do cars hit people? Why is it bad? Why?”
Always he ends with that same rejoinder. I kneel to face him eye to eye. His face is slightly bent, like a Japanese in a moment of dishonor. John might hear me now.
“You can’t run in the road because cars do not see you.” Using words like dangerous is lost, I suppose, because they rely on Telling when he needs Showing. I can’t show what happens when a car hits a little boy, of course.
I am feeling like I am stuck in a battle that will only be waged with time and patience.
He speaks again.
“Why did Jesus die? Who killed him? Did Daniel help?”

—-

911 Urban Avenue welcomes Joan, member of Bruderhof and new family friend, to our cast of family and friends. Joan will be with us for about two months. She grew up in England and has the accent to show for it. Like Kathy, she likes marmite, gardens, and walks. She brings a new openness to dogs and adds to our appetite for watercoloring. Joan has worked as a 5th and 6th grade teacher in Catskill. Her favorite newspaper section is the International page. She likes tea. ‘Nuff said.

grandmother rules

Posted in hit bull win steak on June 2, 2006 by samsondoggie

Now in Connecticut visiting my mother.

Everything is a bit different with kids on the road. We could not bring all of our kid property with us. We do not have a stroller. We do not have a full changing station. And, there is never a familiar place for either child to unwind. But there are some things that are better to the kids. Rosie loves the attention from Katie-Baba.

We had lunch yesterday, while trying to get away to Brooklyn. Watermelon (yellow) and peanut butter on bread. Some ham and cheese. But then Katie-baba moves in with a chocolate chip cookie. And then she adds a popsicle. Rosie eats the popsicle in her left hand. Then moves to the right for a draw on the cook. Sort of like Ralph Macchio — popsicle on, cookie off. repeat.

—–

“Susie! Look at that cemetery!” I shout. We are driving across the whitestone bridge. This is a large bridge that leads into New York City. There is a bit of water and then a large cemetery. It is an overcast day. The skyline of New York hangs behind a curtain of white mist. The layering is quite an effect. Rectangular graves in the foreground, rectangular skyscrapers in the rear.

“Take a picture!” I continue. Susie picks up the camera. The camera is conveniently in the passenger seat foot area. I continue my instructions.

“See, there’s the cemetery…” I am motioning with my fingers at the composition of choice.

WHAMM!

Yep. You could have imagined what came next. Bumper to the Sienna in front of us. Bam.

We stop. I turn off the car. I can tell that the car ahead is not damaged, but there is a custom here.

I get out.

A woman emerges from the car in front. She is asian, about 40, with a ponytail. She looks exhausted and confused. Maybe sleepy.

“Do you want to exchange information?” I ask. It is the normal thing to ask. There is no damage to my car. Everything seems straight. She grabs her neck.

“You hit me.”

The words spill out slowly. You……hit……me…

Yes, it is true.

“Yes,” I say. “I did.”

Cars are backing up in our lane. Do I need to mention that this is the Whitestone Bridge at 5 pm on Thursday afternoon?

“Do you want to say, exchange cards?” I continue.

“Forget it.”

—-

Back in the car:

“Damn,” says Susie.

“No,” I assure her, “its ok. No damage. And I definitely hit her.”

“I couldn’t get that window to open,” says Susie. “I totally missed the picture.”

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