The Real Problem with Telemarketing

There’s been a disturbing trend developing in the telephone solicitations I’ve been getting lately. No, I’m not getting unduly large numbers of calls nor have I had anyone make any threats – I’m getting mostly robo-calls – recorded messages, a practice that is purportedly does away with the restrictions of do-not-call registry  but has also taken away one of my favorite sources of entertainment.

As I’ve written earlier I like to mess with telemarketers, and in the last couple of months I’ve come up with a response or two that definitely fluster an unwanted caller:

  • I will answer with “Caller Number Six – you’re on the air!” then follow up with a unanswerable contest question and a promise for a case of Turtle Wax and a copy of the home-version of “our game”.
  • When I get the caller’s name I’ll respond with “ Dude! Is that you? How are you doing? I don’t think I’ve heard from you since graduation!” , ask him if he still spends all his money at strip clubs and start pressing him to repay an old debt.
  • (My favorite) “Vector Control Office, Department 71. This is not a secure line. Colonel Taylor speaking”, then no matter what they answer I’ll come back with “HOW DID YOU GET THIS NUMBER! Do not leave your location. Our personnel will be there momentarily!”.

I’ve gotten great responses with all three of this but it’s no fun when I pick up the phone and the first thing I hear is the whirr of a recording.

I’ve yet to figure out a way to scare a machine.

2018: In Praise of Middles

My father said it best:

“Between the optimist and the pessimist

The difference is oh-so-droll

An optimist the doughnut sees

The pessimist: the hole”

That idea/meme (or slight variations of that idea) have popped up in countless other times and places in my life. My particular favorite version came from engineer and SMOF (Secret Master of Fandom) “Uncle” Timmy Bolgeo: “ An optimist may see a glass of water half-way full while a pessimist see it as being half-empty, but show that glass to an engineer and he’ll see a storage facility with 50% excess capacity”,

I’ve decided that I am neither a half-empty or half-full person.

I like things in the middle.

The thought came to me as I opened a little carton of yogurt this morning. Actually that wasn’t my first thought – my first impression was a feeling of annoyance with the French, because before they introduced their six-ounce containers of Yoplait to America in 1977 we were all happy with hefty eight-ounce cartons. I’ve always wondered if that six-ouncer was passive-aggressive retaliation for all the French jokes we told in New England, but I digress,

Open a carton of yogurt and the first thought is “Do I really want to eat this too or will the poached egg take me all the way to lunch”. Your last thought is mild annoyance as you try to scrape the last ½ ounce from the embossed risers and ribs on the bottom of the cup.

….but in the middle?

Mmmmm!

It’s the same way with vacations. We were blessed with a two-week vacation back home to Alaska during both the summer of 1997 and the summer of 1999. Both visits played out pretty much the same:

  • jet-lag and nostalgia over-dose for the first few days
  • packing-anxiety and teary-eyed anticipation of parting AGAIN for the last few…

…but for four or five days in the middle of our stay it was glorious. We still had plenty of money left in our trip-budget, our friends and family had finally been able to adjust schedules to accommodate individual visits and the specter of departure was too far away to loom very effectively.

I think it makes for a healthy philosophy for life in general. Rather than fuss about what I didn’t get in the past (half-empty) or what riches I might amass in the future (half-full) I think I’d rather concentrate on the blessings I have right now.

In the middle.

The Perception of an Extra Sense

I grew up being taught that humans have five senses:

  • Sight
  • hearing
  • touch
  • taste
  • smell

Since then I’ve read that there a few more such as:

  • balance
  • temperature
  • proprioception 1

(I’ve also seen lists that include pain, thirst, direction and sexual stimulation but I’m most interested in those senses that collect information about our environment)

There’s yet another sense that I have been unsuccessfully trying to identify and name for most of my life, a sense that can be difficult to describe. It involves physical location (including climate, weather and day/night cycle), sounds, and smells that combine with an internal sensation that tickles my brain much like what happens when  I eat foods like Vidalia onions manifest taste in the back of my mouth rather than with my tongue.

For example: It’s a late afternoon in the fall with the sun slanting to one side and there is a storm on the horizon. I start to  get Stukas2 in my stomach, my five traditional senses get oh-so-sharp, and my thinking quickens beyond belief. Add a smell like a trace of wood smoke the air and the effect intensifies; give me a headset with Gordon Lightfoot or the Moody Blues playing and the needle on my intense-o-meter pegs over to the redline.

Bear in mind that there are no chemical influences involved – no alcohol or drugs but nonetheless the feeling almost becomes second sight and I can see the world as is should be. It’s not a particularly happy feeling as in found-a-ten-spot-in-the-couch-cushion happy but rather a sublime feeling of “rightness” much like the feeling I get when I’m listening to beautiful music.

A prime example happened in the fall of 1980 when I was out running the FT Richardson exercise parcours2  with my nephew Erik. It was a gloriously golden day you only get with an autumn in Alaska and as the path ran next to a stream I fell into the physical/mental state I described above.

It all came together:

  • The slight chill of a morning breeze
  • The warm sunshine peeking over the Chugach Mountains
  • The slightly acrid smell of cranberries late in the season
  • The musical sound of the creek
  • Warm memories of FT Richardson when I was the same age as my nephew

For a few moments I was so incredibly >bleeping< happy I thought my head would explode and that everything  – and I mean capital E- Everything in the world was OK3.

I’ve also experienced similar episodes that I later realized were  simple environmental cues triggering old memories but this is different – and very hard to verbalize. It’s also something that doesn’t happen very often or on a regular basis and  I can go years between occurrences.

…and I can’t help but wonder if other people have similar experiences….


Notes

  1. AKA kinesthetic sense or the ability to know where our limbs are in relation to our body. It’s the sense that enables you to touch your nose with your eyes closed
  2. You may get butterflies in your stomach, but the sensation can get pretty intense with me and seems more in line with effect of German dive-bombers designed in 1933.
  3. French term referring to a jogging path with exercise/obstacle stations situated at regular intervals along the trail. In the late 1970’s the concept was Imported from Europe to just about every post in the Army.
  4. A minor miracle as I was still coming to grips with a medical grounding from flight status the previous spring.

2018: Pushing the Envelope

Much has been said and even more has been written about the “bulletproof” mindset of an eighteen-year old. Granted, there are variations in terminology ranging from “Hey y’all – look at this!” to the more basic “Hold my beer”, but ultimately it can all be traced back to the “It-can’t-happen-to-me” mindset that gives us fighter pilots and cage fighters.

I wish I could say age eventually corrects such dysfunctional thinking but even in my crippled state my inner paratrooper lurks, though at sixty-five living on the edge is more likely to involved hooking one too many plastic grocery bags through my fingers than flying through thunderstorm cells or diving without calculating decompression times before hand. Pushing the envelope usually involves handling actual envelopes while paying  bills rather than test pilots consulting performance charts and the limits indicted by lines on graphs (which is where the expression came from!)

In my case there is one situation when my ego has most definitely been checked at the door : when I first get up – or more precisely try to get up in the morning .  Morning is not my friend and when I first stir in the morning there is a fair amount of weeping, wailing, gnashing of teeth and crying-like-a-hungry-puppy coming from the general direction of my over-sized papa-bear chair.

(I started to write “crying like a little girl” but that would be unfair as I wasn’t even close to being as stoic as a little girl would have been)

I keep telling myself that I can still win, that pushups and miles will defeat the disease-dragons I fight each day, but to be coldly honest there is a day coming when I won’t be able to ignore the pain and stand up.

A day coming when I won’t be able to take that next breath.

…but until that day arrives I will keep adding plastic bags to my grip on grocery day.

 

What I Look Like Now…updated

DRD2018

Taken earlier in the year. It’s amazing the way a person’s appearance can change with age – I remember watching a J. Edgar Hoover biopic miniseries years ago and taking issue with the way they used two different actors to portray him at different stages of life. Now I see current photos of friends from long ago and some of them don’t even look like the same person.

It’s hard to look at my own image and be subjective enough to make a determination. There have been some definite changes:

  • I’m a bit better-padded a lot more padded now.
  • My hairline has receded a bit
  • I finally got my front teeth fixed
  • I have that  big-a** scar to the left of my nose, a legacy of basal cell carcinoma

Things that are the same

  • My squint
  • My smile
  • I started going grey in my twenties so hair color can be a constant
  • …and while we’re talking about hair – it  could still scare a comb to death

Jayden and The Map

Here’s something you can do the next time you become overly impressed with your own brain-power:

Explain maps to a five-year old.

In these times of smart phones and GPS navigation few people refer to “a graphic depiction of a portion of the earth’s surface” (as the field manual used to put it) but  I am one of those hold-outs for which actual paper maps figure prominently in trip planning.  However when I had my Rand McNally out the other day my grandson Jayden became very interested. It probably was the novelty of the large format, spiral binding and informational color scheme that caught his eye, but when I gave him the aforementioned field-manual definition of the word map he really lit up.

Mind you, Jayden’s  grown up in an artistic household so the idea of an image representing something else is a concept he already has a handle on….but when he tumbled to the idea that the pictures (maps) conveyed additional  information the questions started shooting out like a Uzi on full automatic. Some of the issues were easy to resolve –  like when we located Clarksville on the map, and found where his cousins his cousins live, but then the questions became both more esoteric and detailed:

  • Why are there broken clocks on the map?
  • If maps show Clarksville from high above us are the map-makers in Heaven with Grandma June?
  • If Clarksville is colored red on the map then why is our house yellow?

…and many, many more.

It was one of the very few times ADHD worked to my advantage; while I was stumbling for answers he had already moved on ( and through) four other topics.

Staying Grounded

I spent a good portion of the 1970s working as a roustabout for Chevron USA out at the Swanson River Oil Field on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula. T.H. Auldridge was the gang foreman, and I give him as much credit as any other human being for anything I may have become or accomplished in my life. He fought across Europe as a tank destroyer commander during WWII, and despite the lack of a college education or any sort of management training, he was one of the best leaders and smartest men I have ever known.

He was Texas-born & bred and as such was prone to uttering “colorful” observations on life, most of which are not printable in this particular forum. Of the ones that were printable my favorite was “The next time you think you’re a big deal just try to give an order to another man’s dog”,

I’ve had that principle reinforced in my life countless times in every field of endeavor I have worked in – especially in my creative work. During all the years I worked as a freelance illustrator I took pride in my work, especially my 100+ game covers and the conceptual designs  I did for BattleTech, Traveller and most recently the Gun Kingdom books written by R. Scott Taylor. I look at those images as my signature work, but do you know what my most heavily published, wide-spread work is?

Kid’s Puzzles.

From 1998 to 2008 Lori and I created linework for a series of kid’s puzzles published by Patch Products. We would create black & white line images that in-house artists would scan/shade/color via Photoshop for use in puzzles sold through Wal-Mart.

Patch2008PondBW0006

That’s right – those 11”X17” kid’s puzzles that are bundled and shrink-wrapped eight-to-a-package? The ones displayed on the end-caps of the toy aisles.

Those.

That means that years from now when the gophers are bringing me the mail I won’t be remembered for BattleTech, or Star Trek licensed work or the fine art I create – I will be memorialized by insects, dinosaurs and cars.

…and as much as I’d like to think that my writing will make more of an impact that my art, I am jolted back to reality whenever I check stats on this page. It’s not the stories from my youth, the commentaries on music or reflections on life that get the most attention.  The single post that gets the most views – the one piece of writing that has been seen the most by people around the world.

Cardboard Batmobile.

Music: Songs for Beginners

 

After the astounding success of Déjà Vu the four members of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young each embarked on solo albums, occasionally crossing  back and forth between projects when their particular talents were needed. Songs for Beginners was Graham Nash’s own individual venture and while I really liked the album I was a little surprised at the bittersweet overtones in most of the compositions. It wasn’t until years later I learned the melancholia stemmed his recent break-up with noted folk singer Joni Mitchell.

…and when it came out in the summer of 1971 that bittersweet album briefly became a very appropriate soundtrack to an event in my life.

1971

Katy Christiansen was a Professional Girl – not “professional” as in working in an office or (ahem)street corner, but a Professional Girl as defined by columnist Cynthia Heimel: the girl that all the other girls hate because she is perfect, she knows it and relies on it to get through life.

She was also a member of an extended family group that would descend on our congregation every summer. The Christianson’s were one of the more stalwart families in church, and would host various aunts, uncles, cousins and friends as they rotated through the summers to work at their set net fishing site on the east shore of Cook Inlet. They all hailed from the Intermountain West and the kids were especially a most impressive bunch, every one a varsity athlete, cheerleader, or honor roll student. It was only later that we found that in the manner of all teenagers away from home for the first time they were embellishing credentials to impress the locals.

That wasn’t the case with Katy – she was as genuinely outstanding as everyone else said they were. A natural blonde with finely chiseled Scandinavian features, she was graceful to the point of seeming to glide regally through a room rather than walk. I was interested but doubtful; I wasn’t a bad kid, but not a totally good kid either, but with Katy there was no “wiggle room”. Proper belief and behavior were dominant aspects of her personality and she was troubled by any variation from the standard however slight.

She first appeared the summer after my sophomore year but attempts to meet her were foiled by the cloud of cousins that surrounded her wherever she went. It was August before I figured out how to weasel my way through her familial entourage;  the effort left me exhausted and all I could manage as a greeting was something like “Hellorgle borgle argle” before bolting for the back door of the meetinghouse at a dead-run.

It’s amazing what two years can do for a young man’s confidence and when she came back to work the summer after graduation I felt  little stress in striking up a conversation. However, as we talked about our respective plans in life I began to wonder why she’d come back North; while I was slated to simply start school at the University of Alaska in the fall she had a schedule of seminars, photo shoots and conferences that seemed to leave little time for school much less work on a fish site. I also learned quickly to avoid any topic in conversation that came even close to variance with church guidelines for youth.

We seemed to get along well enough that it seemed safe to ask her out on a date. There was no ulterior motive on my part; my romantic life was already complicated, and I was just looking for a time-out and an opportunity to relax – albeit with a beautiful blonde – but just a relaxing evening nonetheless. When I picked her up she seemed a little edgy , but during the drive to the theater  I finally got her to laugh a bit and it seemed like the evening had been saved.

When we got to the Mall Cinema the film had already started, and the theater  packed, so I took her by the hand and led her to what ended up being the last two empty seats in the house. As we sat down I looked over at Katy and was shocked to see a slightly stricken, ill look on her face. She took her free hand and using just two fingers she removed my hand – the one clasping hers and moved it to the armrest between us. There was a theatrical element to her movement – she used just her thumb and forefinger which made the movement look like she was handling a dead fish.

The evening went downhill from there. We left after the first film in a double feature and as I drove Katy back to the fish site the inside of the car felt more like Alaska in January than Alaska in June. On the long drive home later on I replayed the evening over and over but remained totally baffled – it wasn’t until long afterwards that I learned that I hadn’t been a date for Katy – I’d been a project, something to be fixed.1 At some point I had been judged as being defective and she’d lowered herself to spend time with me in hope that some of her “goodness” would rub off.

That stung infinitely more than the dead-fish hand-removal – that somehow embroidered jeans, shaggy locks, a bit of facial hair had made me into a liability, someone to be diverted (but not necessarily saved) from the path to perdition. It was a body blow. I could handle open hostility or contempt, but this?

In the end I sought my usual last resort – I sprawled in the bunk of my loft bedroom and cued up a record on my stereo, which happened to be the aforementioned Songs for Beginners. As I laid there thinking the events of the evening pushed two particular songs to the front in my thinking:

I Used To Be A King

“I used to be a king

But it’s all right I’m O.K. and I want to know how you are
For what it’s worth I must say I loved you as you are

And in my bed where are you
Someone is going to take my heart
But no one is going to break my heart again”

Wounded Bird

I’ve watched you go through changes
That no man should face alone
Take to heel or tame the horse
The choice is still your own
But arm yourself against the pain
A wounded bird can give
And in the end remember
It’s with you you have to live
And in the end remember
It’s with you you have to live

 I also walked away with two convictions seared in my heart:

  1. No matter what they looked like, how they acted or what they did I would never look at anyone as stereotype or anything as a complete person.
  2. I would never bother with another “Professional Girl”. When we were dating My Beautiful Saxon Princess would fret over her slight tummy a la Ursula Andress in the seminal Bond flick DR.No. Little did she know that slight (in her mind) imperfection was the “deal-maker” for me

 

  1. A few summers (and a haircut) later I heard a first-time-around  Christianson cousin loudly enquiring at a church dinner about the “mangy hippy” Katy had gone out on a date with a few years earlier.

Words and Images

For my whole life there’s been  this running gun battle between words and images.

 The ability to write and draw with an equal facility posed no problems in my youth but when it came time to declare a college major I went against my natural inclination and chose visual art instead of writing, I made that choice based on one very important fact: Distractions are not a problem when I make images. While I am painting I can also:

  • Listen to  music
  • Watch a video
  • Carry a conversation

On the other hand I have to be sitting in a monastery to write. Well, maybe not an actual monastery, but the place  has to be pin-drop quiet with no distractions whatsoever.

 Even more confusing?  When it comes  to painting I freely admit I am not stellar material. I’m a good draftsman, a good  sculptor and had I stumbled into  cut-paper sculpture earlier I’d be rich and famous, but I always knew that when it came to traditional illustration I was a “B-Lister” at best.  I compensated for that lack  by working extremely hard, but the fact is that when it came to making images my concept always surpassed my execution.

 I’ve never felt that way about my writing – not that I am cocky about it, just confident. It helped that during all those years focused on images I never completely stopped crunching words:

  • I’ve kept the same journal going consistently from 1972
  • I’ve edited newsletters in just about every religious or secular organization I’ve belonged to.
  • In the service  was the “go-to” guy for writing recommendations for awards and fitness reports.

 …and I borrowed a tool from my image-maker tool kit.  I work hard at my craft. While he might not seem the most obvious choice, Teddy Roosevelt has always been an inspiration for me in the way he fought his childhood weaknesses with hard work and a vigorous life style. As an artist I knew that my only compensation of lack of talent was hard work. If a classmate spent three hours on a project I spent six. If a competing illustrator put twenty hours into a cover I’d spend thirty or forty.  While I don’t spend quite so many hours on my work now, most of what I publish (especially the autobiographical stories) is the product of careful craftsmanship and word-crunching.

 It may be that I overwork my word-crunching at times. I do know that it slows down my output which isn’t a problem until I get sick and lose a week or two, at which point I start to lose followers as well. My original intent with the blog was to have kind of an  A/B schedule, with the “A” stories extensively crafted multi-page productions and the “B” stories  being made up of shorter more off-the-cuff observations.

 Maybe I need an A/B/B/A schedule….but as I’ve already weathered the disco storm once, so on that note I will wish you a good day.

( If you were born after 1970 you probably won’t get the joke…)

Laptops, Hacky-sacks and Soda Straws

Keeping this page going is like kicking a Hacky-Sack. As long as I keep busy and frequently add words and images I attract views and followers. Unfortunately there are times in my life now where writing is not quite – but almost as impossible as keeping a little leather packet full of rice in the air. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I deal with severe autoimmune problems, that between ankylosing spondylitis and rheumatoid arthritis the simple act of walking can sometimes defeat me.  What I haven’t been as open about  is the running gun battle I have with upper respiratory infections. It’s not unusual for me to have up to six cases of bronchitis a year; I’ll spend three weeks fighting the sickness only to get sick again only three weeks after I get better.  To put it bluntly I spend most of my time feeling like I am trying to breathe through a soda straw.

 Both the inflammatory diseases and respiratory problems stem from questionable medical practices of the mid-20th century.  I’m a thymus baby – as an infant I had an enlarged thymus which was thought to cause SIDS ( Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) The condition was called status thymicolymphaticus and while that is now an obsolete term it didn’t keep the doctors from removing that pesky gland with a series of hard x-ray treatments in 1953. The practice was discontinued not long after my treatment – a small comfort now that I’ve lived 64 years with a compromised immune system.

 It’s frustrating because I did everything right in terms of healthy living and I still ended up in the cross-hairs of a disease I didn’t even know about until I was almost fifty. It’s frustrating because I have a healthy dose of transpersonal commitment, a genuine desire to help those around me and other than call friends there’s not much I can do.

…so I write. I hope that I will some up with something that will bring insight, comfort or just a laugh to others. Unfortunately there are times when I can’t even do that (write) and I just have to hope that you’ll all hang around until I can get back to the keyboard.