Welcome

If this is your first time here, then welcome. For those of you who came from my previous blog (poisonedcheetos), welcome back.

This blog is my “author presence” on the internet, a way for me to share my writing and to communicate with those I know, and don’t know. As always, feedback is appreciated, as long as it is constructive. I look forward to sharing ideas and writing samples with everyone.

 

The Information Session — Redux

Twenty-two year old Al Huxlee waited in the line leading to a doorway labeled, “BDCS Information Session.”  A silver-haired man stood in front of him, smoking a cigarette.  The gray noxious cloud infiltrated the young man’s sinuses, causing him to sneeze.

The older man turned to look at him but continued to puff away.  Around the man’s neck was a lanyard with a clear plastic pocket.  Inside Al could see a white card with the name “Dan Aligeari” written on it. In his hand was a crumpled looking paper bag, with the letters GM on it.

Al quickly recovered.  “Do you mind?”

“Actually, I do.”

“That’s not very polite, or healthy for that matter.”

“So what, it’s not like I care about either of those.”

Al frowned.  Were all veteran reporters this rude?  He hoped not.  It was at that point he noticed eight holes had been punched through Dan’s plastic pocket and name card.  “Why are there holes in your name card?”

Dan grinned, but it looked more like a grimace.  “You’ll see.”  He turned and made his way into the doorway.

A tall, thin man wearing wire-rim glasses grabbed Dan’s name card pocket and stared at it critically.  “Back again, Mr. Aligeari?”

Dan smirked.  “Dr. Lenny Castro, I presume?” he said, then blew smoke in the man’s face, causing him to gag.  Still, the man grabbed and hole punch another notch in Dan’s name card.

A short bald man stepped out and snatched the bag out of Dan’s hands.  “Thank you for the snacks.”  He quickly disappeared.

With a chuckle, Dan moved past Dr. Castro.

“Next please,” the doctor stated, rubbing his eyes.  Al stepped forward.

Dr. Castro glanced at him.  “Dr. Soros. We’ve got a new one.”

A short, bald, bearded man stepped forward with a plastic lanyard.  “Hello, young man.  What is your name? I’m Dr. Josef Soros.”

“Al Huxlee, of BNW Magazine.”

Dr. Soros scribbled the young man’s name on a white card and inserted it into the lanyard.  “Very good.  Always looking for more coverage,” he reached up and placed the lanyard around his neck.

Castro seized hold of the lanyard card pocket, hole punched it and the name card inside.

Al glanced down at the name card.  “What is the hole punch for?”

Dr. Castro yawned.  “Quality control.  Next please!”

Dr. Soros seized hold of Al’s arm and dragged him into the large conference room.  “Have a seat.  Good day.” He let go and turned away.

Al rubbed his limb and surveyed the room.  Most seats were filled, but most everyone was slouched over, with a glazed look in their eyes.  This first magazine assignment was proving to be a real chore, and not at all what he’d hoped it would be.  Even worse, the only seat available was next to Dan, but at least he no longer sucked on a cancer stick.

Oh well, let’s get this over with.  He slid into the seat next to the reporter.  The man looked at him. “I see you got tagged too.”

Al nodded, but then his stomach grumbled.  His early morning Starbucks coffee continued to grind away at his intestines.  “Is there anything to snack on around here?”

Dan waved at a table set by the wall.  “Over there, but don’t eat the green wafers.”

“Why?”

A grimace-like smile once again appeared on the older man’s face.  “Because it might disagree with you.”  With a barking laugh, he nearly fell out of his chair.

Al turned away and walked over to the table.  The man is frigging nuts.  Several rows of water bottles stood next to a picked-over pile of bagged pretzels, and a huge stack of green wafers.  He latched onto a water bottle, and a pretzel bag.  Peripherally, he also eyed the wafers.  What is wrong with these?  He chose one and sniffed it.  An odd sickly-sweet smell came from it, as well as a strong feeling of unease.  With a toss, he flipped the wafer back on the pile and returned to his seat.

As he slid in, Dan looked over.  “Good choice.”

A thump echoed from the back of the room, Al turned just as Dr. Castro and Soros bolted the doors shut, and walked past to stand on either side of a huge projector screen.

Dr. Soros spoke up.  “The presentation will start shortly.” He turned to Dr. Castro.  “If you will do the honors, sir.” He handed a small black remote to Dr. Castro.  The man took it and stared at it blankly.

Dr. Castro banged on the device. “It won’t turn on, Soros.”

Dr. Soros gritted his teeth. “Try pushing the red button.” Castro stared at the remote blankly. “Use the other side.”

Castro flipped it over. “Right you are!” Instantly the projector whirred, and the screen filled with the image of a slide labeled, “BDCS — an information Session” He looked up pleased with himself, before turning to address his audience. “Welcome ladies and gentlemen to today’s disease of the week. Today I have a video presentation covering a newly discovered syndrome called BDCS or Brain Dead Conservative Syndrome.” Castro glared at the laser pointer and started pushing buttons. A red light shot out and struck Soros between the eyes.

“CASTRO! You’re going to blind me!” Castro glanced around perplexed but swiftly redirected the pointer to the screen, but not before nearly blinding the front row of his audience.

“Ahem,” Castro continued, “This syndrome first appeared in 2008 during the Presidential election, and has pronounced symptoms and sadly, no known cure – not even a full frontal lobotomy can eradicate it. The following video will illustrate the effects of the disease.”

Castro pushed a button on the remote, and a video segment began of a neatly dressed woman sitting in a restaurant. A waiter approaches the table.

“Ma’am,” the waiter began, “Can I help you?”

The woman looks up. Castro pauses the video. The screen image freezes on the woman’s face. “Notice the crossed-eyes; this is caused by only being able to see extremes and nothing in the middle.” The video plays again.

“Are you talking to me?” the woman replies. “Because I don’t like your tone.”

The waiter pauses. He glances about and then shrugs his shoulders. “Would you care to hear the specials?”

“Are you trying to limit my options? Did the government tell you to say this?” The video pauses again.

“Note the victim’s intense paranoia and overly sensitive nature. This makes simple conversation almost impossible.” The video advances.

The waiter clears his throat. “Our special today is spaghetti with …”

“Are you saying my spine is like linguine?”

“No ma’am spaghetti is just the special.”

“Okay, I’ll have the fish. Does it come from the Sea of Galilee and was it prepared by a rabbi?”

The waiter stared at her a moment. “Um, no, it came from the Atlantic, and Jose, our cook, prepares it.”

The woman glared at the waiter. “Jose? I see. He must be a Canadian illegal. Can I see his green card?”

The waiter began tapping his pencil on his order pad. “Jose is from New Jersey. He was born here.”

“I need to see his birth certificate.”

“I understand.” The waiter shook his head. “That is not going to happen.”

The lady waggled a finger at him, “The Constitution says I have that right.”

“You’ll have to show me that passage then,” the waiter continued.

The woman paused. “It must be in the Bible then.”

“Somehow I doubt that. Do you still want the fish?” The video pauses again.

“Notice how the syndrome twists the thought process to assert beliefs contrary to facts, and the reliance on the Bible when the victim’s logic trail becomes unsustainable.” The video begins again.

“Yes,” the woman replies, “but I see the price is ten dollars, yet I only want to pay six.”

“I can give you a half order if you like.”

“No, I expect a full order for just six dollars.”

The waiter snapped his notepad closed. “I’m sorry, but that can’t happen. Would you like to speak with the manager?”

“Yes, I would, and in particular I want to know his plans to redistributing my wealth to the other customers.”

“Oooookay,” the waiter replied. He turned and walked back to the kitchen. After a few moments, he returned with a supervisor.

“Ma’am, what is the problem?”

“Socialism and high taxes,” the woman replied.

“I don’t see how this is relevant to you completing your order. Can you please …”

“I SAID SOCIALISM AND HIGH TAXES!” the woman shouted.

The manager jerked back, “I see no need to start …”

“THIS IS A SOCIALIST PLOT TO TAKE MY MONEY!”

“I’m sorry, but you need to leave,” the manager shot back. She looked at the waiter and gave him a thumbs-out signal. The waiter pulled the woman’s chair away from the table.

“LOOK! ABUSE! I AM BEING DENIED MY RIGHTS! THE BLACK HELICOPTERS ARE COMING FROM THE UN; MY NAME IS BEING ADDED TO THE DEATH PANELS!” After much scuffling, the woman, dragged by the waiter, disappears into the background. The video stops.

“As you can see, attempts to converse with individuals suffering from this disease usually ends up in shouting matches,” Castro said. “Any questions?”

Silence greeted them before a hand tentatively rose.

Dr. Castro perked up.  “Yes?”

“What can be done to fix this problem?”

Dr. Soros interjected.  “I think the only solution is to ask the government to study the issue, and in four to five years legislated ways to liquidate such thoughts and ideas out of existence.”

Dan nudged Al.  “Watch this.”  He raised his hand.  “Given the current monetary situation in the US, how do propose to pay for this?”

Dr. Castro answered, “Clearly, if the money is not available, Congress should impose a tax. I would call this a freedom tax to free us from people who believe differently from the accepted norm. Because as all of us in academia know, we need to protect the general public from people who believe that the government is the enemy because clearly, the government is not – the only enemy we face is the thoughts and opinions of those that can’t be controlled.”

Soros stood up. “Yes, and if we are successful, our next step is to revisit our patent on lying.  We had hoped that would have enhanced our revenue stream, but we ran into an intractable problem.”

Dan spoke up.  “Which was?”

“No one believed us.  That said, however, we should have better success with our infringement lawsuit against Fox News, for their blatant attempts to usurp our patent to deceive the public.”  Soros turned to Castro.  “Would that be fair to say?”

“Yes,” Castro replied, “and balanced too.”

Dr. Castro pointed to a long table along the opposite wall from the snacks.  “Well everyone, time for evaluations.  See the feedback forms on the table.”

Dan stood up and filed over the table.

Al followed along slowly.  What is this nonsense?  He checked his watch. Man, I wish I could have the last half hour back.  No wonder no one wanted to come to this session.  To add to his disgust, by the time he reached the table, Dan was smoking another cigarette.  Oh, crap, not again.

Dan turned and handed Al a feedback form.  With a frown, Al read it:

I believe that BDCS is a disease that should be eradicated through government interdiction and this document is an affidavit that whatever measures are necessary to accomplish this have my full support.  I hereby waive all my rights under the Constitution.  Sign here.

Al looked over at Dan, was rolling the wadded up form around in his hand.  “What the hell is this?”

“It is the future,” Dan replied.

Dr.  Castro checked his watch.  “Sorry folks, we are out of time. Please line up at the exits.”

Al shrugged and turned toward the door they come in.  But it remained locked.

“Nope, the exit is over here,” Dan said behind him.  Al turned and found everyone lining up at the door in the far corner.

Dan and Al walked over and stood in line.  Dr. Castro stood next to the doorway, his hole punch in hand. As each person handed the feedback form, Castro examined it.  For some, the man hole punched the name card pocket, for others he took the lanyard and handed the person a green card.  Everyone disappeared through the doorway.

Dan stepped up.  Castro put his hand out, and the older man dropped the wadded up form into the palm of his hand.

“I see,” Dr. Castro said, a thin-lipped frown on his face.  “Give me the lanyard.”

Still puffing on his cigarette, Dan pulled off the lanyard and dropped it into Dr. Castro hand.  The doctor dug out a red card and handed it to him.

“Thanks,” he said, blowing smoke into the man’s face.

Coughing, Castro waved him through the doorway.

Al stepped up and handed Castro his unsigned form.  The doctor looked it over, frowned, grabbed the lanyard, and yanked it toward him.  Clip.  Another hole appeared in the name card.  What the hell?  “What is the hole punch for?”

“You’ll find out.” The doctor pointed toward the doorway.

With a shrug, Al stepped through into a darkened hallway.  A light further down the passage revealed a door with a glowing “Exit” sign above it.  But in the center of the hallway, just before the exit was two doors, opposite each other, where a security guard stood under a dim light.  Some else stood in the hallway, a short distance in front of the guard.  From where he stood, Al could not see who it was.

As Al approach, he could see that the person was Dan, and he was fiddling with a pack of cigarettes.  “What’s going on?”

Dan turned and held up his red card.  Al noticed a strange light in his eyes.  “I’ve got to go, but I want you to have something.”  He handed his cigarettes to him.

“I don’t smoke.”

“Doesn’t matter, you will eventually.”

“What do you mean?”

“You’ll find out.”

“Everyone keeps saying that, but I’m no closer to understanding what that means that I was, to begin with.”

Dan shrugged and nodded toward the cigarettes.  “You will.  See you later.”  He turned to face the security guard and held up his red card.

The guard, so far soundless and with a minimum of movement pointed to Al’s right, toward the door which was black and had the label “D527” on it. Dan pulled it open, stepped inside, and turned around to look back the way he came.

Al waved, but Dan didn’t respond.  He closed his eyes as the door slid shut.

“Weird,” Al replied.  He tried to step around the guard and head toward the exit. The man put his arm out and stopped him.

“You don’t have a green card, so you must wait, then go there,” the guard pointed to Al’s left, toward a wooden door labeled CR.

“What am I waiting for?”

A deep hum erupted from the walls, along with an ear piercing high pitched wail.  While the security guard did not react, Al had to cover his ears.  Good God, that’s the worst thing I’ve ever heard.  Thankfully, it did not last.

The guard turned and opened the door marked D527.  A brown bag sat on the floor.  He picked it up and turned to Al.  “Take this, and go.”

Al turned and stepped through the CR door.  He blinked.  The conference room entrance was just to his right, along with a long line waiting to enter.  Many had lanyards, but some did not.  Dr. Soros grabbed his arm.  “There you are, get in line.  The session begins in five minutes.”

“But I just attended the session a few minutes ago,” Al retorted.

Dr. Soros did not answer. Instead, he sailed through the conference room door.  In his place stood Dr. Castro, hole punch in hand.

What was going on? Everything was repeating itself, except this time, he had a lanyard, and a bag, like Dan, did the last time.  Wait.  The bag.  He looked at it.  The letters DA was stamped on it.  He opened it.  Inside were some green wafers.  How strange.  He picked one up and sniffed it.  It had the same sickly sweet smell as the wafers he had found earlier, along with some else, something he could easily recognize – cigarettes.

“Back again?” the doctor said, looking at his name card.  He grabbed it and punched a hole.

Dr. Soros snatched the bag out of his hand.  “Thanks, I’ll take that to the snack table.”

“Next.”

“Wait a minute. Why am I going through this again? When do I get to leave?”

Dr. Castro smiled thinly. “When you are properly re-educated.”

“Re-educated? What are you talking about?”

Dr. Castro smiled at him. “You’ll see.”

Al felt the sudden urge to light up.

Always Be Prepared

“Hey, look here,” Jim said, looking through a box in the attic. His cousin Charlie glanced inside. Row upon row of 8mm film canisters lay neatly stacked on the bottom.

“Sweet,” Charlie commented. “I wonder what they are?”

Jim opened and unspooled part of a reel. “Maybe they’re from all those Cub Scout camping trips Grandpa took us on when we were young. Hard to tell since we don’t have a projector. But my friend Bill can convert these to DVD.”

“I wonder why it was buried under all these scarves,” Charlie said, as he let some of the sheer material slip through his fingers.

Jim shrugged. “Beats me, but I’ll get these to Bill right away.”

* * *

Three weeks later, Charlie answered the door. Jim stood there, a crooked smile on his face.

“Have I got a surprise for you.” He held up a DVD.

“Is that Cannibal Vixens from Mars?”

“No, you dingleberry. It’s those movies we found in the attic.”

Charlie rolled his eyes. “Oh, it’s probably Grandpa belching the Star-Spangled Banner.”

“Oh, just you wait,” Jim replied.

They proceeded to put the disk in the player.  After the inevitable 4-3-2-1 countdown, they were greeted by a soundless and grainy black and white image of a stage in a clubhouse, with a pole in the center.  Men with drinks in their hands sat at tables surrounding the stage. A smoky haze rose from the cigarettes in ashtrays.

“What is this?  An Elk’s Club meeting?” Charlie muttered with disdain.

A man came out and announced something.  Charlie snorted, then spoke derisively, “And now for tonight’s entertainment, Joe the taxidermist will stuff a possum.”

Instead, a woman covered in scarves stepped onto the stage and started moving provocatively, gliding over to the pole.  Periodically a hand would pull off one of the pieces of fabric and let it fall to the ground.

Charlie guffawed.  “Ha, a stag film. Who knew Gramps lived dangerously?”

“Someone did,” Jim replied.

Charlie looked at him sidelong.  The routine continued, and scarves piled up at the woman’s feet.  “You know that woman is kind of a hotty.”

Jim burst out laughing.

“What’s so funny?”

Jim looked at him.  “Look at her face,” he replied.

Charlie stared.  The face was familiar.  He’d seen it somewhere.  The film must have been made in the 50’s, or over 60 years ago.  The math clicked into place as a wave of nausea passed through Charlie.  “Oh sweet Jesus,” he choked out.  “That couldn’t be–”

“It is,” Jim interjected.

“Oh, God no,” Charlie stammered. “Grandma?!”

“Yup, sure is.”

The woman wrapped a leg around the pole, reached up and took hold of the post with her hands.  Then in one long, slow movement, she raised her other leg above her head.

Jim nodded. “She was pretty flexible back in the day.”  The last of the scarves dropped off.  “And who knew they had Brazilian’s back then?”

Charlie shook his head in horror, rubbing his eyes with his fists.  “Oh, I wish I had a memory sponge.  What should we do with this?”

“Guess what I’m putting in Grandpa’s stocking for Christmas,” Jim said popping the DVD out of the player.

“Don’t forget the digitalis,” Charlie said.

“I’ve got a better idea,” Jim answered holding up two boxes.

Charlie squinted. Jim held a sample of Cialis and a box of condoms. “You are a sick man.”

Jim wagged a finger at him. “Now, now, remember what he taught us in Scouts.”

They spoke in unison, “Always be prepared.”

A Work Life (part 4, the end)

It can be said that there is no pain like grief, whether it be a loved one or a career.  Of course, the pain of a lost career is significantly less than a loved one, but it hurts nonetheless.  Adding to my misery on several levels, was being offered the option of hourly work as a contractor consultant.  That would seem like a positive, and it was financially, but I watched as everyone else was sent packing.  Further, since the company was divesting itself of all its assets, I got to participate in the “garage sale” of equipment I had labored to acquire and configure into something that kept the company solvent.  All that hard work lost, and worse, all those careers jettisoned because of a funding cut.

Before the office door clicked shut for the last time and ended my career as a full-time salaried worker, I entered the quantum reality of self-employment.  I stuck around the old office to monitor the last of the assets being bought and hauled away by those with futures much brighter than my own. Some six years later, I continue to fight the self-employment battle. I’d love to find full-time work, but the work environment has changed. People my age are being shown the exits, not the entrance. Experience is not worth paper certificates. I’ve been told my degree means nothing because technology has changed. Work ethic can’t compete against low wages.

However, I try to stay positive, keep up with trends, and seek knowledge from the fire-hose of information that is today’s Internet. As long as I can stay ahead of the train of mental and physical obsolescence, I still see a future of possibilities, not regrets. Does that make me deluded? Perhaps, but I leave “dining on ashes” to those who have stopped living.

A Work Life (part 3)

One other aspect of small office work is that the environment is subject to the whims of the boss.  I imagine in a layered corporate structure, with lots of managers, supervisor behavior is constrained by what the company is willing to tolerate.  Oversight and accountability, though not what it once was, will work against (though not prevent) megalomaniac and sociopathic tendencies.  I might be entirely wrong on that, but I do know that in a small office environment there is very little to keep the boss (particularly when the boss is also the owner/president) from transforming the company into a purgatory reflective of their personality.  That is not to say that all small office bosses are little Hitler’s, rather what they like or don’t like is often reflected in the work environment, for better or for worse.  I think, in the grand scheme of things, I lucked out.  My boss was super intelligent, very witty, and ultimately committed to doing the right thing for his employees.

Even so, learning the ins and outs of your boss’s quirks and/or traits is a necessity.  You must discover what you can talk to them about, and what to avoid.  For example, I learned very quickly to avoid anything that smacked of hyperbole, as that was the equivalent of lying.  However, I also learned to appreciate an off-center sense of humor, something I share as well.  Finding commonalities with people is key to getting along with them.  You will always have differences with people, but don’t let that dominate.  You might share a hobby, have similar family structures, or common interests.  Of course, there are topics to avoid throwing out there – like politics, religion, and extremely personal information. The other aspect to avoid is cliques (probably less of an issue in the small office than large), and the malignancy of egocentric sociopaths.  I have witnessed folks who felt as if the rules didn’t apply to them, and tried to recruit others to be the same way.  That is a train wreck waiting to happen.

I’m certain that other folks have found that much of what they learned in college didn’t translate very well into the work environment, at least initially.  My background in computer science was a lot more theory than application, which didn’t help when I first started working with the computers in the office.  However, being curious and willing to stretch myself intellectually helped the transition.  Later, as I got into working on reports, particularly those that talked about computer technology, the theory information I learned in school had a lot of applicability.  Virtually everything I learned had use at some level, though sometimes I had to stretch to find it.

I could go on and on about what I did in my full-time career, but I won’t. What I want to touch on, is another pitfall of a small business career, which is, sometimes the job doesn’t end, but the company does.  Sounds counter-intuitive, but bear with me.  The company I worked for had a few contracts to provide support to various agencies (all within the government).  When all those contracts stayed fully funded and stable, everyone had plenty of work, and the company remained flush with cash.  The problem is that when the dynamics change, the wiggle room and flexibility a small business has becomes a liability.  Case in point, the company began shedding contracts, about the time that the Iraq war and resulting insurgency began devouring more and more of the government’s spending.  Mega-sized corporation swept in to gobble up available funds, particularly those earmarked for research and development (R&D).  That is where trouble began, not that the corporate vultures weren’t already circling, but they certainly got more aggressive.

Money vanished into the maw of two wars; immediate needs clearly outweighed doing anything that wouldn’t see the battlefield in 15 to 20 years.  DoD got out of the business of inventing and switched to using technology, trying desperately to find something to stop legs and arms from being blown off in Iraq.  All this was noble and worthwhile, but also short-sighted and unsustainable for a military that is dedicated to using advanced technology to allow our smaller military to be superior to those of our enemies.

If that sounds like gobbly-gook, then I apologize.  But the long story short is that money meant for research, the pot of money that kept Orion going, was disappearing into a sinkhole.  And before long, the money was gone.  And with it, went the future of Orion.  Curiously though, the contract I worked on did not disappear, but it could not sustain the rest of the company.  So, as I watched, the company switched to 60 percent pay (including myself), and within the year, the money from the other contracts that kept the company viable, ran out.  In March of 2011, Orion closed its doors, and everyone was let go, including me.