Monday, December 24, 2007
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
This is an old picture and an old wish. There is not absolute peace in the woods or in Nature, but the violence there is born of need: need for food for sustenance in order to live and mate to continue the species. In these quiet woods, the fisher kills the porcupine, the coyote kills the rabbit, the muskrat who dislocates his jaw starves to death and becomes food for the scavengers. All of this is part of Nature's plan.
May humans realize that we are no different than all of Nature's other children. Our basic needs are for enough food to eat and a place of shelter from the elements. We could live in peace without oil, money or power if we chose to value wisdom and peaceful survival over greed and war.
Imagine all the people, living life in peace.
You may say I'm a dreamer,
But I'm not the only one...
Join me in the hope for peace on earth.
Saturday, December 08, 2007
The Great American...... -.Off .
And here is a photo of the business posing the terrible threat to Mr. and Ms. Doughboy: Go ahead and click on the link below the picture for a more intimate look at the
......................The Potsdam Co-op
Thursday, December 06, 2007
Here's something I wrote last summer but for some reason never got around to publishing. It seems somewhat timely now that a couple of degenerating vertebrae are keeping me away from my computer chair.
Time has its subtle ways of letting you know you aren’t as young as you used to be. The jeans get harder to button, the joints begin to complain when overworked, and there’s the thinning of hair north and south. So you work out a little more, take aspirin, content yourself with the notion that your hair always was a bit thick and unruly. Old? Me? Nah.
Less subtle than time are children. Today I spent three hours at the playground with my five-year-old grandson. When there were no kids his age, I played with him, climbing up through the wooden maze, sliding down the slides, being a witch or “Queen of the Playground” as he dictated. I felt pretty smug that at 62 I could keep up with him. As I stood at the end of a wooden tunnel near the top of the grand structure (catching my breath), a new entrant on the scene, a six-year-old grinning the fanged smile of a kid missing his two front teeth, burst from the tunnel on all-fours and sounded a fierce roar. I jumped in faked terror, and the kid gleefully rose to his feet and shouted for all the playground to hear, “MOM! I just scared the crap out of this old lady!”
Go away kid, ya bother me…
Posted by Judy on Thursday, December 06, 2007
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
..........................................Smaller Than Life (please click on the photo)
I spent the Thanksgiving holiday in New York, taking only one break from "family" activities (most of which revolved around food...) to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Tripods and flash exposures were not allowed, so the shot was hand-held using available light. The child is unknown, but I couldn't resist snapping this charming expression of art appreciation. The man, turning his head to view a large painting hanging higher on the wall, stepped into the picture just as I clicked the shutter.
Since returning home, my back has "gone out" and left me searching for some position that affords pain relief, so I will be taking a short - I hope - break from the blog until comfortable sitting is again possible.
I hope everyone had a good holiday week filled with many things to be appreciated.
Sunday, November 11, 2007
It's a struggle to get Grandson into a bathroom in any of the Ottawa museums because their thrones are all watched over by The Electric Eye, the master of the great, sudden, sucking, high-decibel, child-devouring flush. Grandson is absolutely terrified of those automatic toilets.
I can get him to go with me into the Women/Femmes - when he gets desperate enough - if I use a combination of reassurance ("I've already been in there, and they really aren't that loud") and a bite of the reality sandwich ("You're dancing, you have to go, and if you don't go pretty soon, you're going to wet your pants"). Once convinced/strong-armed, we get into a stall and I shut the door. This is when it gets dicey. Imagine being contained in a 3 x 4' space with a kid who is suddenly startled and sent into terrified flight... a kid who has a running garden hose he can't let go of. Sometimes I get the monster to flush immediately (as soon as the door is locked and he can't escape and before he gets his belt unbuckled) so as to prove that the automatic flush isn't as bad as he imagines, but that tactic undermines future trust in Grandma.
Exacerbating the whole matter is the fact that the ever-diligent Electric Eye can't seem to figure out what to do when it detects the movements of two people in the stall. Like the ass-kisser that it truly is, the E.E. invariably flushes more than once, making the point that it is never lax in its duties.
Our last museum visit was to what Grandson calls "the dinosaur museum" (otherwise known as The Museum of Nature). We had a great time and managed to survive the one and only toilet encounter, then we found an Ethiopian restaurant for dinner. To his great relief, this eatery was in an old building with an old bathroom...
The meal was spicy and very good, and eaten with your fingers: small mounds of food are placed on a large crepe-like injera. You tear off a small piece of the injera and use it to pick up a "pinch" of one food or another, so no silverware is needed. Grandson enjoyed it and seemed completely oblivious to the fact that we were practically the only white folks in the place.
After dinner we began the drive home, and as we traveled along the four-lane I turned to the back seat and said, "You know, we all have fears, things we're afraid of." Grandson was quick to reply, "I'm afraid of flushing toilets and the boiler." (The boiler "lives" in our mudroom and has terrified him irrationally since he was very young). I said, "Yes, I know you are, and I wish I could take away your fears."
A beat of silent thought; then, "Well I'll talk to Jesus about that."
I answer that sure, that might be a good idea, and I sound like I mean it. His parents take him to church, and apparently he's soaking up the message. Okay, I think, I used to believe in Jesus. And Santa Claus. And the Easter Bunny. If it gives him comfort in this world, that can only be a good thing.
A minute later I start to say something and he says, "Be quiet, Grandma, Jesus is whispering in my ear." (!) I obey, wait another minute, and then ask, "So what did Jesus tell you?"
"That these fears are okay for me to have."
"Well, that's good," I say, and Husband and I suppress amazed giggles.
A day later, it was Husband who made the musical connection. We had been listening to a Lucinda Williams CD on the way to Ottawa that morning. One of her songs, Lake Charles, contains the lines:
Did an angel whisper in your ear
Hold you close
Take away your fears
In those long, last moments
There is a game Husband and I sometimes play. We'll be discussing some event or topic, and he'll say, "Okay Wizard, what's the song?" I then quote a line from the lyrics of a song that succinctly sums up the point of discussion. (I know a lot of songs). Without realizing it, I had borrowed the third line from Lucinda's chorus when I told Grandson I wished I could take away his fears. What warms this grandma's heart is that apparently he remembered the lyrics too, and his reply made use of the first two lines.
Sunday, November 04, 2007
My religious or spiritual beliefs are personal and not Christian. That's neither a boast nor a feeling of deficiency; it's just what I've come to believe over the course of time.
When I was a kid, I used to pray the ritual "now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the lord my soul to keep" and then add the "goblesses": gobless Mommy, gobless Daddy, gobless Gramma and Donna and Aunt Lil; but one night as I clasped my hands to pray for the undoing of a bad choice I had made, the voice of Reason within me said, "God is not listening to you, and even if he was, do you really think he'd grant your prayer and undo your stupidity?" And I did not pray. Not that night, and not for over thirty-six years. If I were trying to be really biblical here, I'd say "not for forty days and forty nights," but this wasn't a symbolic hiatus.
My resumption of prayer was brief: "Please God, help this baby," my unborn grandson, the reason for a team of medical personnel scurrying to answer a delivery room code. And then my agnostic self returned. I guess some habits run deep - like the way I still "rock" my supermarket cart while pondering various laundry detergent options, despite the fact that it's been almost thirty years since any little kid in my care needed the rocking. Maybe my early religious conditioning shoved my rational mind aside and took over for that instant in the birthing room.
I'm reminded of prayer and my rejection of it because lately a couple of friends have been going through some very hard times. Shaman is seriously ill, and there is a line of support that I am having trouble with. Most people would say, "You are in my prayers," but for me that would be a lie. Another friend, a survivor of breast cancer and the mother of one daughter who has battled the disease, has just learned that her other daughter has an aggressive breast cancer.
"You are in my thoughts" just sounds shallow to me. They are in my heart, a heart that aches with concern and caring, but they will not be in my prayers. Agnosticism does not supply answers or something to have faith in; it is the belief that whatever divine forces might exist or be at work are unknowable.
This aching heart, these hopes, is what I offer. I hope for the best for each of my dear friends, hope in a fervent and sincere way. My concern is no less than that of a Christian or a Jew or a Muslim or any other who prays, but it is not prayer.
And so, Shaman and Helen, I hold each of you in my heart, and I hope that you can feel these sentiments and know that this is my way, a way that I believe is no more and no less valid than prayer. But sometimes I wish I could just honestly say, "You are in my prayers." That would not need an explanation.
Monday, October 22, 2007
There are Places I Remember...
Jack and Jill went up the hill
To fetch a pail of water
Jill forgot her birth control
And now they have a daughter
I came from the Adirondacks. My parents had decided against having children because - in 1942 - they were convinced that there was not a bright enough future for children on this planet. That plan was undone when the two of them took a vacation in the late summer of 1944 at a rustic resort called "The Mohawk" on Fourth Lake, and my mother forgot to pack her birth control. Maybe my humble beginnings in that place of wildness and natural beauty explain in part why I ended up living where I do.
The Adirondack "Park," as it is rightly or wrongly named, remained a special place for this family my parents created (which later included the addition of three foster daughters). Our summer vacations were spent there in tents, around campfires and in canoes or on trails; our winters always included ski trips to Old Forge or Whiteface Mountain.
To me, the Adirondacks represented heaven, and so when all that eventually remained of my parents was a pair of ash-filled plastic bags, our favorite camping place was the natural choice for freeing those remains. In August of 1999, close family and two dear life-long friends gathered at Brown's Tract Ponds.
The chosen morning dawned wet. My father always claimed there were only two kinds of Adirondack weather, "dazzling uncertainty, and drizzling certainty," and his description held true as the gray downpour abruptly gave way to beautiful sunshine in mid-afternoon. The canoe served as a water taxi for our small band of eight, our elderly friends making the trip with both arthritic difficulty and characteristic grace. Once assembled, in a very unplanned sort of ceremony, we scattered those gray remains from the rocks on the small island's south shore where we had picnicked and swam so many times over the years. It all seemed very right.
Our mission accomplished, the first of the return trips was begun. Bekir and Sallie were helped into the canoe and Husband and I started paddling toward the mainland. Spontaneously, Bekir began yodeling my father's favorite, the pure beauty of his alpine tribute soaring across the still lake and echoing back to us. It was the perfect salute, and I am certain that every person within earshot stood still to listen.
Eight years have passed, and I haven't been back there. I always thought I'd return, but lack of time and too many responsibilities - or maybe just a failure to properly prioritize my life - had combined to stall my return until two weeks ago when a week-long photography workshop at Big Moose Lake just a few miles from Brown's Tract put the opportunity squarely in my sights. On October 6th, the 17th anniversary of the date of my father's death, I returned to the shore of Brown's Tract.
It was fall and the campers were gone. I expected to be completely alone, but to my surprise, there was a lone photographer beside the lake's outlet where I planned to launch. I'm pretty uninhibited and friendly with strangers, and those you meet in the solitude of the woods are usually kindred spirits, so we struck up a conversation. The emotions of that day probably greased my tongue even more than usual as I explained my reasons for being there. "I'm going to mess up your lake," I told him. It was still and all-reflecting, and I knew my paddling would disturb any reflection shots he was attempting to take. His reply was an enthusiastic, "Oh, no, your blue kayak will be great on the water!" We exchanged blog addresses, wished each other well, I put the kayak into the lake and began the final leg of my trip to pay respects to Bill Toporcer and Evelyn Andrus, my parents.
Photograph by Russ Devan. I hope you'll visit his website and his blog.
My parents gave me the gift of life and the self-assurance that has helped me to make the best of my time here, and it seems that even years after their deaths they continue to give to me, for on that Saturday two weeks ago they introduced me to a new friend and a very talented photographer.
Thank you, Russ, for this photograph that I will always cherish. And thank you, dear readers, for taking the time to travel back with me to this special place.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Streaming (CLICK ON A PHOTO TO ENLARGE IT)
Friday, October 12, 2007
The Tale of the .
..................(or, Why I am Up in This Tree)
I spent the first week of October at a digital photography workshop near Eagle Bay, NY in the Adirondack Mountains. It was taught by an R.I.T. photo prof. and his photographer wife, two great and greatly talented people. It was a wonderful opportunity.
.....................Covewood Main Lodge
As the teacher explained, the average digital camera has been configured to take pictures of smilin’ white folks at a picnic. It’s turned on and shot in the camera’s pre-set JPEG mode, auto-exposed and auto-focused by a tiny Japanese man (let's call him "Yoshihiko") who lives inside the camera. If you ask him to, the Yoshihiko in many cameras will take weather conditions into consideration: choose “sunshine” or “cloudy” or “incandescent lightbulb” (most often seen as tiny representative icons). He will - if asked - acknowledge the camera operator’s directive to shoot an “action shot” or in “macro (closeup) mode” – although the average digital camera user doesn’t want to be bothered with such variables and generally lets Yoshihiko just do his thing on full AUTO. Ditto the use of AutoFocus. Connect a wire between camera and computer, and the resultant image can then be attached to an email and sent to Cousin Minnie who didn’t make it to the picnic so she can laugh at everyone in the photo. All of this works and makes many, many people happy.
...................Part of Covewood's Dock on Big Moose Lake
I know some basics about photography, i.e. the fundamentals of exposure (Northern, ass, celluloid and image sensor). I understand the focal length/depth of field relationship. Many people have told me I have “a good eye.” There was a time some years ago when I knew how to choose my film camera’s exposure settings by looking at the available light in any given situation. (If you have a couple of minutes to waste, you can read about how I came to photography here.)
I confess that although I often manually focus, and I do usually control the shutter speed, I just as often let Yoshihiko do his thing. He is a pretty smart guy, after all. I use a tripod on occasion, almost always for indoor shots that require a long exposure because of low light levels. I have a “nice” tripod bought at the “nice” mall camera store, but not a particularly clever one capable of getting close to the ground.
Last week, all of this was about to change…
I arrived at the workshop, and the first thing I learned was that my “nice” tripod should probably go to the scrap-pile. I was loaned an older good one that had twice the weight and flexibility of my own. On the first day (when we were just turned loose to take shots around the beautiful old Adirondack great camp), I decided to do my usual thing sans tripod on the excuse that it would be my benchmark: the “old” way of doing things, to be compared to what I would be doing by week’s end. (Everyone else headed out with cameras mounted securely to their three-legged devices).
On Tuesday morning, armed with loaned Bogen tripod, I set out with ten others for a creek some miles away. We got there by car, then began walking up the creek, along the creek, and IN the creek. (Remember, I was using Husband’s camera because my own had gotten doused by a small container of soapy water and drowned Japanese beetles and was at Pentax Repair). The place was pretty: rocky with small waterfalls and the beautiful reds, yellows, greens and oranges of Adirondack autumn. Of course, the rocks were also slippery and the embankments steep, so I was clinging to camera and tripod with more than the normal paranoia. Yoshihiko stayed back at the lodge.
The previous evening, we had been lectured on using histograms to judge proper exposure (new to me; I had heard of histograms but had no knowledge of the why and how), and we were expected to manually focus and expose (full manual exposure being another thing I had not done previously with my digital camera). The Pentax manual packed in my bag turned out to be the camera software manual, not the actual camera instructions, adding another straw to the camel's back.
Before shooting, and as the light conditions changed, we needed to “custom white balance” our cameras with a white card instead of choosing “shade” or “cloudy” automatic settings (another procedure I knew the value of but not the mechanics…). To sum up, the game was to climb around the creek looking for a good subject, set up and level the tripod in the desired location (balancing its legs on slippery rocks, in water and mud), figure out all the camera settings, check white balance, be sure you were focused, fire the shutter, then check to see that the histogram was appropriately placed. My brain was on overload, and being the owner of ONE drowned Pentax, I was really nervous watching water flow between my feet.
........................... Tuesday's Best Shot
The other half of my workshop time – because for me, it did take almost half of my time and energy during the week – was computer technology. A new-to-me notebook computer, never-used camera software, a key drive that refused to save my files, a network configuration that wouldn’t accept the lodge’s wireless network when I tried to download a photo file converter (somehow the notebook wanted to talk to my office…), the unfamiliar organizing part of Adobe Photoshop Elements, and a program for converting RAW files to DNGs all fought me tooth and nail. It was embarrassing and totally stressful to be so mind-boggled by these things, and I had to use them. My teachers were incredibly patient as we spent the evening hours struggling with this stuff.
By Wednesday I was taking some decent photos. I spent an hour in one part of another leaf-strewn stream, and I am fairly pleased with the pictures. Technically I was making some progress, and although I was still nervously hanging onto the camera and tripod for fear of another water disaster, I was handling the custom white balancing, manually setting exposures and checking histograms, and generally enjoying myself.
On Thursday we traveled up Big Moose Lake by boat and then hiked and photographed everything Nature had to offer along the trail to Russian Lake. By late afternoon I reached the lean-to at the trail’s end, and then took some shots across and into the lake. I was about finished, and stood camera and tripod near the shore, watching another photographer work on a shot of some pine needles floating on the water. A fly landed on her subject, and I suggested that I go find a branch to chase it so she could take her shot. I turned my back on the camera for less than a minute… and during that minute, the one minute of the entire week that I was not carefully clinging to either camera or tripod, the leg of the tripod facing the water telescoped slowly into itself… and with a splash, my husband’s camera fell to it’s watery grave.
On Friday, I drove the soggy camera to Old Forge and FedEx-ed it to Pentax Repair before joining the others for lunch and a shoot of Ferd’s Bog. I was an observer.
On Saturday, the workshop over, I drove to Brown’s Tract Pond where we had scattered my parents’ ashes eight years ago. There were no campers or boaters anywhere near the lake; only a lone photographer (not from the workshop) stood on the shore where I had planned to launch my kayak.
I paddled to the island and climbed onto the flat rocks on its southern shore. For an hour I was alone with my memories. I sang "Scarlet Ribbons" for my father and then "Feels Like Home to Me" for my mother, and gradually the ache of loss - loss of camera, loss of childhood times, loss of beloved parents, loss of control, loss of sanity - lessened; lessened but was not ready to leave me.
Back in the kayak, I circled the island. An otter slipped silently from the rocks on the far side and disappeared into the water. A breeze was picking up and gray clouds were now blowing across the sky. Returning to the deserted shore, I put the kayak on the car and turned back onto the dirt road past the now closed State campground where I stopped to briefly visit our family's favorite campsite; then went on to Raquette Lake where I paused to pay my respects to the faded old general store where generations of campers and canoers have gotten their supplies. It was the last weekend of the "summer" season.
I drove the remaining two and a half hours north in silence.
At home, my husband greeted me warmly. The house was clean and he was preparing a wonderful dinner featuring quinoa-stuffed squash. I opened the notebook and began a slideshow of the week's photos, pouring out stories as he poured a fine bottle of shiraz.
After dinner the slideshow resumed... to the point of a photo taken at 4:38 PM on Thursday,
............................Just Before the Dive
and I said, "At that point, during the one instant of the entire week when I wasn't clinging worriedly to either the tripod or the camera strap, one leg of the tripod telescoped in, and your camera fell in the lake."
It is quiet and peaceful up here in the tree. I am watching the leaves change color and fall, and I am contemplating Fate.
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
.................................................Moss Lake at Dawn (please click on image)
I am back, and it will take some time to soak in and digest all the teachings of the past week. Some were wonderful lessons in photography, and others were sobering lessons about myself. Silence, solitude and my sweet husband are restoring me.
And a senyru from Shaman...
over autumn colors -
Sunday, September 30, 2007
Gone to the Woods!
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
(CLICK ON THE PICTURE TO HAVE A CLOSER LOOK)
...but look at these little buggers: two tiny baby snapping turtles submerged in a puddle! Cute now, but I may relocate them to avoid any future meetings (when they're pizza-size). Right now their shells are less than an inch and a half long.
Monday, September 24, 2007
My Favorite Time of Year...
...is also my busiest season. I have a few more "employment stories" to tell, but for now I'm going to take a break.
A late afternoon walk to the big beaver pond - after a day of canning tomatoes - yielded this photo. (CLICK ON IT FOR A BETTER LOOK).
I'm sorry I haven't been visiting blogs lately, but until the garden is put away and things are ready for winter, I just can't do everything I'd like to do. In the meantime, because this season is so beautiful, perhaps I'll post an occasional photo.
Best wishes ~
The Wiz'd Wiz'd
Thursday, September 20, 2007
(This is story #7 of my employment stories. For an introduction to these stories, click here. Other stories are below this post.)
How do you really know someone? Time and familiarity turn acquaintances into friends, but interviews are brief and - frankly - adversarial. Resumes may or may not be honest. I have seen fabrications of schools attended, degrees earned, and jobs held. These days, most former employers will not give references beyond the verification of dates of employment, and an employer who raves about someone may simply be hoping you'll hire their former employee so that they will no longer have to pay his/her Unemployment or Disability costs. So, how do you really judge someone in the space of a brief interview?
Our business had grown, necessitating the hiring of additional staff, and, as it happened, two of them were young, attractive women. They enjoyed the work and enjoyed dealing with the variety of applicants and hires who came through the office. They especially liked Tommy.
Tommy was a college student who had come in to apply for work for the company who provided food services at his school. He was blonde, very charming and cute (picture Brad Pitt in his Thelma and Louise role), and he was an A student. One of the girls placed him, and they all looked forward to him coming in on a Friday to pick up his paycheck or popping in to pester them about when he might get "hired on" at the college. At such times, all work would stop and there would be good natured chatter between them.
And then it happened: Tommy told us that his supervisor had offered him a "permanent" job. He would go on the customer's payroll and thereby have work through the summer and beyond until he graduated. The girls congratulated him and wished him well, remarking after he left how they were going to miss seeing him.
A day later I received a phone call from one of the college Vice Presidents: "I want Tommy out of here. I don't know how this happened, but he is not supposed to be anywhere on this campus except his classrooms. He has no business in the cafeteria or anywhere else."
Stunned, I asked what had happened and learned that Tommy had been attending the college on a prison release program. He had served three years in a State prison for the violent assault and rape of a co-ed. He had broken into a dormitory of a college he was not attending and brutally attacked a Resident Assistant, someone he apparently didn't even know.
The caller then told me about his former colleague at the college, a man who worked in the personnel office for several years and then moved to a "better" job at a business downstate. As all H.R. people must, that man occasionally had to lay off or terminate employees, and one of those terminations at this new "better" job returned to the work site with a gun and killed him. "So please do not tell Tommy that I called you."
I assured the caller that I would terminate Tommy - would simply tell him there was some reorganization and "the college" realized they could not hire anyone new at the moment - and I would certainly get to the bottom of how Tommy managed to be hired by us.
For several minutes, I sat at my desk absorbing what had just transpired, then called staff together and told them about the phone call. Faces went ashen, then the interviewer who had hired Tommy said she had checked references and they were fine. She couldn't believe what I was saying.
I decided to check the references myself, calling on the pretense that I had just interviewed Tommy and was considering him for a job: "He seems like a good kid. What can you tell me about him?" I asked. As the interviewer had said, Tommy's references were good - although knowing what I knew, I could see that one of them was undoubtedly covering for that three-year stretch of time when he was in prison. The "reference" was supposedly a self-employed contractor, but I suspect he was simply Tommy's friend or relative. "He was a good worker. He worked on and off when I needed him for big jobs. He's a good guy." Another reference was more recent and raved about Tommy. Tommy had "kept the books" for her at the tiny corner grocery, a grocery that I'd always suspected of dealing in more than food...
I called Tommy and broke the news that not only would he not be hired on by my customer, but that because the semester had ended, his assignment with us was also finished. He took the news cheerfully, thanked me for the job, and was in every way a complete gentleman. He never asked why, and so I did not offer reasons - although I was prepared to. I told him I would mail him his final paycheck so he wouldn't need to stop in the office for it.
What he had been convicted of is awful, and I certainly can't excuse his deceitful dealings with my business, but it also rankled me a bit that the college was willing to take his tuition money without allowing him any of the usual "privileges" that come with that purchase. It seemed to me that either he was dangerous or he wasn't. Why would it be okay to let him into a classroom but not a cafeteria?
Three years later I hired an acquaintance to patch some brick-work on the front of my building. The fellow was a member of A.A. ("Hello. My name is Jim and I'm an alcoholic.") He said he'd bet I meet all kinds of people in my work, to which I responded with a couple of stories, one of them the veiled story of Tommy, of course leaving out the names and specifics. Suddenly the brick-layer stopped me: "Wait a minute. I know who you're talking about. That's Tommy. I know him and I know that story. I know it because we used to be drinking buddies and I was with him that night. Tommy was so drunk that there's no way he physically could have done it. He passed out. The cops picked him up near the college. He was framed."
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
Who's the Bigger...?
(This is story #6 of my employment stories. For an introduction to these stories, click here. Other stories are below this post.)
We had a deal. They didn't waste my time; I did what I could to place their people: Probation and Parole respected that arrangement because their populations didn't have many good options, and I'd worked in the so-called "justice system" myself once upon a time, my heart a bit soft for people trying to climb out of holes.
Jack was the first parolee I placed, so he had to be a good gamble. Stick a customer with a guy with a criminal record and no desire to straighten out, and you'd never get the chance to do any future sticking. Jack's parole officer truly believed that what his "client" really needed was a chance to prove he was worth something, and so I hired him. There was only one customer willing to ride that horse with me, but all it took was one, and so Jack began gainful employment.
Three days later I was manning the front desk at the office. Myra was in an adjoining office interviewing a guy whose claim to fame was being a carnie; Jane was out of harm's way back in the accounting area. Suddenly there was the sound of the downstairs door banging and someone coming rapidly up the steps, stomping down the hall, and then our door burst open, presenting an obviously furious man of about 25.
"I want a job!" he yelled. "You gave my brother a job, and I need a job! You gave my brother a job, and he's a bigger crook than me!"
The guy was irate. He cussed me up and down, the gist of it being that I was an idiot for hiring his brother. If I understood his logic, I should have hired him, the lesser crook, instead - even though this was my first knowledge of his existence.
Meanwhile, the carnie in the next room rose to his feet and asked Myra if she wanted him to "take care of that guy out there." Somehow she managed to convince him to stay put, possibly helped by the fact that I jumped to my feet, drew up all of my 5'2" of red-haired height and started around the desk toward Mr. Wonderful, loudly proclaiming that when he had a parole officer who would vouch for his hirability, I would consider him, but until then, he had better get the hell out of my office.
Lucky for me he retreated, shouting obscenities all the way down the stairs, and the office settled back to relative peace and quiet.
Jack, by the way, was successful in the job and as far as I know has never been in any further trouble.
Sunday, September 16, 2007
(This is story #5 of my employment stories. For an introduction to these stories, click here. Other stories are below this post.)
The toughest day of the week was Friday. Others might chant “TGIF!” but I just tried to keep my nose to the grindstone and my shoulder to the wheel, plodding through the interviews so that they would be finished in time to get to the week’s lay-offs and firings before throwing together a late dinner. Saturdays and Sundays I’d be phoning potential hires, trying to make the placements that would begin working at 7 AM on Monday.
The State Job Service provided space for me to interview applicants. In the early days they also administered the tests required of electronics assemblers. I’d show up as they were concluding, look quickly at the test results, and begin interviewing. Eight was always the number scheduled, but there were usually as many walk-in referrals whom I would screen and then perhaps schedule for the next week’s test.
On one morning when I’d arrived well ahead of schedule, one such walk-in approached me. I invited her to the applicants’ chair before getting close enough to get a whiff of her. Bad body odor wasn't often the reason for not hiring someone, but it occasionally caused me to do a bit of pre-hire counselling, and occasionally there was a stinky worker – someone already hired who just didn’t bathe often enough or maybe couldn’t afford deoderant or perhaps simply didn’t have running water at home – and I’d have to have a talk with him or her about the problem. Those were never easy chats, but they could save an otherwise good prospect from being passed over, or keep an otherwise good worker from losing a job.
On this Friday, though, it was her breath that I could smell, and the smell was reminiscent of the old drunken roommate on the morning after: stale smoke and alcohol in a combination that was just downright nasty. And it was nine o’clock in the morning. She handed me a completed application, I gave a cursory interview then told her I would be in touch if it seemed she was the best qualified applicant for a job matching her skills. Dutiful, honest, legal, and at worst I had wasted ten minutes.
She rose and left, and I then turned to Sheila, the youngish Job Service clerk, and said, “Phew! A bit of alcohol on that one.” to which Sheila replied, “Oh yeah, she spends her mornings down at Campy’s Bar giving blow jobs to the old guys.” “EEEEeeewwwww!” I replied, “You mean that wasn’t alcohol on her breath?!?!”
Heaven help me, I thought, if I ever have a job opening for which she is the most qualified applicant. And if I did, what Worker’s Comp code would it be? What industry?? How would I determine the prevailing wage???
It was the beginning of a very long Friday.
Saturday, September 15, 2007
Alice in ...Wonderland?
(This is story #4 of my employment stories. For an introduction to these stories, click here. Other stories are below this post.)
I offered her the job. To be honest, I was new at this hiring business, and she fit my naïve mental picture of a “light assembly” worker. Alice was middle-aged and had “been around” a variety of blue-collar jobs. Rough around the edges, she was tough-talking but friendly, knew how to schmooze, and it was obvious that her mama didn’t raise no fool. I wouldn’t have to worry about her, she assured me. She’d be there early. She knew how to work. Not like the goddam kids today. Why, she could teach them a thing or two.
“Can you start on Monday morning at seven?”
“I could start right now,” she replied with a wry smile.
On Monday, the call came in mid-morning. All four of the new hires were on the job, but one – Alice - had been late.
I called her that evening to see what had happened and to reiterate the importance of being at work on time.
“I had a flat tire,” she bellowed into the phone. “How can you get a goddam tire fixed at six in the morning? I showed my supervisor, but she didn’t care!” (And in fact, she had literally dragged her supervisor out of the plant to the lot where her pick-up was parked and pointed to a “flat” tire in its bed).
These things can happen, and so I sympathized with her misfortune and again reminded her how necessary it was to be on time from now on.
“Well I can’t help a goddam tire!” she repeated. “What the hell was I supposed to do? You can’t get a tire fixed at six in the morning.”
“Okay, Alice, no, you couldn’t help that. I hope tomorrow goes better.”
It didn’t. Tomorrow she didn’t show up at all, and when I called her home to see where she was, she yelled into the phone, “A goddam tree fell on my trailer! What was I supposed to do? Go to work?? I mean a goddam tree fell on my trailer, for chrissake.”
On day three she wasn’t on the job either. “I had to take my disabled daughter to the doctor in Syracuse, for chrissake. What was I supposed to do? I mean I’m her mother and she got sick and I had to take her to the goddam doctor.”
“Alice,” I said, “It sounds like you have too many problems in your life right now, so how about if you call me when things settle down and you are able to go to work.”
An indignant tirade followed in which she repeated all the excuses of the previous days, punctuated with the same chrissakes and goddams in exactly the same places. I got the sense these excuses had seen a lot of use over the years.
I never heard from Alice again, but months later I read about her in the newspaper. Using several aliases, she had defrauded the county welfare department, and using some gasoline, she had staged an “accidental” fire that destroyed her trailer. No doubt it was the same trailer the goddam tree fell on. Apparently the disabled daughter was out of harm’s way, probably sitting in the pickup truck with the goddam flat tire in its bed, for chrissake. Alice went to goddam jail.
Thursday, September 13, 2007
Who Would Show Up?
(This is story #3 of my employment stories. For an introduction to these stories, click here. Other stories are below this post.)
It was the end of the day, but sure, I would interview one more - Claire. Chris, the Job Service counsellor, said she had some electronics assembly experience and maybe I could use her. His weary expression might have suggested to me that he didn't really think so, but I always took his referrals.
I greeted her and offered the chair, my eyes quickly skimming over her application papers as I sat down, but before I had a chance to even engage in some warm-up small talk, Claire began spilling the information she could not contain.
He had beaten her so bad, so bad she threw up, and then, while she was wretching into the toilet, he pissed on her. And then he beat her again. And again. Within thirty seconds of our meeting, Claire told me - a complete stranger, a possible employer - the intimate details of criminal abuse and pathetic submission. Everything about her was beaten down, like the worn once grassy short-cut people take across a lawn to save going to the corner. There was no life, no resillience left. Despite her statements that all of these things were behind her now, her eyes were dull and unable to meet mine, her mousy brown hair as limp as her spirit. I placed the application quietly on my desk and just listened.
"But that's all behind me now," she said at last, "and I'm ready to go to work." Of course that wasn't true, for if it had been, she wouldn't have spilled her guts to me as she had done. I thanked her for talking with me and gave the usual line about keeping her application in case I had an opening for which she was the best match.
For weeks thoughts of Claire would come back to me at unexpected times, her vivid descriptions haunt me. I'd seen the scars of abuse before, but this woman had described the wounds so clearly, in such detail, and she had poured out her heart to me as though I was a trusted friend.
Months passed. I hired Jane, a part-time assistant to do payroll and help man the office. One Thursday afternoon Jane handed me the list of people she had scheduled for Job Service testing and interviews for the next day, and I saw Claire's name.
"Oh dear," I said, "Of course you couldn't have known, but I've already 'interviewed' her, and she's not someone I can hire. No matter, I'll interview her again. Who knows, maybe her life has changed."
The next day, I arrived at the Job Service and took a peek into the testing room, but I didn't see Claire. As expected, there were eight people, and several of them were women, but none was the person I remembered so clearly.
I conducted three interviews, and then an enthusiastic, curly-haired blonde handed me her application and took the applicant's chair. The name on her papers was Claire. I took a double-take. This couldn't be the same mousy woman I had met previously. Her body language was confident, even jaunty; she was positively pretty.
The interview began to have a "Twilight Zone" feel to it as I realized that she had worked at Black and Decker and at Campbell, two of the same places the other Claire said she had worked. Finally I couldn't continue without addressing the situation.
"Claire," I said, "This is so strange. Months ago I interviewed someone who had the exact same name as you - but didn't look like you. This other Claire was not someone I was able to hire because she had some serious troubles in her life at the time. I would like to offer you a job, but this is just so strange... You not only have the same name as this other person, but you have worked in two of the same places!"
Claire lowered her eyes and said, "Well, there was a girl who lived with me for awhile, and she used my I.D."
"Oh my God. You mean she pretended to be you?" Claire continued to look at the floor and gave a slight sort of "strange things happen" smile. "Well, no wonder I was confused!" I said. And I asked her if she could begin work the next week.
When Claire left, I asked the Job Service clerk to pull all the information they had on both of the Claires. "Oh, there's only one," she replied. Incredulous, I said, no, there had to be two. "No, she completely changes every so often, but there's only one."
I believe I had interviewed a schizophrenic. Two of her. Unfortunately, I had to call her later that evening and rescind the job offer. There was no way of knowing which Claire would come to work.
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Fairy Tales May Come True, It Can Happen to You...
(This is story #2 of my employment stories. For an introduction to these stories, click here. Other stories are below this post.)
She hadn’t ever really had a paying job, but it seemed to me that she had worked. By the time she turned seventeen, marriage and babies ended whatever educational aspirations she might have had, and now at 27 she said (in so many words) she wanted to contribute to her family’s ability to live better. Her name was Cinderella. Cinderella Hotchkiss.
On first impression there was something about her that I liked. Maybe going through life poor and living in the back woods with that name had given her a sense of humor, the ability to cope with adversity. Maybe it was that look of determination in her eyes.
No coach nor fancy footmen had this Cinderella. In fact, she didn’t even have a driver’s license. No matter, she assured me confidently. Her husband would drive her to wherever the job was, and if he couldn’t, her mother would. (How many times before had I heard promises like these, believed them, and got screwed by day two of the job? Porcine flight has greater probability.)
Worst of all, she had not done well on the manual dexterity testing. That was hard to overlook, but I knew that my customer sometimes had a need for packers, and that job called for energy and a good attitude in greater measure than fine motor skills. Maybe she could fit in somewhere.
Her gown was denim, and that was in fashion at this electronics manufacturer’s ball. I stole a peek under the desk… good…her slippers were canvas - practical, no glass in sight.
Across from where I sat, Cinderella’s eyes looked at me with a sincerity and eagerness that was refreshing, and despite all the reasons I could see for not hiring her, I wanted to.
“I’ll be there and I’ll do a good job if you hire me. I want to work. I won’t let you down.” (Please stop saying that, I thought. Please stop reminding me how dumb it would be to offer you a job.)
And so I told her that I didn’t know if my customer would be willing to give someone a try without at least a “medium” score on the testing, but I would ask, and I would let her know. She left and I continued interviewing the remaining candidates, thankful that a few of them had high scores and some history of employment.
But how could I not take a chance on someone whose very name conjured up images of fairytale castles and living happily ever after? Okay, so that didn’t fit with the “hire with your head, not with your heart” philosophy, but I was also desperate for enough qualified workers to fill the job orders lying on the desk in front of me, and at the end of the day I called the customer who had always been the most reasonable to work for.
“Wayne,” I said, “I’ve got someone I want you to try. She scored low on the testing, she doesn’t drive but swears she’ll get to work on time and always, and her name is Cinderella.” There was a beat of silence and then Wayne laughed and replied, “Sure, why not? We’ve already got Grumpy, Dopey and Sleepy here, so she’ll probably fit right in.”
And she did. After working on my payroll for eight weeks, she was hired by my customer and worked there for over a year. Eventually I lost track of her, but I’ll never forget Cinderella and my gratitude for her and for workers like her, workers who made my own business shine.
Sunday, September 09, 2007
Tell Me What You Like to Do
(This is story #1 of my employment stories. For an introduction to these stories, click here.)
He was a man of few words and sullen stares. The size of his hands told me he wasn’t likely to be good at working with tiny electronic components, but hand size wasn’t something you could pre-screen for when somebody called and said they were looking for a job. Ditto the stares.
I guess you could say that terseness defined him, for his written answers in the application’s blanks were few and far between and tended toward one-word summations. He had apparently finished high school (but didn’t say where) and had been in the army (again, no details). There was no indication of any work history in the fifteen years since. Even the “position desired” question was unanswered.
I worked my way through the application, verifying his address and asking for his telephone number, learning that he had done “odd jobs” and that he didn’t care what kind of work he got.
“You haven’t put anything here on this line where it asks what your interests and hobbies are,” I said with an encouraging smile.
Another stare, and then he replied, “Whattya mean?”
“Well, some people like sports or listening to music or working on cars or whatever. You know, what do you like to do when you aren’t working?”
Silence. And then his eyes met mine and he said slowly and deliberately, “Killing people is my specialty, and I’m very good at it.”
I chuckled (trying to act nonchalant and as though he had been joking) and replied, “Well, I guess everybody’s good at something!. … So… John… do you have transportation?” and I gradually concluded the interview so as not to appear intimidated.
I rose and extended my hand to shake his but was un-met. As he walked away, I made the coded notation for “Do Not Hire,” and I thought that he was probably an honest man. His specialty was killing people, and he was probably good at it because you had to be if you survived Vietnam, and it would haunt the rest of his days.
Saturday, September 08, 2007
Workin’ On a Chain Gang
It’s called “Human Resources,” and it’s a sort of slave trade that I was involved in for many years.
Per Webster’s Ninth:
.......Human: 1: of, relating to, or having the characteristics of man
.......2: consisting of men 3: having human form or attributes.
.......(Hmmmm….. WOMEN are not mentioned by Webster…)
.......Resources: 1: a source of supply or support; an available means
.......2: a natural source of supply or revenue 3: an ability to meet
.......and handle a situation (I left out some obviously irrelevant
Loosely translated, then, my job was to find creatures having human form, who had some ability to meet and handle a particular job situation. Most of the jobs paid low on the wage scale and did not require any formal education beyond high school. My tasks were to advertise and recruit, phone screen, test for physical ability to do the work (eye-hand coordination, fine motor skills), interview and then offer employment (or a plausible excuse for not hiring), and make appropriate job placements.
I flew by the seat of my pants, not having any actual training or experience in H.R., frustrated (or, conversely, buoyed up) by the fact that the ideal candidate hardly ever existed. The goal was to hire the best available, and when you met the range of possibilities, "best available" sometimes became clear by elimination of whom you would NOT want to hire. Okay, so I’m exaggerating a little, but sometimes it resembled the physician’s creed: First do no harm - don't hire the alcoholic, the violent, the irresponsible, the crook.
During those years I met some noble, hard-working, good people. I also met some of the scum of the earth. I met the working poor – people who will struggle all their lives at pay rates below a living wage. I met people down on their luck (often perennially). In total, these folks were the Americans vying with their unfortunate Chinese or Mexican counterparts to produce the lowest cost electronic toys we all love and want.
My work was not without joys and satisfactions. A job of any kind can be the leg up a person needs, it can be the first step to exiting a bad marriage, the extra money to see a family through a rough patch. It can help define a career, a path in life. A job – even a low-wage, entry-level job - can bring self-confidence and a sense of pride for some people. I offered an opportunity to men and women who had few such; not a great opportunity, but a first (or sometimes last) chance to get on the ladder and start moving up.
This is the context of my next few posts. They are going to be stories from the interviewer's side of the desk, stories I could never invent. The first one begins above this post.
Thursday, September 06, 2007
Let's Go Canoeing!
Soon well-fed and back in the canoe, we surprised a muskrat. (You can just see his head near the center of the next photo).
Tired - and noting the sun's position - we turned around, smiling at the knowledge that the rest of the trip would be downstream and with the wind at our backs,
I hope you have enjoyed our paddle. Thanks for keeping your weight centered and not tipping us over!
Posted by Judy on Thursday, September 06, 2007
Friday, August 31, 2007
Joys and Trials
I swore I'd never do a meme, but one probably should never say never. (I probably shouldn'ta swore either, but "should" and "shouldn't" have never been guiding principles for me). Confused? I am. What were we talking about??
Oh, yes. To get to the point, a few days ago Em tagged me with the "Joys and Trials Meme" and I have been thinking about what that means ever since. Here are the rules:
"You have to use your own belief system for the meme.
No fair using someone else’s to make a joke or satire.
Being humorous about your own religion is encouraged!
You have to have at least one joy and one trial. More are encouraged. And no, they don’t have to be equal in length, but please be honest.
You have to tag at least one other person. More are appreciated!
Please post these rules!"
I have to admit that I’m not exactly sure what this meme is really asking. I’ve visited a couple of the former tag-ee’s sites, and they seem to have answered in religious/spiritual terms. Unfortunately, it has been so long since I gave serious thought to just what my "religion" is, that I'm having trouble wrapping my mind around a clear enough picture of my spirituality to couch my answer to the meme appropriately. If I base my reply on my heart's feelings (rather than what might be my "soul's") then my Joys list includes (not necessarily in this order nor limited to):
Nature – living things, beauty, weather
People (or at least "good" people)
Going outside naked when it’s warm and windy
Words, images, songs
Good food and wine
Laughter and having fun
and my Trials list includes (not necessarily in this order nor limited to):
Nature – in particular, rats, voles, raccoons, woodchucks, hail, lightning and high winds, potato blight, Japanese Beetles, and sometimes deer
The degradation of nature
Fundamentalists of any sort
War and hatred and greed
A bit of background: My father was agnostic, my mother a Baptist. I was raised in her Baptist faith, but eventually decided that his agnosticism made more sense. Husband (who is Jewish) and I say grace every night, a grace that I learned when I was a young child and just never stopped saying:
We thank you for the food we eat,
We thank you for the friends we meet,
Thank you for our work and play,
And help us to be good all day. Amen.
It is perhaps an odd little ritual for two quite ripe adults, and it’s the only "religious" thing we do, but in its simplistic lines the basics are contained: thankfulness and the acknowledgement that being and doing good is right and proper.
I say this grace not because I believe in prayer as a way of communicating with a listening God (I don't), but as a reminder to myself of how fortunate I am and what I believe my human responsibilities ought to be. Grace is often followed by one of us asking the other (with a smile), “So, were you good today?” and then dinner is consumed as we discuss the events, experiences, accomplishments and trials of our respective days.
There are times when I feel that I am not a spiritual person at all. My belief that whatever power created this vast existence is unknowable is simply a rational thought. If that is the yang of me, then my yin is the deeply passionate belief that there is a purpose, a reason for and a connectedness of everything in the universe, not one living creature better, more important or chosen than another. In that context, my Joys list becomes:
The beauty and wonders of Mother Nature
The peace and happiness Love brings
The lessons of Time and Experience
The excitement of Creativity and Artistic Expression
The enrichment of my life by Friends, human and animal
And my Trials can be summed up in one:
People. Our arrogant, greedy, destructive, self-centered, irreverence for each other and – above all – for Mother Nature and all she encompasses, that which gave us life and sustains us. I am despondent over the degradation of the planet and the fact that so few people living today understand or care about the interconnectedness of the lives of humans with everything natural surrounding us. "Progress" and "economic growth" demand that we work to obliterate our very sustenance.
Yet, is there a god reigning over all that IS? Maybe. It does seem to me that there has to be some great unknowable power behind the mystery, but as Iris DeMent sings,
Everybody's wonderin' what and where they all came from.
Everybody's worryin' 'bout where they're gonna go when the whole thing's done.
But no one knows for certain and so it's all the same to me.
I think I'll just let the mystery be.
Thanks, Em, for giving me the opportunity to stand on my little soapbox for a few moments. I'm not sure I have answered appropriately, but I was honest. I tag Crabby - if she wants to accept the tag - (giving her full permission, if I may, to move the discussion away from the spiritual if she wants to...), and I leave you with this.
Posted by Judy on Friday, August 31, 2007
Thursday, August 30, 2007
Fly me to the moon
Let me play among the stars
Let me see what spring is like
On jupiter and mars
..................(Lyrics credited to Frank Sinatra)
Being a grandparent allows you to do some things you might otherwise miss out on. Last weekend we took Grandson (age 5) to Ottawa to see an air show featuring old and "antique" planes. There were also a number of beautifully restored antique cars.
There were many other people armed with cameras - some with obviously expensive gear - snapping photos left and right. It was easy to see that most of them were plane-lovers taking pictures... while I was a photographer who saw this as an opportunity to take pictures of a different sort of subject than often crosses my path.
Here, for your viewing pleasure (I hope), is a peek at some of what we enjoyed. Not being an airplane buff, I have not supplied names and descriptions for most of the craft, but I hope you like this little "album" in which I tried to capture some of the beauty of carefully tended, old machinery. Yes, every one of them flew.
. Click on any photo for a better look.
......................................Rain threatened but never materialized.
.............This Seabee's propeller is behind the cockpit.
. .....Uh, why are the "Mis -Terris" of the world always redheads...?
.......... A 1920's era Franklin beside several SeaBees
The show took place at an aeronautical museum, so of course we also spent time inside. I'll post those photos on another day. Right now I'm feeling that I need to look at something green and living...
Posted by Judy on Thursday, August 30, 2007
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
It was 2:30 in the morning. The alarm clock had been set for 2:45 but was rendered unnecessary by my own internal clock. I tip-toed to the spare bedroom for a good look at the full moon, but was disappointed to find it obscured by some wispy mare’s tail clouds, and I returned to bed. At 3:30, by my calculation still 24 minutes before the earth’s shadow would begin crossing the moon, the clouds had cleared and I got up and dressed for moon-watching.
The camera and tripod were waiting on the front porch, the remote shutter release by the door. The moon was so bright that no other light was necessary for me to make my way out from the shadows and into the moonlit front yard.
I could see a problem immediately: the moon was already low on the horizon. And then another problem: there was no sign of any dark, curved shadow on its beaming face. Was this the night after all? Thoughts of Karan and Shaman flashed through my mind, thoughts that they too would be up and outside… waiting…watching… waiting…
Inside the house again, I turned on the computer and checked the NASA website. It did say “The event begins 54 minutes past midnight PDT on August 28th when the Moon enters Earth's shadow. At first, there's little change.” Okay, 12:54 Pacific Daylight Time should be 3:54 AM Eastern Daylight Time… but then below the written descriptions of a full lunar eclipse was a timetable showing this:
..........................August 28, 2007, Total Lunar Eclipse
Time Zone............. Total Eclipse Begins.............Total Eclipse Ends
Rats! Here I am all dressed up and no place to go for another two hours!! Why hadn’t I read this website all the way through?!?
I made myself a small bowl of granola, figuring I might as well have some sustenance as compensation for a lost night’s sleep.
Worst of all, I had told Shaman to get up by 3:54 too. I wondered what poem might come to her as she pondered why the clear sky held just another empty full (and of course beautiful) moon. Coyotes weren’t even howling. Maybe they had enough sense to be sleeping.
.....Fee fi fo fum
.....Sometimes wizards can be dumb
At five A.M. there was finally the hint of an arching shadow across the top of the moon – a moon which was now sinking low toward the horizon. I wondered if it would still be in view an hour from now when it would be reflecting all the great colors.
I took a few pictures as the shadow progressed, but soon the moon began to disappear behind the tree-tops on my horizon.
Chased the moon
around the house,
then around the yard,
got on my bike too,
I was eclipsed
by trees and time.
Posted by Judy on Tuesday, August 28, 2007