The Tourist Imprisoned

Recently, The Lovely One and I returned from vacationing overseas. The transatlantic experience spawned the latest installment of The Tourist’s mayhem…

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Lies, ladies and gentlemen, all lies

Every time I have to do it, I hate flying more than I had before. The airlines seem locked in a death struggle to determine which brand can devise the final sadistic imposition on passengers that will at last prevent anyone from ever flying steerage again. Or simply never flying.

That imminent day resounds with sadness, but corporate profiteering edges the dire knell of the skyfaring businesses nearer with each deliberately overcrowded, crammed and undernourished flight.

Recently, domestically, I furtively smuggled a seamstress’s cloth measuring tape in my pocket — dutifully removed to pass microwave fullbody scansion, along with keys, change, watch, personal detritus and pocket lint — and used a minute portion of its length to measure my allotted confinement space: 21 inches from backseat ahead to head rest (less by nearly six when the careless cad ahead dismally and pointlessly reclined his so-called “backrest” eight minutes into our heavenly ascent), almost 9 inches from seatback ahead to front edge of my euphemistic seat “cushion” (less with egophilic jerk’s reclination, but only by an inch — sufficient to make the safety drill’s assurance of a flotation device beneath my economy seat merely a taunt, at best a contortionist’s impossible dream; from armrest to armrest a minuscule 16 and 3/4, possibly of suitable proportions when I was in my (early) roaring twenties but no longer (and my own somewhat bulging belly added its own girth to that measurement), and my corpulent seatmate oozed her bulk intrusively well into my euphemistic “space” and sweating flesh throughout, the decisively lowered armrest proving no barrier to unwanted intimacy whatsoever. Although officially in sitting position, my space, especially once the overhead lighting quenched to keep us docile, put me in mind of tyrants’ notorious “standing cells,” my movements restricted nearly to nil.

Therefore, I devised the demise of the purser who refused my request for any available liberation, who even declined to disturb the selfimportant fore-ass’s pseudoreclining position as it was after all, “resting period.” Well, I put a period to that. And while we were straightjacketed in the air as well.

That’s the start of that. More on the trip (the actual vacation) ahead, friends and family…

©2013 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

More Budapest, Day 5 — Museum and Heroes Square

Museum of Fine Arts, showing a tiny bit of the breadth of plaza, which I keep talking about, that is Heroes Square

Continuing from yesterday, I ramble on about our rambles around the Museum of Fine Arts some more (and I edited the previous post to include some links that hadnʼt been there before) and our return into rain to look at Vőrös tere

In the end we spent almost four hours at the museum. I completely lost track of time (yes, I wore my watch, but I seldom think to look at that sucker), progressing forward in art history time from the lengthy medieval stuff I wrote about vaguely already through some Renaissance artists (Italian, German, British, Spanish [I remember an El Greco] — things started to get sorted by nationality, so the time sequence got a bit confused for me except by styles and subjects), Baroque, Nineteenth Century, and very little modern.

The Dutch galleries, listed by all guides as a highlight, was exactly that — more focused on big canvases of landscapes and still lives than the tiny interiors familiar from Vermeer or characterful faces of Rembrandt.

The Museum of Fine Arts has some very fine works, but what really drew My Belovedʼs attention was, obviously, the Impressionists — and there were quite  few interesting canvases to study  toward the end of our second- and third-floor wanderings. I even got to play my game of finding out how far away the painting leaped into real-life clarity and focus (amazingly far away, even in different rooms for several). I also enjoyed the earlier French artists — Delacroix, Corot and Courbet (all of whom found spacious discussion previously here on the blog). On this visit, although a few of the guards (mostly stout, middle-aged and older women) watched me getting my intrusive nose perhaps too close to some canvases, I didnʼt come near to actually touching anything.

the (admittedly uninteresting-to-foreigners) historical nobility (southern) half of the Heroes Square monument

Legendary and historical kings on Heroes Square

The mounted Magyars on the central spire, Heroes Square

Eventually, art-weariness began to make things seem less and less intriguing for this day (a false, subjective impression bred from too-muchness at any museum), and we found our way back to the steps we had come up several hours earlier. However, in the lobby (where we had paid our admission, now filled with various groups of people, plentiful schoolchildren) I noticed that a pair of large doors led off to the Greek and Roman antiquities, and we went in there (me a bit trepidatious that perhaps this wing required an extra fee — it didnʼt).

Now The Lovely One has had more than enough of Greek vases — red-figure, black-figure and polychrome — from our visits to the British Museum, where she may also have gotten more than she wanted of examining the Lindow Man, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but she does like the sculpture and enjoys mosaics (after our visit to Volubilis in Morocco back in 1984). And we ended up spending another hour-plus amidst (yes) vases (all three kinds, but a limited number) of many varieties (of use), among which I pointed out amphorae to her, and lots of Roman statues or assorted fragments thereof (also true of the vases).

Pleasantly, almost no other visitors bothered to take in these genuine antiquities, and the gentle quiet made these final rooms a real highlight of our visit… for both of us (even with vases examined, sometimes minutely, by one of us).

The heroic couple atop the central spire, Heroes Square

Unlike yesterday, my own shot of Mucsarnok, the Music Hall

But then we descended again to retrieve our belongings and depart, in order to check out the monument(s) of Heroes Square, erected like so much else in Budapest for the millennial celebrations of 1896 (which is also why so many things in the city are 896 feet and/or meters high). We toured around the two sets of historical “heroes,” the first, older group on our side (toward the Museum of Fine Arts) being legendary and historical kings and the other group comprising lesser-known Hungarian nobles. I was reading from Rick Steves and either Frommer or DK, trying to be more informed and informative than had been our experience on Saturday over on Castle Hill. It was, however, actually raining, and our studies began to feel uncomfortably wet, even after we drew out the umbrellas (difficult to hold one and read from a guidebook), so after perhaps only a half hour or so, we headed off the large plaza to find again the Vőrös tere Metro stop and descend into the bowels beneath the streets.

We were headed back under Andrassy út toward the river…

Again, more to come… someday…

©2012 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Back to Budapest — Monday, October 24 (Day Four)

Having taken a break from prodding my memory for most of the various other kinds of posts I like to feature here, letʼs return to the travelogue, to last year, 2011, to Monday, October 24, in Budapest. You will find it was still rainy…

Places of Worship (a Day or Two Late?)

Monday was our church-visit* day. I had vaguely considered a museum (and there are many of them, several tempting to me but one I knew would also inspire Janet — the National Art Museum, farther off than several history and a cultural and an agricultural, but particularly with the language barrier possible, the only serious choice) for a Sunday pastime “out of downtown,” but it was closed. As was the Great Synagogue, as I noted earlier. So we went on Monday, when it actually, definitely rained. 

looking from our hotel room down Mérleg utca toward the Danube and the palace across the river

No mere mist on Monday — from before we arose, about 8:00, there was steady precipitation. No downpour but nothing to ignore. We both took umbrellas along (again, although I donʼt believe we opened either on Sunday) as we left the room to descend the stairs to the lobby and be on our way. And outside, in the noticeable precipitation, we hurried along Mérleg utca to turn left onto Október 6 utca and then right to follow Zríny utca to our initial destination.

Szent István Bazilika and its square in the rain

The first stop was a place we had been at and by many times already (with several more to come, including two bypasses this Monday evening), Szent István Bazilika. This time we were going inside, so we climbed the big steps out front, forked over our coins to the priest at the doorway (where I really didnʼt pay sufficient attention to the carved portrayals of the Twelve Apostles on that portal) and went inside…

Dark and huge. What else can you expect in a cathedral? (Okay, basilica.) Big columns, domed glitter overhead, not many people, statues, niches, side chapels — lots of red, gold, blue. But mostly it just seemed hugely dark. The floor was interestingly ornate but also somehow not as finished-feeling as other churches we had visited elsewhere. We wandered to our right first, passing St. Gellért in statuary around to the main altar with a big white statue of St. István. We wended back down the nave and around to the left by the altar to enter the little set of rooms that led to our sighting of the fair-sized shrine for the forearm of St. István himself, with helpful information sheets (in several languages but mostly Hungarian) on the building and its restoration. We looked and departed, back into less rain outdoors.

We made our way next southwards along Bajcsy-Zsilnszky Út, Erzsébet tér and Károly Körút to the Synagogue, where we stood patiently in line (me desperately reading travel books I had brought along and the various signs for information on how much we were to pay and what we had to do to gain entrance). We had seen this place, of course, yesterday, its two great Moorish-domed steeples piercing the gray sky, appearing as imposing and dramatic as the books had suggested (and as churchlike, too — Steves quotes an early, sardonic observer decreeing it “the most beautiful Catholic synagogue in the world”).

It seemed, although the books indicated otherwise, that all visitors stood in line at the tour counter (a small shed built outside the great fence) but we distinguished ourselves from the tour group tourists by telling the guys inside that we wanted not to take the tour but just purchase admittance (cheapskates, us, and maybe we missed some information, but both Mr. Steves and Frommer seemed to have lots of information from which I could, and I did, read while inside, as I had at St. István). Then we went to a different line to pass security (quite reminiscent of TSA at airports, except we got to retain our shoes) and finally, presenting our tickets, pass inside.

One of the great chandeliers and the view toward the front within the Great Synagogue

looking to the left inside the Great Synagogue — notice the womenʼs gallery above the nave

Gloriosity of gold within. Huge, but unlike the basilica, bright (sufficiently so to permit photographs, so we have some here). We wandered around, dodging groups (and eavesdropping sometimes) to examine the gilded decor, making our way up front along the left side first (I think) and then back along the right (or maybe vice versa). This place was definitely big and splendiferous (largest synagogue in Europe, second in the world) — all gold, red, wood and wonderfulness. Very Oriental, too — the Moorish inspirations being very evident (although I felt more of that in one of the five we toured in Prague, which was even more gilded and ornate but of course not as large). After a while and many attempts at natural-lighting photos, we went to the door to the museum, leading into a lobby with a staircase and elevator.

the Holocaust sculpture and the back of the Great Synagogue

Being us, we headed for the steps only to be stopped and signaled to the elevator by a woman in the coat-check/ticket area. So we entered and ascended several floors to come out into a display covering four or five rooms (and steps up to modern artistic interpretations of antisemitism on the floor above). We patiently examined the many items on display — siddurs, prayer shawls, cups, Torah cases and crowns… a massive plenitude (and also the exhibits one flight up), learning and reviewing about Jewish festivals, imagery and symbolism and daily life.

When we finally returned to ground level and passed outdoors (shielded by the porch) to look at the mass graves on the northern side of the synagogue, quietly grim, and then pass into the weather to visit the silvery Holocaust Memorial sculpture and garden, the rain had set in for real. By now it was past 11:30, and the morning damp had become the midday downpour.

With the definite wet, the day seemed palpably colder, too. I got us (even after the previous dayʼs mild disaster) onto a tram to head around to Oktagon, from which we wandered Liszt tér, noticing mostly restaurants and cafés…

Monument topped by symbolic abstract sculpture denoting the dead, engraved with the names of the slain — click for a really big picture

However, I approach a thousand words, which is more than I intended for today, so the rest of Monday, October 24, will have to wait.

* Is there an appropriate word for “place of worship” that doesnʼt seem particularly Christian-centric?

©2012 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Iced Songbirds to Go

Hereʼs the start of a story that has percolated in my head since the night in Seattle, several years ago, that Janet and I had the pleasure (unanticipated, at least on my part) of hearing Eartha Kitt perform, sadly just months before she died. I kicked my idea around in my hinder thoughts until two weeks ago, when Janet had completed her work (well, most of her work) for, during and after her bossʼs Big Birthday Party (a story I still need to tell in this forum). I donʼt mean to reflect at all on the Celebrity Performer brought in for That Event, but somehow, as She enjoyed a celebratory martini after her show and the end of the party, and as The Lovely One chatted up Important Folks at the party, the story resurfaced insistently. I sat in a quiet corner of the bar, sipping a Johnnie Walker Black (which I had been too simple and foolish to specify earlier in the evening) and composed the following five hundred words…

The working title for the short story (series?) is the title of todayʼs post.

The time had come to haul the old broad out of cold storage. DeMint trundled his way down the lowest corridors of Le Grande Canal seeking the berth of tonight’s grande dame. As usual, he silently thanked his lucky stars for the elementary and ancient concept of alphabetical order, and as he so often did, cursed under his breath aloud that so many of his most popular corpses had surnames from the final third of the letter sequence…

Manischewitz, Markowsky, Mingo…

Neruda, Oppenheimer, Ott…

Pascal, Pomme, Shelley…

Sterne.

He sighed, a sign of his disloyal respect (loyal disrespect?) and pressed the blue icon on the touchpad outside her coffin to begin the reanim process. Once again. In one hundred and thirty-seven minutes Sharynn Sterne would sing again, her seven thousand eight hundred and fifty-seventh immortal performance. (Assuming he hadnʼt at some point forgotten to record a couple.) For the assembled miners of Sigma Calyx IV, which couldnʼt be buried much further, more remotely or less significantly in the back of beyond.

With an almost inaudible hiss, her resurrection began.

Having done his part for the next two hours, DeMint shuffled off to the cold level lounge to access the records net and pour himself more than a few cold ones. Down in the depths among his cold ones.

He loved them both. The beers and the broads, best on ice, less nice at room temps. But both the broads and the beers needed rewarming now and again. If only to keep other broads, his immortal songbirds, and better beers cold and refreshing and ready to serve.

He had negotiated eleven days with the mine unionʼs entertainment czar to reach an agreement of appropriate financial reward for an acceptable star revived out of yesteryear. As usual, as he had come so very long ago to expect, they had demanded performers of several magnitudes greater significance than his humble star freighter maintained. As though the handlers of such stellar celebrities would deign to cruise the nether depths of nowhere near such an insignificance as Sigma Calyx IV. When was the last time any starship had dropped orbit about their frozen mineral hell and offered to put on a show? That telling point had at last, long last, diminished the czarʼs expectations to a reasonable realm where an agreeable accommodation could finally be accomplished.

Not much reward financially for one of his most remembered Chillahs. Chilled Thrillers. But with unrefined fuelstuff thrown in, sufficient to get him and his cold coloraturas effectively out of this hell. Finally. So the deal had been struck and the time had come for Sharynn Sterne to sing again.

Now all DeMint had to do was convince her to cooperate.

By the time I had penned the last paragraph (yep, sitting at my little table with pen in hand and small yellow pad of mini-legal paper before me) it was nearly 1:00 AM. So there it rests (but at least I have gotten the written word digitized now).

©2011 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Blizzardʼs End

The birds had consumed nearly the whole tube of seed in just over twenty-four hours.* Can you tell I am knee-deep in snow and still at least a foot off the ground? The feeder nearly touches the drifted snow!

Tuesday afternoon, February 1, the storm blew in like wind-driven fog, the flakes were falling that thick and fast. Janet got home from work about an hour early (although a little later than I would have preferred myself). However, she made it with only a few white-out moments. We hunkered down for Tuesday evening as the storm howled loudly and whipped incredible amounts of snow into our windows. We went to bed, lulled into unconsciousness by wind wailing and screaming outdoors.

Assuming she might call in, unable to make it to work on Wednesday morning, I had delayed my Wednesday morning alarm for an hour or two. The blizzard, after all, dumped fifteen inches of new snow on us that night. Janet got up a little later than normal to check the road conditions via phone and then leave her message at work. “Travel was not advised.” She returned to coziness, and we didnʼt arise until just after 8:00.

The city snowplow had come through perhaps an hour earlier, evidently moving fast as it had scattered snow and chunks fully halfway up our drive. I also discovered we had a vast, deep drift from our little porch all the way across the door of the garage (in fact, the drift actually covered the whole front of the house, but I was only interested in the part of it I would have to clear). I determined to start my day by shoveling us out. So I dressed myself in many layers, capped with my new white windbreaker, that Janet had given me for Christmas, on top and my thin snowmobile pants over my running tights below. I had found recently that both garments insulated me almost perfectly from wind and cold. I pulled my rubber boots on over my shoes before facing the blizzardʼs deposits.

The remains of the big snow dune… See what I am talking about? It was truly disheartening.

Just opening the garage door disheartened me. The drift was fully chest high (about four feet, swaying up about a half foot partway along) and nearly eight feet across.** But I valiantly got out my shovel and began trying to dig an opening in front of the entry door. I didnʼt do very well, merely hollowing out a tiny space that immediately filled with snow. I did attempt to shovel out a narrow lane across the front of the big garage door, but I couldnʼt keep any of this cleared space from gathering collapsed snow, so I determined to try the snowblower. When I opened the big garage door before starting it up, I found myself facing a wall of white. “Disheartened” may have been too jovial, too upbeat a word…

However, I did start the machine and push it out into the wall of snow, which immediately collapsed all around me and it. But I turned the blower sideways and, having closed the door, cleared that little alley between the garage and the drift, an alley that kept filling with snow that fell off the drift without apparently diminishing the drift itself whatsoever. I pushed the sucker through that snow again and again, without apparent success, merely maintaining my little passage before the door.

The Lovely One on the steps she cleared beside the big drift.

And then Janet appeared, decked out in her winter gear, ready to help! I had turned the corner at the far end of the drift, where it was only about a meter tall, and opened a collapsing lane out to the middle of the driveway along the eastern edge. I told her to take over the machine while I went back for my shovel to try and attack the big drift.

Every effort I made just saddened me because the snow was so thick and deep. But as she cleared the wind-scoured center of the driveway, and I kept pushing snow along my little curved alley between the garage door and the drift and around and out into the open area, and she moved on to reducing the considerable mess at the end of the drive, her success gave me some heart to keep at the immense snow dune. And by walking through the middle of the mass repeatedly (thank goodness for those new rubber galoshes!) and eventually pushing through with my shovel in that same spot and then repeating that process at other points in the drift, I slowly began to make progress, even as I frustrated her by pushing snow out where she had already cleared it. Meanwhile she challenged the blower, at the street-end of our drive, by attacking city-plowed mounds of snow that rose to six feet in height (not that she actually tried to snow-blow that deep a mound; the plowʼs tailings just built that high on the eastern side).

After more than two hours, having blown away much of the mess at the end of the driveway and then my reductions of the huge drift and then trading me the snowblower as she decided to clear our front steps, The Lovely One realized she had begun to freeze her toes in her thin socks and tight boots. So she went inside while I remained outdoors, first blowing away what she hadnʼt dealt with at the end of the driveway and across the entire street in front of our drive and a big drift off the six-foot pile on the eastern end, and then switching back to my shovel to try to clear the edges of the drive all the way to the actual edges of the drive (or at least nearer the verge of concrete). All in all, the effort took us not quite four hours, but the drive was absolutely clear and so was a good space of the street in front of our house.

Yep, me again, this time in the street beyond the big six-foot pile of snow. See how nicely I shoveled clear the actual street?

I also got a little disheartened when I realized that the guy who plows the old folks home across the street had merely shoved all the snow from at least one of the drives straight across into our yard! Now our house really is secluded behind a privacy wall of snow that extends the whole front yard. (I should have taken a picture of that.) Janet theorized that he hadnʼt done so before because I was usually outdoors shoveling by the time he arrived in his truck to plow across the way.

Once I got inside, I found out about her toe issue, which after more than an hour after sheʼd gone inside had been resolved positively. We spent the rest of the day being quietly domestic indoors, taking seriously the advice broadcast on every station not to go out unless it was “absolutely necessary.” And we had a great pot of leftover chili from Sunday night to consume for supper!

The workout against the snow had been so exhausting that we both retired to bed by 9:00 PM. Although I read for a while, finishing The Swords of Lankhmar, sleep came deep and fast. We slept solidly and well as temperatures plunged to double digits below zero.

Janet got out for work successfully on Thursday morning, and I stayed home in the subzero day and eventually wrote this.

Thus endeth The Great Blizzard of 2011.

* Yes. Thatʼs me at the feeder. Janet got into having possession of the camera. What you see is my usual shoveling gear (minus the white windbreaker mentioned in todayʼs post). The colorfully reflective vest was purchased as running gear but seldom worn. I determined to wear it this year while shoveling to avoid being run down by jerks speeding toward the dead western end of our street.

** Or, looking at my picture, even wider across (although I am sure it narrowed somewhat on the far side of the drive, the eastern edge).

Click on any of the photos for greater detail and size.

Over 1350 words. So much for keeping these short this year.

©2011 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Popping Out (Red, White and… Blue)

If you remember from a week ago, I was having a little trouble Arriving on the scene back in 1953… Letʼs begin with  review: with infant me fully two weeks overdue, Seventh-Day-Adventist Dr. Onofrio had induced labor for my mother early in the morning on Friday, but nothing happened, until hours after she had been released to go back home and rest. About 2:30, labor contractions began.

And there was my mother, at home alone, entering labor, with the doctor and the delivery room about fifteen or twenty minutes distant. In those days, apparently, school administrators didnʼt call teachers out of class, even for a birth. What was this mother-to-be going to do?

Drive herself to the doctorʼs office, of course, having left a message for my father to receive at the end of the school day. She drove the whole twenty minutes alone in the car, as her contractions arrived more frequently, lasted longer each time, and grew more intense. As she personally never told me any of this story and as I have never endured childbirth myself (an acting exercise in college in which one of my peers, female and feminist, cast me as the mother in delivery notwithstanding), I donʼt know just how unbearable and difficult this experience was. I do know she made it and staggered up the steps and into the office area of the Old Folks and Obstetrics facility sometime around 3:30 PM.

Her water broke either in the car or as she arrived in the doctorʼs office (I have heard, or I remember hearing, both versions), so the birth was imminent. The staff got her in a wheelchair and took her to a delivery room where the contractions continued and the birth proceeded with Dr. Onofrio on hand. (That wheelchair may be an elaboration on the truth of my own…)

My dad got the message as soon as the day ended, and I think he hooked a ride with a fellow teacher over to Victorville in time to arrive not long after my birth, perhaps even just in time. (It was, of course, the Fifties, when fathers-to-be were separated from their wives in a waiting room, pacing and waiting to hear the news arrive secondhand from a staff member, although my proud paternal parent would not have offered to the others thereabouts cigars of celebration, nor drinks of any kind, not even cokes or coffee*). So he waited.

My mother thought the doctor and nurse acted a little awkward or uncomfortable, seeming to avoid her eyes, as the birth progressed, but she delivered successfully, at 4:04 PM on Friday, November 13, only to have the staff hurry the baby off instead of laying it/me on her bosom, once the stern slap, to encourage infant lungs to breathe, had been administered. It was my father, who seeking the baby-viewing area once he had been permitted to visit my mom and see she was doing all right, eventually learned that his newborn son was receiving the Fifties version of intensive care. The little tyke was born blue.

Yes, in my extra time in the womb, or earlier, I had gotten bored and tied my umbilical cord around my head and neck. The blueness of my crowning bald infant pate had startled and concerned the doctor and changed the atmosphere in the delivery room. I hadnʼt responded well to the lung-starting slap once I was out and freed of the umbilicus, either. So they rushed tiny me away to an incubator.

It sounds so dire to say it was “fetal distress from nuchal cord,” but although I recovered well (some would insist there has been brain damage, but I think they werenʼt serious), those first hours were evidently touch-and-go. But the good doctor and his staff did his/their job well. I survived getting born.

I didnʼt have to remain under treatment long, but my sister says that if Onofrio hadnʼt been an Adventist, religiously unable to deliver a Saturday baby, I would have been born in worse shape than merely a bit blue in the face, probably not actually born at all, just another in my motherʼs string of disappointed pregnancies. Waiting another day or weekend would have been simply too long.

I may have arrived not on Halloween but instead a fortnight late on Friday the Thirteenth (appropriately, my students always felt), but at least I did arrive and went home with my folks early in the next week. Margaret has often said that if I choose to write an autobiography, perhaps I should entitle it One Foot in Heaven for (if you think about it a little) a lot of reasons, ironic and otherwise (it has been done before, though).

* I have often joked my father should have been a Mormon.

So thatʼs my story, which perhaps twenty years of Andrew speech students heard in even grittier and more glorious detail (all invented on the spot and all, I hope purged for this rendition). The problem is that I believe Ms. Morissette wants the tale reduced to a Facebook post, and I donʼt really think I can do that. Do you? (No, wait, I found the link to e-mail her the whole 1900 words of the story. Here goes…)

Now, depending upon requests, I also have The Tale of the Time I First Drove… (and I could even scan the photos Janet and I took of the location a few years back).

©2011 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A

Last Yearʼs Job, 2

Yesterday, I introduced you all to some details of my engagement with Census 2010, getting as far as my own training efforts with a crew of enumerators in Maquoketa…

If you look closely, you will see that mine is among the counties “most likely to return.” We still had plenty to do, tramping door to door in person.

Meanwhile, one of the people from my own crew leader training, a woman who insisted on asking questions about everything and thereby slowing down our training, was failing as a trainer/teacher over in nearby Preston. Eventually, on Thursday night, after her third day of training others, during which time she had only gotten through the first dayʼs material, she either volunteered to resign or was fired/reassigned. I got a call at about nine at night to inquire if for bonus pay (as I was about to go way over forty hours in one week) I would take over her class and finish two-and-a-half days training in one. My boss was going to edit the materials for me, so all I have to do really was read; I was hoping to be designated the perpetual trainer anyway; and these people in Preston were supposed to be the crew that I would get assigned if I stayed as a crew leader anyway (a situation nafu altogether, as the training materials were clearly written that the trainer would turn out to be the boss for the crew s/he was training), so I agreed. That day was easier than Iʼd even expected because the meeting room in Preston was considerably nicer than the dilapidated environment of the classroom I had to squeeze my group into every day at the Maquoketa community center. And the crew was delighted to have the former trainer gone and anyone in her place, so they loved me.

Unfortunately for my plans about being a permanent trainer, my boss was now down one crew leader, and when, during that day in Preston, the call came from Cedar Rapids asking about my availability to train a new group of random numerators in Davenport the next week, I hesitated accepting and finally decided I would stick with being a crew leader to help out my boss who had been pretty good to me (a good choice in the end as one of those random new trainees was the woman I replaced briefly in Preston). She was delighted, and I ended up being assigned not these new people I had just met in Preston on Friday but the original crew I had trained in Maquoketa (no comment on their intelligence, but they seemed delighted, too).

If everyone had just filled out the original form, the government would not have had to spend its precious tax-derived resources on me and my crews…

The job didnʼt turn out to be too hard except for BS work imposed from above (without warning — for instance, Wednesday or Thursday of the next week, once our enumeration process had actually begun, all of us crew leaders were suddenly instructed that by the end of the day, actually 2:30 in the afternoon, we had to assign all of the work that we had for our crew — supposedly about six weeks worth of home visits — immediately, without regard to the things we were supposed to care about, such as keeping enumerators as much as possible close to their homes*; I had a similar task just to get started in the next operation, only we were to ensure that our assignments that time made sense — requiring a twenty-hour day of nonstop work, with the first training session starting the next morning**). As the enumerators finished work, I was supposed to go over their census forms and pay sheets very carefully before submitting them that same day to my boss, who in her turn passed them on up to Cedar Rapids. This process didnʼt seem so bad until I was receiving several hundred forms each day, and it was nearly a week before my boss informed me that it would be all right not to pass everything on in the same day, just the pay sheets, thus giving me the chance to actually study the forms. The hardest aspect for me was keeping my work under forty hours a week, especially when the Bureau decided we crew leaders were to take work seven days a week.

Anyway, the job evolved into a routine, more or less, and wrapped up early in June. I got the chance to work a few days longer when Cedar Rapids wanted me to doublecheck one of my enumeratorʼs work, in person through revisiting the homes and contacts he had listed. So for about three days I got to experience for myself just what enumerators job was actually like (leave it to the government to train someone as a boss who had never done the job of the people he was bossing) and to receive the mileage pay for the distance I had to drive to get to the vacation community where my worker had found so many uninhabited residences (logical when you realize it was a vacation community on a lake, and so most of those trailers and cabins were not actually homes).

Later, I got offered the chance to work the next operation as well, getting trained after a week off in late June, this time at regional headquarters in Cedar Rapids, and doing pretty much the same job I had done before with a different (larger) group of people over a larger area, rechecking submitted work that somehow the big boys up the ladder of command didnʼt like (which mostly meant my workers got to annoy for the third or fourth time people who didnʼt want to talk to the Census in the first place). That lasted about a week and a half, keeping me busier than in the first operation day by day through completion, and I resigned officially toward the end of July.

Not much detail there, but I kind of enjoyed running over in my own head what I remember of those experiences.

* I felt so glad the the wad of nonsense I submitted (and had to keep revising for weeks to actually give out the work where it really belong) not only kpet some bureaucrat way up the chain of command looking good but shamefully kept my own nose so polished and brown.

** There was no reason for doing it all before I had even met my crew, but once again someone I would never meet could say in his/her area all the work was assigned and in the hands of enumerators by such-and-such a date, regardless of how much rewriting we peons would have to do to actually get the work done. The government as a whole does operate a whole lot like the armed services…

©2011 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A

Getting a Job

I was writing my brother Stephen this morning (that would mean yesterday/Tuesday), and I realized in telling him about a few things that Iʼve never really discussed my adventures not quite a year ago with Census 2010. Of course, having taken the sacred federal oath “to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States” and Title 13ʼs utter Census secrecy about all gathered information for 72 years, I canʼt talk about any of the actual work of enumeration. But I can talk some about how I got my job.

Last March, Janet was getting concerned about my lack of extra income during retirement, above and beyond my monthly IPERS stipend (me in those days not receiving all that many substitute jobs from Andrew, maybe merely a couple each month), and I was just about getting guilted enough to head over to the Maquoketa Community Schools and volunteer to start subbing for them (something I still have not yet done, but probably need to). About that same time, Janet noticed in the local paper an article about qualifying for Census 2010 work. All I needed to do was call a phone number and make preliminary arrangements to show up for a scheduled test in a few days. Doing something completely different and making some money both sounded interesting (although Iʼm not sure if “interesting” really fits with making some money), so I made the call. The bureaucrat who answered was completely surprised that someone was volunteering to take the test this late in the process and really really curious how I knew about the test (he evidently had nothing to do with the article in our local paper). Now, after my experiences with the Census, I am assuming he was one of my over-bosses in the Regional Office in Cedar Rapids, although which one I really couldnʼt tell you. He did get my name on the list, and early on the Wednesday morning following I walked over to the local community college building newly built beside the high school. If nothing else I would get the chance to check out this new building.

To prepare for the test, potential Census workers could go online and attempt a practice version. I had done so and missed four or maybe five questions, which didnʼt seem very good to me (it wasnʼt). On two of those wrong answers I would have been correct if I had taken the test somewhat slower, but I had freaked out at the timing aspect (itʼd been a couple of lifetimes since Iʼd last taken a timed test, regardless how many times I had supervised the tedious and lengthy ITEDs). For the real test I tried to be more relaxed, and in the end I only missed two, which still didnʼt seem very good to me (I had found out on Facebook that a former student had gotten a job with the Census having earned 100% on his test). However, when my test supervisor was processing the exams later in the day (I was amazed, and you may be too, at just how primitively pre-digital — paper-driven — the Census Bureau still operated this last time), she noted that I had in my personal profile listed “leadership qualities.” She called to ask me what those were, merely teaching experience and directing plays, but that more than my, to me, mediocre score got me a job as a crew leader, and I was to go to training which began in about ten days in Eldridge, just north of Davenport.

We all received bags exactly like this, to contain our materials, and a badge identifying us as Census 2010 workers.

A brief series of phone calls got me confirmed for training, although governmental ineptitude appeared, as I should have predicted, when my name was not on the list of permitted trainees as I arrived, passport in hand, to get taught about my newly acquired job. However, a few more calls from the training site sort of clarified my status, and I was permitted to stay and learn. About thirty of us were at this site, under the tutelage of two people, a young woman and a man about my age, who it would turn out would be the supervisors/bosses for us (half with the woman and half with the man).

Training wasnʼt exactly what I imagined, being mostly these two immediate superiors reading verbatim training materials to us. And most of the lessons covered the training for the people I was supposed to supervise, enumerators. The days were long and pretty boring, and I discovered at the end that I hadnʼt paid enough attention to the right stuff when we took a concluding test (but I did just fine on that anyway). On the first day I got fingerprinted for the first time in my life (and I would get my opportunity to fingerprint others when I trained my crew later) so I could pass an FBI scrutiny for some level of minimal clearance, I guess. The training lasted four days, as apparently most Census trainings of various kinds do.

My most vivid recollections now are of the gloomy cellar-like, concrete-block community center/bowling alley (we didnʼt get into the bowling part, only the large meeting room in the community center half) where we first met. The Census does not pay for facilities, so all meeting rooms and training centers have to be arranged as freebies, which was a problem for our training, since no one place was available for consecutive days. We ended up in the Fellowship Hall and also the tiny Sunday School classroom at a church down the way from the community center for our final two days. We were released on our own for lunch for an hour at about noon each day, and as I brought my own sack lunch, and the warmth of spring was just bringing new growth and comfortable days, I remember wandering around parking lots and later around residential neighborhoods beyond that church, studying shoots of leaves and little crocus and other plants just starting to sprout and spread. (Those memories feel like heaven now in the midst of January.)

And that got me to a thousand words (and a bit more), so I had better quit for now…

©2011 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A

Arriving

Singer-songwriter and new mother Alanis Morissette, on her website, is asking her fans this month to tell her the story of oneʼs birth. As a (not-at-all-youthful) fan, thatʼs an interesting challenge. I believe I mentioned sometime last year that I used to either bore or inspire (probably bore) the students in speech class with my expansive (and apparently unending) personal saga of my own birth. So if you are a veteran of AHS public speaking coursework, particularly early in the semester, when students were being prepared to deliver personal anecdotes (usually just into September, but barely, sometimes as early as the final week of August), you can skip this one.

My family is Iowan, for several generations back. My fatherʼs clan farmed (that would be my paternal grandfather and then my Uncle Bill, my dadʼs brother, who did the farming) north in Bremer County. My mother was raised in Iowa City, where her father died during her youth in an underground explosion, an accident. My folks met at college, the University of Iowa (SUI in those days) in the years before my father volunteered for service (in the Pacific) in World War II. I believe he proposed by letter (maybe?) while in training. They wrote to each other the whole time he was overseas, and they married upon his return to the States. He became a science teacher (at a miserly couple thousand dollars a year), and in 1947 they had a daughter, my sister Margaret Susan (and I have always wondered if they really thought they would call her Peggy Sue, a nickname she despises). They wanted more children, but somehow (miscarriages being the most traumatic) things never worked out for a long, long time (Margaret is six years older than me). Finally, they decided to adopt and endured the whole, long, torturous procedure until the end was in sight — they had a little boy possibly to be assigned to become theirs.

Then my mother realized one day that she was pregnant again. That delicate condition put them (and probably little Peggy Sue) in a quandary. What if this baby came to term? What should they do about their potential adoption? Apparently there was a long process of decision, particularly because of my motherʼs history of uncompleted pregnancies, that ended early in the summer of 1953 with my folks determining to let go of the adoption and see what happened with this fetus.

That summer my dad returned to Iowa for some summer schooling, and a little adventure occurred. He always liked to tinker with automobiles (and considering his paltry salary as a public school teacher, had to do so), and one afternoon he was outdoors underneath the family car, working on the engine. Storm clouds had been building in from the west during that afternoon, and as the day grew dark with threatening weather, my mother noticed a flash a lightning followed fast with a roll of dramatic thunder. She hastened to the front door, throwing open the screen to stand on the porch and call my dad to get himself safely indoors. Suddenly, as he told my sister sometime later (and who eventually repeated this family legend to me), my father saw a flash of crackling light descend or burst brilliantly on my mom, standing beside the iron railing on their little stoop, accompanied with an instantaneous crash of sound. He leaped from under the car, stunned first, then running, certain he had just witnessed his wife and unborn child struck by lightning.

His science-teacher knowledge of meteorological physics made him shudder. However, as he raced across the yard, the air buzzing with ozone, he could see she was standing there, coughing, a little uncertain, possibly dazed, but unharmed — their best guess later being that the immense electrical charge had grounded itself through the porch railing that my mother had been an instant from grasping. Barely, but definitely, we had escaped, although as I have told generations of students, perhaps the lightning left its mark by singeing away the future growth of hair on my now long-bald head.

At the end of the summer session, my family moved to California, my father having taken a job in the Barstow school district, where, as the birth of this hoped-for baby had been predicted for the end of October, my folks quickly sought out a maternity physician and facility. The result was only somewhat local, Onofrioʼs Maternity (and Old Folks) Home in Victorville, about a dozen miles from home, but Dr. Onofrio became my motherʼs obstetrician. (I suppose he enjoyed covering both ends of lifeʼs spectrum, babies and the elderly.)

I believe the rest of her pregnancy into the fall went all right, much to the familyʼs gratification — perhaps this one would come to term. At least I donʼt know any family lore about further incidents demonstrating Natureʼs abhorrence of my arrival. However, as October waxed, and the doctor had stipulated this particular child should arrive appropriately on Halloween, my mother attempted to take it very easy. Unfortunately the end of the month arrived with no quiver from the unborn kid that it wanted out yet. In fact, a week of November transpired with no sign of impending birth pangs. Of course, sister Margaret had been something of a laggard about departing from the womb, too (as were my three younger brothers, each in his own turn, later on, as well), so neither of my parents was overly worried about my belated birth. The mother-to-be just kept to her minimal activity schedule and regular visits to Dr. Onofrio and his nurse.

Visiting with the doctor that next week, my mother and he determined that if I had not arrived by Thursday, November 12, he would induce labor Friday morning. The good doctor was a Seventh Day Adventist, taking literally the Biblical injunction to celebrate the seventh day as the Sabbath and keep it holy by resting from work. If this baby arrived on its own on Saturday, thereʼd be no doctor to deliver it. Both my father and mother were deeply devout people themselves and respectful of othersʼ differing beliefs, so she naturally agreed. I didnʼt arrive on Thursday, so early on the next morning my folks drove over to Victorville, where Dr. Onofrio injected the appropriate medications to induce contractions. Everyone assumed that in an hour, a baby would be arriving.

An hour later, nothing had occurred. No contractions, nothing. Another hour still left nothing happening. My father had to get to work at school, so with the doctorʼs permission, dismissing my mother, the two parents drove back to Barstow. My mom was left at home, and my father walked to school to begin his (I assume belated) day of teaching. The rest of the morning passed quietly, as did the afternoon, until about 2:30 or 3:00 PM (sometime late in the school day but well before classes concluded for the week), when my mother first felt a contraction. Although everyone had, once the induction of labor had apparently failed, hoped the fetus would lie quiescent until Monday, I evidently had other plans suddenly.

And there was my mother, at home alone, entering labor, with the doctor and the delivery room about fifteen or twenty minutes distant. In those days, apparently, school administrators didnʼt call teachers out of class, even for a birth. What was this mother-to-be going to do?

Enjoy the dramatic cliffhanger? (I never was a big fan of that technique myself, but here I am using it on my faithful readers. At 1300 words for today, however, I had better quit where we are, regardless of literary manipulation or your desire to learn the outcome.) Next Sunday, I will provide the thrilling conclusion. (Although the clever consumer of this blog should have figured out that all worked out well or I wouldnʼt be writing these words right now… Correct?).

©2011 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A

Winter Mourning (pun intentional)

From <http://www.leawo.com/blog/2009/12/60-more-beautiful-christmas-pictures-and-creative-christmas-designs/&gt; which has a “poor reputation,” so you should probably avoid the source.

I drove to Dubuque to visit Janet for lunch and do a little shopping beforehand (groceries, and with our nearby/local Aldi closing at home, I will in 2011 shop for foodstuffs afar more than we would like). The drive northward, starting about 9:30 in the morning, was magical.

We have endured fog in the night all week as temperatures, dewpoints and humidity generally increase ahead of a couple of rainstorms bearing down on us today and tomorrow — a sarcastically great end of the year, particularly with a huge risk of freezing rain the night of New Yearʼs Eve. The air so far, however, has remained in the teens overnight, so in the morning as the fog lifts, each of the tiny branches in all the trees, bushes, sheaves of wild grass poking through the foot of snow cover, sticks of weed — everything is coated in a glistening sheath of fragile snowlike ice (which the growing minor heat of the day will cause the trees in particular to shed all across the area around them, at home meaning our driveway, in a light but continuing localized shower of of snow crystals).

I had enjoyed similar views of gloriously frosted trees when we drove sister Diane up to Madison on Monday (and enjoyed some excellent Indian/Pakistani cuisine for lunch — at a buffet, in fact), but that day had been mostly overcast. Yesterday, until about noon, we had blue skies, of that chilly cobalt-azure fretted with hoary wisps of cloud that only winter skies display. The views of white-glazed trees against the sapphire welkin were beautiful. And I am afraid that I drove with only a third of my mind on the driving, mostly struck with wonder at the stark, chalked world around my almost floating vehicle.

I can feel why some cultures designate white as the color of mourning, as the experience did have a quietly mortal and sterile quality about it. Somehow crystalline winter mornings like that make me fall into reveries about portending medieval battles (and also foggy ones, in particular, on my way to work in wintertime). If I were an excessively Romantic escapist like Robert E. Howard, I might fantasize about previous lives burbling up in my consciousness, but I tend to imagine the setting as preceding some future conflict once this civilization has collapsed — a grim situation, but with the threatening thrill of that conflict ahead, also wickedly exhilarating. But mostly I didnʼt think, just looked and savored (and invented the contrast with Howard).

Unfortunately, I didnʼt stop to take some pictures (I should have). I just kept driving and never broke the mood.

This is my own scan, but I really should have taken pictures of the morning beauties from my drive.

The generous mix of Santana, Allman Brothers, Dylan, CSN&Y and Sly & The Family Stone (donʼt ask — recently added, all) just compounded the fine feeling of the fine morning. Even, once I arrived more or less, the drive around the back route to hit the western edge of Dubuque didnʼt go too badly (although the road was rough zooming downhill through Rockdale to the first turn onto Old Mill Road), and even the idiots (Dubuque drivers are all cerebrally challenged, according to The Lovely One) on Highway 20 and the NW Arterial werenʼt too bad (nor was that traffic particularly heavy).

I visited the western Hy-Vee for Tofu Scrambler (a nice mix of what we believe is curry and other spices that you add to crumbled tofu and then essentially fry, just with almost no fat in the pan; Janet thinks itʼs like spicy scrambled eggs and says we could have it for breakfast, although we have only ever consumed the creation for supper, which we will do again tonight).* I also stopped by the Starbucks counter for a latte, where they convinced me to go for a quad venti (although I order decaf with skim, I prefer my coffee to taste like coffee), and it did work (the regular venti latte tastes insipid, even less than milky — but with the exception of a few local entrepreneurs, all downtown from that Hy-Vee there in Dubuque, Starbucks is all we have better than diner java).

Then it was across the highway to Samʼs Club, first for gas (their prices are always about seven to ten cents cheaper than the rest, even when Maquoketa is running significantly cheaper than Dubuque — dang mega-chain stores), and then for some victuals and such inside (I may even have found my new pair of running shoes for less than $18; Iʼm going to try them out at the Y today). Mostly I just wandered around to kill time amusingly before heading downtown to pick up The Lovely One. I even did the blood pressure check (my doctor tells me to avoid those devices, but I figure if I use them all the time on my own, I get a pretty standard set of scores — and it killed some time amusingly).

I arrived outside her place of employment about eighteen minutes early, so I hauled out the big red notebook and wrote some more on story/part two of Søren and Judahʼs first adventures together, getting down about five hundred words of pillow talk between Søren and a certain red-haired lovely before it was time to stow stuff away and clear that passenger seat for my favorite passenger.

Lunch at Star was wonderful (the ham and potato soup was especially nice, probably due to the delicious presence of butter — durn you, Julia Child). Then I dropped her off at work again and headed back home (with a stop at Fareway for tofu). The homeward excursion was lots less lovely — the trees had lost their silvery, shivering sheaths of whiteness, and the dayʼd turned gray with the arising of the fog. Itʼs after 5:00 as I type now, and itʼs really gloomy outdoors (not just due to dusk — that moistureʼs filled the air thickly). I hope Janet makes it home soon, before the possibly freezing drizzle may begin.

Ha. With only one day remaining in my year of posts (yes, 2010 is nearly dead), I wasted today on this. Hoped your enjoyed reading! I actually spent time Wednesday and yesterday afternoon working on that poor-homeschooled-child-searching-out-evolution-info that I pondered (and pandered) upon yesterday, close to a thousand words (plus dictating well into chapter 5 of the first Sepharad adventure).

* If you happen to try searching that name (tofu scrambler), you can find that there are many recipes available to do it yourself (weʼre just lazy).

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A