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