Thief of Baghdad

There is a joke doing the rounds that you might have heard that goes like this: “If 2020 was a drink, what would it be? Colonoscopy prep”. Now imagine using that gallon (believe me, I know) to wash down a family size box of extra strength Exlax. Now you have an idea of the kind of year I’ve had.

It started a couple of months ago, when during my break I checked my phone to see who had called me. To my terror, it was a call from Human Resources. Now, let’s face it, it is never a good thing when Human Resources calls you. Like most people, my mind went into overdrive trying to find anything I’d said or done recently that might warrant a call. Thankfully, there wasn’t anything, although that didn’t make me feel any easier. I returned the call and was asked “Have you filed for unemployment recently?”

Wha!?!?!?!?!?!?!!? No, I hadn’t. I’d lost three hours a week, but that was it. I was informed that someone had filed an unemployment claim in my name, which meant that among other things, they had my Social Security number. Oh shiiiiiiiiiiit! Of course, as soon as I got home I went online and blocked everything to do with my SSN, visiting the state Unemployment Department site as well as the IRS and credit rating websites. To cut a long story short, no damage was done, but as you can imagine, it was pretty frightening, and to be honest, it really took the edge off what had promised to be a relaxing and enjoyable evening, it being my sweetheart’s birthday.

Crisis over, or so we thought. Not very long after this I took the opportunity to check my email while on break. You’d think I’d have learned my lesson, but not so. Sitting in my inbox was an email from my bank informing me that they had spotted a number of suspicious charges on my debit card and they had blocked them. Of course, I called them immediately and let them know that no, I hadn’t used my card with Uber in San Francisco that morning. They cancelled the card and said they would issue me a new one which I’d have in about a week. This meant that I had no way to get cash, so I resorted to borrowing some from my sweetheart just so I’d have something on hand.

Less than two weeks later ( can you guess where this is going?) I got a text regarding suspicious activity on my credit card. Seriously? I mean, seriously? What the fuck? Again, I called the bank who rattled off a series of blocked charges totaling over $8,000 to something called “Connections”. Again, they cancelled my card and issued another one. All this in the space of about six weeks, hence my opening statement.

The lockdown and the resultant increase in benefits claims has made it a lot easier for scammers to take advantage of company computer systems that are no doubt overloaded as claims are processed and passed back and forth to the appropriate agencies, banks, etc. I’m just glad the bank caught the fraudulent charges on my cards, although I’d have been happier if they had a more secure system that prevented such attacks in the first place.

As for my employer, they, at least, were on the ball, and I wasn’t the only person at work to be so affected. Of course, I had to update my information on the various sites I use and inform the recipients of my standing charges, which took a little time as one of them is in lockdown mode, but it was sorted out, so no permanent harm was done. Still, it takes a lot of time to change data on various sites, and I certainly won’t use my debit card online ever again.

I realise that the scammers don’t care, that they don’t see their victims as people, but merely as anonymous units to be exploited and discarded, but it really does nothing to improve my opinion of humanity, but as the current administration has shown, never let a good crisis go to waste.

My only hope now is that with new cards I won’t have to deal with this again for a while, although my sweetheart had five attacks in a couple of years, so I’m not holding my breath. Balance this with the fact that due to our impending nuptials, I’m going to be doing a lot of online shopping, so who the hell knows?

 

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Filed under Banking, Credit card fraud, Debit card fraud, employment, Human resources, Pandemic, Personal finances, shopping, unemployment, Unemployment fraud

Emotional Haircut.

I know, I know. Yet another bloody blogpost about the effects of Covid 19 and the lockdown. Well, guess what? It’s still going on, and nothing much else is, so what am I to do?

Viewing pictures of the Michigan anti lockdown protests, one of the feeblest placards I saw read “I need a haircut”. Well, so what? So do millions of people all around the world, but you don’t see them toting assault rifles and wearing tactical vests. To be honest, I was about three weeks overdue before the lockdown began. I had planned to get one on my way to work on a Friday, as that was my first closing shift for a while, and the 1:30 pm start would give me plenty of time to get shorn before my shift.

I think I should point out that while most men my age are going bald, grey or both, I’m not. I do have a few, and only a very few grey hairs, and they are visible only upon close inspection. However, they did play a fairly prominent part in my beard, and one of the reasons for going clean shaven at the end of 2018 was that it was, in my opinion, making me look old. Not to boast or anything, but I don’t look my age, which must be pure luck, as clean living and healthy thoughts haven’t played much of a role in my life thus far.

Of course, I was bummed not to be able to visit the barber shop, so I resorted to the old standby of increasing my use of hair gel. This will only do so much, as the surest sign that I need a haircut is that no matter how much gel I apply, my hair always falls over my eyes and my glasses. It’s irritating to have to brush my hair back constantly, especially as my job doesn’t permit me to touch anything other than product or deli equipment while working, so I am forced to resort to a quick swipe with my forearm, a most decidedly sub optimal option.

Two weeks in, and I was overwhelmed by the irritation caused by my hair. Much as I didn’t want to, I decided that rather than stick with my usual style, I would gel my hair and comb it straight back, making me look like a younger version of 1970’s snooker legend Ray Reardon, but sans such an obvious Widows’ Peak. For those of you who don’t know what a Widows’ Peak is, it’s between 35 and 40.

This worked reasonably well for a short while, although having hair against my ears didn’t do my mood much good, as my Aspergers makes me sensitive to the sort of minor irritants that Neurotypicals just ignore. I also looked a bit daft in that my hair, pushed back by the headband of my visor flopped over the top like a spider plant in a pot.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and so I decided to go straight for the nuclear option: I bought some elasticated headbands. Yes, that’s right. I walked into the hair care section of my local pharmacy and bought headbands. Plain black seemed the best option, and at $7 for a five pack struck me as  a reasonable deal, even if it did make my look like Real Madrids’  Gareth Bale, although considerably less ugly.  After a moderate amount of experimentation I found a workable angle at which to wear it, and it worked well, although my hair behind the band still seemed to want to go in every direction at once. At least I could tuck the band behind my ears, so it acted like a Croakie, keeping my glasses in place, as I can’t really adjust them behind my visor.

Problem solved, you may will think, but of course, there were unintended consequences. The arrival of somewhat warmer weather meant that the thick foam of my visor headband made my forehead sweat, and the hairband made my head itchy and sweaty. I also had to wash it every night while taking a shower lest it have Covid particles lodged in it.

I know most of this will come across as a whine, but I haven’t had hair this long in many, many years, and my main hope was to find a workable solution that would allow me to get my job done with the least possible distraction. Seeing as the nuclear option wasn’t working as well as I’d hoped, I dialed it up to 11. My Fiancee dug out a plastic headband as a joke, mainly because it had four rows of tiny Rhinestones set in it.

I pondered on it Thursday and decided that I’d start wearing it on Friday.  It was more noticeable than its’ elasticated counterpart, and was spotted immediately by my co workers, as you may imagine. Thankfully the responses from staff and customers alike has been entirely positive. I contemplated buying additional ones this weekend, but I didn’t see any I liked.  I do wonder how long I will need to wear one, as the county has now moved into phase two of the lockdown, with an easing of some restrictions, including the reopening of barber shops and hair salons. I might not have to place an order with Manbands.co.uk after all.

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Filed under Fashion, shopping

Ghost Town.

“This town becoming like a ghost town. All the shops have been closed down”. Never a truer word spoken. Admittedly The Specials were singing about the urban decay of late 1970’s Coventry, but they could well have been singing about just about every town in the world right now.

My town is no different from most, and the effects of the shutdown are very apparent. Being the second largest town in the county, as well as the most accessible, we have more than our share of retail outlets, including a mall. Usually, it’s a fairly busy place, not least because of the presence of a branch of a well known big box store. The Mall in particular has taken a very heavy hit, one which may well be fatal.

Over the past few years, the mall has been in a slow, steady decline. About five years ago, all the units were occupied, the anchor stores were doing well and parking, particularly around the holidays, could be a challenge. I know that some of this decline is the result of online shopping, but even so, since that time, the mall has declined substantially. I was in J.C. Penney a couple of winters ago to buy some gloves and it was a truly depressing experience: there were more staff than customers present, and there were precious few staff. It comes as no surprise to me that they’ve just filed for bankruptcy. Likewise the death of Kohl’s and Pier One will have shocked no one. I’m also concerned that a lot of Mom and Pop businesses will simply never reopen, with the loss of character and diversity that makes many small towns enjoyable places to live and shop.

I wouldn’t be surprised if quite a few fine dining establishments remain shuttered, as their fare is less suited to delivery than say, pizza, which is also a darn sight cheaper.

The malls’ death by inches has affected other stores as well. The road that runs around the edge of the mall used to have several well patronised stores, but the only ones left are the discount furniture store and the liquor store. No big surprise there.

Having said all this, the lockdown may well be a fatal blow to many businesses that were just about surviving. No one is buying anything other than food and essential household products, so even on a Saturday there is very little traffic through town. It makes me wonder just how many (how few?) stores will return once things return to what will count as normal. Are we, in fact, seeing the death spasms of bricks and mortar retail? Maybe. I will admit that apart from food, I do most of my shopping online. Books, video games, etc. are much more easily found via a screen than roaming a store. I do appreciate the convenience that online shopping provides and have to square the circle of knowing just how shittily warehouse pickers are treated. Not to mention any names, of course, lest I be sued by a certain third rate Bond villain lookalike.

I wonder, also, just what will happen to the civic life of towns after the pandemic is over. I remember reading Jane Jacobs’  “Death and Life of Great American Cities” and her belief that for a city to be vibrant it needed retail, entertainment, etc. to be spread out in order to encourage travel to different areas and maintain a level of social interaction. I realise that we drive to most places nowadays, but what of the coffee shops, etc. that depend on passing trade, the shoppers who stop off for a latte on their way to or from the store, the pizza parlours likewise? I realise malls act as hubs, rather than rims, but even so, the mall may be just one stop during the day, even though it allegedly offers all things to all people.

It really is creepy to drive past, or through empty parking lots on a Saturday. It’s almost like a scene from the first or second episode of a post apocalyptic mini series, but at least they have a limited run, while our current situation seems to be well on the way to a second season. I will admit that I’m thoroughly sick of the whole situation and just want to go back to normal. The situation isn’t helped by the fact that even now,  I see lots of people not wearing gloves or masks, WHICH ISN’T HELPING, PEOPLE! On occasion I have to go to my local Target as it’s convenient, more than anything else. I’ve seen whole families, no one taking precautions, wandering around the store, giving people in masks funny looks as if taking steps to avoid a deadly disease is weird.

I despair of people sometimes. Well, more than sometimes, if I’m being honest, and I don’t want to go off on a rant about political affiliation and belief in science, so I’ll leave it there. I just don’t see how the retail industry bounces back from this one, I really don’t. I don’t have any solutions, or snappy sign off, but I think that we are going to have to rethink how retail operates and I’m not confident that those stores that survive will necessarily be the ones that add colour and vibrancy to our lives.

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Filed under retail, shopping, Urbanism

The Green, Green Grass Of Home

I dislike gardening with a passion, I really, really do. When I was a kid, if I showed even a hint of boredom, my Dad would say “If you’ve got nothing better to do, you can come and help me in the garden”.  This would inevitably lead to several hours of torment and frustration, so naturally I would find something else to do at every opportunity, regardless of my interest, just to avoid spending my afternoon edging, pulling weeds or mowing.

This wasn’t so bad once I became a homeowner, but I never learned to truly love gardening. Thankfully, once I became a renter again, my only obligation was a daily watering of the lawn at one particular house.

New readers start here. My sweetheart’s home has no front garden and just a postage stamp of a back yard, most of which is taken up by a concrete patio. The edges were fringed with grass by the builder, so there was very little to manage, and all I needed was a string edger / trimmer to cut down the more unruly patches. You see, the garden is overlooked by several trees on the property behind us, leading to a very patchy distribution of sunlight. We didn’t really do much to help the situation by purchasing an offset umbrella, but it made the evenings much more pleasant. Add to this the typical winter of the PNW, and by the start of 2020 the lawn was in effect nothing more than an area of muddy dirt containing occasional patches of moss.

Obviously, we couldn’t leave the garden in such a condition, so after rejecting pea gravel and bark as options due to the fact that the dog does her business in the garden, we settled on artificial turf. This wasn’t ideal as far as I was concerned, but it made sense, offered the advantage of being maintenance free and at least would bring some green into the garden.

Our neighbour has artificial turf, and seeing as two of her three dogs are Dobermans, we agreed that it could handle our 20 pound mutt and her “output”. We asked her for the details of the company that installed her lawn and a few days later, two guys came out, took a look and gave us what was, actually, a pretty decent price estimate. We signed the deal and a few days later the owner and his employee arrived and laid the layer of gravel that would act as a base for the turf.

You know where this is going, don’t you? Yes, the lockdown put a kybosh on them finishing the job, so we endured, if that is the right word, a few weeks of staring at packed gravel while our dog did her best under the circumstances, pretty much confining her activities to the strip of dirt close to the rear fence containing our shrubs.

Recent changes meant that construction work was allowed to resume, so our contractor contacted us and asked if we’d like him to finish the job. Of course, we agreed eagerly, and about a week ago he undertook what I can only describe as an exercise in outdoor carpet fitting. I have admit that it looks pretty darn good. While not ideal, it at least does the job it’s supposed to do, and will last for many years. The recent rains mean that I still have to put the furniture and umbrella back in the garden, but I hope that this weekend will provide me with an opportunity.

It’s nice to know that there will be no maintenance issues for many years to come, and it will make it easier for my sweetheart when she undertakes what we euphemistically refer to as “minesweeping” duties.

I do have one question, though: does anyone want to buy a gently used string edger?

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Filed under Home maintenance, lifestyle, Pandemic, Pets

When Will We Be Married?

Well, I reckon I’ve given away the topic of this post right from the start, haven’t I? As you may be aware, my sweetheart and I met for the first time right at the end of 2018 and I moved in four months later to the day. I’ve never been happier in my life, and my sweetheart and I have, as yet, not had even a strong disagreement, let alone an actual argument. I had been pondering our future for some time, and had made up my mind to ask her to marry me, but had been waiting for the ideal opportunity. The thing is, since my divorce, now some eight years ago, I’d never considered the possibility that I would remarry. Certainly, there was no way my ex girlfriend and I would ever marry, even though we were together for five  years. Yet when it came to my sweetheart, there was no doubt in my mind that we would marry.

The perfect opportunity  presented itself on Christmas Eve of last year. I had a seven pm finish and we agreed that we’d have dinner at “our” restaurant, the one where we’d had our first date. I arrived second, after changing at work and we settled down in a booth. I tried to keep a lid on things and waited until my cocktail arrived before starting my spiel. At first, my sweetheart thought I was just making conversation as I mused on the previous (almost) year and how weird it seemed that we’d progressed so far in such a short time. In fact, she kept interjecting as I worked toward my punchline. She was very much taken aback when I asked her to marry me, and she accepted, through tears of joy.

Our waiter, on the other hand, was thoroughly nonplussed, and I assume he thought we were trying to wangle a free drink. As you can imagine, the rest of the evening went very well, as did the Christmas holiday in general.

The next step was to tell the kids, which I did once they were back from their usual trip to Whistler for the period between Christmas and the resumption of school. My daughter was stunned, and my son took the announcement with his usual equanimity. That done, we make the public announcement, in person to our close friends and via Facebook to the rest of the world, and congratulations ensued.

I won’t bore you with the details of the wedding planning. Suffice it to say my sweetheart found a dress the first time she went looking for one, we settled on a venue pretty quickly, the photographer was booked, the cake was chosen and the menu decided. In fact, we had a menu tasting just as the Covid 19 shutdown was gearing up, and I have to say that as free meals go, it was pretty darn good. A friend of mine was delighted to be my best man, and another of our friends agreed to be ordained so that he could perform the ceremony, although I think part of this might be due to the fact that being referred to as the Reverend Doctor Jones quite appealed to him.

You know where this story is going, don’t you? That’s right. But at least the handcart was provided free of charge. You see, we settled on a date in early July due to the constraints of holidays, my son going to college, family birthdays, etc. as well as allowing people time to plan their trip. As soon as the stay at home order came into effect, all our plans went out of the window and landed on the ground with a splat. Lest you think this is a misery moan, think again. Unlike many people, we had all our arrangements locked down within about two months, compared to the 12 to 18 month average, so it could have been a lot worse. I think the reason we got everything squared away so quickly is that it’s the second time around for both of us, and we just want to get married as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, we hit upon a plan B. We contacted the wedding planner and asked her in the event of restrictions being eased, could we go onto the grounds with a small group of friends for half an hour purely to have the ceremony. You see, it’s an outdoor venue on tribal land, and so is not beholden to state regulations. We also booked the corresponding date next year so we could have the reception/party portion of the wedding and use it as a reason to renew our vows in public. This part wasn’t an issue as the venue is not taking any new bookings until all the current clients have been accommodated. Our plan was to have a hit and run ceremony followed by dinner for the dozen or so local friends we thought would be able to make it.

Being the kind of people we are, we also had a plan C. Some friends of ours have a high water bank home with a large deck, so at a pinch we could have the ceremony there, followed by some sort of reception, probably featuring some of Costco’s finest products. The  long and the short of it is that we WILL be married on the date we set, presuming, of course, that we can get a marriage licence. This may be an issue, but we should be fine as long as we can get an appointment at the Court House to get the licence issued.

I must admit that it has all been a bit of a whirl, as you would expect. Had everything gone according to plan it would still have a bit of a nervy period until we had an exact guest count locked down. One question you may be wondering is how my co workers reacted to the news. Well, they didn’t, because I haven’t told them, and I  regard them as no  more than “People I met”, to quote Arnold J. Rimmer of “Red Dwarf”. When I put in my leave request so we could have a short honeymoon, I put “Attending out of town family wedding” on my request form. Technically this is correct, as it’s taking place two towns to the north, and involves both my and my sweetheart’s family: i.e. us.

My co workers aren’t exactly the most observant bunch, and so I ran a little experiment: for the whole of February I wore an old silver and lapis lazuli ring to work. The idea being to see if anyone would notice in order to give me some idea of how long I could keep the news of my marriage to myself. Of course, no one noticed, so I reckon it will take a slip up on my part for the news to leak out. I know all of this may sound a bit mean spirited, but I didn’t want to have to answer all the usual questions about the wedding arrangements or deal with hints about invitations. None of them are invited, as you’ve no doubt guessed, and it just makes life easier for me. In fact, I’m going to start a little competition. Our wedding is set for the first half of July. Anyone want to guess how long it will take someone at work to spot my ring?  I’m serious.  Just to give you another marker, I got new glasses about a year ago. So far, only one person has noticed, and it took her three weeks. I’ll work out some sort of prize for the person that gets the closest to the actual date. Any date before July 15, 2021 is valid, as I reckon that if no one has noticed by then, no one ever will.

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Filed under family, personal relationships, Weddings

Heart Of Glass

I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned it before, but over the past few years I’ve developed a strong interest in a particular style of glassware. It all started several years ago when I set up my cocktail cabinet (See “Hey Manhattan”). I bought six of each of the required glass styles and thought  myself pretty well set up. My then girlfriend then convinced me to ditch the standard stuff in favour of something a bit more impressive. You see, she was very much of the opinion that what you drink out of is as much a part of the experience as what you drink, and suggested I invest in something else.

As a result of some digging around on Etsy, I came across the work of Georges Briard. He was unknown to me at the time, but I could see that his work really stood out and so I bought three sets of his glasses, all in the same style. For those of you who don’t know, Briard was a a mid century modern (MCM) designer who produced glassware from the 1950’s until the 1970’s which was sold at such outlets as Neiman Marcus.

All was well and good, and I derived a great deal of satisfaction from using them. As cash has been rather tight over the past few years I haven’t added to my collection, but that all changed a few weeks ago.

Just before the whole world turned to shit, my sweetheart flew down to Palm Springs to visit her cousin. Being the incredibly generous soul that she is, she wanted to bring something back for me that was better than a tee shirt. I understand that Palm Springs has more than it’s fair share of antique stores, and while browsing she found what she assumed would be the perfect present for me. Without telling me too much, she asked about “The guy whose glasses you like”, so I could tell where her mind was going, so I told her and left it at that.

She later sent me a picture of a set of glasses and asked me what I thought. Take a look for yourself.

 

As she was on a tight schedule I answered her immediately and she snapped them up. Only later did I learn the full story. In addition to buying me eight of these glasses, she also bought me six of these:

5

Just so you know, this is a Double Old Fashioned, so it holds twice as much as a regular glass. Naturally, I was blown away by them, as I just love Briard’s use of gold in his work. Bringing them back on the plane was a bit of a hassle for my sweetheart, especially as the bag broke just as she got to the airport. Such was her plight that upon disembarking, she went straight to the Coach shop to see if she could buy a bag from them. As small acts of kindness go, giving someone a bag isn’t a big deal, but I do appreciate them for just giving my sweetheart a very sturdy paper shopping bag in which to put all the glasses.

You can imagine my delight when she got home, not just because I hadn’t seen her for five days, but the fact that I now had more glasses than I knew what to do with, resulting in me reorganising my sideboard to make room.

But wait, there’s more. We’d been looking on Etsy and she’d seen a set of glasses that she thought might appeal to me, and she was right. The problem was that the shipping was more than the glasses, so I passed up the opportunity but still left them in my cart, as did she, just in case. Guess what?  Last week she asked if I was still interested in the glasses, largely due to the fact that they’d caught her eye as well. I said yes, and so she ordered them. I asked her how much I owed her, but she just waved it away, saying that she’d pay as it was her idea. She’s a wine drinker and has no use for Lowballs, Highballs, Collins’s or Old Fashioneds, so it was doubly heartening that she would do this for me. As a result, I now have another six Double Old Fashioned glasses in my collection.

 

Yeah. I know. I understand now how people end up dying surrounded by thousands of commemorative Victorian teaspoons, match books or toy robots, but least I can use the glasses. You see, I don’t regard myself as a collector, but as a appreciator, if there is such a thing. I don’t buy them just to have them and look at them, but to use them for their stated purpose. I really don’t see the point of having something and not being able to use it. And I have to admit that my former girlfriend was correct. What you drink out of DOES matter as much as what you drink.

In a way, I’m glad I don’t have the money to indulge my love for Briard’s work, as I would need an aircraft hanger to store them all, and maybe that’s for the best, mind  you, I have a pretty good idea where my stimulus check money will be going…

 

 

 

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Filed under Art, Personal finances, personal relationships

The Stand

Editorial note.

Apparently not blogging for six months is a good thing, and not just for those poor souls on whom I inflict my ramblings. I posted three days ago and already have acquired four new readers, to whom I say: “Welcome. Feel free to delve into my extensive back catalogue of posts. Or not, it’s up to you.

I hadn’t intended to write this particular post quite so soon, but events are moving apace, and I thought I’d get it out of the way sooner rather than later. Yes, like every other blogger on the planet, I’m talking about the Covid 19 pandemic. When the first reports came out of China, I was concerned due to the fact that most respiratory infections, Influenza being the most common, come out of China. It’s just the way it is. Flu likes to circulate between fowl, swine and people, and let’s face it, China is full of all three.

What I wasn’t expecting was that Covid would spread so far so rapidly. Everyone was concerned about SARS, but it sort of fizzled out and became a footnote in the memory of most people. As is usual, the first reports were inaccurate, contradictory and low in information, but that’s  how it is with all such outbreaks. However, it wasn’t too long before someone in the area tested positive. This didn’t concern me overly, but it did set my spidey senses tingling, if you get my drift.

I’m pretty well educated, but even so, there is so much bad and just plain wrong information that I was heartened to see one of my favourite podcasts address the issue in a timely manner. I’m talking about the wonderful “MonsterTalk” podcast. https://www.monstertalk.org/210-going-viral-the-covid19-monster/

I’d give it a listen, if I were you, and also to “This Week In Virology” http://www.microbe.tv/twiv/

Dr. Daniel Griffin really knows what he’s talking about, and the hosts, Blake Smith ( his dreadful  puns aside) and Karren Stollznow do a fantastic job of discussing a complex issue.

I won’t rehash what you already know, but I wasn’t in the least surprised when the Bloviator in Chief, the Umpa Lumpa of  the United States spouted off his usual stream of ignorance saying that this new infection wasn’t a big deal and it would all go away in April. Nor was I surprised that he then spent two days on the golf course after his initial briefings. Presumably because he can’t play a musical instrument. Such is the way with all dictators: First of all, ignore the problem, then minimise it, then blame others for spreading “Panic”, by which I mean truth, then blame someone else for the problem, and finally claim you knew about it before anyone else and you’ve been doing a terrific job. So far, so typical. In fact, I half expected Der Trumpfer to claim that he’d never heard of Covid, he might have met him a couple of times, but doesn’t really know him.

And now, finally, I get to my point. You see, I work in the Deli department of a large local supermarket and have contact with hundreds of people on a daily basis, both staff and customers. Unlike my sweetheart and millions of office based workers, I don’t have the luxury of working from home, nor can I do my job in my bathrobe and slippers. Well, I could, but not more than once.

Thankfully, management took the situation seriously from the start. The store managers began holding daily conference calls and the company created a text service to provide employees with updates. Of course, at first there was a bit of miscommunication and confusion, but this was sorted out pretty quickly and new routines where established: We stopped giving out samples to customers, sprayed the counter tops with disinfectant frequently and even reorganised our salad and olive bars. Customers had to get a container from a staff member as well as gloves as we were concerned about potential contamination if people handled multiple containers.

Yesterday, someone dialed it up to 11. We closed the self service bars and replaced them with pre-packaged salads and antipasto. Staff were reassigned to other departments as the company promised not to cut our hours, and then the Governor made an announcement calling people to stay home for a minimum of 14 days. Not that it makes any difference to me, as I have to go to work, but hopefully this will make people realise how serious the situation is. It would be nice, however, if the company were to give  us hazard pay. I have to say that running through my head all day is the worry that the next customer I serve may be infected, but asymptomatic.

As you can imagine, we are all stressed out and it would be easy to fall into the habit of hitting the booze or the comfort food at every opportunity, but I’m trying to keep a lid on it. With care, and a great deal of cleaning, we will avoid any infections, but all it takes is one person to contract the virus and the entire staff will be in jeopardy.

The other weird thing is our change in social status: working in food retail means we are now regarded as “Essential personnel”, something I never thought I’d hear, and it has at least made some people think about the nature of our job. In fact, over the past few days several customers have thanked us for being at work. Most of our customers are pretty decent people, but it’s still nice to be recognised as doing a job which involves risks most people can avoid simply by staying at home.

I can’t really speak for the rest of the store, but the checkers now have plexiglass shields between them and the customers. Pretty sensible when you consider everyone has to go through the checkout. We’re pretty well stocked, but certain areas are stripped bare- toilet paper, of course, as well as cleaning supplies, but also soup and bread as people seek comfort, and I can’t really blame them.

My hope is that all our precautionary measures at work will pay off and that people will do the sensible thing and not leave the house unless they really have to.  I hope also that all of you are well and taking all precautions to avoid getting sick. I wouldn’t inflict Covid 19 on anyone, and I really hope we can weather the storm. I’ll finish now, as I have to check how many kidneys I  have to sell in order to buy a pack of toilet paper.

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Black Dog.

Not that anyone has noticed, but I’ve been quiet for a few months. Partly this was due to tiredness, but mainly due to the fact that I find the winter a particularly difficult time of year. I suffer from depression, although to be honest, I only have it, it’s the people around me who suffer from it. I’ve been medicated for several years, and it works well, but the winters in the PNW are not easy at the best of times. The cold and damp are bad enough, but the unrelenting greyness is what really gets to people.

A couple of years ago my doctor gave me another anti depressant to try, and while it worked, the side effects made it not worth my while to continue, so I decided not to continue taking it. My improved personal life helped, as did my therapist ( see earlier posts), so it wasn’t too bad, but last winter was just a bridge too far.

As you can imagine, we were slammed at work from before Thanksgiving through the end of the year, with only the few days after Thanksgiving providing any relief as people lived on leftovers. However, very shortly things ramped up again, until the nightmare that was December 23rd and 24th. We have four slicers in the department, yet for two those two days we had six, yes, six people working the Meat and Cheese counter. the only time the machines weren’t running was the brief interlude between orders. All six of us worked flat out to fill orders, yet we still had a line of customers to serve. At one point a slicer overheated and had to be taken out of service, which only made things worse.

Was there any acknowledgement of our efforts? Did anyone from Management come out and tell us how much they appreciated our herculean efforts? Were we provided with even so much as  a free coffee as reward for our work? Were we fuck! Let me tell you what we did get: We got a shitload of grief over one incident. A staff member, actually the manager of another section didn’t hear us call her number. As soon as we were made aware of this, we served her, as we would if someone else had missed their turn. Not satisfied with this, she complained, saying that one of us had spoken rudely to her, and she then went around time dissing us to all and sundry. Yeah, really! Apparently she had no responsibility to pay attention to her number being called. The offending staff member was supposed to apologise to her, but I don’t know if it ever  happened, but the damage was done.

Of course, Management never  have to take their place on the front line, don’t see how much we do, nor how short tempered some customers can be, during what is, admittedly, a very high stress time of the year. This did nothing to improve my mood and I went into the Christmas period feeling somewhat below par. What also didn’t help is that neither of my kids bothered to buy a Christmas present for my girlfriend. My son claimed that his gift was on back order and my daughter claimed that her piece of art wasn’t finished. As you can imagine I was both embarrassed and angry, and my girlfriend was understandably upset. Not a good end to the year under any circumstances.

Then there is the always reliable financial situation. I have pared my expenses to the bone, made changes to save on expenses and still I am no further ahead at the end of the month. I don’t expect to be  hip deep in cash, but it would be nice to have even slightly more cash at the end of the month than at the start. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not in debt, nor am I broke, but it would make me feel a lot happier if I had a bit of leeway.

As January wore on I found myself less and less inclined to blog to the very few of you who read, and a sort of inertia took over. as you are no doubt aware, once you stop doing something it’s harder to start up again, and the longer you stop, the harder it becomes. However, I’ve decided that enough time has passed and enough noteworthy events have happened that I’m going to fire up the old blog engine and give it a good run for its’ money.

Yeah, that was the reaction I was expecting, but I’m going ahead anyway. I have a lot of ground to cover, so be aware that there may well be more posts in the next few weeks than you’d like.

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Empire State Human

Imagine for a minute that you are a film maker. You have five seconds of stock footage in order to set the scene. If the action takes place in Paris, you are likely to choose a shot of the Eiffel Tower, if London, then probably the Houses of Parliament. If New York, then what? Until 2011, you would probably have chosen the twin towers of the World Trade Center, but before that, and probably even today, you might well choose the Empire State Building.

As we only had one day in the city, this was very much on our itinerary. After lunch and the Staten Island Ferry ( see An Englishman in New York), we hopped in a cab and headed north to the tower. I will admit that for me, this was the highlight of the day, it’s such an iconic building and probably the first thing anyone would ask about. It did take some time to find the right entrance as it’s still a working building and one can’t simply have tourists wandering aimlessly around the ground floor looking for an elevator to the 84th floor. I’m sure the door staff are heartily sick of being asked the same question every twenty seconds of every day, but I suppose if you apply for that job, you pretty much know what you are letting yourself in for.

The lobby is beautifully maintained and all the staff are impeccably dressed in uniforms which I’m sure are very similar to the original style, which I thought was a very nice touch. We were directed up a short flight of stairs to the airport style security station that is sadly now such a common feature of important public places. We arrived in the early afternoon as a quick web search had suggested this as good time to avoid the crowds, and our decision paid off. The area was pretty quiet, and it was nice to learn that we wouldn’t need to pay an extra $40 to avoid any potential lines. There is a long and confusing walk to the elevators, as the direction is rather poorly signposted, but I realised that this was due to the fact that most times of day there is a long wait involved.

To this end, the walls are covered with pictures, screens and signs telling the history of the tower’s construction in a very coherent and entertaining manner, much like the lines at Disneyland offer distractions to help keep kids and parents alike amused as they wait for their four minute ride. Of course, there is a very heavy emphasis on King Kong, with lots of original movie posters on display, and an equally heavy presence in the gift shop.  The first elevator took us most of the way to the top, where we spent several minutes looking out of the windows at the view. Reflections from the glass made taking pictures problematic, but it gave us a good idea of what to expect. A short wait in line took us to the next elevator bank, which looked like they had been maintained in their original condition. Of course, these were much smaller than many modern elevator cabins, so it made for a cozy trip. I will say, however, that the uniformed staff who operated the elevators did a fantastic job keeping  the line moving and making sure no one had to wait very long.

Finally, the top! The lobby at the top of the building looks new, with lots of signs pointing towards famous landmarks and tall windows providing an unobstructed view. Of course, we made our way straight outside, as there’s no point in coming all that way just to stare out of a window. As you would expect, the balcony was more than a little crowded, but not unbearably so, so we had no trouble finding a spot at the parapet from which to view the city. It really is a most impressive sight, to see such a huge city laid out like an architect’s model. We took our time making our way around, taking plenty of pictures. One of the sights I had most wanted to see was the Flatiron Building. I don’t know why this particular building fascinates me so much, but it does. We had talked about walking over to see it, but the time involved would have made it impractical, so instead I settled for a view from above.

 

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Maybe it’s the shape, maybe it’s because it is a great use of space, but I just love it. I took plenty of other pictures, but I won’t add them here, but suffice it to say that the Chrysler Building looks even more impressive when seen from above. Central Park is another obvious tourist site, but seeing as it’s a day in itself, I had to be content with this view

 

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Not great, but better than nothing, and it does give an idea of what a vast space it is in such a crowded city. We overheard one of the guides giving his group an explanation of the history of the various bridges and buildings, and I wish we could have heard more, but it was not to be. I did, however, have one stereotype reinforced, as it turned out that he had been an amateur boxer, crossing daily into New Jersey to train alongside several boxers who went on to find fame in the ring. I won’t use the term “Guido”, but this guy very much fitted the stereotypical image that his  mannerisms and speech suggested. After this great view of the city, we exited via the gift shop. I picked up tee shirts for myself and  the kids and made sure to buy a postcard to send to my Dad. My sweetheart, who grew up in the city bought herself two shirts! I was quite surprised, but seeing as we were in full tourist mode, it made sense, I mean, when will we be back in the building?

I should point out that the ESB is still a working structure, and for many people, entering the building is no more special than going into a standard neo-brutalist office block, so I have great sympathy for those who have to dodge hordes of gawping tourists just to get to their cubicle. I also learned that my sweetheart’s Mother once worked in the building, originally on the 34th floor and then on the 16th when she was an accountant, which gave the trip a more personal touch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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An Englishman In New York

Editorial note: This will be the first in a number of posts over the next few weeks. I have a lot of ground to cover regarding my recent exploits and the best way to do this is to get it out there before it becomes ancient history.

I’ve just come back from only my third trip east of the Mississippi in 27 years. The main purpose of this little jaunt was to meet my sweetheart’s family in New Jersey, with the added benefit of some sightseeing and meeting some of her friends. As our time was short, we  only had one day in which we could see some of the local sites, so we made our way to  the nearest train station and headed into New York.

We had sketched out an itinerary, but as is usually the case, this was rather fluid and subject to change depending on circumstances, so we weren’t tied to the sort of rigid route march like agenda so common when time is short.  Our original intention had been to take the train to Penn Station and make our way from there, but due to repairs further up the line, we had to change at Hoboken and then take the PATH train into the city. Despite what you might imagine, there is no 200 foot high statue of the city’s most famous son, nor is the station named after him, but I did get  a very good view of the south end of Manhattan, and in particular, the World Trade Center while walking along the platform, so it wasn’t a bad start to the day.

Our change of lines meant that our arrival point was the station  under the World Trake Center aka The Occulus, a vast, shining, white labyrinth of very high  end shops under a vast, curved glass ceiling. It has a very futuristic feel about it, and was the antithesis of the stereotypical New York Subway station seen so many times in an endless stream of gritty, realistic movies from the ’60’s and ’70’s.

This meant that we were much  closer to our first stop of the day, an historic pub on Water Street called “The Dead Rabbit” where we met my sweetheart’s niece and her boyfriend. We enjoyed a very nice meal ( See ‘Food, Glorious Food’) and chat before they walked us down to the Staten Island Ferry.

Suitably fortified, this, at  least for me, marked the start of our sightseeing trip. I’m not sure what I expected, but I found a mix of the familiar and new in the terminal. Of course, it was much bigger than the ferry terminals I’m used to in my part of the world, but there was  still the expected mix of locals and tourists, although with more food outlets and people touting trips and cold drinks. Still, the ferry is free, so the constant assault of offers for tours and the like was as small price to pay. The ferry, although not much smaller than the Seattle boats, was foot traffic only, for obvious reasons, so we found a spot on the uppermost deck and tried not to block traffic.

I will admit that one of the things that irritates me the most about the local boats is the hordes of tourists swarming topside to gawp and take selfies. I just don’t see the attraction of taking a picture of a partial view, but I suppose social media is all about the self, so go figure. On the way to Staten Island the most prominent sight is that of  Lady Liberty, and I suppose there are now hundreds of people showing their phones to friends and saying  “Here’s a picture of me blocking the view of the Statue of Liberty”. Not so I. Of course, I took pictures, but I made darn sure I’m nowhere in frame. It’s a very enjoyable ride, I have to say, and by far the best and cheapest way to see such a famous landmark. The journey back is a little more prosaic, although there is a very good view of Governor’s Island and the Brooklyn Bridge, so all in all, a very enjoyable way to spend an hour and a half, although the Starbucks in the Staten Island terminal has by far the worst espresso in the world.

Due to the extreme heat and humidity, both in the high ’80’s we took a cab along FDR Drive, rather than the Subway to the Empire State Building,  the next stop on our trip. I’ll save the details  for “Empire State Human”, but it was without doubt the highlight of the whole trip, and well worth the price, although I could have done without the stress of being in New York traffic.

After exiting via the gift shop – what else did you expect? – we retired to an Irish pub – again, what else did you expect?- to regain our strength before meeting one of my sweetheart’s friends for a light dinner. Imagine, however, our surprise to see chalk boards either side of one of the pub’s many T.V. screens decorated with Seahawks and Husky logos. Apparently, the pub, Feile, is home to quite a lot of U.W. alums! Who knew?

We had  intended to visit The Highline, the park built on part of the old elevated railway line, but time and temperature meant we decided to leave it until our next visit, but even so, our truncated schedule made for a very long day, and we were glad to be able to relax on the train home. At least this  time we were able to leave from Penn Station and avoid changing trains.

I realise that two pubs and two attractions don’t make for an especially exciting or enlightening post, but considering out time constraints, I don’t think it was a bad use of time. I’ve checked something off my bucket list, and had a fine time to boot.

But enough of this travelogue bullshit. What are my impressions of New York? Well, it was just what I expected, but also, not. it was incredibly crowded, with hordes of people barreling along narrow sidewalk at  the bottom of concrete canyons. Even London isn’t as crowded. I was surprised at how many storefronts are not much more than a door and a small window, with dozens of such glorified kiosks on each block. Many stores appeared to offer little more than gaudy trinkets or fast food of dubious quality, yet many others seemed to be long established local stores.

The traffic was insane, and we narrowly avoided a collision due only to the quick reflexes of our taxi driver as a car pulled into traffic from the kerb without warning. I will admit to gasping and slamming my right foot onto a non existent brake pedal, but this seemed to be nothing out of the ordinary to our driver. I guess I’m just a small town  boy after all. One other thing that struck me was the noise. The fact that the area consists entirely of very tall buildings means that all sounds are trapped in narrow canyons, and I’m sure my sweetheart was as tired of repeating herself as I was of asking her to repeat herself. It’s not that it was a deafening roar, but a constant background bass rumble that made it very difficult indeed for me to hear anything at all.

On our way to dinner I did experience a truly N.Y. experience. While crossing the street we witnessed a homeless woman with obvious mental issues yelling incoherently at a (I’m sure totally legitimate) street trader. We all found something truly fascinating  in the middle distance on which to fix our gaze and moved on. Once clear of the conflict zone both my sweetheart and her friend said “Welcome to New York”. I guess some things never change

 

 

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