Three Lions

Yes, I know the subtitle of this song is “Football’s Coming Home”, and football didn’t, but what am I supposed to do? It’s been a month or so since the end of the World Cup, and I think it’s enough time to be able to reflect on the event that crams 64 games into about 28 days, so here goes.

To start with, staging the finals in Russia has been discussed at length and needs no input from me. No one who follows football actually believed that removing Sepp Blatter and his cronies would make a difference in how FIFA does business, and of course, it didn’t. FIFA makes even the worst dictatorship look squeaky clean, and this was embodied in the opening game. On more than one occasion we saw shots from the V.I.P. box of  a triumvirate of evil; Vladimir Putin, FIFA President Gianni Infantino ( AKA Johnny Baby) and someone who I assume was Prince Salman of Saudi Arabia sitting next to each other and chatting. To be honest, it looked like the supervillain conference scene from a James Bond movie: There’s always one Arab in traditional dress present, Johnny Baby looks like a Bond villain and Vlad the Invader IS a Bond villain.  The scene just reeked of influence, corruption and contempt, so it was no surprise when the hosts, the lowest ranking team in the competition made it to the quarter finals.

Do you honestly believe that their games were fair and square? I’m pretty darn sure that every single official involved with Russia’s game had a visit from a couple of big blokes called Ivan and Sergei who said:

” Mister referee, here is special gift from people of Russia. Is whistle for competition. Is good for use in Russia, it glow in dark, and it stay  warm, so please, keep hold of whistle. Russian winter is very cold and dark, and we want you to be safe and make right decisions in game. last referee who made bad decision sat on park bench in Salisbury, he get very ill. We not want that to happen to you.”

Or words to that effect. You catch my drift, anyway. You might think that not having any kind of television service would be a disadvantage, but far from it, as I used a couple of streaming websites and saw all, or at least highlights of 63 games. I didn’t bother with the third place playoff as it’s the most meaningless game in world football and neither team wanted to be there. I was pleasantly surprised at England’s performance as I’d expected the usual squeaking through the group and then going out in the first knockout round to any half decent team. Thankfully, not being in England I avoided the inevitable hype surrounding a decent run, although by the time the semi final came round, even I was beginning to think that I might be about to experience England’s second appearance in a World Cup final.

Mind you, as a Liverpool fan I had already experienced the result of getting over enthusiastic about a final once this season, so kept my own counsel. I don’t know if the Germans have a word for Schadenfreude, but there was plenty of that to go round, and as well as seeing the Germans finish bottom of their group, I took especial delight in seeing Portugal, Argentina, Spain and Brazil fail to make the last eight. I have nothing in particular against those countries, but seeing Cristiano Ronaldo have to go home early was a delight. I can’t stand the guy for a number of reasons: He thinks he’s Gods’ gift and makes no attempt to hide it, he’s not a team player and doesn’t track back or make any effort to help the team and if he was made of chocolate, he’d eat himself. So, seeing him trudge off the pitch after the Uruguay game looking like you could light a candle on his bottom lip gave me quite a lot of satisfaction. I should point out, as others have done, that the last time Germany failed to make the last eight of a World Cup was 1938. Yeah, I know. They didn’t take that defeat particularly well, so I’d do a bit of planning if I were you. Yes, I know a lot of people were joking about this, but not really joking.

Mind you, I suppose I shouldn’t have been so surprised, I mean, Germany doesn’t exactly have a stellar record when it comes to winning in Russia, although at least this time the trip home won’t be quite so traumatic. I am, however, a little disappointed that Germany didn’t play any games in Volgagrad,  although I suppose that would have been a little tasteless.

As an Englishman, the most disappointing thing was England’s performance in the Semi Final. The way I look at it is that if you get that far, you go out and play the greatest game of your life, putting all your energy into the game on the principal that if you lose, you will at least go down swinging, and if you win, hell, you’re in the final, and you might not be fully recovered physically, but the adrenaline rush of being in the World Cup Final is enough to reanimate even the mouldiest of corpses. Alas, this never occurred to the English team, who apart from the free kick never looked like scoring. Raheem Sterling, Harry Kane and Dele Alli were noticeable by their absence, and it just stunned me that they didn’t seem to realise that this game actually mattered.  As with all the other games I made a very strong effort to avoid learning anything about the game, so at least my day wasn’t ruined until the end.

My plans for the final were to watch it at home mid morning, until a friend offered to host me, as he has television service. Works for me, I thought, as long as his other half doesn’t object. In the end, two other friends, also expats announced that they would host a party in their workspace and had bought at 52″ T.V. in honour of the event. They popped by work the day before to buy ham and cheese for Panini, I brought some strawberries, and set off early on Saturday morning to indulge in that most English of activities, morning drinking while watching football.

There were about 18 present all told, most of them locals who were there for the social rather than the football portion of the morning, but my Chelsea loving expat friend and I parked ourselves in prime viewing spots and enjoyed what was, all in all a pretty good game. Of course I was disappointed, but in no way surprised that France won, but I have to say that Croatia ran them close at times, dominating the opening 20 minutes and giving as good as they got. By the end of the game, suitably full of beer and food we stayed to watch the trophy presentation ceremony, and I have to admit that there may have been some coded messages involved.

Firstly, as Putin stood on the pitch awaiting the completion of the podium, he was accompanied by someone who I can only assume was a very expensive Russian prostitute. I don’t know why she was there, as the rain made sure that the pitch was well watered. Maybe she was being rewarded for a job well done. The large flags or Tifos on the pitch were a regular feature of every game, but I couldn’t help but wonder why they were being held by what appeared to be extras from a low budget 1980’s sci fi movie, nor why there was a line of female flight attendants standing behind the dignitaries. Of course, all this took a long time to set up, and was done purely for the cameras and the advertisers, no walking up the steps to receive the trophy as Bobby Moore did in 1966 and I did wonder why only Putin had an umbrella while the Croatian president, Johnny Baby and everyone else simply soaked. Talking of all things soaked, did you notice that when the confetti cannons were let off, they shot huge volumes of golden foil into the air? Hmm. A golden shower in Moscow. Nah, it couldn’t have been any kind of sly jab, could it? Admittedly, Putin did have a sly grin on his face, but then again, he usually does, so I don’t want to read too much into it.

So, not a bad way to spend a month. Plenty of football, not too many boring games, a lot of beer drunk whilst watching it and a fun morning to cap it all off. Now what do I do? I have to wait a full nine days for the start of the English Premier League season to begin, but at least that’s a damn sight less time than the 1,572 days 13 hours and 25 minutes until Qatar 2022. Assuming of course it even happens.

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Au Suivant

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, and for that I presume you are all very thankful. The reason is that by the time I get home from work I simply don’t have the bandwidth to sit down and tap out a coherent…thingy. You know, a collection of words including nouns, verbs, adjectives and the like organised in such a manner as to make them comprehensible to the average person. You see, my usual shift is the closing shift – 1:30 to 10 pm, and by the time I’m finished with dinner, it’s as near midnight as makes no difference, and who has the time or the energy to write at that time of night? Not me, apparently.  I started this post about two months ago, and only now am I getting back to it.

Yes, the day does calm down after seven p.m., but still, there’s a lot to do and a half hour walk home, so by the time I get my shoes off, I’m pretty much done for the day. You may well ask what it is that’s so exhausting, and even if you don’t, I’m going to tell you.

As the title of this post may suggest, I’m always dealing with two people at once: even though I give my full attention to the person I’m serving, I still have in the back of my mind the awareness that there’s another person to be served immediately afterwards, and usually one more after that. You see, we are the only full service deli in town, and people appreciate the fact that we cut meat and cheese to order. Essentially, we are a bespoke service, and that takes quite a lot of energy. We give each customer our full attention and work with them to make sure they get exactly what they want exactly the way they want it. It’s not unusual to have four of us working Meat and Cheese at the same time, all slicers in use, and still have customers waiting to be served. It’s not that we’re slow, it’s just that at times half the town is in the store, and half of them are visiting the Deli.

And that’s just on a regular day. We’ve had Saint Patrick’s Day, Father’s Day, and July 4th since I started, and each of those days, or rather the day  before those days has been a beast. People who couldn’t find Ireland with both hands and a flashlight queue up to buy heroic quantities of corned beef as if it’s the rarest and most desired meat on Earth. Have you ever cut two and a half pounds of  sandwich cut corned beef? Probably not. Let me tell you that it takes a bugger of a long time. Do that half a dozen times in a couple of hours and there’s half your morning gone before you even start. The busiest day of the year so far was July 3. Everyone, and I mean everyone was stocking up for the following day’s barbecue at the same time. We worked like dogs just to keep up, and on days like that, other things just don’t get done. You see, we try to keep the slicers as clean as possible by giving them a good wipe down with hot sanitiser any time we have the opportunity. However, when we don’t get a break the only thing we can do is brush the fragments onto the floor with a piece of paper and move on to the next order.

This means that the floor looks like someone has overturned a bucket of scraps and then gave them a good kicking around. Of course this means that when we eventually do get a chance to clean the slicers it takes about three times as long as usual just to make them acceptable. By far the worst is the cheese slicer as cheese adheres to the side of the blade and once it gets too caked on, it begins to snag the slices and tear them, making even more mess and more work. Sometimes the only option is to get some very hot sanitiser and give it as quick and vigourous a cleaning as time permits and move on, as once the sanitiser begins to cool even slightly, it loses the ability to deal with the dried on layer of cheese.

Anyway, we survived, if only just and then prepared for the fourth as those customers who realised a the the las moment that they’d forgotten something made an emegency shopping run. Of course I knew I’d be working on July 4, if for no other reason that the FNG always gets the dirty end of the stick. At least I was Mid that day, so I would be finished at seven pm and be home before Amateur Hour. Until we learned that my closer had just called in sick. I mean “sick”, because if he actually was sick, then I’m the king of Poland. On the principle that it’s better to volunteer than to BE volunteered, I let the lead know that I’d be willing to stay and close. Admittedly this wasn’t purely altruisitic as I was on double time all day and an extra three hours overtime would come in useful. Long day, very long day, although after 2pm it got really quiet. Still, that meant I had another eight hours on my feet and by the time I got home, my socks bore a close resemblence to tourniquets.

Despite the above, it’s not a bad place to work as I’m usuallly kept pretty busy and most of our customers are decent types. I’ve come to know a couple of them by name and well enough to have a short chat with them, including one local who always, and I mean always wears this Liverpool FC cap. The only bright red baseball cap that I can look at without sneering at the wearer.  There are the usual number of ungrateful and unpleasant people, but not so many as to ruin the day on a regular basis, and they are more than outweighed by those who are friendly and apprieciative. We do work very hard to work with our customers to ensure that they get exactly what they want how they want it and also spend a great deal of time answering questions and educating them about our various products. Of course it gets tiring, but it’s part of the job, and it’s nice to be able to pass on information and experience.

So do me a favour: The next time you ask your local deli worker the difference between Bayonne and Serrano proscuitto just remember that they may have been on thier feet for six hours straight and you may well be the 150th person they’ve served today, so cut them some slack if they seem a little tired.

I’ll be with you in a moment, sir!

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Back On The Chain Gang

Let me start by asking a couple of questions. How many of you cut the cheese at work? How many of you get to hide the salami as part of your regular duties?  As to the first, I reckon we can all plead guilty, in that at one time or another, we’ve all let slip a Silent But Deadly in the elevator, disguised a guff in a meeting by shifting in our seat or simply kept walking towards our cubicle whilst maintaining as nonchalant an expression as possible under the circumstances.  As to the second, well, office romances bloom from time to time, and I guess the supply closet is largely wasted space, but that’s not what I had in mind.

You see, all jocularity and sophomoric humour aside, cutting the cheese and hiding the salami are what I do pretty much all day. Since the turn of the year, I’ve been working in the deli department of my local supermarket. After being taken on in a temporary capacity to sell Christmas trees, ( See “A Forest” and “On Repeat”), the store found me some other tasks to fill out my time after we sold all the trees ahead of schedule and then offered me the chance to apply for an opening in the deli. To be honest, it wasn’t a difficult decision to make, as I had nothing on the horizon. The vacancy was posted internally only and I duly applied and was interviewed twice before being offered the spot. In truth, it was made clear, though not explicitly, that the job was mine as long as I applied.

I’ve never had a food service job, so although I was happy about the work I did have some trepidation as to the tasks involved. I should point out that I was hired for the Closing shift, which is 1:30 to 10 pm. I wasn’t thrilled about this, being very much a morning person, but beggars can’t be choosers, although the three day weekend prior to starting did allow me time to adjust to the new schedule. I managed the transition pretty well by treating 11 am. the way I used to treat five am and not going to bed until two thirty or so.

I live only a mile and a half from work, so decided it would make sense to walk rather than drive, especially as short trips aren’t good for the engine and it costs money. I splashed out on a cheap pedometer and began tracking my steps, miles and calories burned in my usual OCD manner as I thought this would be a good way to see if I can lose a bit of weight. It also gives me the opportunity to listen to some of my almost endless podcast playlist, on the walk home in particular helps me decompress. Mind you, walking home alone in the dark is probably not the best time to listen to a podcast that involves readings from the works of H.P. Lovecraft. I also made the decision to take shakes to work for lunch and leave them in my locker and carry little to no cash to discourage me from buying lunch at work. Add to this the fact that I’ve stuck to my plan of not buying candy or chips, and you may not be surprised to learn that I lost 10 pounds in two months. Whoo hooo! I’m quite happy with this as you can imagine, and if I lose another 20 we’ll be talking real progress. Naturally you have to take into account the fact that I’m on my feet all day, but still, it’s not to be sniffed at.

I’ve fitted in pretty well to the team and get on well with everyone. Most of the department are middle aged or older, apart from the kitchen crew, but even they have a sense of humour and are willing to help  out as needed with other stuff and the department manages to get through the day even if we have someone out or are swamped with customers. I know it may seem like an odd  place to work for someone on the spectrum, but it forces me to interact with people all day and remain friendly and engaged whilst doing so, so in a way it’s a kind of aversion therapy, especially when you realise that there’s nowhere to hide and you are always on show, like some sort of zoo exhibit.  I made a very conscious decision to muck in wherever needed and make the effort to do things without asking: a policy that seems to be paying off, as is my effort to interact with my colleagues as much as possible, despite my natural instinct to avoid giving away personal information.

The last three hours of the day are fairly quiet, and this is when we begin the cleaning and shut – down procedures, a long process which leaves me pretty much beat as the level of cleanliness involved is much higher than that required at home. Still, the work gets done and I haven’t heard any complaints so far.

The downside of this is that by the time I get home and eat dinner, it’s around midnight, so my desire to do any kind of housework is severely diminished, and I wish I cleaned my kitchen as well as I clean the Meat and Cheese area. It’s not that I live like a slob, but my counter top is never empty, nor the kitchen table devoid of clutter. By the time I get home I just want to veg out and watch a DVD – usually an old “Doctor Who” episode from the library and eat my Poutine, which has become my comfort food of choice. I’m only drinking one night a week, as I finish at seven pm. on Friday and can get to the taphouse for a couple of beers with the lads. The middle shifts on Friday and Saturday are a recent change, and I’m not complaining as it also allows me to go over on the evening boat and have some extra time with my sweetie on Saturday. I don’t miss drinking as much as I thought I would and it makes it more of a treat than when it was a daily event, and of course, it’s saved me a bit of cash into the bargain as well.

I won’t bore you with all the details of my work day as it essentially consists of taking orders, slicing meat or cheese and wrapping said product. I do have some opportunity to chat with customers, and by and large are a happy bunch who appreciate the level of service and the range and quality of products the store has on offer. I’ve had a few difficult customers, but more of that another day.

I’ll sign off by saying that despite this job not being what I went to business school for, I’m enjoying myself, have avoided any major gaffes and have been accepted into the team, so I’m in a happy place right now.

Oh, and in answer to your original question, yes, that is a salami in my pocket… but I’m still pleased to see you!

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Ebony And Ivory

The great Alexei Sayle once had a routine that went along the lines of: ” I heard this bloke on the radio the other day going on about how we could all live together in perfect racial harmony on piano keyboards. Well, I’m telling you, pianos aren’t going to solve nothing, no way, no how”

That’s as might be, but late last year a piano was involved in something pretty darn special. Flash back about seven years: For reasons I neither remember nor understand, my then wife and I bought a keyboard at Costco as a Christmas present for the kids. It came loaded with tunes that they could play by simply following along with the book, and I considered it a waste of money, to be honest. The kids and their mum both had some fun with it, and it stayed at that.

However, as my daughter’s interest in all things creative grew, she took up playing the guitar, and began paying more than passing interest in the keyboard, apparently just playing along and following the instructions. She seemed to be doing pretty well, when as luck would have it, the son of the woman who made her spare land available for a community P-Patch (allotment) turned out to be a genius, who later on was accepted into Julliard at 17. My daughter took lessons from him on an informal basis, but eventually he was no longer an option, so her mother signed her up for lessons with a local teacher.

Just before Christmas we were informed that the pupils would be giving a recital for the benefit of the parents, so on the appointed night, I hurried to the teacher’s home and took a seat in the studio. The kids in my daughters’ group ranged from about five to thirteen years old, and as you can imagine, all parents waited with bated breath for their own child to perform. I, of course, was no different, and I have to say that heavily biased as I am, she gave a wonderful performance, playing 5 short pieces. I don’t have the sheet available, but they were not easy pieces, and as she had made the effort to dress for the occasion, my daughter looked every inch the professional musician. As we were departing, her teacher commented on how well she had performed, despite being extremely nervous – apparently one of her legs was shaking almost uncontrollably with nerves during the entire performance. I hadn’t realised this, as my daughter is one of the most confident and self – assured people I know. Of course, I congratulated my daughter profusely, as I found her playing to be flawless, but as I say, I’m not exactly the most unbiased of listeners.

The kicker came when her teacher said that she would like her to perform again, two days later at another of the recital sessions. At this later performance I was seated so I could see her hands and was amazed at the level of dexterity and professionalism she showed. I know this is a dreadfully overused cliche, but her fingers just danced across the keyboard, and I have to admit choking up with pride that she could play with such flourish and elan.

Just to push things even further, a couple of weeks later my ex and I received an email from her teacher saying that she would like my daughter to take an exam from the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto some time in May. Bloody hell! This is the institution attended by Oscar Peterson and Glenn Gould!

Lest you think I’m getting ahead of myself, this exam is a test of both ability and progress, and in no way means that she is headed north of the border for schooling, but if she’s good enough to take one of their exams, her teacher must think very highly of her indeed. I honestly don’t know what to make of it all. I’ve always known that she is highly talented and extremely creative, but where the hell she gets it from is beyond me, I mean, I can’t carry a tune in a bucket, even if I use both hands. One thing of which I am certain, though is that whatever path she takes, she’s always going to go straight to the top. I’m also certain that I’ll never hear her repeat one of Eric Morecambes’ more famous catchphrases, used when performing one of his musical pieces: “I am playing all the right notes. Just not necessarily in the right order.”

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On Repeat

My love of music is well known, see multiple previous posts, but one kind of music just bugs the crap out of me – Christmas music. It is almost exclusively garbage, full of banality, cliche and triteness. Of course, there’s no avoiding it at this time of year, but at least once you leave the store you don’t have to deal with it until you walk into the next one. Nice to have the choice. Imagine having to listen to it for eight hours straight. This  is what my life has been like since the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. There’s no avoiding it and it is driving me crazy.

For the first two weeks I was subjected to an endless stream of garbage spewed out by a never-ending stream of third-rate session singers. Do you know just how many versions of  ‘Frosty The Snowman” there are? No? about a dozen by my reckoning, and all of them, with the exception of the Cocteau Twins version are dreadful. Imagine listening to each of them about four times each every day. Add in “Jingle Bells” “Winter Wonderland”, “Do They Know It’s Christmas” “Let It Snow” and every other bloody Christmas song you can imagine and you have some idea of the kind of audio hell my life has been.

DTKIC? is by far the worst, especially as one of the singers is doing what I’m going to say is his best to sound like Bono. It’s bad enough when Bono tries to sound like Bono, but I’ve heard better Bono impressions on a Friday night in Dublin after the pubs shut. I won’t even go into the fact that Africa has more Christians than any other continent, so yeah, I guess they do fucking know it’s Christmas. Imagine if Rachid Taha, Abdel Aziz El Mubarak, Cheb Khaled,  and other great African singers got together to record a benefit song for Europeans called “Do They Know It’s Ramadan?” I can just imagine the lyrics – “Feeeeed the woooorld, but only between sunset and sunrise”.

But the worst thing of all is that so many of these so-called singers try to rework the songs by slowing them down by about 75%. Have you ever heard an eight minute version of “Jingle Bells” which sounds like the singer has been told to count backwards from ten by the anaesthesiologist. A truly terrible example is the version of “Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree” I had to endure about four times a day. Before I moved over here, I associated the tune “Tannenbaum” with “The Red Flag”, and I can tell you, the Russian Revolution took less time than it took to listen to this song. And then of course, there’s the Vince Guaraldi version from the rarely seen animated classic “It’s the peasants and workers revolution, Charlie Brown”.

Lest you think I’m some kind of Grinch, I’m not,  ( See “Fuck Christmas’ to  be proven otherwise)although the thoroughly twee and sickening version of “You’re A Mean One, Mister Grinch” which misses the point of the song entirely and turns it into a semi-comic joshing is enough to make me decamp to the top of Mount Crumpit. I own two Christmas L.P.s – “It’s A Holiday Soul Party” by Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, which is just fantastic because, well… it’s Miss Sharon Jones. She does some well-known tunes, but my favourite has to be “There Ain’t No Chimneys In The Projects”. Nuff sed. The other is “Christmas Songs” by Bad Religion, in which they just storm through carols and Christmas favourites at full pace, driven along by a drummer who doesn’t pause for breath.

I only heard my all time favourite Christmas song once, and that was because it was playing on a customers’ car radio as I tied a tree onto the roof. I’m talking of course, about “A Fairytale Of New York” by The Pogues and Kirsty McColl. Of course there’s no way the store would play it, presumably because they don’t want complaints from parents who’ve just had their five year old ask “Mum, what’s a cheap, lousy faggot?” Also absent has been Siouxsie And The Banshees’ “Israel”, a classic, and well worth an airing, in my opinion. Last week wasn’t too bad  by comparison, as the Tannoy was playing original recordings, but you know that there’s no hope  for a song when even Mister Tony Bennett can’t save it.

Add to  this  the fact that we have had a Salvation Army bell-ringer camped outside for the whole time. It is a torture beyond compare. Send half a dozen of those guys to work at Guantanamo Bay and I guarantee that every inmate will confess to everything from the murder of Julius Caesar onward. It has been doing my head in, having to listen to the constant ringing, and I mean constant, except for the ringers’ breaks and lunch. I can tell you that if we had a longer cable for the electric chainsaw, the parking lot would have been filled  with T. V. camera teams. The absolute nadir was last Thursday when we were joined by some carol singers. These guys could actually sing, they sounded fantastic, but the bell ringer kept going, and the store was pumping out its usual programme, and to have all three of these competing sounds going at once was just too much to take. Every man has his breaking point,  and I reckon mine was less than a minute away when the carolers departed.

The thing is that due to tingling in my right hand brought about by loading and dragging all those trees I wake up about three or four times a night, and I can’t get back to sleep due to the discomfort and the fact that the songs from work are burned into my brain and have left a multitude of ear worms to torment me. Usually ear worms can be driven out by thinking of a song you like, but I just can’t get any songs I like to stick.

One thing of note has been that a lot of the songs have “Holidays” in the title instead of Christmas, as in “Home For The Holidays”, a song which to the best of my knowledge, along with a number of others, predates the start of Fox News’ bullshit narrative about the non-existent “War on Christmas”. FUCK YOU, SEAN HANNITY.  I’d like you to do something for me: turn towards New York and yell at the top of your lungs “FUCK YOU, SEAN HANNITY!”. Again, “FUCK YOU, SEAN HANNITY!!”. Once more “FUCK YOU, SEAN HANNITY!!!”.  There, don’t you feel better? I certainly do. I get a warm, fuzzy feeling just screaming the fucking words.

Merry/happy whatever holiday you celebrate.

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A Forest.

It’s been a tumultuous few months here at the new Singledad Towers. I picked up a job at a real estate office, but was told just a couple of months in that I “wasn’t a good fit” for the job, whatever the fuck that is supposed to mean. This left me scrambling for some way to pay the rent, and for no other reason than I found it, I applied for a seasonal job at my local supermarket selling Christmas trees. I got an invitation to an interview which went well and returned home to find a voicemail on my phone. Could I come back in for a drug screening? The interviewers had called me pretty much as soon as the door closed and had hoped to catch me before I left the store, but seeing as I saw no point in bringing my phone with me, the call was waiting for me at home, so I did an about face and returned immediately.

The popular image of drug screening involves peeing into a cup, but hold on. Now it involves holding a sponge against the side of your mouth for a couple of minutes and then placing said swab in a tube. Phew! If you are anything like me, then Shankly help you. No, seriously, peeing in public is not my thing, nor yours, I hope. This happened because they offered me the job.  My sweetie and I had a Thanksgiving trip planned, and so the Tuesday after the holiday I reported for work, went through the initiation period and started the next day. To be clear, I’m the only person working trees 8/5, with other staff being assigned to the post on a daily basis, which means I’m the only constant. Yeah, the new guy is the only person who’s always there. Actually, many people at the store have worked in trees over the years, so it’s not as if no one has ever done the job before. I’m outside for eight hours a day in the PNW winter, which can be a bit nippy at times, but the donning of my patented Bronko Nagurski  long underwear meant that I was proofed against the morning and evening chills, and truth be told, I was often sweating due to the exertions involved.

We receive trees by the truckload which are dumped in the parking lot and then have to be sorted by size and species into a coherent stack. Imagine dragging 250+ trees ranging from five to nine feet tall into organised piles and then moving them over to the sales area. Then imagine helping customers by carrying their tree to the place where we give he trunk a fresh cut and then loading it onto their vehicle. A lot of people have trucks, which makes life easy, but imagine lifting a nine foot tree onto the roof of a Suburban and then tying it down. It takes a while, and involves quite a bit of effort, especially if you are a fat, lazy, unfit bastard like me. Imagine doing that 30 times a day as well as sweeping up loose needles and branches, dragging over fresh stock to fill the gaps and answering a multitude of questions.  To say that I was knackered by the end of the day is an understatement. I know how unfit I am, and this has driven it home to me. My legs and arms ache by the end of the day and only the  prospect of a very hot bath with lots of lavender Epsom Salts and a very large vodka and tonic at the end of the day have kept me going.

The above bitchfest notwithstanding, I’ve really enjoyed myself. My coworkers are all great people who have made me feel very welcome and part of the team. The store has a lot of  long term employees, and I can see why: we are treated very well, get an employee discount and are treated as human beings with feelings. How many companies nowadays do that?  The customers have all been very friendly and understanding, and I’ve had quite a few enjoyable chats with people as I’ve tied trees onto the roofs of their cars.  I admit that I wake up in the night due to the numbness in my right hand, and that I ache all over, but to be honest, being outside all day has been good for me. I’ve had the opportunity to work in a team that actually cares and meet some truly nice people.

I really hope this turns into a permanent thing. the store manager told me one lunchtime that he wants to chat with me about what happens “after trees”, which sounds promising, as does the fact that my department manager has been sounding me out about which departments in which I would like to work. Fingers crossed.

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Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

My financial situation needs no reprise, so let me start by saying that toward the end of August I was faced with something of a dilemma. My then current situation was bordering on the untenable, in that I had funds enough for September’s rent, but no more, and with no job on the horizon, despite countless applications and targeted cover letters I needed to make a decision. The details are for a future post ( See “Back On The Chain Gang”), but I secured a job in the nick of time and set about finding somewhere to live within my means. Opportunities were limited, and to cut a long story short, I ruled out a place in a complex not too far away on the basis that it would be a near run thing to make the rent every month. I also ruled out a place within a ten minute walk of my then current home on the basis that it was dark, half-buried and lacked a washer and dryer. I would have to drag my laundry to and from a shed in the next building to use coin-op machines and hope that they were available. Foxtrot Tango Sierra.

I found a place online that my sweetie also found, and set up an appointment. I’d pretty much made up my mind before seeing the unit, but as it was only five square feet smaller than where I was living, had an extra powder room downstairs and two parking spots within 75 feet of the door, I was pretty much sold before I stepped inside. The leasing agent was obviously desperate, and when I said I could move in in two days and had no pets,  she was so pleased I was surprised (and not a little disappointed) that she didn’t blow me on the spot. At $700 a month less than my current place, it was a no brainer.

I started moving my stuff in on the Saturday, as I’d already started boxing up books, etc. and was able to make three or four runs a day in the car. Of course, like last time ( See “The Boxer”), I chose to move in the middle of a heatwave. I spent the best part (worst part, surely?) of two weeks schlepping boxes, small appliances and furniture to my car in order to move them to my new place. Needless to say, I was pounding down pints of water at every opportunity, and yet it seemed to do me little good. It is easy to lose enthusiasm when you develop a sweat rash around your waist, and being coated in a layer of evapourating water becomes the norm. It’s a rather unpleasant experience to bend over in order to pick up a box and feel rivulets of sweat stream down your cheeks and off the end of your nose. Nevertheless, I managed to move all but the largest pieces of furniture unaided, and considered myself fortunate not to have suffered any permanent injuries.

I had lived in my old place for three years, and hardly anyone had given me the time of day, but miracle of miracles, once I started my beast of burden impression, every Chatty Kathy within range began asking “Oooh, are you moving?” Fuck off. Seriously, just fuck off. I started out pretty well organised, but by the end I was simply throwing things in boxes or directly into the back of the car. This was in part due to the distance involved, but also my desire to just GTF out of Dodge as soon as humanly possible.

It’s now been a few weeks since I moved in. I hung my art, the T.V. is on the wall thanks to the sterling assistance of my son and I’ve already had  more interaction with my  new neighbours than I had with my old ones in three years. The place was built in the Seventies, and it shows, but all in all, I’m pretty happy with my move. I’m beginning to settle into a routine, and the kids and my sweetie like the place . For the minute though, lacking sufficient bookshelf space, I had to  improvise, laying the banker boxes on their sides, setting them in their lids and stacking them three deep to provide impromptu shelving. My sweetie bemoaned their college dorm room appearance, but as I explained to her, being able to see my books brings me comfort in the same way that being able to see her books brings her comfort. It has made me realise though, that I need long, low bookcases rather than the tall, standard type to make best use of the space under the breakfast bar and also leave as much wall space as possible available for art.

In the weeks since I moved in I have experimented  with placement, cupboard organisation and making the best use of every cubic inch of space. You see, much as I moaned about my last place, it had more cupboard space in the kitchen than I needed, whereas my new place is woefully deficient in that department. The fridge is much smaller as well, making it an issue when I go shopping. In fact, I don’t so much walk into the kitchen as put it on, it being a galley, and in fact, narrower than most hallways. Mind you, it sure as hell beats living in the car.

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