Bridge

When I was in my 20s, three friends wanted to play bridge but needed a fourth. Since I was the only one around, I received a crash course. I played a few times, I read the bridge column that appears next to the comics in the daily paper, but I was never a bridge player.

I was a nerd, seen as the smart kid. I was on the debate team but was also on wrestling, swimming and diving, and soccer teams. Later I was the weird guy in a counter-cultural organization. I suggested we provide health insurance to our employees. We eventually got that and I suggested a pension plan. That got me some pretty strange looks and it was another 10-15 years before the organization (after my departure) instituted a pension plan. No one (except me) thought anyone would do that work as a career. We tried to get bank financing for an expansion and got nowhere. So I braided my hair tightly, put on a coat and tie, and went to a reception where I drank Scotch with the bank vice president. He told me to call him the next day.

I fixed washing machines (among other trades) and did the accounting for a subsequent employer. I fixed the appliances and then explained the organization’s financial picture to its owners. When I figured out that I was a Jack-of-all-Trades and Master of None, I became a plumber.

When I worked in Nicaragua I was the only English speaker on the logging crew. No one on the carpentry crew that we delivered to spoke Spanish. I was the only one who spoke both languages.

When I left the building trades and went into health care, I chose a field that was 93% women.

WordPress issued a prompt for the month of March. The prompt was bridge. I guess that’s what I’ve been all my life. I always thought I never fit in. Another way of saying that is that I was a bridge. I think I prefer the sound of that.

Baby you can drive my car

Not all cab drivers are psychotic killers. Travis Bickel (Robert DeNiro) just gave us a bad name.

In this town, cab drivers were all something else – students, artists, writers, lawyers, or our next mayor. Driving cab was a vehicle to something greater. (link to a totally unrelated post by that title. It is great, and I didn’t write it.)

A fare would get in my cab and ask, “What do you do?” If I said, “I drive cab”, all conversation would stop. Clearly, I wasn’t one of Those People. Driving was not a noble profession by itself. If I said, “I’m driving cab to pay the bills while I organize a grocery co-op. When the store opens, I’ll quit this and that will become my full time job” – for some people, that would open up an interesting line of conversation. For others, the conversation would stop dead because it was clear that I was one of those people (not to be confused with Those People).

But one day, I hit on the right answer…Once a year, this college town was transformed. Between summer and fall semesters, when the town emptied out, we were host to The Graduate School of Banking. Bankers would come from far and wide to learn the latest ways to exploit us.

This was back in the dark ages – before streaming, before DVDs, before VHS. There were campus film societies showing 16 mm prints of all sorts of movies – 1930s and 40s screwball comedies, 40s and 50s film noir, foreign and art films, last year’s releases that were now released in 16 mm – but for two weeks all were transformed into porn promotors. Yes, those bankers had heard all about hippies and free love and hoped to come here to have sex with a nubile coed. Barring that, they’d watch porn films and then go patronize the massage parlors. And they took cabs everywhere. Many of them would ask me for tips – hoping I had a sideline as a pimp. If they got into my cab, I’m sorry to say their sex life was in their own hand(s).

So I was was driving a carload of bankers from the airport to their dorm and one asked, “So what do you do?” Without thinking, I said, “I’m a grad student in Poli Sci.” They quickly asked what I thought of President Nixon. I pontificated all the way to campus. Outside the dorm, I flipped the meter flag over to waiting time (where it charges by the minute and not by the mile) and continued to hold forth. They sat in rapt attention, asking more and more questions. I was a paid political pundit. They thanked me and tipped me as they got out. Why hadn’t I thought of this before?

The conference ended and, early Saturday morning, I happened to drive by that dorm. I saw a couple guys standing out front. Now this is a town where you call a dispatcher who sends a cab; you don’t hail from the roadside. But they didn’t seem to know that and I pulled up and loaded my cab with bankers on their way to the airport. I dropped them and flew back to the dorm as fast as I thought I could get away with early on a Saturday morning. After three loads, another driver got wind of the situation and I had to share the wealth. For most of the summer, driving was a less-than-minimum-wage job, so I was gonna milk this for all I could.

Years later I took a course at City College called “Labor in Literature and the Arts”. There I was introduced to Sue Doro, who worked in an Allis Chalmers machine shop, building tractors and heavy equipment. She also wrote poetry – poetry for people who get their hands dirty. She published a collection of work poems called Blue Collar Goodbyes.

Poem too Tired for a Title

tired
as a
crumpled
lunch bag
home after work
the factory’s
sting
in my ears
i try
to smooth
myself
out
flatten
my wrinkles
and snap
myself
back into
life.

Sue Doro

I had to produce something for the course so I wrote one poem about each job I’d held. At least one has seen the light of day in these pages. I noticed there were a lot of cab driving poems out there, but I knew I had to write one. It was definitely the shortest of the bunch.

Obligatory Cab Driving Poem

People like me,
people who’ve worked a variety of
“interesting” jobs,
have all been cab drivers
at some time.

People like me,
people who write poems about their work,
all have to write about driving cab
at some time.

If you’ve heard
one cab driving story
you’ve heard ’em all.

Whew! One more poem
to cross off the list.

Who do they think they’re fooling?

Football metaphors at work. When we opened a new hospital, the new head honcho over there didn’t have a “business plan”, he had a “playbook”. This was supposed to tell us that he could relate to us because, of course, everyone in Wisconsin is a Packers fan.*

We no longer have “meetings”, we have “huddles”. First a huddle was differentiated from a meeting because it was supposed to be quick and at the start of a shift – plus it wasn’t held in a conference room, which required a reservation and for which (I think) our department had to pay rent to the corporation. But we don’t have a “department”, we have a “team”. We aren’t “employees”, we are “team members”. Now all meetings are called huddles.

And, of course, due to the pandemic, none of those huddles are held in person. Our computers lack cameras and microphones and the phones we are issued don’t work well enough to use for a meeting, so we use our personal phones. We can listen on a computer, but then we need to type our questions. We don’t use Zoom, but a different platform. Nonetheless, CR asked me to find a way to work this into a post, so here it is:

I just learned that I will soon no longer have an office (even one that I share with 10 – 20 pre-pandemic – others). I will have a “touchdown workstation”. A more apt metaphor would be touch and go landings for pilots in training. Or a deli where you take a number to see when you will be served. Or maybe a game of musical chairs. When the music stops, try to find a computer to do your documentation.

Since we’re using football metaphors, I’m going to call a couple of penalties. There were two fouls on the play: encroachment, by the clinic taking over our space; and unsportsmanlike conduct, by the $10 million donor and senior management. Neither penalty will be enforced.

I carried two boxes of stuff home from work Saturday, since I will soon have no place to put it. Walking out, I felt like someone being fired. Next, I’ll take down the family pictures and anything personal, as there will soon be no place to put them. Maybe I’ll remove the nametag above my desk and replace it with a 1980s-style generic sign that says

Remember these great 80s products? (Images from justbeerapp.com, stragegyonline.ca, cbc.ca) Consumer prices were rising rapidly so Loblaw, a Canadian company, introduced a line of generic products in generic packaging. Were they good? The point was they were cheap.

Football metaphors are the current fad. Several years ago we had “Colorful Communication”, a workshop in which we had to answer a questionnaire to determine our communication style: green for analytical, brown for authoritarian, blue for people-pleasing, red for anti-authoritarian. I came out striped.

*Though it is presumptuous to think everyone cares about American football, everyone in Wisconsin has at least one reason to be a Packers fan. The Green Bay Packers are unique in the professional sporting world. They are a community-owned team, with more than 360,000 shareholders. A billionaire owner will never move them to another state. Green Bay is a city of just over 100,000, by far the smallest city with a professional sports franchise in the US – and the team has been there for 100 years.

The right tool for the job

My father used to say “It is a poor workman who blames his tools”. (The saying, or variations, seems to date from the 13th century or before.) Maybe that’s how he justified using mostly a monkey wrench and a Vice Grips on nuts and bolts. I don’t recall him ever buying a tool. I was 18 before I realized that nails come from the hardware store. Before that I thought they came from the baby food jars in the garage. If the nail I needed wasn’t there, I went to the scrap lumber pile beside the garage, pounded a nail out of an old piece of wood, pounded it straight, and used that.

The flip side of that is “Use the right tool for the job.” I have favorite tools in all of my endeavors.

For cooking, it is the 8 inch French knife. Mine has a walnut handle that feels right in my hand. It is not the greatest of knives – it is stamped steel, which holds an edge well but doesn’t take an edge well. Forged steel is better, but this knife has been my companion for almost 50 years, since shortly after I no longer got paid for my knife skills, and my funds were limited (and I could get a massive discount on this particular brand due to my employer selling them). A KitchenAid stand mixer is probably my next favorite kitchen tool. Not used daily, like the knife, but pretty handy when I do use it.

Favorite plumbing tools include the Sawzall, which does what the name says. It will cut through framing, even with nails. It will cut pipe (better for removing old pipe than cutting new pipe, but it will cut copper, steel, cast iron, or plastic in a pinch). The ½ inch right angle drill will fit between studs and has enough torque to get through anything – mishandled, it can do damage – more to you than to the material. Add a Forstner bit (or the Plumber’s Self-feed Bit Kit) and you can make 2″ and larger holes in no time.

Pipe cutter image from Ridgid Tool (think of that as a 4″ diameter pipe to get an idea of scale), Drill image from Milwaukee Tool.

The hammer drill makes quick work of concrete when you could spend ridiculous amounts of time with a regular drill motor and a carbide bit, only to make a dent. The no-hub torque wrench is a simple and elegant tool – a T-handled wrench that tightens the couplings on cast iron pipe fittings and never overtightens. The cast iron pipe cutter beats the hell out of trying to saw through cast iron. It has a chain that wraps around the pipe, with cutting edges (vaguely similar to a chain saw) that bite into the iron. As you tighten it, the pipe suddenly snaps with a suitably straight end. (Torque wrench image from my toolbox.)

For winter biking I have written about favorites before (links to three different posts). The face deserves special consideration. Down to 20 degrees (F) I just use a tight-fitting, windproof cap that covers the ears and fits under a helmet. From 20 down to about 5 or 10 I add a silk balaclava that covers the chin and cheeks and can be pulled up to cover the nose and mouth if needed. From +5 to -20 it is a merino wool balaclava that covers the nose and has a breathing hole for the mouth (and if it is borderline too cold you can breathe inside of it to warm yourself instead of letting that heat escape). A pair of ski goggles gets added at this juncture. You can easily pay $200, $300, or more for ski goggles. Mine fit over glasses and currently sell for about $35 (Outdoor Master is the brand). I can’t find a justification for spending 10 times that much to get the brands the pro skiers wear. Colder than -20 degrees and I switch to a fleece balaclava that is otherwise way too warm. That seems to work to -30 and I haven’t ridden colder than that. I could probably fit the silk balaclava under the wool or fleece one to get colder. These temperature ranges may vary depending on the wind (and you – I see folks in goggles and balaclavas when it is barely freezing).

Ready to face -5 Fahrenheit (-20.5 C – you’ll have to convert the rest yourself)

Since we’re talking about serious cold, this is the weather to read Jack London’s short story “To Build a Fire”. Full text is available here and it is a quick read. It is the story of a man, a dog, and a brutally cold day in Alaska.

Since this guy didn’t make it into the last post, I thought I’d add him today.

Now it’s your turn. What do you do and what is (are) your favorite tool(s) to do it with? Tell us in the comments.