Windows and Opportunity

East wall of the house with the big windows in the dining room, the bay at the living room and the picture window on the front.

Our neighbors, on the next block, had their door removed. They had gone to work, and at 10 a.m., the cleaning lady came by to find the door with jam meticulously disengaged from the threshold and leaned against the brick wall, leaving a gaping entry. When they replaced that door–after reconstituting a bunch of laptops, TVs and a clarinet–they installed an insanely heavy duty door that would require an army of super Orcs to remove. It’s an illegal door in NYC.

This makes me feel incredibly lucky that nobody has kicked in our borderline decrepit front door, the lower-middle third punctuated by a fault line. Maybe the luck was boosted by a wild animal howling and snarling in a vicious baritone on the other side of the door. Nobody said The Beast didn’t do his job well.

Today we got to pick out door knobs and locks for a new door. Compared to our current non-descript brass pulls, the new rig is positively sexy. The door wasn’t in the original scope, but we really needed it.

The windows weren’t on my list either.

Actually I like these old windows. Almost all of them open, and almost as many stay open on their own. There are screens and storms for the hot and the cold. They are a little heavy and make a squeaky woosh sound on open and close. Sometimes I need to get leverage from above–like standing on a chair to push it closed. But only sometimes. And only on two or three of them. There are lots of windows. Oh, and did I tell you that none are standard sizes. Glorious. Custom windows. 

The Spouse was hot for new windows, though. I think it’s the Eagle Scout in him. You know. Camping and loving the earth and recycling and being energy smart. His Christmas is Earth Day.

I’m less jazzed. Camping to me is staying in a hotel without a closet door. You know, just hangers in a nook? And thin towels. 

New windows are so tight. They squeal versus swoosh. You work them along their hermetic guides to vacuum into an airless seal. They lock steadfastly in place with little plastic doodads. Keeps out the cold. Keeps out the heat. I get that that makes sense.

I’m not against energy efficiency, but I will NOT see these windows pay for themselves. Perhaps that’s not the point. The ancient siding is coming down. The outside of the windows are an unholy mess. New windows simply make sense. I can be good with that. 

[And mark this well, Loyal Reader. This is how scope creep happens, not with a bang but via the inevitable whisper of air held at bay by glass.]

Next, I need to learn about windows to make a choice. They have “features,” and not just finishes. You can tilt them so you can clean them. (I don’t do windows.) There are e-value and u-value. Casings. Sashes. Glazes. Rails. Latches. Layers.

I can have wooden windows. And I’m making an investment for decades. And, mostly, The Spouse will be so happy with them.

The design-build team is recommending different window vendors for the basement versus the upstairs. I’m ready to learn why at my Spring term accelerated Intro To Windows 101. I’ll let you know if anything is interesting.

Bully Pulpit

A school playground that looks inviting. And fun.

Kyle was the biggest kid in the school. The school itself was small, with just three groups, pre-school, pre-k and kindergarten. Pre-school was in the front room with the guinea pig named Piggy. Pre-k and kindergarten learned together in the next classroom over, on the other side of the kitchen where the littlest kids opened the huge refrigerator door to store their lunches.

Kyle was the oldest. He may have waited an extra year before enrolling, as was the fashion for boys then. Their parents thought it would give their sons, especially the ones younger or less mature, a better start.

Kyle definitely took advantage of his advantages. He was taller and stronger than the other kids. He was more coordinated. He had more words. And he was more aware of the way the world worked, or at least the ways he could work the world.

His mom and dad were full professors at the university. They were old parents with graying thinning hair, knees that sometimes popped and less patience. Their short patience span was manifest in letting Kyle be Kyle. They saw no reason to fully resist him. He could regularly wear them down without too much effort, so why not skip the struggle and just let him be? They were happiest when he was happy. Whether that was an occasional ice cream bar for breakfast, watching more TV than was allowed or skipping his bath some nights, they’d go along to get along.

The school was focused on letting the kids be kids. It wasn’t a free for all. No, not at all. The teachers and their assistants were well in control. They let the children lead their learning via their activities. This worried some parents. They wanted worksheets and homework so that their offspring would be “ready” for big-kid school. The faculty resisted. They guided lessons through the curiosity of the kids. The success of their approach was evidenced by ten years’ of kindergartners leaving their tutelage reading books. And asking wonderful questions. And taking responsibility for their learning.

The kids would make up their own games, build forts under blankets hung from cubbies and publish their own books with stapled spines. Sometimes, when the teachers weren’t looking, Kyle would walk by a classmate and push off of them with his hand. Or, you could say, he’d walk by and shove a kid. If there was any resistance, he would claim that he was misunderstood. If it was an extremely egregious hit, he would sheepishly apologize. His physical outbursts weren’t frequent.

More frequent were his exclusions. His parents thought that he was a natural leader. He would provide value–usually his attention–to some of the kids in order to isolate another. This was a rotating position, the one of outsider. One day you’d be out and the next day you would be part of the group barring someone else. It was fair, in a weird way. Except if you were Kyle, because you were never out. Kyle was always in. Everyone loved him, despite the hitting and despite the emotional manipulations. Kyle was the oldest and the biggest and the best.

There was at least one mother who noticed the dynamic. She noticed even before the day her pre-k son, a year or maybe two, younger than Kyle came home sad that he was sidelined. When her boy told her that he couldn’t play the game around the tree and that he felt left out, she felt left out, too.

“What stopped you from playing the game around the tree?”

“Kyle said that I couldn’t play.”

He needed some tools. They role played and practiced. Sometimes she was Kyle and sometimes he pretended to be Kyle. They sometimes played out their script in the car. There were no further incidents.

The mother brought him into school late one morning, after snack and before lunch. He had a doctor’s appointment. The school was adamant about taking the kids outside everyday, rain or shine, hot or cold, snow or wind, but today the downpour was too much. Some kids were playing “fort” near the cubbies. There were blocks stacked to protect from intruders. Her boy approached the “entrance” to the fort so he could drop off his backpack and hang his wet jacket in his cubby.

“Stop!” It was Kyle who stepped out from the group huddled in their “fort.”

“You aren’t in the club. You can’t come in here.”

The mother drew in a breath and felt her hand tighten on the handles of her satchel.

“Kyle, you aren’t the boss over me,” said her son, just like they had practiced. And he stepped over a block to his cubby.

Kyle didn’t miss a beat as he stepped aside. “You can be in the club.”

The boy hung up his coat and stepped back out of the fort. “No, I’m going to paint over there with Emily and Christine.” This second part was a freestyle. Not bad.

The mother’s heart was beating faster. First, because she was afraid, and now because she didn’t need to be. Her lesson was to let him find his own way with her guidance. Perhaps the school was teaching her as much as they were teaching him. They both had a lot to learn.

On Purpose?


I was asked–in the course of a conversation so there was some context because this would be weird to come from the blue–if I liked learning stuff about myself. I had to think about this for a little bit. Do I enjoy mining the depths of my psyche? Did I savor unlocking truths about Doc? I rolled this thought back and forth through my brain, considering what it means. Then I was like, “No.”

Seriously, there are so many things to learn that are not me, and I spend plenty of time with me. All of the time. Like ALL of my time. I can’t get away from me. And if I am using my learning time on myself, how will I ever figure out how the blockchain works?

The questioner, unlike my shallow self, really enjoys self exploration, finds it fascinating, revels in the time to attain knowledge of their substance. For them, there is value in the activity itself and in the insight gained.

And I’m like, “Why?”

Why would I struggle through the probing and, sometimes, pain of reflection? Because it’s good for me? I eat vegetables–even learned to like spinach and brussels sprouts. I walk past the closest subway stop to the next one to get more steps in. I cut back on booze. I got a flu shot. I do plenty good for me stuff.

Don’t roll your eyes. I’m learning how to cook fish. I’m learning about how video games are rewiring the brains of especially young men. I’m learning about institutional racism. I’m learning how to get rid of the damn raccoon that’s trying to move in without paying rent or signing a lease. I’m learning how to change my wiper blades. I’m learning which bus can get me to work when the Red Line closes down next month. I’m learning  the limits of political decorum and gridlock. I’m learning about the Outkast catalog.

So, ambient learning about me? I don’t think so.

I don’t like to do things just to do them. I don’t get jazzed about process as much as I do results. So, all of the self-learning that I do is about outcomes. Understanding my role in an argument with The Spouse so my apology is meaningful. Being the boss who helps staff succeed. Figuring out how I contribute to the pool of general negativity so I can combat it. Mastering my triggers and maximizing my strengths to be a better Doc.

I don’t want to know about myself. I need to know about myself.

In search of my mother’s garden, I found my own. ~Alice Walker


Beautiful Swimmer

Maryland blue crabs. So much work for so little meat for so much reward.

I didn’t grow up eating Maryland crabs. This was very obvious to people who did.

Early in my career, I worked for an association. One of our members, Mary, invited me to speak at a chapter event. Since it was at the beach I said, “Yes!”

Ocean City, Md., has a boardwalk with a big ferris wheel that reveals then hides the shore as it circles. It has cotton candy and beach fries and whack-a-mole and t-shirts that say, “Don’t Bother Me, I’m Crabby.” But you don’t get crabs on the boardwalk.

Mary and her husband Chester were from Baltimore. They had a daughter my age, a son a few years older and two grandchildren, so far. They loved the beach and the Eastern Shore where the watermen delivered rockfish and oysters and crabs. There’s also amazing Eastern Shore chicken you can get at a fire house on the way to the ocean. But this isn’t about chicken.

My hosts spent many summers picking crabs (picking is how you eat crabs). They made no assumptions about me, though, and politely asked if I ate crabs. I thought I did, and it seemed like fun. They took me to a favorite spot. It was back over the bridge, heading away from the ocean across some marshy land. It was a crab house.

I knew how to order a beer, and Charlie asked how many crabs I could eat. I didn’t know. And, I really didn’t know. When the waitress brought the platter piled high with steaming crabs unevenly seasoned with red powder, I realized just how over my head I was. This wasn’t lobster. No. It was not lobster at all.

Charlie grabbed two of the crustaceans and dropped them next to his beer. He started pulling one apart and banging a piece with a hammer. I swigged my beer and, following Mary’s lead, I took a crab off the plate and placed it in front of me, on my newspaper tablecloth. I snuck a look at Mary and mimicked her by pulling off an appendage. I used a nutcracker to open it. The use of the tool on the oddly shaped claw did not come natural to me. I did, however, get some meat. And a little shell. The meat was quite good. The shell, not so much, but it did have the flavor of salt, celery, mustard, cayenne, and whatever seventy-three other spices are in the yellow can of Old Bay. Fortified, I repeated on the other side of my crab. Then, I was stuck.

I turned the body of the crab around. It was looking at me. I spun it away, but I couldn’t find a way in. Chester was on his fourth. Mary kindly asked if I had picked crabs before. She didn’t want to embarrass me, but I was obviously incompetent. Or, in her mind, untrained. I looked up, wide-eyed, and she schooched closer to me. Chester knocked back another crab. I could tell because the empty carcasses were piling up on his side of the table. He paused to eat his ear of corn. I think he powdered it with Old Bay before he ate it.

Mary showed me where I had missed some meat on the hinge part of the claw. She pointed at the legs and demonstrated where to pull them off and how to suck out the strings of meat. These were very big crabs, so it was worth the effort. She expertly flipped the crab on his back and lifted the tab on its belly as if she were unlocking a round red box. This exposed an opening at the top for her thumb to wrest it’s body apart.

I clumsily followed her demonstration and attempted on my own crab. I couldn’t get a good feel to separate the “lid” from the body. She helped me. I was now faced with the insides of an arachnid. That I was supposed to eat. But first I had to brush away the grayish gills. Not to be eaten. At this point I was starting to wonder what I could eat. It’s been all prep except for those claws I ate twenty minutes ago. Meanwhile, Chester ordered a second beer and was on his eighth crab. He was licking the salty seasoning off his very messy fingers. I think he smirked at me. Maybe it was a look of pity.

Now, I was supposed to take the body and crack it in half. The body was like a big honeycomb, only thin and fragile. Mary was eating from hers. Mine collapsed in my hands and I learned why it was called picking as I picked hunks and scraps of crab meat out of the debris of cartilage. There was one piece, though, that slid out intact from it’s chamber. It was moist and sweet and significant enough that it was more than one bite and more than two chews for each bite. And I knew, in that moment, that was why we were doing this.

Chester ordered another plate of crabs.

I struggled through another crab, but by the time I got to my third, all the lessons escaped from my head. I couldn’t find the tab. I ate my corn. I successfully extricated meat from the claws. I was dirtied by splashes of crab juice from my forehead through my elbows and, of course my hands. The backs as well as the front. There was blood coming from my thumb where I cut it on the shell as I was trying to find something to eat. I ate my coleslaw. It was good. It was cool. My beer was warm.

I pushed my crab around on my newspaper a bit. Mary started feeding me meat that she had picked, but after a few bites I decided that she should feed herself. I said that I was full. Chester lifted his eyebrows at Mary as he sucked the meat out of his twelfth crab.

Once I had declared my “fullness,” I could better enjoy my dinner companions. They teased each other with the bite of a long marriage but without bitterness. They finished each other’s sentences and interrupted when the one told the story wrong. I had an iced tea to round out my dinner. Chester ate the last of the crabs. He drove us back over the bay and back to our conference hotel. I did have a fun time and thanked them for the adventure.

The hotel was a step or two above a touristy, “family” oceanside motel from the 70s. The towels were very thin, but were more than sufficient to wash off the crab juice. When I had cleaned up and changed my shirt, I thought the coast was clear. I surreptitiously crossed the small lobby–it was more like a vestibule–and walked to my car. Up the strip was a drive through. I got the Number 1 hamburger meal. With a shake. I knew how to eat that.

After that lesson, when we’d eat crabs I’d sit next to somebody who liked picking crabs and let them feed me. Sometimes it was The Spouse. Many times it was someone else’s spouse. I wasn’t proud. Occasionally someone would give me a refresher lesson. I liked crab, just not enough to pick them. In other good news, crabs were usually part of a summer party with an accompanying barbecue. I could always have a hotdog after mooching crab.

One year, the Spouse was away for the neighborhood crab feast. He had the role of walking the boys through their crab consumption. This time, it was on me. But, I knew exactly what to do. I taught them where the meat was in the claws, to open and eat from the hinge side, to suck the juices from the legs, to pull the tab and separate the top, to remove the gills and crack the body. They were much better students than me, but over years of observation I had became a crab picker. So much that people started to think I grew up eating Maryland crabs.

Callinectes sapidus, the Maryland blue crab. It’s part of my language. Hey hon, Chester wouldn’t get all the crabs now.

Sizing Up

Castle gate and wall. Imposing, no?

When I was a wee Doc we lived in The Old House. The house wasn’t especially old, but we called it The Old House to differentiate it from The New House. We moved to the new house just before My Older Sibling started kindergarten.

The New House was fully and completely new. It stood on what had been a part of a good-sized dairy farm that was subdivided into new blocks of varying sizes with twisty roads, half circles and a few cul-de-sacs. There were two very tall and very impressive trees. They were like Ents. The rest of the greenery was new sod and very young, very slow growing trees. When I left for college they barely provided shade.

The Old House, on the other hand, was surrounded by big old trees in the front and in the back. Indeed, the entire street was protected by limbs stretching and trying to touch their brethren across the street. Dappled gold and bursts of saffron would sneak through the small breaks in the big green canopy like specks of amber in hazel eyes. Closing my own, I can still see it, and feel it.

There were two very frightening things on the street with The Old House. First, the bees.

We were terrified of the bees. Someone told us that if they saw you move, they’d come after you and sting you. They were huge bees, the size of golf balls. No. Tennis balls. They would buzz back and forth among the flowers of the old lady down the street. We called her grandma. Her flowers were lovely, except for the bees that hung in front of the flowers. They looked like they were on wires that someone would occasionally move–either a small jerky up and down motion or a smoother left to right. We would spy them and very carefully, silently and slowly, holding our breaths, walk past grandma’s house.

Aa soon as we passed her property line we’d explode like a pinball out of the chute to our friend’s porch to play. I remember a bunch of cement steps to her porch. It was dark and cool, likely from one of those ancient elms. I don’t remember what we played, though. I think we launched ourselves off the steps.

The other terror was another neighbor’s dog. It would bark in a vicious manner. It was very loud. It’d throw itself against the fence to try and break through while full of snarl and howl to intimidate us as we walked by. And that monstrous dog was on the other side of the street. He really didn’t have to go to all that trouble. We weren’t allowed to cross the street.

One day I was walking back home by myself and the dog was banging against the fence. I was spying for bees and looking back over my shoulder across the street to see him break through. There was no worry and creeping past the bees. I took off as fast as I could to my house. The dog was gaining on me as I ran up the driveway through our open gate. I used all my strength to push the chain link gate closed, and it latched just as Cujo bashed into it. I lay on the ground for a second, catching my breath and watching the insane tirade of the evil dog. Worried he’d force himself through my barrier, I ran around the side of the house to the door and pushed my way to safety.

I was four when we moved. I don’t remember going back to The Old House for a long time.

The next time I saw the house, I was with my Dad. He was visiting our old neighbor, who was his best friend. It was maybe ten years later. I walked up our old driveway to the astonishing fence that saved me from that demon dog. Really, the fence wasn’t as astonishing as I was astonished. The gate that I remember breathlessly dragging to save myself from that ferocious canine wasn’t much more than two-feet tall. It would barely keep out a Jack Russell Terrier. So the dog that was chasing me was not a mastiff. Makes sense. Everything was bigger when I was smaller. I had a good chuckle.

I remembered this fence today. It came to me as I was thinking about fear. What are we afraid of? Do we let the objects of our fears grow huge before us? Or do we take a closer look and see them for what they are? Do we keep the images we had when we were most afraid, or do we gain perspective over time? Can we apply new knowledge to dissect and examine our experience and use that understanding to grow? Or do we stay stuck in that moment of terror, never to lift our heads again?

Who Tells Your Story

Preface to the new edition of a history of the US written by former Princeton and U.S. President Woodrow Wilson. He was a bigot, too.

I was driving back from the Italian specialty store. They have fabulous capicola and even more fabulosa salami. I bought a bottle of wine for dinner. Oddly I selected Spanish, not Italian.

I had one more stop to make before home. The “you’re almost out of gas you idiot” indicator appeared as I pulled into the parking spot at my earlier destination where I bought a bag of dog food. The Shell station was next.

As I was pulling out of the parking space, I flipped the radio station from the droning trance music. Who knew they played trance on commercial radio? I settled on the left side of the dial. I was sucked in by an intoxicating southern timbre.

A man was talking about historical preservation and public reckoning, but his story was about an old building that was being preserved. The preservation was wrong. You see, the preservationists had confused the front of the house with the back of the house. And, more importantly, they omitted any context for the structure. This was discovered and then reconciled by research that consisted of talking with the people who had actually lived there.

The historian learned that the story about the house that the museum was sharing–the history–was not just incomplete. It told a story different from the truth of the people who were there.

The history hewed to a narrative that supported the dominant culture. It supported the idea that the people who lived there were broken and weak. But the truth was that the people who lived there were strong, with tight families and decent means.

Dr. King said, “We are not makers of history. We are made by history.” So the history that we are told makes the people in our heads. It informs not only how we see the people in the past, but how we see their descendants.

It’s important (at least I think it is) to not only seek and share multiple perspectives, but also–and this is from the historian on the radio–to allow ourselves to be surprised. Surprised by what we find, what we learn and to let it challenge what we have believed and what we thought was truth.

Striving to understand people, to accept that their truths may be different, and even that their truth (or my truth, for that matter) might actually be the truth can help align what history makes us with who we actually are.

Wow. That’s a lot of thinking between the salami store and the gas station. If this symposium snippet on c-span was any indication, the new National Museum of African American History and Culture will be a place with a surfeit of surprise. I am open to it. You?

Pass The Nuts

I know that lots of people only occasionally fly. I know that airports and airport etiquette can be very foreign. I do not expect expertise from my fellow travelers, and, in fact, sometimes exhibit airport clumsiness myself.

That caveat aside, seriously, what the hell is wrong with some of you?

How do you normally figure things out?

I recommend less going to your memory banks on how it was last time you flew–2008?–or a whack video you saw on YouTube. Also please disregard the purported inside tips from your somewhat-sophisticated brother-in-law or from your fantasy football league commissioner, especially if their great knowledge is based upon an email they received from an “expert” source. [PSA: please check wild claims that get passed around social media on before adding to the noise. We all thank you in advance.]

Another idea is to use environmental information. One really great technique is to read the signs. There are many, many signs in airports. People actually have jobs to create signage. You don’t have to let all their work go to waste.

When I checked in for my flight, I was jazzed to see that the travel gods bestowed upon me a random TSA PreCheck. Jazz was induced especially because I was wearing boots–it’s the little things in travel. Also, I hate stripping down to my skivvies and filling up 4 or 5 gray bins with my laptop (must be alone in a bin) and shoes and scarves and a one-quart plastic bags full of liquids in containers all less than 3.4 ounces. You still can’t bring a bottle of water, though.

At today’s airport, there are two concourses. My flight was out of Concourse B. Only one had PreCheck open. Of course it was the Concourse A. The sign said the concourses are connected, so I turned around and walked across the mall and food court to the other security line. The woman in front of me read the PreCheck notice and did the same.

Concourse A displayed a 4×3 foot sign directing PreCheck travelers to the left and all others to the right. The sign explained the PreCheck rules which was pretty much put any bag you have on the belt and walk on through.

The woman in front of me removed her shoes and placed her coat in a bin. The family of four also in front of me confusedly pulled multiple bins out. Computers and tablets, belts and sweaters, watches and quart-sized plastic bags all unnecessarily placed with much consternation. The woman behind tapped my shoulder and asked if you could get from Concourse A to Concourse B. I told her yes, at least that’s what the sign said. She said she didn’t read that part.

It wasn’t crowded, so the passenger confusion was mostly self-inflicted. A TSA staffer reminded the six people in our line that they needed to have PreCheck on their boarding pass or go to the other line. A woman sheepishly ducked under the rope between the stanchions to her correct line. Another family crisscrossed to the PreCheck line from the standard line because they couldn’t read, either.

I put my backpack on the conveyer belt and walked through the magnetometer. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

I’m at my gate fifty minutes before the flight. A man in black warmup gear and screaming scarlet kicks walked across the empty airport to the gate. The door to the jetway is wide open, but it’s not time to board. Will Scarlet looks around and, for some unknowable reason, decides to board himself. Seriously. He walked through the door and down the jetway a few steps and walked back out. He had his boarding pass in his hand and inspected the unattended desk and computer. He found the scanner and he SCANNED HIS BOARDING PASS. I am not making this up. Then some clueless woman saw him and followed his lead.

I waited for the monster to spit them out, but nothing happened. I looked at my watch and started to worry that maybe the flight had boarded and I blew it. (I have done this once before.) Now, I’m all consternated. But, unlike my fellow passengers, I walk up to the the kiosk for my flight and check with the people who work there. No boarding yet.

I walk back to my seat to see the two people who took the boarding into their own hands escorted out by an airline employee. She was explaining that boarding would be in 20 minutes. Will Scarlett looked like he didn’t understand. That was the only part that made sense, that Mr. Scarlett was confused. Still.

In my head I’m wondering, did they get all the way to the door of the plane? Did they knock on it? Or was the plane door open? Did they walk on the plane? Was the pilot there? Were there people cleaning the seatbacks?  Or were they just standing on the jetway until someone “found” them?

And damn them for making me look. I knew better, but vagaries in the travel system, the missing of flights, the capriciousness of rules among airports and heightened or de-heightened alert status (more working dogs!), means that you have to verify and not trust your experiences. So, you crazy mixed up travelers, my second piece of advice, in addition to reading signs, is ask the experts. The real experts. Don’t follow Will Scarlett down the jetway.

At least there were peanuts on my flight.


colourful plastic blocks for a baby

The baby was fully concentrating. Her brow was furrowed as she rotated the red box. She was very impressed with herself. She picked up the box, and she also manipulated it. FTW!

She lifted it a bit more quickly than she calculated and knocked herself in the head. She was quite surprised by the velocity she created. She actually forgot that she was responsible for the collision. She didn’t cry. She just looked at the box in a confused way.

Not to be defeated, the baby shook it. More activity that caused something. She was reminded that there were contents in the box. She dropped the box the three inches to the carpet.

She dipped her hand in the box. It emerged attached to a green block. This was unexpected, but delightful. She raised the block to her mouth so she could steady it as well as taste it.  She pushed the block more solidly into her hand with her chin.

She pulled the block away from her face and looked at it anew. Because everything for her was new.

The Works

Crazy spinning tilt-a-whirl

I got my first job through family connections.

My Sibling. She worked at the nearby–at least in midwest suburban standards–hamburger joint called Burger Chef. The manager, Ken, really liked her alot. There was a shift opening, and she got me in. I don’t think Ken thought that I’d be a hard worker, but since he liked Sib, alot, he took a chance. It wasn’t a big risk. Kids got on and off that store like an amusement park ride, and there was always another 16-year-old needing a first job.

I don’t think that I worked a shift with the Sib. She soon got a school sponsored co-op job at a graphics shop and couldn’t do the hamburger thing. Lucky.

My first day I donned my plastic uniform. It was plastic. Seriously. They made this awful double-knit fabric that was made out of melted straws and drink cup lids. You would pull it out of the washing machine and it would be mostly dry because it wasn’t actually fabric.

It was topped by a crappy brown plastic tunic and crappy brown plastic pants–I guess to hide the stains of a day’s work–with 70’s orange and yellow stripes. Like the worst that the Brady’s would wear.  And then there was the worst cap ever. These days fast food workers wear baseball caps. In those days we wore clown jester hats. Nobody looked good in it. Even Emma Watson wouldn’t be able pull it off. Judge for yourself here.

My training shift was a two hour gig between lunch and dinner rush. Since there was virtually nobody there, the boss could actually spend time telling you what to do.

It was my first day at my first job and I didn’t yet constitutionally hate my crappy brown plastic uniform. I was cheerful and bouncy–like a worker should be, right? Ken showed me how to punch in and gave me my name tag. I toured the back of the house. I had never actually seen a grill or a triple sink before. The walk-in fridge was incredibly impressive. [Ask me sometime what I did when I accidently dumped over the pickle bucket in the walk-in. Be assured I never ate pickles again at that store. Another fun fact, when we were overcome by peeling and slicing onions, we’d go into the walk-in and put our faces next to the fan. Cleared the tears in a minute.]

After the tour, it was time for some actual work. Ken gave me a towel and a bucket with some diluted cleaning solution. He showed me how to wipe down the table and the booths, being sure to sponge the back of the bench as well as the seats.

I methodically worked my way through the dining room. Leaning over to make sure that I did a really good job. I went around the perimeter washing each booth then moved to the bolted down tabletops and twisty chairs. The booths were orange and the twisty chairs were beige and yellow. [Who chose those colors? Papa Brady?]

It probably took me 25 minutes to do a thorough job. Ken was behind the counter, prepping the cash registers or identifying what needed to be stocked for the dinner rush. When I was done, I walked back behind the counter–not gonna lie, it felt cool to cross the line to the back of the house. Boss Man was leaning against the stainless steel expo area and talking to another staffer. I eagerly asked him what I should do next.

He looked at me and surveyed the empty dining room. “Clean the tables.”

I thought he must have misspoke since I had just done that and nobody had sat down in that time. “I just did that.”

“Do it again.”

“What?” I thought. And I am sure that my face was somewhere between are you kidding me and screw you. But he was serious.

He was letting me know that he was the guy in charge and I answered to him. It didn’t matter that the tables were cleaned almost contemporaneously. He was paying me. Paying at below minimum wage, I might add still bitter decades later, because Burger Chef participated in a rip-off program that hired high school students at a lousy wage so they could exploit us even more while we got work experience so we could hop off their tilt-a-whirl.

“I said, go clean the dining room.”

I furiously grabbed my rag and my bucket and with a high level of attitude began rewiping down the tables and chairs. I mouthed and maybe spoke many curse words aimed primarily at my boss. The litany included everything except the F-word, because it was not yet my go-to when spitting vulgar profanities at the injustices of the world.

I was significantly pissed. I could have quit right then and there, I was telling myself. It was so stupid and unreasonable, I complained in my head as I squeezed out my towel. Why did I have to do something that was already done, I blasphemed as I extended my reach to the back of the booth next to the window and wiped again. I hated that stupid weasel-faced Ken with his stupid white shirt with short sleeves and that lame brown tie, those hideous aviator glasses and his awful mousy hair parted neatly on the side when all the guys I knew wore their hair like Jon Bon Jovi if they had curls or Tom Petty if they did not.

Somehow I worked my way around the dining room and my shift was over. I clocked out. I came back the next day and learned the cash register. And that’s how I learned to work.

God, it was awful. I swore I would never ever ever work with food again. That was a promise I kept.

When I left, they were sorry to see me go. They told me I had a future, as a crew chief. That’s the other thing I learned. Don’t go away mad. Just go away.

Now I’m thinking about Ken for the first time as a person. He was in his early twenties–just six or seven years my elder–even though he seemed like an old man when I was sixteen. I’m the old person at work. I hope I’m not so unreasonable. I hope I either advertently or inadvertently grant some valued lessons. And I hope that Ken has had a great life.