Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Misty Morning on the Black Warrior River




There will always be change, nothing ever stays the same. It is amazing how as I age this becomes more and more true. When I was growing up in the 1950’s and 1960’s network television was still pretty much in its infancy. Local stations produced and filled huge blocks of air time with local programming.

CBS in Buffalo was channel 4 on the dial of our first TV. They filled the late afternoon Monday through Friday airspace with movies. The films they aired were not the blockbuster movies of the past, but rather the “B” films that played as the second features of double runs. The ones I can remember by name would be the "Dead End Kids" series which starrd Leo Gorcey and Huntz Hall along with "Frances The Talking Mule".

One movie that sticks in my mind is a “college” flick from the 30’s or 40’s that would compare to today’s “Revenge of the Nerds.” The plot centered on a big rowing race. The good guys were on the underdog team. (naturally!) The underdogs were behind the well heeled frat boys in the race. The quick witted wise-guy coxin started to issue threats to black mail to individual rowers during the race. The thought of infidelities being revealed to girlfriends prompted the rowers to new peaks of strength and endurance to win the race! I can see in my mind the facial close-ups of these rowers as they first had a horrified look and then grim determination and exertion to protect their honour.

Why does something like this stay in my mind for over 40 years? I don’t think I want to know!!

Well, I’m now playing the part of coxin with our women’s racing team. It is very intimidating to have eight rowers following your orders. Remembering the drill sequencing, steering the sweep, constantly checking for obstacles in the water, and trying to make sense of the readings on the cox box has given me a lot of respect for the coxes. This is really a learning experience for us all.

Last night I won my E-bay auction for a dandy fire hydrant. This is going to entail a quick road trip to Michigan to pick up. To any “normal person” this appears as total insanity. Perhaps it is…but as crazy as it seems, these acquisitions and the freedom to travel at my will were the things I daydreamed about for years working in the factory. Those dreams were got me thorough in one case a 10 year stint of working the same process day in and day out. I practiced “delayed gratification” so now I’m retired I can cash in some of those chips.

A few weeks ago I attended a union meeting seeing people I have not associated with in many years. So many of my old co-workers have turned into “slugs”. That is a term we coined back in the shop days to describe those who had no ambition or purpose in life. It was unnerving to see these people who have no real passion just getting older and decrepit.

If anything my eyes were opened as to how and why things worked out in my life to have brought me to where I am today.

Enough of this, there are errands to run errands and then the “Y”. I need to erg extra hard again today as I did not row……

The newest addition: A 1902 Michigan Brass and Iron Works fire hydrant.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Rowing and Rain




Saturday the 26th the rowing club hosted a fundraiser “row-a-thon” to raise money to offset regatta expenses from 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. This day was also a home football game against Arkansas starting at 2:30. The excitement in the city was as crazy as the traffic.

I was awakened by the sound of heavy rain right at 4:00 a.m. UGH! It literally poured. But, right around 8:00 it slowly started to subside and the sky cleared a bit.

I needed to have some keys made up for the front gate of the club. I originally planned on having them made up at the hardware store in Northport on the way to the row. But…. If for some reason they did not have a blank I would be s—t out of luck. I promised to have the keys to distribute. Instead I went to Lowe’s. I have not been in this store for weeks. Walking in I was horrified to see the first aisle lit up with Christmas trees, and those horrible blow up yard decorations all over the store accompanied by the computer generated sounds. This gives me three months to work up my Scrooge attitude. How I’ve gotten to despise the Christmas holiday season crammed down my throat….. Enough of that rant!!!

The weather held and a dedicated group rowed “guests” in the sweep. We could take up to two riders in the 8. It is difficult to row and maneuver the boat in this fashion. Poor Trish in the five seat never got a break from rowing…she was integral to both the bow and stern section of the boat!

We were headed back to the dock when we heard the rumblings of thunder. “I don’t hear anything.” I innocently stated. “That must have been a dump truck!” said Robin. The open water is a VERY dangerous place to be during an electrical storm. We got back to the dock and could see the front of rain approaching us.

We were all soaked to the skin by the time we got the equipment all packed up and put away.

It sure felt good to get home and take a hot shower and get into dry clothes. I was beat from all the rowing. We did not do a lot of drill work, just easy straight out rowing. This was a perfect opportunity to concentrate on correcting all the things I do wrong… not opening my back till my legs are fully extended, not digging the blade into the water, reaching over the gunnel as far as I can to lengthen my stroke, sitting tall and not slouching my shoulders, etc, etc, etc….

Sunday I decided to finally clean up the brick patios. The spell of rain is supposed to be over for a while. Moss is everywhere on the brickwork. Fist straight bleach is worked into the bricks followed by TSP mixed in water. This is scrubbed around with a heavy push broom. Then the power washer goes to work clearing up the gunk.

I had company in the yard in the form of the birds and squirrels fighting for the bird seed. Hummingbirds have finally discovered the feeder I put up. They were battling over the nectar. For little guys they sure are aggressive!

Our Sunday row was cancelled due to lack of people. I was really disappointed, as I was looking forward to getting on the river again. I would think the people who will be competing in the upcoming regattas would want to get every second on the water they could.

Fall is in the air. The sun has moved south enough now to where the back yard is in shade for much of the day now. With not going on the river, I was able to get the back yard all mowed and trimmed up. The grass is exploding with the rain we have been getting.

This morning before daybreak I enjoyed my first cup of coffee on the cleaned up brick patio. Daggy and Stump emerged from their respective hiding places. Daggy took her perch on my lap while Stump sniffed around for interesting smells. He is walking on his sore leg pretty much all the time now with only a small limp. I can tell he is better in that he will sleep a lot now totally stretched out on his back. I can handle his leg and paw and not get growls or at the worst hisses. He even attempted to climb his favourite tree! He got part way up!

The UPS man just delivered a new battery to replace the defective one in the new "cox box". It was just installed and put on the charger. Hopefully this will solve an annoying problem with our new EXPENSIVE equipment.

Time to post this entry and get to the “Y”: I need to erg extra hard this morning to make up for not rowing yesterday…..

Friday, September 25, 2009

Rain, Bricks, Manhole Covers




What a roller coaster these past two weeks have been. After a vast improvement, Stumpy took a turn downhill. He stopped walking on his “bad” leg and went back to being lethargic. Monday morning the 21st I noticed his paw was swollen. He hissed at me when I tried to handle him.

The infection from that bite does not want to heal up. The Vet had to drain more pus out and shoot him up with more antibiotics. Stumps fever was 104.4°. When is this going to end? It has been over two weeks now…..

On the Stumpy front: I’m hopeful all is well. He is again walking on that sore leg, and the Dr. just gave him a quick check over and all seems as it should be.

We have had so much rain and humidity these past few weeks. The “monsoons” kept us from rowing for nearly a week. The Black Warrior River was way high, flowing fast and dirty. All kinds of crap was floating in that river. Thursday we were able to get out and had a great row. We did a long stretch rowing all eight which is always an adventure. We were all soaked from water splashing up from the oars when we docked. It was still invigorating!

The wood cabinet doors, drawers, and house doors are swollen from the humidity. Some will barely close. I thought I was Oliver Douglas from “Green Acres” the other day. I tried to slam the side door shut to the driveway. It has one of those door knobs you push and turn to lock the outside knob. The damn door knob came off in my hand! Fortunately I was able to take the thing apart and repair the thing.

Saturday night Em had a wonderful dinner at his home in Birmingham. He grilled up a huge fillet wrapped in bacon. It was a game day in Tuscaloosa. I left at 2:30 in the afternoon just missing the traffic. I had Em laughing when I told him I was going to drive up on my own. There was no way I would drive back with Gary having to listen to his horrible music! Gary is one of those who will switch out a radio station or song after only about 20 seconds of listening. That drives me CRAZY!!

A good friend of Em’s Jerry was there. He is such a nice guy. I was being teased for my passion over bricks and manhole covers by the others. Jerry said, “I’ve got a City of Birmingham manhole cover that was dumped on my property if you want it!” I nearly had an orgasm!!! We worked out a day to meet for me to get the thing which was today, Friday the 25th.

If that were not enough, my friend Buck called Wednesday with news of a listing on Craigslist for Graves paving bricks also in BHAM. I was able to pick up those 31 bricks today on my way home! Life surely is good!

The back of my truck:

I was waiting for Debbie to call this morning when my cell phone went off. NOBODY calls that number. It was Debbie calling to confirm our morning walk. She told me my line was busy. I picked up the phone and it was dead!

I called the AT&T number and went through the voice mail Hell. They performed a test on my line and told me all is fine, the problem is in the inside wiring. They ALWAYS say that!

After our walk, I took my spare dial phone to test the line at the box. I plugged the line into the box and actually got a dial tone! DAMN! Now I have to trouble shoot the lines to find the short. I did not have time to do that as I needed to get on the road to Birmingham.

On the drive home I went crazy retracing my steps from the last time I used my landline. Then it dawned on me. I got some very coarse steel wool to use in cleaning the grease off the iron stove top. When I put the steel wool back there was a bare phone wire it shorted out. Testing my theory out sure enough, there were the bare wires that were shorted out. I have a land line again. I take back all the horrible things I said about AT&T this morning!

Thursday in the late afternoon, I met Tim, Liz, Roger and Diane at “Innesfree”, a local “watering hole”. It is within walking distance from my house. I arrived in my Utilikilt! I know I got lots of looks! At this point of my life I don’t care. I was so comfortable!

One of their draft beers was a wheat beer from Atlanta. It was so good! A blue cheese hamburger and fries was my supper. Since I was walking I had three beers over the course of the night. We would have stayed longer, but the football game was on the big screen with the volume turned up so high to make things uncomfortable.

When I got home, I cranked open a beer and enjoyed that with Stumpy resting on my lap on my front porch. It was a warm humid evening. The ceiling fan was turned to high to keep the mosquitoes away. It was a perfect ending to the day….

Saturday, September 19, 2009

My Career in Coffee




It has been damp, gray and rainy since I returned home from my road trip last Thursday. Our evening row was cancelled last night because of the weather. There are some of the most amazing fungi growing up in my yard from all the moisture. This is the perfect opportunity to pull weeds. However, the mosquitoes are so bad this year. I get swarms of them around me just walking into the back yard.

Enough of griping about the weather: This entry will be to document my stint as a “small businessperson” working with Marsha’s Coffee Service.

Early “fold over brochure” promoting our coffee!

Back in the early 1990’s I was working on a job making evaporator cores used in air conditioning systems. The machine I ran was called a “clincher”. This was a difficult involved job to learn. Nearly half of my 30 years at GM were spent running this machine.

Marsha worked in my department on the midnight shift. She was one of the nicest people you can imagine. She had a gift of getting people to do pretty much anything she wanted. In a factory this is no small feat. To get skilled trades guys to do favors for you could be pretty impossible at times…….

Coffee and the factory pretty much went hand in hand. There were coffee vending machines around the plant dispensing horrible swill at 30¢ for a tiny cup. Marsha started out selling coffee at 20¢ cup with a 30 cup coffee urn, some Styrofoam cups, creamer and sugar for her midnight crew.

When the day shift would come in, they wanted to buy coffee from Marsha. Marsha worked out a deal with me and Bonnie who worked the rotating shift opposite me to keep her urns going for a set price.

This worked out well at first, but then business increased dramatically. It was in September of 1993 we decided to pool our resources and buy some serious equipment. Bonnie and I would be responsible for keeping the coffee going on our respective shift.

The bathrooms in the plant were located above the shop floor. We commandeered an area under one of the stairways for the coffee service. Marsha was able to get steel cabinets from skilled trades to house supplies and the coffee urns. Those urns drew a lot of power. The electricians ran a separate line for Marsha so we would not be tripping the breakers. There was a “mop sink” near by where the pipefitters tapped in and installed a separate water line complete with a filter for her!

Midnights and day shift were the most profitable times for coffee sales. When starting day shift there would be two 100 cup urns going along with a smaller 30 cup urn for decaff, and another 30 cup with hot water for tea and hot chocolate.

I never had any business courses so my attempt at keeping books was pretty pathetic. I still have the records of my enterprise with Marsha. Basically I just kept track of what I paid out in supplies and the money that came in and hope I had a profit.

Sales were on the honour system. Even at 20¢ a cup it was amazing how many deadbeats stole coffee and even money from us. I would say about a third of the sales were to folks who used their own china cups. When inventorying the Styrofoam cups used during my shift, I would consider myself lucky if the money that came in matched the cups used. Having GM paying our electric and water helped a lot too!! 1994 was the only full year I ran the service. I cleared over $5,000.00.

Our operation was always a bone of contention with the company that ran the cafeteria and vending machines. We operated in a gray area. If the company shut us down, by rights they would have to stop every coffee pot in the plant. There were many such operations like ours, just not to our scale!

I can’t say how, but another vending operation started up right by us. A commercial popcorn machine found it’s way into the factory and 50¢ bags of popcorn were VERY popular among the workers. The smell of freshly popping corn is so addictive! This was not Marsha’s doing. I’m sworn to secrecy on this one!

I was working overtime and covering the coffee service for Bonnie when my foreman Lou approached me. “Get over to the coffee service NOW.” He told me. “I’ll be on break in a minute” I replied. “Now, it’s the Board ofHealth, they are going to start cutting locks in a minute!” he said.

It was one nervous chinch operator who ran to the coffee service. Health inspectors were checking the temperature of the coffee in the urns and the cleanliness of the coffee dispensing area and supply cabinets. I was able to get all the locks undone. All in all the inspectors were very impressed and told me this was the cleanest operation its type they had ever seen.

The popcorn machine was the real problem. That was considered a food operation, which is forbidden in a factory environment. Sadly we had to say good-by to the popcorn machine……

Marsha’s flourished. Thursday’s were “Customer Appreciation Day” where-by bowls of hard candies would be put out. We would have baked goods for our customers on the major holidays and free coffee.

Working in Dept 862 was such a comfortable rut. I had worked in that dept for 10 continuous years. My mom died in December of 1994 and things in my life started to change.

There was little turnover in that department. We worked on rate. When you become proficient at a job it looks easy and when things go well you can work in some decent break time. That is what allowed me to run the coffee service and run my clincher at the same time.

In the early spring of 1995 management was “riding our asses” They were trying to raise our production rates and write us up for any infraction they could dream up. Time study people were clocking our every move with stopwatches. As factory workers we were regarded as the lowest of the low. Generally those fools in management did not realize we knew our clinchers inside and out. All I had to do when loading parts into my clincher was to do an imperceptible shift of my wrist. This would cause the parts to be stacked at an angle which would cause constant jam-ups. They were never able to do a time study on this boy doing that job!

I had been through this type of action too many times. Rather than go through all the aggravation, I transferred away to a similar job in a different building in the spring of 1995. A coworker Les bought out my share of Marsha’s and continued running the service on my old shift.

Moving out of Dept 862 was a good move for me. I credit that move and association with new people to my relocating to Alabama. That is another story all unto its own…..

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Stumpy on the Mend / Frustration




Stumpy’s leg has been a constant worry to me for the past week. He seemed to be out of pain, but would not use that sore leg of his. He kept it curled up not putting any pressure on it. He would let me massage it, showing his pleasure with volumous purring and head butts.

Last night before turning in to bed I witnessed him taking tentative steps on that leg. If I needed a sign the worst was over that was it. It brought flashbacks of the movie Heidi when Shirley Temple as Heidi persuaded the invalid Klara to take her first steps from the wheelchair. What feeling of relief! It’s a good thing I was not holding a “snow globe” like the one in the move that was dropped! LOL!

We had a frustrating row this morning. It kind of reminded me of some restoration projects; whereby the last 10% of the job requires 90% of your work and concentration to be right. As rowers we pretty much have the basics down, now to just get everyone to work and row together. God, it so much easier said than done.

About half way through our practice we were hit by a large wake that ricocheted off a block wall that supports a viewing area into the river. That water flooded over the starboard gunnel instantly soaking the shoes we had on board. We had a soggy trip carrying the boat back from the dock. It was amazing how much water poured out onto us when we lifted it off the river.

Raising money for the club continues to be a challenge with regattas coming up. The new $500.00 cox box that had to be returned for repair a few weeks ago was delivered to me Wednesday. I was not able to fully charge the battery on it. Trying to get it to work on the sweep after our row was unsuccessful. I’ll try again with a fully charged battery tomorrow. More aggravation.

Today I was lucky and the rain held off. It has been so damp and humid, but my whites that were hung out on the line this morning are almost totally dry at 5:00 p.m. Hopefully it will all be dry enough to fold and put away before the sun goes down.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Drama: Stumpy, subwoofer, and Rowing

Things are finally getting back into a routine. The most troubling aspect of the past week has been my cat Stumpy. He was lethargic all weekend. Early Monday morning I packed him off to his usual vet for an examination. When I picked him up in the afternoon I was told he had a fever and more pus had to be drained out of his leg. Doc shot him up with more antibiotics.

He is eating and is active, but will not put any pressure on that sore leg. He seems to be extending it more, not curling it into his body as much, but I’m still worried. If he is still like this Friday the Dr wants me to bring him around.

Tuesday morning I got my subwoofer back together. I needed to access the works by removing the front control panel to complete the job. Naturally the knob was frozen to the shaft of the volume control. To cut to the chase, the way the unit was put together made disassembly pretty much impossible. Not for this boy though. However in the process the volume control unit snapped off the circuit board. It looked to be a pretty standard part.

Here is a case where terminology is everything. I first went to Radio Shack. Isn’t that the logical place to go for such a thing? I had the defective part to use as a sample. This clueless clerk looked at me like I was from Mars when I explained what I needed: a volume control for the subwoofer to my computer sound system. “We don’t have anything like that” she said.

I played around on Google for some information on the needed part. I can’t for the life of me find anything remotely helpful for replacing that volume control. It has to be an easily replaced part, I just know it. When all else fails try a discussion board. I logged into Craigslist and threw myself to the mercy of the Computer forum. A kind poster gave me the information I needed: “Simple potentiometer will do it, and you can get them at Radio Shack or any electronic parts store. Just pop out the old one and get one like it”.

Sure enough I pulled up the Radio Shack website and using “potentiometer” as a keyword brought up lots of choices. Using the code on the side of the old part I ascertain I needed a 100k unit. I called ahead with the catalogue number of this blasted unit and sure enough, this store that “did not have anything like that” had four units in stock.

Gone are the days when “electronic geeks” with an understanding of circuits and components are at an electronics store to help. About the only consolation is being able to research what you need ahead of time, and to only expect the store clerk to be an instrument to complete the transaction.

I had to drill a new mounting hole to mount the new unit on the front of the subwoofer. Believe me I don’t care. This system is so old, but with the newly foamed speaker it sounds wonderful and hopefully will last another 12 years.

There has been quite a bit of drama going on with the Rowing Club in trying to get teams together for the regattas next month. Racing in a master’s class can be tricky. Being over 21 is considered being a “master”. Naturally a sweep of “master rowers” in their 20’s is vastly different from a sweep of rowers in their 50’s. There are handicaps employed to offset such differences.

Our club is still in its infancy. It is a tough call putting together teams… do you only choose the aggressive rowers, or do you just open it to everybody who wants to race regardless of their skill and endurance level?

I’m speaking solely for myself when I say to go for the aggressive rowers. That first race I participated in back in April sparked a passion that I’ve never before experienced. So much so that I’ve been training on my own five days a week at the “Y” so not to be the “weak link” of the team.

I have the luxury that most of my teammates don’t have in that being retired I have the time to devote to this sport that has taken over my life. Will see what happens. There is no mens competition team, and there are not enough men rowers to fill out two mixed sweeps. It is so frustrating.

Anyway, I need to get ready to meet a bunch of my old co-workers for breakfast. They had been meeting at I-Hop which I don’t really care for. They changed the location to Wrights, a family owned place that makes the best western omlettes. They are made up of everything but the kitchen sink and are SO GOOD. I will have to erg on the Concept II Rower extra hard after this breakfast!!

Friday, September 11, 2009

A Stumpy Drama

This boy is so far behind after being away for over a week with no computer access. Today is the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. This time of year is always a reminder for me on another level as it marks some of sadder milestones of my life. The two most notable would be my father passing away in 1985 and the loss of my Ron in 1992. I cherish the memories of these men in my life. The greatest honour I can do for them is to continue living in a positive manner.

A coping mechanism I’ve used for as long as I can remember is to use my sense of humour as a defensive shield. My corny jokes and puns have diffused tense situations for decades. People forget that in the deep past the court jester was one of the few who could tell truths to the seated, unapproachable kings and queens of history.

I called Sherri from the road Wednesday night from the Motel Six in Bowling Green. I wanted her to know that my ETA would be early Thursday morning. I was only 300 miles from home, but after driving 700 miles I was in no condition to push myself.

She warned me that Stumpy was limping about on three legs. Shit! What has that boy gotten into now? He is normally bouncing off the walls or at least sleeping on the bed, taking in the smells from the open window. It is not normal for him to stay under the bed……

It’s a five hour drive from Bowling Green to Tuscaloosa. When I worked at the Corvette plant back in 2004-2005 I made that trip too many times. There was a 4:00 a.m. wake up call for me. Stumpy had me so worried I was up at 3:00 a.m. At 3:15 I was on the road home.

It was 9:00 a.m. when I opened the front door. Stump was right there scooting out to the porch; hobbling on three legs. His left front paw was curled up. That boy loves being outside. He rubbed up against his favourite bushes and plants before parking himself in the middle of Michelle’s driveway next door. He could not use his front left paw and he meowed out in pain to me. It took a while before Stump let me handle him some. When I attempted to examine his bad leg he would let out that guttural growl to leave him alone. Finally he sprawled out on the rug to where I could see he chewed the fur off the back of his leg. It looked puffy and swollen.

Stump’s regular Vet does his surgery on Thursdays. I can’t hold off Stump getting attention. There is a Vet just around the corner from me. Stump was bundled up and taken there.

An examination revealed what I had feared. Stump had been bitten and his leg was infected. No doubt he was annoying Daggy and she hauled off and bit him. The Dr explained I had two choices in this situation.

1. I could first try a regimen of antibiotics to clear up the problem.

2. Surgery would be performed to open up the leg, clean it out and apply antibiotics directly to the injury. If option number one was unsuccessful there would be no choice but to perform number 2.

I remembered back to when Mom’s cat Fuzzy lived with me after her death. He loved being outside after a life of an indoor cat. He was declawed so being on the outside was dangerous for him even in my tiny secure backyard. It was 1996 and I was dismantling my house in preparation of selling. There was the sound of Fuzzy tearing into the house followed by a neighborhood Tom cat. The inside back door had closed: poor Fuzz was trapped. I was able to chase out that intruding cat.

What I did not realize was that Fuzzy was bitten during the attack. It was not till a few days later when I felt a huge “puss pocket” on his side late on a Sunday night. It had broken through by the time I rushed him to the Vet’s the first thing the next morning.

The infection was pretty bad. The incision to treat the damage went around Fuzzy’s entire right belly side. That attack on poor Fuzz determined me to never have a cat of mine declawed. I’ve paid the price for that decision in snagged clothes, ripped skin, and some clawed up furniture. At this point of my life I don’t care… material things are easily replaced.

After that experience with Fuzzy I chose the second option. It was with a heavy heart I left Stumpy at the Vets to undergo surgery in the afternoon.

The office called right around 4:00 p.m. Stumpy came through with flying colours. I could swing by and see him if I wanted. I did not take time to change out of my Utilikilt; leaving the house immediately. It never fails I get positive feedback from my Utilikit. A couple cars passed who gave me a “heads up" sign!

Stumpy was in a back cage, still groggy from the anesthetic. He lifted his head upon hearing my voice. His leg was bandaged up. The Dr explained how when he opened up the leg there was a deep “puss pocket” that he drained. There was no way an antibiotic treatment alone would have helped and surgery would have been inevitable. Stump had a fever of 104° when I brought him in, so I’m glad to have taken the course of action I did.

It breaks my heart to see an animal suffer. I was assured things will be back to normal in a day or two for my Stumpy.

Daggy assured me she will never bit her best pal again…….

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About Me

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Tuscaloosa, Alabama, United States
Retired auto worker who can now spend too much time restoring his 1922 Bungalow Home. I'm involved in a number of varied activities from collecting bricks to rowing with a masters rowing group. This blog is to share different aspects of my life on my Facebook page. I've kept an on-line journal for eight years.