Sunday, January 30, 2011

Now, Harvey. . .

In the course of 30-plus years of my engineering career (which, perhaps surprisingly, has yielded a funny story or two over the years), only once have I ever interviewed a candidate for employment, when I was at my previous employer.

A young hotshot named Andy, fresh out of college, was applying for a job with us. I'm not really sure why they asked me to interview him; I wasn't in any kind of supervisory position. It was probably because the job he was applying for had something to do with computers (although not really with anything I was doing at the time), and in those days, computers were still mostly mysterious to boss-types, and they wanted someone to talk with him who understood what he'd be talking about. We talked for twenty minutes or so, and my main impression of Andy was that he was more than a little, uh, cocky. Arrogant, even. He was certainly not lacking in self-confidence.

At the end of the day, I told the guys who'd be deciding whether to make him an offer that, if he was even half as good as he thought he was, he could be a decent hire. And they did hire him (how much of that had to do with my recommendation is doubtful).


Over the ensuing few years, Andy and I bumped into each other with some regularity. And I came to see that my initial hints of his exaggerated sense of his own importance were not, alas, mistaken. Again and again, Andy showed himself to be all about one thing - Andy. One time, I didn't reply to one of his emails promptly enough to suit him, so he sent a scathing email to my boss, decrying my 'egregious lack of professionalism'.

Fortunately, by that time, Andy's schtick was well-known, and my boss told me I had nothing to worry about from Andy. Which was a relief. But Andy showed, on many occasions, and not just to me, that he had no qualms about throwing anyone and everyone under the bus, if he thought it might be to his advantage.

And so it was that, a while later, I found myself in a meeting with Andy, and his boss Anwar (a Pakistani; which fact might add some 'texture' to the story as it develops), and a guy named Harvey. Harvey and Andy both worked for Anwar, although their duties didn't really overlap at all. Harvey was pretty much the stereotypical 'crusty old Navy guy', complete with the former-sailor's vocabulary. If he cussed you out, it just kind-of rolled smoothly off his tongue, and you knew it really wasn't anything personal; it was just Harvey.

And, you might well imagine that Harvey, the 'crusty old Navy guy', and Andy, the cocky new-hire, might clash just a bit. And you'd be right. And you might well imagine that, when such clashes occurred, they might provoke some, uh, colorful language from Harvey, directed at his young puke of a co-worker. And you'd be right about that, too.

So, then, as the meeting began, and we were sitting around the table, Anwar turned to Harvey, raising an admonitory finger, and with a thick Pakistani accent (it really does add to the story if you can sort-of imagine it in your head), said one of the funniest things I've ever heard in a corporate setting: "Now Harvey - you must not be calling Andy a c*cks*cker."  Because, you know, Andy had pissed him off, and Harvey had done just that. And Andy, in his turn, had gone and whined complained about it to their boss. . .

Harvey sat there, getting redder by the second, exercising every ounce of self-control he could muster not to jump across the table and choke the young twerp his co-worker.

And everyone else around the table nearly blew their eyeballs from their sockets, and snot from their noses, trying to hold back the howling laughter they wished they could let out. . .

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Snow? I Got Your Snow Right Here. . .

A little while back my friend Suldog (who only just gets upset when I try to say nice things about him, so I'll just say he's my friend and leave it at that. . . ;) ) posted some really spectacular photos of an 18-inch snowfall at his house. And that, as many things do, reminded me of a couple stories from my (mostly un-sordid) past. . .


I grew up in Northern Michigan (if I'm talking to someone from New York or Chicago, or heck, even Boston, I say I grew up in a small town; but truth to tell, we actually fancied ourselves as something like the Metropolis of Northeastern Michigan; at least, you had to drive 150 miles to find a bigger town in pretty much any direction). And Northern Michigan, being the northern part of a northern state, and being situated as it is in the middle of the Great Lakes (Michigan and the Great Lakes pretty much define each other, geographically speaking; if it weren't for Michigan, the Great Lakes would just be one Great Big Blobby-Shaped Lake, and Gordon Lightfoot wouldn't have any reason to write songs about that, now would he?). . .

Uh, okay, where was I? (Too many damn parenthetical comments, that's where. . .)

Oh, yeah. . . Being way Up North, and in the middle of the Great Lakes, we had the two most important ingredients in the recipe for Snow -

(1) Cold temperatures
(2) Lots and LOTS of water

In fact, around the Great Lakes, we get this thing called 'Lake-Effect Snow', which might not exist anywhere else in the world (any of my Siberian readers - do you guys get lake-effect around Lake Baikal? Just, you know, wonderin'. . .) I'm not sure exactly what the thermal physics of lake-effect are, but I do know that, if you live anywhere near one of the Great Lakes, and you get a lake-effect snow, you get snow Up the Yingyang (that's a technical term), like you've never seen. . .


Jen accepted my proposal of marriage in February of 1980, and a couple weeks later, I took her to meet my parents (who had moved to the Chicago suburbs roughly simultaneously with my high-school graduation). While we were there, I thought it would be fun to take her downtown to see some of the sights and sounds and smells of downtown Chicago. So, on a bright and sunny suburban morning with temperatures in the low/mid-30s (which, by late February in a northern climate, can feel a lot like Daytona Beach), we hopped on the commuter train and headed downtown.

As the train made its way toward downtown, the bright, sunny, cotton-candy-cloud skies gave way to something grayer and more overcast, and by the time we got downtown, it was snowing. Which didn't bother us too much, except that we'd both dressed for the sunny mid-30s we'd seen out at my parents' house in the 'burbs. By noon, there was six inches on the ground, and our sight-seeing plans had devolved into quick hops from one storefront to another, trying to keep our feet warm. By mid-afternoon, there was a foot of snow on the ground, so we gave up and headed back to the train station.

By the time we got back out to my folks' place (which is about 35 miles from downtown), it was bright and sunny again. I asked my mom how much snow they'd gotten, and she looked at me like I was nuts. "We didn't get any snow," she said.

So, 35 miles from a 12-inch lake-effect snowfall, it was bright and sunny all day. . .


In my hometown of Alpena, I think an average winter is something on the order of 90-100 inches of snow. Which, by the time it thawed a couple times, meant that we spent most of the winter walking in little canyon-sidewalks two or three feet deep. My parents' house was the last house on a dead-end street, about a block from the nearest house, and two blocks from the nearest paved street.

Our house sat on top of a little mound, so our driveway ran maybe 40 feet or so from the garage down to the street. When it snowed, my brother and I would shovel the driveway, so Dad could put the car into the garage when he got home from work at the end of the day. Our car was a nine-passenger Plymouth station-wagon (the car for which the term 'land yacht' was coined), so Dad held very exacting standards for what manner of shoveling job he required - first and foremost, the shoveled driveway had to be wide enough for him to get the car through.

Our mailbox was down at the bottom of the driveway, where it met the street; Dad rigged up a deal out of 2x6's embedded in concrete in a 55-gallon drum, to keep the mailbox from 'moving around'. And part of our shoveling duty was to clear out around the mailbox so the mailman could deliver our mail ('cuz if the mailbox was buried, he just wouldn't deliver it; 'neither snow nor sleet' has its limits. . .) When we had finished shoveling to Dad's specifications, our driveway/mailbox/front porch were a functional work of art; we liked to think of it as an 'Integrated Domicile Accessibility System'. . .

Now, I think it was my sophomore year of high school (which would have been the '70/'71 school year), we had a teachers' strike, which meant that we started the school year about three weeks late. In order to make up the lost days, school ran a week later into June than usual, Christmas break was shortened by a couple days, and they scheduled half-a-dozen or so Saturdays. Which really kinda rotted, but whatcha gonna do?

All of which is to set the stage for that winter, which, as far as I know, is still the snowiest on record for Alpena. One fine Monday morning, we arrived at school as we normally did on Monday morning, and shortly thereafter, it began to snow, and snow hard. So hard that, by noon, the powers-that-be decided to send us all home, while the rural kids who had to ride buses could still get through (I being a 'city kid', stayed at the school to play some pick-up basketball in the gym, since I lived five or six blocks from the high school).

It snowed hard all Monday night, and into Tuesday, until there were 24 inches on the ground. And this was not the light, fluffy stuff, either; it was the heavy, wet kind, that weighed roughly half-a-ton per shovelful. School was called off for Tuesday, since it was still snowing. My brother and I got up (or, more likely, Dad got us up) to shovel the driveway. I don't know if this was the time or not, but I do recall one time, Dad charging the car down the two blocks of snow-covered dead-end-street, only to get high-centered on a snow drift about halfway there, so my brother and I had to go down and shovel the snow out from under the car so he could keep going.

You can be sure that 24 inches of wet, heavy snow was no picnic. And every shovelful that came off the driveway had to be lifted at least two feet off the ground, just in order to pile it on top of the snow that was already covering the yard. By the time we finished, our driveway was a canyon about four or five feet deep.

And even at that, as much satisfaction as we derived from the creation of this snow-canyon, our work wasn't complete until the plow came, and dumped another couple feet of what we called 'snow hash' - the hard-packed chunks of plowed snow - across the mouth of the driveway. We wouldn't even shovel out the mailbox until after the plow came, because we'd just end up having to do it twice. Clearing out the 'hash' was, without a doubt, the worst part of the job; partly because you sorta felt like you'd finished, and then had to go clean up a mess somebody else made for you, and partly because it was just miserable stuff to shovel. Our street didn't even get plowed until Wednesday morning, so school was called off for Wednesday, as well, since the rural back-roads hadn't been completely plowed by then, either.

It looked like we were all set to go back to school on Thursday morning, but on Wednesday night, the snow started back up again. By Thursday morning, there was another six inches down, and it was still snowing like crazy. So school was called off for Thursday, too. It snowed all day Thursday, until we'd gotten another 18 inches on top of the 24 we'd gotten earlier in the week - 42 inches in all, in the space of four days.

When my brother and I went out to shovel this time, we faced a significant challenge in simply being able to throw the snow (which was pretty similarly wet and heavy to the first batch) high enough to get it on top of the piles that we'd made earlier in the week. When we finished, the piles on either side of the driveway were over seven feet high.

School was called on Friday, as well, and it was late Friday when the plow came and 'hashed' us again (Dad had us shovel an extra five yards out into the street, and along the street either side of the driveway; partly to try to help him get down the street a little easier, partly to try to decrease the amount of hash the plow would leave when it finally did come, and partly to keep a couple of teenage boys occupied).

Now, as it turned out, that Saturday was one of the 'strike-added' Saturdays, which was scheduled to be a school day. But nobody, including the principals and teachers, was much in the mood to go in for a single day on Saturday, after 42 inches of snow, so school was cancelled on Saturday, as well (and you know, I'm sure the 'back-county' roads still weren't plowed by then, anyway). So we actually had five-and-a-half snow days in a single week.

I think our final total for that winter was something close to 180 inches - roughly double our annual average. 15 FEET of snow, in a single winter. . .


(add 21 January)

Well, Suldog has done it again, putting up a post about the Blizzard of '78 (Boston version). Which, combined with what I've posted above, reminded me of this old post. . . (And, just for the sake of saying so, I remember reading, the following fall, that the birthrate in Lansing was 30% higher than normal in October '78; one new mother said, "Well, you can only play so many games of Monopoly". . .)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Lord, Have Mercy

I'd solicit your prayers for a couple of situations that have come close to our family in recent days. . .


Our neighbors across the street are a young couple (well, younger than us), members of our Christian community. Jen takes a bit of pride in, years ago, having played something of a 'matchmaker' role for them. They have four children, three girls and a boy, ranging in age from 11 down to 5, for whom 6F has been a frequent babysitter. The husband/father (call him Al) is 36. I've known both him and his wife since their college days.

Last Wednesday, Al had a stroke. When he was very young (maybe four, or something like that), he had a brain tumor. It was treated agressively, with radiation, and probably some other stuff, and he never had any kind of recurrence. But the radiation and other agressive stuff that was done three decades ago, caused that part of his brain to 'age' more rapidly. Whatever the case, 36 is terribly young to be having a stroke. The immediate effects are paralysis of his left side, and significant difficulty speaking. His prognosis for survival is excellent, but it remains to be seen how much function he regains, and how long it takes.

Which, of course, leaves all sorts of unanswered questions for the future, as to what their life will be like, how they'll pay their bills, what will be the effect on their kids, etc, etc etc. . . Needless to say, it's a pretty freaky time for them. Al's wife hasn't had a 'real job' (ie, outside the home, for pay) in many years, and suddenly she's looking at having to do that again (and you may have noticed, all talk of recovery aside, the economy is still running somewhere short of 'robust')

It's been good to see our community rallying to their support. Another young family (with eight kids of their own) (no, not us; does it freak you out that there's more than one?) has taken their kids in indefinitely, so Al's wife can be with him in the hospital. And folks are putting together a meal schedule for them, so they can come home without the immediate pressure of putting food on the table.

Anyway, if you all could lift them up in your prayers, they can surely use them. . .


My youngest brother and his wife live in Tucson, Arizona. They met when they were both in college in Montana (Jen and I, and 7M, who was a newborn at the time, went to their wedding in Missoula - in the church that was used in filming A River Runs Through It). After graduation, they moved to Tucson, where his wife's family lives. My sister-in-law is an elementary school teacher.

My brother has always enjoyed telling the story about the time he stopped at the vacuum-cleaner store to pick up some bags for their vac, only to encounter Paul McCartney picking up his own vac from the repair counter (the McCartneys had a ranch outside Tucson; I've always gotten a kick from the idea of Paul McCartney picking up his own vaccum cleaner from the repair shop, and not just sending someone to pick it up for him) (or, for that matter, that Paul McCartney gets his vacuum cleaner repaired, instead of just pitching it and getting a new one).

Last Saturday morning, my SIL was out doing some shopping at a shopping center near their home. Suddenly, from the other side of the shopping center, shots rang out, and everything was thrown into confusion. In a matter of minutes, med-evac helicopters were taking victims to the hospital. Yeah, she was there.

She's OK; at least in a physical sense. But it has shaken her terribly. The 9-year-old girl who was killed attended a school near their house, which their nephew also attends. The 'degrees of connection' of the tragedy spread out all over their neighborhood.

I cannot fathom what could possibly motivate someone to kill a 9-year-old girl to make some kind of twisted political statement. I have my own political opinions, some of them quite firmly held, but I cannot imagine taking a gun to shoot up a shopping center in the hopes of killing my political 'adversaries'. This ain't freakin' Nazi Germany. . .

The victims and their families need our prayers; and Rep. Giffords, and the other wounded, for their recovery. Quite apart from their status as public servants, or members of one or the other political party, these are nonetheless human beings, with families and loved ones of their own. And please pray for the people of Tucson, including my SIL, who didn't ask for this to happen in their back yard, and are, as you might imagine, pretty deeply shaken by it.


Oh Lord, have mercy. . .

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Imitatio Christi

A few times over the years (most recently, here and here), I've mentioned that Thomas a Kempis' Imitatio Christi (The Imitation of Christ) is on the short list of my very favorite books ever. First published around the year 1420, it reads like a medieval Christian Book of Proverbs - pithy wisdom for daily Christian life. Thomas was mainly writing for a monastic audience, but the wisdom in the Imitatio is just as applicable for any life of dedicated Christian discipleship.

I first picked up the Imitatio years ago, after reading a book about the 17th-century French Jesuit missionaries to the New World. Among the meager possessions they took with them into the wilderness were two books - the Bible and the Imitatio. I considered that to be a pretty compelling recommendation.

The wisdom of the Imitatio can be extremely challenging. More than once as I've read through it (more than once), I've found myself squirming in my seat, as Thomas brought Truth to bear, uncomfortably close to where I live.

I could go on and on, but honestly, it's unlikely that I could do any better than just to give you a brief sampling of wonderful quotes. . .


"On the Day of Judgment, we will not be asked what we have read, but what we have done."

"It is a hard thing to leave evil customs, and it is harder to break our own will, but it is most hard forever to lie in pain, and forever to lose the joy of Heaven."

"We seldom consider our neighbor in the same light as ourselves. Yet, if all men were perfect, what should we have to bear with in others for Christ's sake?"

"If you had a good conscience, you would not fear death so much, and it would be better for you to abandon sin than to fear death."

"All men are glad to live at peace, and prefer those who are of their own way of thinking. But to be able to live at peace among hard, obstinate and undisciplined people, and those who oppose us, is a great grace. . ."

"A pure heart penetrates both Heaven and Hell. As each man is in himself, so does he judge outward things. If there is any joy to be had in this world, the pure in heart most surely possess it. . ." (cf. Matthew 5:8, Titus 1:15, Psalm 18:26)

"A wise lover does not so much consider the gift of his lover as he does the love of the giver."

"Therefore make right use of this world's goods, but long only for those that are eternal."

". . . [H]e is not truly patient who will suffer only as much as he pleases, or from whom he pleases."

"All is not lost, though some things happen contrary to your will."

"'Come to me,' You say, 'all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you'. . . But who am I, O Lord, that I should presume to approach You? The very Heaven of Heavens cannot contain You; and yet You say, 'Come to me.'"

"Do not let [another] speak to me, therefore, but You, my Lord Jesus, . . . lest perhaps I die and be made like a man without fruit, warmed from without, but not aflame within, and so receive the harder judgment, because I have heard Your word and not done it, known it and not loved it, believed it and not fulfilled it."

Amen. . .