Sunday, September 25, 2016

Whoring for Jesus

By the time I mustered out of the Marine Corps I had learned some very good life lessons - 'Never volunteer for ANYTHING!' is one good one, especially for any military person. That  is a worn out old cliche I know, but there are usually very good and solid back story reasons for any cliche. Another lesson I came away with was a strong intolerance for baloney of any kind. I don't easily tolerate verbal crap in other words.
Why should I spend my time listening to someone else's take on something when I am totally not interested? Sure, there are some times when I will hear someone out for the sake of being courteous. But, there are some inconsiderate people will who take advantage of your politeness for their own reasons. They will count on your politeness to shove their message, whatever it may be, down your throat. Door-to-door sales people are one good example. Over time they have given themselves such a bad rap that most communities have now officially barred the practice, or limited it severely. Ordinances have been passed outlawing 'solicitation', and very deservedly so in my opinion. I don't remember the last time one has come knocking on my door recently.
One time, way back when I was first married and before our town had laws against solicitation,  a couple guys came to my door saying they were doing a 'survey' and needed to talk to me and my wife together. They looked suspiciously like sales people, so I asked if they were selling something.
"Oh no." one or them proclaimed ever so innocently. "We are just doing a survey in your neighborhood and need to talk to you and your wife for just a few minutes. We won't take up more than five minutes of your time."
Based on that I let them in my house but still kept up my guard. My understandable assumption was they were municipal workers doing a community survey. The two guys, both young,  sat down in the chairs I offered, The very first thing one of them did was to loosen the straps on a satchel type binder affair he was lugging around. He let the contents cascade like an accordion out across my living room floor. It was magazine covers in plastic sleeves for Christ's sakes!
"I thought you said you weren't selling anything!" I demanded angrily.
"Oh no, we're not selling anything." said the guy lied smiling all the while. "This is just part of our survey."
The guy must have believed that since he was already inside my house I probably out of politeness would not throw him out of my house. Unfortunately for him, he was 100% wrong. I said to him then, "You two have ten seconds to get your carcasses the hell out of my house before I throw you both out ass over tea kettle!"
They left of course, the junior man already in the doorway before I had finished my little speech. The other one was right behind him as quick as he could gather up his pitch materials. Over the years my practice has been simply just to shut  down strangers who came to the door uninvited. I lost my politeness impulse and don't feel any need at all to pretend to be polite if you are bothering me on my turf. If you come knocking on my door and it's not for some damned good and legitimate reason, I'm gonna send you packing. And, depending on how I feel at the moment, I might throw in a few earthy comments about your mother too while I'm at it. 
Although door-to-door sales people may nowadays be almost a thing of the past, there remains another breed of door-knocker who are all too pervasive and obnoxious. I refer of course to the 'evangelicals', who have arranged to omit themselves from most local ordinances. These folks still have their loopholes for their continuing apparently legal botherment of citizens. To my knowledge, there are no ordinances against their invasive activities, at least in my town. They must enjoy a certain level of success, or they would not continue their efforts. There must be a certain segment of the population too, who do respond to their evangelizing. But do they really actually expect most people to embrace their doctrines through their door bell ringing? Do they actually believe after irritating me or my wife we would be favorably inclined to join their group or contribute money?
These 'Godly' people come in different flavors. Sometimes it it the 'LDS' young men on their assigned 'missions'. Sometimes it's the Jehovahs witnesses, and other times in the Holiness Churchers, the Salvation Army 'War Cry' bunch, or the Church of God group. They all have the same thing in common, i.e., they seem to believe that by imposing their presence and 'message' beliefs on strangers, they are performing 'God's work'.  Such arrogance and impertinence would be laughable if it were not so bothersome.
To me, and to most other people I am convinced, they are perceived as a pestilential bunch of losers, so low on the intellectual ladder as to actually believe they 'do good' with their annoying activities. Unfortunately for the rest of us, they exist in enough numbers so the odds are anyone living in a residential neighborhood may routinely expect anywhere from one to several evangelical nuisance visits in a year. I used to simply politely turn them away, trying not to step on anyone's feelings. But, after being called to my door from my relaxing chair so many times I've changed my tune. It is such an imposition to find two of these vexing God's helpers standing on my doorstep. They almost always come in pairs, for good and sufficient reasons I am sure. And, over the years I have gradually worked out a more effective defense mechanism.
First, I resorted to simple blunt rudeness when answering the door, and before they had a chance to say anything, I would say something like, '"Go Away! I'm not interested!"
This is effective and always works for the moment, but never for long. Inevitably another pair would show up on my doorstep and ring my door bell. I then changed my tactics with a little psychology I dreamed up. I tried being excessively nice and inviting them in for a drink. I would say, "Hey! You're just in time. I'm getting ready to mix myself up a nice stiff rum toddy, but I also have whiskey or anything you want. What would you like?"
That would always quickly get them off my doorstep. I would hear some embarrassed mutters of apology and soon they would be hustling down the sidewalk at a brisk pace. I did worry that someone might eventually take me up on my offer of a drink but that never happened. Nevertheless, sooner or later yet another pair would come calling on my door step once again. There seemed to be no permanent cure for these pests.
Then, one day a home alarm salesman called when my wife was home alone. He told her he 'was in the neighborhood' and had seen the signs posted by our current alarm company and wondered if we might be 'interested in changing?'  He was obviously in violation of our town's solicitation ordinance and my wife was outraged - she has a quick temper and a low tolerance for aggravagtion that one. But, instead of calling the police, she rudely chased him away. The next day she went out and bought a small sign about 6" by 12" with the words "No Solicitation" on it. This, she posted on our front porch. 
Little did I know how effective this small sign could turn out to be for me! Not very long afterward our door bell rang. When I went to the door there stood two rather matronly middle-aged women with their hair up in buns, and bibles in their hands. I was already feeling a little touchy for some reason, and now this fresh irritation at the sight of these two dowdy women standing on my porch was all I needed. I didn't say a word and just simply pointed to my wife's new sign
"Oh, we're not soliciting!" said one of the women brightly.
I still don't know where my next words came from.  Somehow in my annoyance the words just popped into my head and came straight through out of my mouth, "Well, you're whoring for Jesus aren't you? Now, get the hell off my doorstep!"
Both women flushed in the face and turned, scampering away, almost running down my sidewalk back to their car. If there was ever a 'Well, I never!" moment it was precisely then. That was over four years ago and not a single evangelical has disturbed out peace since then. Perhaps there is some sort of secret way these people have for passing the word?

Of course, I'm sure we are not now welcome in their church anymore - and thank goodness for that!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

More Than You Need to Know about Screech Rum

“Screech Rum”? Sounds like a joke or a spoof, right? But there really is such a thing as Screech Rum.  Honest!.  I first ran across Screech rum on a trip to Nova Scotia back around 1975 or so. 
Rum has always been my drink of choice for as long as I can remember,  I've tried many kinds of alcohol over the years. I've given honest tries of weeks at a time to sour mash whiskey, scotch whiskey, blended whiskey, and Canadian whiskey. I even got on a gin kick for a while when living in south Florida in the 'seventies - gin and tonic, supposedly a good hot weather drink you know. I've only had tequila and vodka a few times and did not enjoy those at all. Hell, if I wanted to drink something tasting exactly like medicine, why not just do myself some good and drink real medicine? At the price of some tequilas, the medicine might even be cheaper!
Don't get me wrong though - these days I limit my alcohol intake to about two ounces a week - one good stiff rum drink on Friday nights, so a bottle of rum can last me a good long while. Sometimes I do cheat a little though, by putting a couple tablespoons of dark rum over a dish of ice cream. Try that, you'll love it!
Anyway, no matter what I have tried over the years, sooner or later I always returned to rum. So when I stopped in a liquor store in Nova Scotia I went directly to the rum shelf. There I noticed a bottle with the Screech label. In fact, there were quite a few bottles of Screech rum there. And of course I bought a bottle, just for the notoriety of the name if nothing else. I found Screech to be an OK rum, but on the rough side and not up to the standards I really enjoy, like Mount Gay or Pussers. Those can be a little pricey though, so I usually just go for Bacardi or something similar so long as it is a good, dark rum, the blacker the better for me. These days I'm partial to 'Flora de Cana' from Nicaragua, which is a moderately priced, but a good dark and flavorful rum.
Screech is a quite a bit rougher or 'greener' tasting rum than most (see below!), so once I emptied that first bottle, I began pouring other kinds of rum into the empty bottle just to have fun with guests to my house. I was probably responsible for boosting the sales of Screech rum for a while there, but I no longer have that bottle these days.  Next time I'm in Nova Scotia or Newfoundland I plan to rectify that! I have two nieces living in St. Johns, NS, so that's reason enough for a visit right there.
Here's the explanation of how the Screech name came to be from the folks who sell it, the Newfoundland Liquor Corporation itself:
"Before liquor boards were created, Jamaican rum was a popular part of a Newfoundlander's diet, when salt fish was traded in exchange for rum. When the Government took control of the liquor business, it began selling the rum in unlabelled bottles. The product remained nameless until American servicemen came to the Island during World War II.
The commanding officer of the original detachment was having his first taste. The Newfoundlander downed his drink in one gulp, so the American did the same. The American’s blood-curdling scream attracted a lot of attention. An American sergeant who heard the sound from outside pounded his fist on the door and demanded to know, “What the cripes was that ungodly screech?”
The Newfoundlander replied in true Newfie form, “Da Screech? ’Tis the rum, me son.” As all embarrassing moments do, the incident spread, and the soldiers were determined to try this mysterious “Screech” to see what the fuss was all about. The drink was soon their favorite.
The Newfoundland Liquor Board soon adopted the name and began labeling the dark rum Newfoundland Screech."
Which leads me to a story by a friend of mine who was famous for his stories, an unreconstructed Mainer and lobsterman from Matinicus Island, Maine. He's gone on now to those greater lobster grounds in the sky, but his story lives on in his very own words, as I remember them here:
“Now Screech Rum is some more mighty powahful stuff.  I 'membah one time when I got me a bottle of Screech Rum from Newfoundland - 'smattah of fact, I weah IN Newfoundland at the time.”
“Wal', I downed 'bout three quahtahs of that theah bottle - which was one a them dammed Impeahrial quaahts ya know, and went out a-prowlin' on the town - St. Johns ya know.  An'  I stumbled inta this wataahfront baah.  I threw me money down an' ordahed drinks on da house.  'Tweahn't long afoah this good lookin' babe comes up and gets really friendly wit’ me - and' I do mean FRIENDLY.  An', I'm heah ta tell ya she weaah some whole lotta, big lotta woman that one.  An’ she weaah the prettiest woman I evaah sawr. She weaah prettiaah than any wondahfuliest movie staah I thought."
“Whoo Boy!  Didn't we paahty down though son, an' BIG TIME!   We painted that theah St. Johns bright red wit yellah polka dots.  Whoo-ee!  Got almighty that woman weaah a hootah though!  She matched me drink foah drink and we even hadda go get some moah Screech afoaah long!  An' Hell, I don't know how, but aftah that she seemed to get just prettiaah an' even prettiaah!”
“We paahtied heahty all night long until we hadda fall down inta da bed. Next moanin' I woke up wit’ one big godawful headache an' a-smellin' some unholy an' godawful badly - but,  I looked up, an' theah weaah me beauty a-sittin' on da windah  sill,  a-smilin,'  a-sippin' on Screech an' a-smokin a big ol' dog tuuhd cigaah!  GOT ALMIGHTY DAMN!”
“I seen bettah lookin'’ wimmen at th’ undahrtakah's aftah an eighteen-wheeler wreck!”

Monday, September 19, 2016

THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH and the HATCHET MAN

*You may believe it or not, but in a past life back during the late 'sixties, I worked  as a mid-level supervisor for the General Motors Corporation at one of their huge assembly plants. My job was as a supervisor of a small operation in a building about three hundred yards outside and across a huge shipping yard away from the main assembly plant. There I was sort of 'out of sight and out of mind' and seldom bothered by superiors.  I simply checked in with my boss a couple times each day by telephone and did my job supervising the five employees who worked under me.

Our shop was called 'Outgoing Quality Check' and we were a fairly tight knit bunch. Most of the people who worked with me were older, long-term, seasoned employees who had worked themselves up from the assembly line jobs they first hired in on, to became 'expert' in their particular specialties. One was an 'engine man', another was an expert on transmissions and drive trains, another was a front-end alignment specialist, and yet another was a 'body fit and trim' expert. The fifth man was relatively new and only washed and cleaned up the cars which some of the upper supervisors drove each day. 

The way this worked, about a dozen random cars, 'jobs' as they were called, were selected right off the assembly line each week. These were delivered down to my shop, two or three units per day to be prepared for the assigned individuals to drive home and to wherever they wished to go with them. The supervisors would keep their units for a week, then the process would be repeated. Before delivery to the assigned drivers, the selected jobs would be prepared by my crew. They were washed, the front-end alignment checked, engine tune-up and specifications checked, and the fit of the hood, trunk, fenders and doors all checked to insure those were within GM specifications. Nothing was changed however, unless there was a safety issue. The gas tanks were filled from our own gas pumps, oil levels checked, etc. and our wash man would deliver to cars to the supervisor's assigned parking spot in front of the plant.

Part of this process also involved disconnecting the factory speedometer installed on the assembly line and installing a special, temporary speedometer mounted under the dash in the driver's line of sight. Unless there was an issue with the car, and there sometimes was, they were driven for the full week and refueled from the company gas pump as needed. When they were turned back in the temporary speedometer was removed, and the factory one re-connected. The supervisors driving the cars were supposed to complete a simple little report each time about deficiencies, or anything they noted during their use of the car. A  summary of these reports went into my daily report to the head of the Inspection Department, who was my direct supervisor.

After the temporary speedometer was removed, the unit was simply re-inserted into the delivery schedule and shipped to the dealer.

I was impressed by General Motors' efforts on 'quality control' then, but always wondered about that bit of not-so-innocent subterfuge the company indulged in. We were sending out new cars right off the assembly line which had been driven in some cases, several hundreds of miles. yet the speedometer would show only half a dozen miles when the car was delivered to the ultimate purchaser. Several years later I heard of The Chrysler Corporation being fined millions of dollars for exactly the same thing, but to my knowledge General Motors has never been censured for this. I thought a few times about being a 'whistle blower' on this issue after I left GM, but was always restrained by my father's remembered advice: "If you can't say something good about something, just don't say anything at all."

I do remember several times during my time in that job of hearing of buyer complaints about cigarette butts in ash trays, mud on the undercarriage, or dirt and mud in the foot wells, etc. The factory used to ship out our new cars with the floor carpets un-installed, and rolled up in the trunk. The dealers would install them when they arrived at the dealers' lot, and I assume they usually cleaned things up before delivery to the customer. I guess the dealers simply missed those tale tell little signs when the cars were cleaned. Dealers routinely explained away and glossed over problems their customers might note. You must remember that the staff at any automobile dealer must possess really good lines of blather.

General Motors in the 'sixties was a brutal, absolutely no nonsense working environment with zero tolerance for anything which might even remotely reflect unfavorably on anyone in the higher levels of supervision. I merely tried to stay out of trouble and keep my immediate boss happy. I quickly learned after hiring on with GM, that there is no such thing as 'understanding' or 'compassion' with such a huge company. At that time in the mid-sixties, General Motors was the largest company in the world, though they have since been demoted I've heard. I suppose it is possible too, that the GM corporate culture has changed during the intervening fifty-something years. The successful onslaught of Japanese and Korean imports has certainly caused a lot of other changes for the American automobile industry.

I am calling this little story is 'The Man Who Knew Too Much', and spilling a few secrets here. However, I am not that man who knew too much.

No, that person is another man entirely. Let us call him 'Gregory' although that is not his real name. Greg ran a shop adjacent to and connected to my shop by a common wall. His responsibility was similar, but more involved with the actual nuts and bolts of how the General Motors line of cars and trucks hold up from an engineering standpoint. Often cars that went through my shop would be referred to Greg's shop for further analysis for example. What pieces and parts wear out too fast, break too quickly, need to be redesigned and all that sort of thing. Even the simplest of things might be a problem. For instance, we encountered problems with the the cast iron drainage plug for rear-end differentials. Some of these had flaws where the casting sand left a tiny hole which allowed a very slight fluid leak.  Those tiny holes could lead to a failure of the entire rear end in time. Things like that were Greg's meat and potatoes.

Greg was a graduate of the General Motors Academy, which during the 'forties, 'fifties and 'sixties was GM's fully accredited four year college which offered a free-of-charge engineering degree to selected applicants who passed their qualifying examinations. I don't recall exactly how the program worked, but I had even briefly considered applying at one time in my young life. The reason I did not was the stipulation about being committed to employment with GM for a specified period of time after graduation, something like six or eight years as I remember. But, the opposite side of that arrangement did not apply. In other words, GM could fire you anytime they felt like it.  Apparently, GM has dropped this program since I can not find anything online about it today.

Since Greg had no employment guarantee he was really sweating an interview all supervisors knew was coming from a "Hatchet Man". This is what everyone called the high-level manager sent from the Detroit home office to look over everything at our plant. The point being to improve efficiency, and trim the payroll if possible. Literally, this fellow was a corporate Hatchet Man sent to make needed and sometimes drastic changes. The man's official capacity when he arrived was 'Assistant Plant Manager'. But, his real job was to be a Hatchet Man. Everyone knew this well in advance of his arrival at our plant since the corporate grapevine is very, very effective you know. We even knew the man's name.

Within one week of the Hatchet Man's coming to our plant, some of the upper-level supervisors were receiving summary dismissals without notice. This guy was responsible for firing about 20% of the management within three weeks, in a plant with over 6000 employees. Everyone with a vested interest in their jobs in the corporation was terrified. A manager would be called upon in his office, quickly and brutally interviewed right there, and instantly dismissed. He would be asked for his keys, told to clean out his desk with plant security looking over his shoulder, and out the door he went. I really think the Hatchet Man had studied the files and had it all decided beforehand. He stayed at our plant a total of only six weeks in all, blowing through like a tornado leaving devastation in his wake. 

The dreaded day came for Greg's interview and for me too. Since we were mere mid-level people we were being interviewed together in one sitting. The Hatchet Man asked Greg half a dozen quick, machine-gun style pertinent questions about his job and department's statistics. Greg was very well prepared since we had cooperated with each other by studying and quizzing each other. Greg knew all his answers and immediately fired right back. I was very impressed by his composure because he was a naturally nervous and high-strung guy. But then, right In the middle of all the rapid-fire questions and out of nowhere the Hatchet Man demanded or him, "So, what's your wife's name?"

Poor Gregory just went blank and sat staring in disbelief at the Hatchet Man, his lips moving but nothing coming out. I felt really sorry for him even if I was choking to laugh. The question was so far from left field it knocked the skids right out from under Greg's composure.  He simply could not think of his own wife’s name! He stammered and choked for ten or fifteen seconds, and turned purple in the face with beads of sweat rolling off him like grapes before he could say, 'Mary' or whatever her name was. I could see the Hatchet Man was only having his own cruel fun messing with poor Greg's mind. He gave Greg a nasty laugh and then turned to me.

My own interview was easy and anti-climatic after Greg's performance. I was already thinking about leaving GM so I just didn't give a damn, although the Hatchet Man was not aware of that. I was relaxed and confident, especially after watching the ordeal the Hatchet Man put Greg through. The Hatchet Man just raised his eyebrows at me after a few questions and walked away. To his ultimate relief, Gregory was not cashiered on the spot and we both kept our jobs.

For as long as I live I will never forget that awful and funny day poor Gregory temporarily forgot his wife's name. It was both heartbreaking and hilariously funny at the same time even though I dared not laugh at the time. I haven't stayed in touch with Greg so I don’t know where he is today.  He is retired I suppose if his job with GM lasted a full career or didn't kill him first. I was told the 'Hatchet Man' tradition was repeated on the average by GM roughly every two years or so and it is always possible another Hatchet Man collected Greg's scalp later too.

I'm pretty sure that one particular Hatchet Man is turning in his grave somewhere today as he was far too much of a type "A" to have lived a very long time. And even though I was in his presence for only a few minutes, I could still tell you his name to this very day if I wished to do so. I voluntarily left General Motors within a few months of that interview because I recognized that their corporate soul, or more to the point, their lack thereof, was definitely not my cup of tea. I have never had one single regret about that since either.

I even sold my stock in GM after leaving, the stock I had purchased under their employee stock purchase matching plan. As I recall GM pitched in a dollar for every dollar the employee paid.

*This is a true tale, told from my memory now well over fifty years after the events took place.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Behold, The Butterfly Cometh . . .

First came the Wasp, who settled irritably on a leaf near the colorful crimson bloom. Jumpy, and with many a 'zzzt' of its wings it flitted first to one leaf and then the other, crawling over some, and under others even if it is hard to understand how insects manage this feat. Finding nothing of interest anywhere there, the Wasp flew away, zig-zagging in the air with the appearance of searching for trouble somewhere, as it might seem to an observer.
Then, along came the Moth which alighted clumsily near the bright crimson blossom, staggering a little as it clung on. Fluttering her wings and uncurling her antennae, she searched for a mate, turning in ovoid 360-degree circles several times. Finding none, the Moth too worked her wings once again and erratically fluttered away.
Next, a tiny and busy Ant climbed up the long stalk, taking many minutes to make the journey, Although it seemed purposeful in its climb, the Ant paused many times to wave its front legs and antennae ahead of its path it as if deciding to move on. The tiny Ant paused once again as it reached the bright flower with its different texture. The Ant stood there for many seconds, waving it's forelegs, with its tiny antennae waving to and fro sensing the surroundings, the Ant then crawled fitfully and cautiously across the outer parts of the bloom, seeking food most likely. Finding none to it's liking, the Ant too, wandered away and back down the stalk, in its purposeful yet erratic way.
The bloom, in all its radiant color, waited patiently as it was visited by first one, then another of a variety of small living things, creatures seeking that which the bloom apparently did not possess for them. The brilliant bloom waved slightly in the breeze like an insistent signal lamp attracting them all towards its glow. A grasshopper came, as did a tiny slug. Then an inchworm, then a tiny lizard, and even a regal Praying Mantis. But, none, apparently, found that which they sought. To be fair, the inchworm did find a bit of sustenance, but on lower leaves away from the bloom itself. Each creature did a diligent search in accordance with its own genetics and needs, and each sooner or later departed for more promising prospecting.
'Alas', mourned the bloom to itself in its awareness - for flowers are perceptive entities of course, 'will I exist for naught? Will not my destiny be fulfilled? Will I wither and blow away on the wind, unsuccored, dried up and browned, undesired and unachieved?'
'Will my beautiful, colorful flower be in vain and must I remain unsatiated, unsatisfied, unable to pass my beauty along to another generation?' The despondent bloom almost furled her gorgeous panoply of color then, and succumbed to her despair, so late in the day as it was. But no, she would hold out at least until the end of this day. But, it was very late in the day and very late in the season.
Then miraculously almost, in the waning of the last of the light of day, a gorgeously beautiful butterfly appeared, elegantly colorful, with iridescent hues reflecting the final rays of sun like tiny diamonds in the failing light. Flitting seemingly aimlessly about, the butterfly touched this leaf and that, itself nearly exhausted from the day's labors, seeking that last, that final bit of color for the day. The bloom did not see the butterfly, for of course flowers do not possess the organs for sight. But the bloom did sense the butterfly's hovering presence just as it had for all its previous visitors, and  although the bloom had no way of discerning if any were the precise sort of visitor the bloom so passionately yearned for.
Pausing at the apogee of its final loop for the day, the butterfly sensed the brilliant crimson flower too, for butterflies do have the organs for sight and in fact, many thousands of them in their many faceted eye organs, "ommatidia" as scientists term them.  The butterfly swooped, for it too sensed fulfillment, and directly to the flower it flew, alighting gracefully near the bloom itself. Daintily, almost like a ballet dancer the butterfly stepped into the bloom and slowly unfurled its elegant proboscis. This the butterfly then began to insert carefully into the flower's interior, the working parts of the bloom, seeking fulfillment for itself.
Snap! The brilliant crimson flower reacted, quickly closing her barred cilia which somewhat resembled the iron bars of a jail cell. The trapped butterfly fluttered its wings as it struggled to escape, but the more it struggled, the tighter the flower's grip became until at last the bloom was completely sealed shut and the butterfly lay still in the flower's bosom. 
Finally satisfied and engorged with the beautiful butterfly, her carpel dusted with the pollen carried by that handsome beauty, the Venus bloom settled down to digest her meal in calmness and peace, fulfilled at last.