Amazon Outlaw

Amazon Outlaw

I’ve been working at Amazon for the past three months. It’s a job that I don’t mind, for the most part. It’s not what I’m qualified for, which is why I’ve been interviewing and looking for other opportunities every single day. But I need to work somewhere to pay bills and keep a cash flow coming in. The COVID thing disrupted the whole planet and has made it hard to bring on new employees at the level I’m looking for. I get it. And I’m patient.

Some people try to classify jobs as above or beneath them. There’s no shame in working. There’s shame in not wanting to work and not doing an excellent job of the job you have. And I’m consistently in the top 5% of the 2100 or so people that work there in terms of productivity and quality.  I hover around 96.7% and have floated around that for the time I’ve been there once I got the hang of the job, which was quick. They do an excellent job of onboarding new employees because they will hire pretty much anyone who can pass some criteria. You have to pass a drug test, which eliminates most of America. You have to have a brain. That removes a lot of the rest. And you have to want to work hard. That eliminates a lot of others. So they have a lot of turnover. Of the 30 or so that onboarded with me, only two others remain. That’s a pretty high dropout rate, which makes you wonder what a lot of Americans do to earn money.

It’s not mentally exhausting by any means, but it does require a bit of focus and the ability to work at a consistently fast pace, and it’s physical, which I enjoy. As I get older, I cherish opportunities to exercise and keep in shape. I’m in great shape. That means I can play with my daughter and keep up with her and haul her around in her wagon and carry her 45-pound monkey frame around with me wherever we go. I can scoop her up and take her with one arm for about 10 or 15 minutes before needing to switch arms. With her wiggling the whole time. That’s pretty good for a man my age and size, I think.  Far better than most Americans who can barely lift their butts off the couch.

Amazon keeps track of all sorts of data, which shouldn’t come as a surprise. They monitor everything. It’s a huge company. The most valuable company on Earth. And it didn’t become so by cutting corners. They have a unique culture there. It’s a Seattle based company, which means it was born out of left coast ideals. And not surprisingly, it’s a “liberal” company. Jeff Bezos, the founder, and President owns the Washington Post. A media outlet that consistently hands out liberal/leftist propaganda. That’s indisputable, although I’m sure some people would want to try. They would fail because of the mountain of evidence that exists.

Amazon's inner workings

I probably broke about fifteen Amazon rules taking this photo, but as I said, I’m an outlaw!

And I don’t write much about politics on my website, but we’re in an election year, and there are political goings-on afoot.  And I follow politics intimately. I always have because I have a member of my family that worked in a short-lived administration back in the 1970s, and it sparked my interest as a child when I visited the White House. I have a photo floating around somewhere of me behind the vice president’s desk with my feet up on it as a kid. I’d love to find that. I’ve been on a personal tour of the White House.

But I suddenly found a strict parallel between how Amazon is run and how the left in this country wants things to be run. Amazon is enormous, and I believe it almost represents the USA in it’s demographic and societal makeup. Maybe more than I know. They hire some interesting people. They certainly don’t discriminate. I’ve seen deaf people being taught how to do their job via sign language. I see women amputees. There are a lot of Africans that work there. And Hispanics. And don’t forget gay people. They are everywhere there, which is fine. One of the first “Learning Ambassadors” that I came across had more makeup and hair product than a Vegas showgirl. And he was male.  They’re unusually flamboyant. Uncomfortably tight shorts,  Most people there seem to be tattooed. Girls with mohawks, buzzcuts, and every color hair imaginable. Lots of body modifications, like giant holes in the earlobes. I, and Amazon, applaud their “individuality” like everyone else there.  It’s ok to look different, as long as you look the same. Since I’ve been there, I’ve seen a lot of people come and go and the types that stick around and who’s management material.

I studied operations management while I was getting my MBA, so I’m not unfamiliar with the way Amazon works. I used to write algorithms to optimize throughput for companies like Amazon in Excel for practice. So I’m not their everyday shift monkey. I wonder what training my “managers” actually have. Amazon doesn’t use the terms “manager” or “supervisor” or “director” or such delineating and appropriately descriptive tags for employees. They are referred to as “Process Assistants” and “Learning Ambassadors.” They aren’t there to manage you. They’re there to assist you. And they do when you need it or “the system,” tells them that something needs to be corrected or worked on, like a quality issue. It’s all done via computer. Each one is attached to a laptop they carry around to show them what to do. Everything is monitored, and it’s as if an AI brain dictates what to do next.

And if there’s a problem, they usually are on it fast. It’s a great place to work when issues are identified and looked at so quickly. Everything happens there rapidly. It’s what makes Amazon Amazon. We get your orders to you fast. There isn’t much human interaction, which is by design. People cause errors, not computers or robots.

And that’s something that struck me when I was reprimanded the other night by a “Process Assistant.” A young guy I like a lot, of the three or so managers in my area. No one knows who does what. My “Supervisor” never introduced himself. He just goes around asking if there’s anything I need or if there’s anything to talk about, which is good, but it’s sprung upon me as he walks by my work station so that I have nothing prepared. One second he’s there, the next, he’s gone. If we were to have a sit-down meeting or review, as most companies do, I would have a long list of issues to discuss, of course. I’m asked when I check in to my work station via computer a series of questions like “Do I trust my supervisor?”

Well, if I answer “No,” then I’m deeming him untrustworthy, which I don’t even know him well enough to make that call. If I answer “Yes,” then I’m saying I know him well enough to trust him, which I don’t. I don’t know him at all. And those are the types of questions that greet you when you get ready to work your shift.

Keep in mind this description of my work-life is what I perceive the left in the USA wants to have as a governmental style. “Do you trust your senator?”   Answer yes or no.

So when I ended my shift, at 5:00 AM, I went to the breakroom to grab my Coke I left in the refrigerator. It was actually about 5:10-5:15, because I worked until 5, and then clocked out and cleaned up my area and did the things I needed to for the next person that would work where I was. I believe in working the time you’re supposed to, and not bailing at 4:45 or 4:50 like I see others do. So there’s no one left by that time. Just me and the managers, and even most of them are gone by that time. The million square foot area is a ghost town. Just a lot of conveyor belts and workstations and machinery to keep the place chugging along at a good clip.

And then I did the unthinkable. I went down the stairs that were meant for people to go up.

These are the stairs that, under normal circumstances, people would go up one side and down the other on the other side of the railing, which splits the stairs into two. Because of social distancing, these stairs were made into “UP-ONLY” stairs, and to get to down from the mezzanine, which is where I work,  I would have to travel about 100 yards across the floor, go down the stairs, then walk back to the exact location the UP-Only stairs led, which was the main entrance/exit of the building. I ran down the stairs and out the door. Total time: 3 seconds. No one else was around, except the security guard down below. No one. It was the end of the workweek as well, which means people fled the building even more hurriedly than usual.

amazon-stairs

The Scene of the Crime.

And when I returned three, almost four days later to work, I had a reason to approach a process assistant(manager) about an issue/anomaly I discovered. This is a guy I like, although he wears his hair in a man-bun. And he’s probably at least 20 years my junior. But he’s approachable and pleasant. And sometimes he’ll play music over the PA system when it hits the 4:00 hour, and we’ve all been good little workers. A special treat, where people shout out and whoop across the giant building, and it reminds me of prison movies where you can hear inmates yelling and singing across the echoing halls.

And he said, “I need to talk to you about how you left your shift the other night.” I knew exactly what he was talking about, and it was hilarious. I replied and asked if he was talking about going down the up stairs. Of course, he was. And his response was, “It’s like these masks – I don’t like wearing them, but we have to.” But it isn’t like that. We do wear proper masks at work to prevent COVID-19 from spreading. It’s more like if I was in an empty building and took off my mask and a voice came over the PA system and said: “Mr. Musgrove, please put your mask back over your face, for the safety of yourself and others.”

It hit me that Amazon expects its employees to be mindless drones. Don’t think for yourself, just do what you’re told, and you’ll be happy because we said so.

Ours is not to question why?

Ours is but to do or die.

This type of totalitarianism is precisely what the left in the USA is demanding right now, with their “CHOP” zone in Seattle, where Amazon’s headquarters is located. Rationed music, pre-approved happiness, and “be like everyone else.”

One of the things my job provides is a glimpse into what’s trending across the US, what people are buying as a result of some cultural catalysts. I see a lot of White Fragility books going out these days with the #BLM craziness. And something I’ve sent out en masse is a Sesame Street book titled “We’re different, we’re the same, and We’re all Wonderful.”

I get the intention, but this is teaching a falsehood to children. We ARE all different, correct. And most of us have the potential to be wonderful. Not everyone turns out to be, which is evidenced by just looking on social media. But we’re not all the same. That’s collectivist, socialist propaganda. It’s ok to look different in other words, but it’s not ok to think differently. We must all think the same way. And who gets to decide what we believe? Lately, it’s the media and politicians, which is a joke. They don’t have your best interests at hand, I assure you. No one but yourself will ever take care of yourself as you will. That’s a fact. But some people are more than willing to turn over their minds to others. That’s a shame and frightening. The manager that scolded me for going down the upstairs when no one else was in the building has given his mind to Amazon to control. And a lot of Americans want to give their minds ()to “the government” to use.

I watched the President’s State of the Union Address the other night again from start to finish, which means from when all the representatives and senators and people in control of this country entered the hallowed chamber that President Trump gave his remarkable speech in. You should watch it and get a good look at the people filing into that room. They are influential people. And for the most part, they look like sacks of crap. Seriously.

I tried not to focus on Nancy Pelosi in the background licking her lizardy lips and shuffling through the papers in front of her as if she’d misplaced her grocery list. It’s all a charade, and a staged act by her. She’s all hat and no cows. She was building up the courage and steam for her “ta-da” moment when she ripped up the state of the union address behind the President’s back.  I find it disgraceful, but there are people among us that think that behavior is lovely. It doesn’t matter who the President is, tearing up the SOTU like that is childish and an indication you have nothing left. It was a historical state of the union address, and she treated it like she manages her district she hails from. Landfill garbage. Which is what San Franciso, once a beautiful bay city, has become under her bony claw.

So to summarize, I can see America becoming a lot like Amazon in the future years, whenever the Democrats regain control, which they will, one day, of course. It’s a political pendulum. I see a lot of similarities between how the operations of Amazon is run and how Democrats want to run things.  And while the productivity levels are going up, things are beautiful. But there’s a lot of compromises to be had. The happiness factor, for one. Amazon isn’t unlike North Korea now that I think about it. Let that sink in as we have forces pushing us to be a Blue Badge Amazon Nation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Self-Discipline, Honor and Integrity

Self-Discipline, Honor and Integrity

Self-discipline, honor, and integrity are three traits that I believe are hugely important to possess, to be known for, and consistently exhibit. They aren’t traits that are inherited or given, though. They must be deliberately and continuously built upon. Consistency is critical, as with any attribute. They are hard to imbue, but as they are consistently and deliberately kept, they become easier to form as a habit.

They are traits that the military tries to instill into recruits. That usually is due to a failure of the parents to introduce it to their children. It’s not an easy thing to do because it isn’t comfortable, and they are abstract concepts whose importance is difficult to explain to a young child. And sometimes to an adult. And if the parents never were taught the importance or how to have them, it’s nearly impossible to expect them to pass them onto their children. Typically an outer force has to interject and work at it, which was the case for me. It’s easy to talk about them and claim to have them, but as usual, actions speak louder than words, definitely in this case. They are abstract concepts, and it’s possibly easier to display them than to discuss them meaningfully and adequately. I’m trying my best. I may not do a perfect job, but I’m trying to explain them and will come back and edit this as I can to try and make as much sense as possible.

A fact I observed is that these essential traits escaped my ex-wife, and mother to our daughter and my ex-stepdaughter. She wasn’t taught them, and her parents weren’t taught them, so it makes sense they escaped her. When I attempted to explain them to her other daughter, she and her daughter considered them tyrannical attempts to destroy complacent behavior. If you aren’t familiar with any of them, as they weren’t, that perspective makes sense. But it doesn’t remove the responsibility (and reward) of invoking them. And it never will. I have a feeling my daughter’s step-father is deficient in them as well, beginning by the fact he’s never bothered to introduce himself to me. Honor and integrity are already missing. That’s going to make my job that much harder. But I’m determined to teach my daughter Cecelia about them and to understand why they are important to possess.

The difficulties I face in instilling these traits are formidable. When you begin to teach someone how to improve themselves, it’s helping them move in an upward, forward direction. That often doesn’t sit well with those who stay behind. So you have people that will constantly ask under their breath or right to your face, ” You think you’re better than me?” What they fail to understand is that it’s not about comparisons. It’s an end in itself.

I have a print hanging in my home of the mural of my high school’s 1908 baseball team that’s in the lobby of the awesome sports complex that was being built as I graduated. It reads: “Effort in sport is a matter of character than reward. It’s an end in itself and not a means to an end.”

woodberry baseball mural

Effort in sport is a matter of character than reward. It’s an end itself and not a means to an end.

Those words are true when you’re striving to improve your own character as well, I believe.

The Great Santini comes to mind, which I find interesting for a number of reasons. One is that it’s written by famous SC author Pat Conroy and set in a town where I’ve actually lived, in the exact same neighborhood it was filmed, in fact, right down the street. I know this life, and this writer, and I remember my father liking this movie, which starred Robert Duvall, who has a condo in Beaufort, where this was filmed and I lived. Small world. The Big Chill was filmed around the corner and The Lords of Discipline was another movie taken from a Pat Conroy book which centers around discipline at The Citadel, where many of my good friends went, and the incoming headmaster after Mr. Wright, at my boarding school whom I talk about below, General Grinalds, became president.  Another formidable man.

beaufort, sc

Beaufort’s downtown, with its antebellum homes, has been named a National Historic District. (Discover South Carolina)

I intend to teach these attributes to my daughter and have her respect what they represent. And be able to identify them in others. When you find a person that has them, and they are fundamental in the way they conduct their life, you know you’re dealing with a person that you can trust. There aren’t many people out there that fit this description. It sometimes surfaces to appear to others as arrogance. It’s an excellent way to live. That’s not arrogant; it’s merely a fact. There are superior and inferior cultures and people and ways to do things. That’s life. To think otherwise is silly and naive. There are better ways to live life and in worse ways.

I had the fortune, privilege, or opportunity – define it as you wish – to be exposed to several people who know about these traits, what they mean, how valuable they are, and how to establish and maintain them. They are people who I try to emulate and respect and consider role models in specific ways. Not surprisingly, many of them are men, who were officers in the military, and are older than I. They have or had if no longer with us, wisdom and experience gleaned form hundreds of years of tradition, substantial research through trial and error and living ones lives in a good way, with spirituality, chivalry, respect for others and humility all being essential aspects of their personality and lives.

HONOR: I went to a boarding school that emphasized honor. We utilized an honor system that has become legendary. I was surrounded by others who were being taught honor, integrity, and self-discipline. Their fathers were men who were pillars in their communities, both business and cities in which they lived, and had the same beliefs and traits, as did our masters at the school. Many of them attended the same school and traveled the same paths. I’m a member of an order, Kappa Alpha, which I joined in college, whose motto is Dieu et Les Dames. “God and Women.” The two things that garner the most respect from the men in the order.  Two things I learned to hold in the highest.

Some of the men that had a profound impact on me growing up that I still think of and use as a role model is my headmaster at Woodberry Forest School, Emmett W. Wright, who recently passed away recently, well into his 90’s. He was from Atlanta, where I was born, and a southern gentleman and scholar, who studied English, just as I did in college as an undergraduate. He went to Furman in SC, where I’m from and is the best school in SC. We ended up having much in common, although he had a far more significant impact on more young lives than I ever will, as far as I know at this point.

emmett w. wright

The funny thing about Mr. Wright was that among the student body, I was probably considered one of the most unconventional students. And he liked me for that. The masters always had their eyes on me because of how I dressed and wore my hair, behaved, and who I dated and hung out with. I didn’t walk the straight line they expected all students to. They thought every student should act like they wanted to be a prefect. Teachers handed out demerits to me at will, but I never got a “See EWW” on the demerit board. He stuck up for me and had my back. It was a funny relationship that I’m not sure many students or faculty were aware of.

Another was the father of who I consider one of my best friends, John Buxton, and whose namesake he took. John Snowden Wilson Buxton. He was special forces, green beret, in the marines, and a father of five incredible children and husband to an equally unbelievable woman, Caroline Buxton, who I also admire greatly. He had two brothers, who were well-respected doctors in Charleston. Just a terrific family and Mr. Buxton was a man that any man should have looked up to and admired. I know I did. He taught his children what it means to be fighters, such as when my friend learned he had cancer and beat it, and how to have hugely successful and loving marriages with plenty of children to boot.

john snowden wilson buxton

I have other role models, but I won’t keep listing them and what they’ve meant, because they all have contributed the same to my life, which is a model to strive for. These are just two such men. There are a handful of others who are/were giants among men in the business world, in their communities or country, in their church, in their military group, and were successes throughout life—real people with exceptionally high standards for themselves and high-achievers.

SELF-DISCIPLINE: My mother used to make me make up my bed before I went downstairs for breakfast before school. And keep my room straight. Even my dad used to say “a place for everything and everything in its place.” And at camp and school we had to keep our beds, rooms, cabins, footlockers, and common areas tidy and clean. Every day. It became a habit.

Self-discipline becomes a strength in that it allows you to do the things you don’t want to, but know you should. And do them now, instead of procrastinating. It leads you to become an achiever and to accomplish things that others can’t.

Discipline and self-discipline are two traits that are more focused on men than women in American society. In Israel, women are expected to join the military, so it’s clearly a cultural thing. I would even say it’s a socio-economic factor. Those with self-discipline tend to do better in life than those without it. The two aren’t mutually exclusive.

israeli soldiers idf

Discipline is such a big and, I believe, a valuable characteristic that I’m going to dedicate another post entirely to it. So I’ll leave this for now: Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment.

INTEGRITY: Integrity is often defined as what you do when no else is around. But it’s more than that. It constitutes reliability and consistency. People can rely on you to do what’s best. It’s a principle of strength. People can count on you, which means you aren’t afraid to be held accountable.

I have people tell me all the time they’re responsible and accountable, but they aren’t. Talk is cheap. Action is what matters. Action that’s exclusive of whether anyone is around or not. Always do the right thing if you see an opportunity to make something better; take it.

Some synonyms for integrity are forthrightness, honesty, straightforwardness, principle, honor, candor, purity, and corruption. All things I strive to be and do an excellent job of, I believe, to the point that it’s too much for some people. They don’t like candor, straightforwardness, and aren’t used to people being forthright with them. They don’t believe it can even be done. But it’s like Yoda said, there is no “try.” You either do it, or you don’t. I believe that’s the same with a lot of ways to live life. Lying is something I don’t tolerate. I don’t do it. I don’t have to. I know other people do, and I know other people do it even when they don’t have to. It becomes a habit to them, where they always feel they have to make something up for every circumstance. I know a couple of women that do that all the time. And they believe all people lie because they do, which isn’t right, and is a sad way to go through life, I think. And the people they hang out with do the same thing. Birds of a feather flock together.

Something I’m placing here as an epilogue is a fact that no matter how far down you find yourself in life when other people have taken everything you have and you are stripped bare of all dignity and humility is all you have left, you will still have your honor and integrity. And that is huge when you’re left with nothing else. It will keep you motivated, and take you far.

The Grateful Dead and Little Richard

The Grateful Dead and Little Richard

Little Richard died last week at the age of 87. The world became a lot less flamboyant with his passing. But the music we hear today, and the music a lot of us enjoy known as Rock and Roll would not only be different without his influence, it probably wouldn’t exist.

One of the best Little Richard sighting stories comes from me of my best friend’s wives, who’s from Knoxville:

I am so saddened by this news. Saw him in his Escalade in Nashville when he was living at the Hilton. Said to Miles “I think that’s Little Richard” Little Richard then yelled and waved across the parking lot “It’s me baby. It’s me!”

Little Richard, and Chuck Berry, were highly influential in their styles, both musically and in their attitudes. Little Richard is tame by today’s standards of fringe wildness and musically infused sexuality.  Or should I say “sexually infused musicality?” But back in his day, he was new and transformational. And the budding young rock and rollers of the 60’s and 70’s took notice. Everyone wanted to be like them in their uninhibited vocal stylings, which was the embryonic stage for what became Rock and Roll. Even Elvis and The Beatles took close notes from them.

Little Richard was from Macon, Georgia, the home of the Allman Brothers as well, and birthplace of my own father. I was born down the road in Atlanta, and my mother was born over near Savannah in Brunswick. She and my Dad grew up in Albany, Georgia. But Little Richard heard and saw Esquerita, who was from South Carolina, where I’m from, and took his stylings from him. Small world. James Brown was from SC as well. And Don’ forget Jerry Lee Lewis.

And one of the biggest influences in Jerry Garcia’s playing was Chuck Berry. He played Johnny B. Goode at the ending of many shows, often as an encore, and one that he would shred in playing his guitar. It was a crescendo to make the night of music memorable and a song Jerry knew well.

Jerry went on to direct the Grateful Dead Movie, which was made available for free on YouTube. I uploaded there myself and it’s still there, amazingly, but I think YouTube made it private, to ensure I wasn’t making money from ads or anything from it. In any case, here it is:

Moving

Moving

As I sat to write this, The String Cheese Incident began singing the Talking Heads’ “This Must Be The Place(Naive Melody).” Apropos.

I abhor moving. There’s no undertaking I like less, period. Although I’ve never been catheterized(Thanks be to God), I would rather be catheterized with a cactus than move. Yet here I go again.

I’ve probably moved twenty times in my proceedingly long life, which I’m growing more grateful for with each Sunrise. Back when I was 20, and even 30 moving was no problem. I didn’t have a lot of stuff. I thought I did, but I didn’t know what I was talking about. Now that I’m 50, I’ve picked up a few things along the way, including a beautiful little girl, who has her own set of belongings. So I happily add that to the equation.

As a sentimentalist, and collector of detria and interesting bits and bobs, and curator of the family items that were handed down from prior generations, I have a lot of stuff. Add to that my hobbies of playing guitar and tinkering and woodworking and all that and I have an interminable list of items that have to go from A to B. Every time I turn around, there’s something else that needs to go. It’s amazing. It’s like magic: “The suddenly appearing thing!”

The craziest thing is how much I’ve sold off and still have to move. My last move, which was compelled by a sudden separation/divorce, forced me to move an entire 4 bedroom house, with garage and yard and patio things elsewhere. I still don’t know how I pulled that off. My ex-wife left everything (but the daughters) and just ghosted in the middle of the night.

After living in that house, which was both a Godsend and a curse, for 3-1/2 years, I’m moving again. 3-1/2 emotionally turbulent years. I got divorced in that house. I lost my beloved dog Annie in that house. I got a great job and left a great job in that house. But the house was awesome for me and Cecelia. Plenty of room to roam and breathe and play and a creek across the street. A back deck and big basement and tiered front yard with river rocks bolstering each tier and creating a series of walls. Which was a nightmare to mow. I’ve mowed a lot of grass in my day, but that yar was the hardest to mow by far. Here’s a street shot. There are 3 tiers, down to the road.

Indian Hills house

What I have should represent the essentials. And a few “nice to have’s.” I sold 100% of my “nice to have’s” and what I’m left with is still a mountain of items.

Transferring the utilities and the internet was easy and pain-free. The movers, however, didn’t show up at their SCHEDULED time and rescheduled me for 3 days later without notice. Talk about bad form. So I have my bed and a couple of heavy/big items in the old house, another house full of boxed items and things that need to find a place to be kept, and a storage unit full of furniture and rugs. And some guy named Eli who has the rest, like my lawnmower and tools(hopefully) thanks to my ex-wife.  My old landlord is tapping his foot for me to get out of the place, and rightfully so. But: reality.

So that gives me time to set things up at the new place and find out where I’m going to cram everything. It’s a considerable downsize. No basement, whereas the last house had a basement the size of Soldier Field with a fireplace and kitchen. Perfect for Cecelia to exercise in. Her exercise at the new house will be going up and down the stairs I guess. No more “tag” with marathon laps through the old rancher. I have copious photos to remember the place by. Really I just want to remember the time I had there with Cecelia.

She’s going to love this new house The neighborhood is ridden with children. And rabbits, who we have living in our back yard.

watership down

 

It’s Not What You Know; It’s Who You Know

It’s Not What You Know; It’s Who You Know

“It’s not what you know it’s who you know.”

We’ve all heard this saying, and I’ve heard it as much as anyone growing up. At times I took it to heart, which was a mistake. And it goes back to my words of advice on life about being careful about who you take advice from.

When I think back, most people who told me this saying all got their jobs from family members, friends, and friends of their parents. But the jobs they got were short-lived, required no specific knowledge that made them an asset for the company and were token jobs of no real consequence. Jobs such as sales, politics, and I can think of one person who parlayed an acquaintance into a lifelong career via a political connection.

But I’m at a point in my life when I have enough road behind me to see patterns clearly and realize some hard and fast truths. Which is why I’m sharing this wisdom in the first place. I don’t want my daughter to have to learn all the lessons I did by trial and error.

It in fact IS what you know, and partly who you know from knowing what you know.

To get anywhere professionally you need to know more about something than others. Even if you decide to make living with your muscles instead of your brain, you still need to know how to perform your work better than others. Otherwise, people are going to skip over you and go to the next person who is the expert.

The more you know about something the more likely people are going to seek your input and insight. And through those contacts and connections, you tend to meet the right people in a network where opportunities present themselves more frequently. Makes sense, no?

For example, I have people reach out to me often to speak about what I think the future holds for WordPress and blogging software and technological areas that I spend a lot of time immersed in. As a result, I meet and know people that otherwise would be difficult to grab some time with. And they know people that are accessible to me if I ever need the opportunity.

I’d also like to emphasize that people like to help others when they know what they want and what they want to do. Think of it as being available to pitch to They aren’t there to figure out your life for you. Impress people with what you know and they’ll introduce you to the right people to make your dreams come true. If you know nothing but know people of influence, it doesn’t matter. You’re just wasting their time.

 

Radiohead – Best Kept Secret

Radiohead – Best Kept Secret

Anyone who knows me knows how much I love music. I always have. When I was growing up, my parents had one of those console stereos that were popular in the 1950s and ’60s that were about 6 feet wide, with 4 “speakers” (I imagine most of these pieces for entertainment furniture only had 2 speakers and the others were decorative) and a lid that opened to reveal the controls. Otherwise, it was just a big piece of furniture that sat there. It was very retro, made from cherry wood, if I remember, and included a turntable that had 3 speeds, and an FM/AM radio. I have no idea where it came from, but it ended up in my bedroom, and ultimately in our beach house at Holden Beach. I think it was either donated or left with the house when we sold it in the 1980s. But when I was a young boy and had it in my bedroom, I turned it into a “radio station.”

I also had a ton of records, which largely were my mother’s old 45’s from her teenage years that she took to the beach house she went to growing up at Alligator Point. Chubby Checker, Little Richard, and all the hits from the 1950s and early ’60s. Back when Rock and Roll were embryonic. In a sense, I’ve followed rock and roll from its birth to its death which was arguably in the late 1990s.  That’s a debate that’s ongoing, and something I should write about in another post. The computer, pro music, autotune, and a few other travesties were the cause.

Anyway, she also had a lot of opera, country (real country like Willie, Waylon, Hank, Patsy, and so on.) And a lot of other eclectic music, including Tiny Tim and Steve Martin. A lot of classical records on very thick vinyl as well, from the early 1900’s. So I got to hear a lot of variety.

My first venture into music I liked was Jimmy Buffet. I listened to him a lot and had all his records. You have to think back then, I lived in a town that had 2 record stores. The Record Bar at the mall, and another Newsstand, that was more famous for the magazines it carried in the backroom behind the beaded curtain. And most of the records were aimed at older teenagers who drove vans and liked to party. I was about 12 or 13 at the time. So music was limited. We had a radio station in town but they played pop music, which I’ve never liked. Back then, that was Journey, Billy Joel, Men at Work, Toto, Asia, and the tunes MTV played a lot of back when they played music videos.

I went off to boarding school and my musical life changed dramatically and for the better. I fell in love with the Grateful Dead, The Cure, The Violent Femmes, The Clash, The Ramones, The Sex Pistols, REM, The Replacements, Husker Du, The Smiths(which are still an eternal favorite), and on and on with what was considered “Alternative.” No one outside of college and boarding schools listened to these bands because they were only played on college stations and you could only find the music near big colleges like UVa, where I hung out, mail order, and taped from friends. I remember it being years before anyone back home had heard of any of these bands. And that was also when trading Grateful Dead tapes was a huge hobby for people. I had about 120, which I treasured, and which were stolen while I was at college.

The Grateful Dead is still my favorite, but I’ve gone through phases where I listened to other musicians and groups intensely for years. The Allman Brothers are also an all-time favorite, but I have gotten into other artists that I wanted to learn to play on the guitar. Doing so requires listening to them a lot. Like Jack Johnson. I learned about every song of his. And not barely listen to him at all anymore. You can see what my listening habits are at LastFM, which keeps a record of most of my listening habits by “Scrobbling.” I used to have a program that kept a spreadsheet of every song I listened to with date, time, and other random data in Google Sheets as well, but I’m not sure if it still saves those. One thing LastFM doesn’t do is keep track of Grateful Dead bootlegs I listen to and have downloaded. So while I think I have about 150,000 hours of music tracked I’ve listened to, that doesn’t even include probably that much it hasn’t.

One band I’ve solidified in my all-time favorites is Radiohead, which I’ve written about here before. Although Thom Yorke is hyper-liberal, which shouldn’t surprise anyone, his musical genius is apparent. Radiohead’s commercial success always turned me off, like Creep and Fake Plastic Trees. But I learned that those songs don’t represent what they actually write and play, which is simply awesome.

So I was excited to find this gem on Radiohead’s website. There are a lot of performances from Coachella nd in France and here and there on Youtube, but this is a great one from 6-17-2017. Check it out!

https://www.radiohead.com/library/#amsp/2017-06-19-best-kept-secret/

 

How to Watch Bad Movies with Funny People

How to Watch Bad Movies with Funny People

Mystery Science Theater 3000 has been written about before on this site quite a bit. But the Coronavirus has lots of people shut in with not much to do, perceivably. (It’s an excellent opportunity to do many things like learning a new skill, organize, read, exercise, and other activities that Americans often resist) Playing board games with the family can only take you so far.

But one solution, especially if you’re self-isolating, is to watch MST3K. A lot of people don’t get it. I understand that. But for the people that do get it, it seems to have become a coping mechanism during these days of staying in, solitude, and possible loneliness.

I’m a big fan of the show, which I’ve covered here. I haven’t and never will cross the line with taking to the extremes some fans do, which is building their robots, cosplay, and paying vast sums of money to sit in the front row at live events. I just watch the shows.

But the concept of the shows offers something to people who yearn for socializing. It’s like watching movies with your friends, and they are funny, wry, and consistent, which provides comfort to lonely people. You hear other people’s voices speaking up as if they’re right beside you, while you all enjoy some awful, campy, Ed Wood, Roger Corman, 80’s cheese-fest movies.

To enjoy them, you need to possess an extensive repertoire of references. Otherwise, you won’t get the jokes. That’s why some people don’t like it, which is understandable. They aren’t as obscure as Dennis Miller’s references at all, who I also love, but he prides himself on infusing the most cryptic references he can muster. He’s like a Crypto-comedian. Bring along your Thesaurus and plan on doing a lot of Googling. It’s like listening to Socrates doing standup at times. I watched his most recent show, which was good, but I couldn’t help but notice he’s older than I am and his hair is not grey. He’s dying it obviously.

You can binge-watch MST3K in several ways. Twitch has a channel that plays not only MST3K 24/7 but RiffTrax as well. RiffTrax is the spawn of MST3K and is the next best thing as far as a continuance of the original show there is. Joel Hodgson, the creator of the whole thing, tried to launch a revival of the show with Netflix, which bombed, in my opinion. It’s what happens when you mix creatives with executives and inject loads of money. You get something that resembles a product designed by a committee, which is almost always a flop.

Mike Nelson was the head writer for many of the episodes, and like it or not. He’s the mainsail. If the producers of the revival of the show wanted to do it right, they would have kept him around as a head writer. When I watched the credits of one of the new episodes, I counted approximately 30 writers. 30. Too many cooks in the kitchen.

So if you’re sitting around your house wondering what to do during this awkward time and want some company and to laugh, Mystery Science Theater 3000 may be your solution. I feel like I just wrote a book report.

Strange Days are These

Strange Days are These

With the Coronavirus keeping people shut in their houses and social distancing, quarantining themselves and self-isolating, it provides a lot of time that would otherwise be spent on productive activities elsewhere, and with people that we may not be able to spend time with. I can check both of those boxes, and on top of that, I’m making other transitions that fall right in the middle of this panic.

For one thing, I’m in the process of moving out of a house I’ve been in for around three years. The neighborhood is terrific, but the house is too much in size and cost. It doesn’t make any sense for just me and my daughter half of the time. I have a finished basement with a kitchenette, fireplace, and someone could live down there comfortably. I never even go down there except with Cecelia, who uses it like a gymnasium. I have a basketball goal, tee-pee, slide, and all sorts of forts and places to run amok down there, which she loves to do to get her energy out. She runs laps and shows me how fast she is, just like I used to do when I was a child, and my mother made me run laps around our house to get my energy levels in check. And the upstairs is Pee-Wee’s playhouse times ten.

And the upstairs is more like a clubhouse for a gentleman that’s been overtaken by a four-year-old.  It’s a brackish environment of toys and elegant interior decor. This house has been a blessing and a curse. But it’s served as a comfortable, cozy home for Cecelia and me during this tumultuous time. There’s a creek across the street we go down to and play in, and it’s tranquil and safe around here, with only one neighbor. We have deer, possums, hawks, chipmunks, raccoons, snakes, and all sorts of animals that live and visit the property.  The thing about houses is that eventually, you grow and outfit them to suit you. I have about 100 framed wall-hangings that are going to be a trick to use when I downsize to a smaller place.

And although I have a job offer on the table, I’m still looking for a more fulfilling job that suits my qualifications, goals, and desires. I’m in talks with people that can make that happen, but since everyone’s working from home, they can’t interview me, so that’s to be placed on hold until we return to “normal.” I’m very eager to get that show on the road. But it’s another transitional issue that’s currently occurring. Moving and getting a job in the middle of a pandemic. Fun.

This situation is also keeping me from seeing my daughter, who is at her mother’s house this whole time. Our house here is mostly boxed up at this point, and I sent all her toys to her mom’s until we get moved into the new place. So it’s been two weeks already since I’ve seen her, which is one of the most extended stretches we’ve ever been apart. I miss her terribly. I can’t get her and take her to a playground or library because everything is closed or in a public area where others might be. Louisville isn’t a hot spot for the virus, and it seems to leave the young and immunodepressed alone and hurt the elderly mostly, but there’s no reason to chance it.

So that’s giving me more free time than I’m used to. I’d like to learn a new skill, but what? Anything I’m interested in I’m already into. I’ve been writing, but there’s only so long you can do that before your mind says “enough.” I’m writing here because this site needs an updated post. I haven’t been posting anything but recipes lately, it seems, which might reflect the recent lameness of my life. I’m sure of that, in fact. When I lived in SC, I always had more than I knew what to do with my time, but in Louisville, there’s nothing that interests me. I don’t drink, so bourbon is out. I don’t like basketball anymore, which is the only sport this area cares about. The notion that horse racing is big around here is a result of hyped-up marketing by Churchill Downs for the Louisville Derby. Lexington is the horsey city. The Ohio River is polluted and nasty.  The hiking around here is boring. And so on. I’ve lived here for seven years and explored everything I can.

So I’ve still been keeping my marketing chops sharp and reading business articles. I’m working on a book I want to give my daughter that details my life and our family with stories I remember about everyone. I’m the last one to know a lot about some of those things, so if and when something happens to me, it might be helpful to have those chronicles archived for posterity’s sake. And Cecelia’s. I’ve noticed that as my relatives get older, their versions of stories all change. I don’t know if that’s due to poor memory or to suit some type of desire to have things remembered in a more aristocratic and palatable way than what happened. In some cases, my relatives refuse even to believe some of the things I know happened even did. So living in denial is also a factor that dilutes these memories.

The grocery stores are something out of a dystopian movie with all the shelves cleared out. That makes eating hard for someone that typically shops for a few days at a time. I don’t stock up on foo like I did when I had a family to feed because it goes bad and expires, and I hate wasting food. So my diet hasn’t been the best during this time, which I don’t care for either. I have been able to catch up on a lot of Mystery Science Theater, which has been playing 24/7 here on Twitch.

This virus has been disruptive, to say the least. The tax filing deadline has been postponed, and the NCAA basketball tournament has been canceled (no spectators, at least), businesses have shuttered, public services all closed, schools all closed. It’s Polio all over again, with a few, but notable differences. Politically, technologically, culturally, and economically, we see what’s expected. Technology is trying to step up to the plate, politics bogging everything down, the economy taking a hit at the small business level and in the markets, and cultural divisiveness, as people have too much free time on their hands and a controversial topic being lit on fire by the media.

As far as my opinion at this moment in time on the virus, I don’t think the vast majority of Americans have anything to worry about. The people that do are the elderly and non-Americans in this country. The virus is concentrating on sanctuary cities in high-density environments. That’s the perfect place for an infection to spread, so that’s what’s happening. Children don’t seem overly prone to it, and neither do the healthy. And even though most Americans aren’t “healthy,” their immune systems seem to be ok at least. Taking precautions isn’t a stupid idea, but overreacting isn’t a solution for anything.

 

 

Cottage Pie

Cottage Pie

Cottage Pie

I’ve realized I’ve been cooking for over 4 decades now in some capacity. I began cooking with my mother making biscuits and cookies when I was a young kid and bumbled my way along through my mid-twenties when I began to try and learn how to cook properly and what cooking and food were all about. That is the age that I probably started taking dating more seriously and saw that cooking was a skill that helped in that pursuit as well.

Plus I had a job so I could afford ingredients beyond mac and cheese and frozen pizza. I already had a formidable library of recipes and cookbooks from my grandmothers and mother that was expansive. I still have a massive cookbook library but use the internet and apps and technology more than relying on them anymore. Just as I put my trials and recipes and thoughts and attempts her on my website than refer and make notes in my cookbooks anymore.

I’ve learned how to cook. Meaning what methods work best and why for different foods and what foods are comprised of, in starch and sugar content and fibrous vegetables and the differences between apples and potatoes and a vast compendium of knowledge amassed from cooking from so long. I wish I could say the same for my guitar playing, but that doesn’t keep me and my dependents through the years alive and healthy like cooking does. There’s also a very big economic benefit in learning to cook for yourself. Whether you’re cooking for four or one and 1/2, you become adept at managing scale as well. And learning measurements and all sorts of scientific skills.

When I had a larger family to cook for, the best investment I had was a deep freezer. I could buy and cook at scale. Now that I’m cooking just for myself and my young daughter, a vacuum-bag sealer is a great thing to have. I can save portions and don’t waste food. A lot of quality Tupperware containers are helpful as well.

I always have to be mindful of what everyone’s tastes are as well. Who doesn’t like mushrooms or onions or spicy foods or whatever. When cooking for me and my daughter I have to be careful of not over spicing foods or making things too hearty or savory or visually unappealing. I need to know what she likes and what she’ll try and eat. I’m lucky in that she’ll try everything and trusts me to not trick her into giving her something she may not like. I love having a deep level of trust with her like that. She knows I won’t try to gove her something I don’t think she’ll like, and I can cook all sorts of things that are comprised of ingredients that I know she likes. Eggs are very versatile so I can make omelets, quiches, and she likes spinach and cheese so those are great ingredients that I can use in a lot of ways. Wraps, and salads.

Something I try to make the best use of is one-dish meals, where I can use the slow cooker and cook a lot of vegetables into something that’s pretty easy, cheap and will last a long time and fill us up and we both like.

We don’t eat a lot of meat, and when we do, it’s lean like fish, shrimp, chicken or lean beef. I feed us roast beef instead of ham or turkey because it’s a low-fat high protein, low sodium and I feel healthier than most hams and turkey products that are sold out there. I use low-sodium white albacore tuna instead of chunk tuna fish which reminds me of cat food. It’s just better. I don’t use American cheese, I use whole traditional cheeses that are mild like provolone of buffalo whole milk mozzarella. I use sharp or extra sharp cheddar when a kick is needed.

I use the freshest seafood I can find and if fresh isn’t available I use flash-frozen whole cod, dolphin, grouper or actual fish, not tilapia or scrod. Same with vegetables. If I can’t find fresh I use flash-frozen. Living where I live now it’s different than when I lived in the South and along the coast where everything was farmed or caught fresh. Things have to be flown or trucked into Lousiville so I have to adapt. Or pay premiums, which lately hasn’t been possible.

So all this is a long prelude to what I’m cooking tonight. Cecelia loves mashed potatoes and carrots and peas and green beans, and It’s late January and 34 degrees out. So a nice hearty stewy type of dish would be nice.

Beef stew and Pot roast are too manly and meaty for a four-year-old girl.  But something along that track. Shepherd’s Pie is great but is made from lamb, and I see no need to kill a lamb to feed my little family. But Shepherd’s Pie with beef is called Cottage Pie, and I can make something along those lines.

So I put on my mad scientist’s hat and here’s what I came up with, which I think should turn out nicely. The results for any project rest in the preparation, which is where most people make short cuts. That’s where the integrity of the meal lies and is the same in life, It’s what’s done when no one is looking. And it makes most of the difference in the output.

So here are the ingredients I used:

  • 1 2-2 1/2 lb chuck roast. I bought it whole and cubed it myself. You could use low-fat ground beef but I wanted to take advantage of the low and slow method of cooking.
  • 1 Whole yellow onion, diced
  • 1 package of baby carrots, 16 oz. Using peeled chopped is fine too.
  • 1pkg ranch dressing, powdered
  • 1 pkg Italian dressing, powdered
  • 1 pkg savory pot roast seasoning mix, powdered
  • 1 can cut green beans, no sodium. A package of frozen green is fine.
  • 1 pkg frozen sweet peas 16 oz. A big package of frozen mixed vegetables would work here too, including corn and lima beans. Even better. Use what you have or what’s on sale.
  • a mixture of AP flour, garlic powder, kosher salt, fresh ground pepper to coat cubed meat in
  • 4-5 minced cloves of garlic
  • around 1 cup low-sodium beef broth
  • canola oil
  • 8.2 oz package Idahoan Roasted Garlic & Parmesan Baby Reds Mashed Potatoes

I cubed the beef, coated it in the flour/garlic powder/s&p mixture and browned it in a little canola oil in a pot. I set it aside and drained the fat.

I made a bed of baby carrots and onions in the slow cooker and layered the meat on top of that. I mixed and sprinkled the 3 packages of seasonings on top of the meat evenly. This type of seasoning is something I shy away from usually, but I know from experience, heavy seasoning is needed in this type of dish and I was curious what mixing the 3 types of most used store-bought seasoning mixes would yield. I poured the low sodium beef broth over that and gave it a gentle stir. See below for the results.

I go easy on the sodium for a number of reasons. Health being #1. Salt being over-used in place of flavor is another. Seasonings should bring out the flavor of the food, not replace it. Salt is inserted where there’s a lack of quality, like in salted butter and a lot of fast foods. It’s not healthy, and most people use table, or iodized salt, which is unnecessary. We’re not in jeopardy of getting scurvy anymore, and Kosher or sea salt is preferable. It has a cleaner taste and it doesn’t bounce off the food as table salt does. It’s flaky and should be sprinkled on at the right time. There’s a quick lesson on salt.

I put that on low for 8 hours.

With about 4 hours left I put in the green beans and frozen peas and stirred. Normally I would be tempted to put sliced mushrooms and chopped celery in but I had no celery and my daughter doesn’t like mushrooms, yet.

It turned out pretty good, but I’d probably leave out the ranch dressing mixture and rely more on aromatics like onion, garlic, carrots, celery, and gentle seasoning. I don’t like packaged seasonings, but for some reason, I went all-in on this one. I regret it and would rely on my own sense of taste and use fresh seasonings instead. Always better. I know it, and this was proof.

For my daughter and what I think would be better overall, next time I’ll cube the beef into smaller bite-size pieces. It was good this way for me, a fully grown adult male, but I can imagine it being too much for a young girl. It would also make it more tender, which wouldn’t be a bad thing.

 

 

 

Rollergirl

Rollergirl

This is Cecelia’s first time rollerskating. She attended her friend Adelle’s 8th birthday party at a roller-rink. Cecelia is 4 years old but it didn’t stop her from joining in the fun. She was determined to do it herself and didn’t care if she went against the flow of traffic to strut her stuff. She did very well and had a great time. It was very loud and hectic there with all the bigger people whizzing by, but she was focused.

 

Cecelia’s First Rollerskate from Musgrove on Vimeo.