I don’t know if my dead tree project will ever be finished. I continue to add new painted limbs and branches to it. It’s currently standing in my extra room. I rescued the dead base of the tree from the woodpile near where I found the baby shower box a couple of weeks ago. The little branches I’ve added are from some of my favorite spots along the trail and near the hospital, so it’s a well-traveled creation. I love the idea of it in part because it’s something made from discarded and desiccated remains. That I can add an infinite number of pieces to it, all rendered in luminescent color makes me happy.
The day contains the same elements of any other day. It can be a repeat of the familiar. It can also be an anomalous remix, both familiar and strangely new. Like freshly-sliced jalapeños on vanilla bean ice cream.
For fans of both Merle Haggard and Survivor, I ask you to search for “Survivor and Merle Haggard – Eye of the Haggard.” It’s an example of juxtaposing two things that should not work together but somehow do. Musically, it’s a masterful bit of wild production and melody.
In other news, I don’t like to watch baseball. Albert Pujols joined Babe Ruth as a 600 HR hitter and a pitcher. I love it when anything interesting happens in baseball. It joins bowling and golf as two sports that are like watching my hair dry. Yes, all 11 of them.
I’m looking at the new day with the eye of a tiger and the pancreas of a hyena. (That joke might be a little too esoteric.)
Before I leave for work, I will turn off the light in the room with the dead tree project. The colors will fade to the eye until the sun washes through the window and illuminates it.
It will have its day in the sun.
I hope each of you does too.
My cat will jump up to the windowsill multiple times during the day. I added extra-wide sills to all my windows so that both he and the few plants I have can enjoy the second-floor view and light.
It’s what Mondays are made for, though most of us begrudgingly wake up groggy-eyed and unready for the presumptive start of the workweek. If you’re going to spend 20% of your work-life experiencing Mondays, you might as well find a new perspective to enjoy them.
Take the pieces that don’t work and refresh them. Remix and enjoy.
Infrequently, I try to use my endless ideas to create something ‘serious.’ I hate that word, as it needlessly demarcates life into impossible categories. I’m both ridiculous and contemplative – as most people are.
For years I’ve thought that Washington Regional Medical System needed both a new logo and a new name, one that reflects simplicity, recognizability, and appropriateness. The hospital system is flung across multiple counties, with dozens of clinics. As it has grown, the “Washington” part increasingly becomes a misnomer, especially as it encroaches on other systems in the area.
The name I invented is pronounced “Regional Plus.” The logo is just the word “Regional” with a symbol that uses the essential foundation of the complicated logo it utilized for years. It’s simple, recognizable, and has a plethora of built-in marketing potential. I’d rather have the word “Regional” be purple, too, but I used a nondescript gray to keep the suits and ties happier. Additionally, my proposed rebrand fits on t-shirts, badges, and marketing materials – something the longer current one does not. It will save a LOT of space on signs, too.
“At Regional +, we’re not just a hospital, we’re a hospital plus.”
It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to extrapolate dozens of such marketing phrases. Naturally, I have several funny ones, too, but I’ll leave them for later.
I shared it with marketing and a few other people and didn’t get a response. Crickets.
The weird thing? Without evidence, I see this logo becoming the new one for the hospital.
Tell me that mine isn’t better and I will shut up.
“My socks may not match, but my feet are always warm.” Maureen McCullough
As someone who turned down raises twice in my history with my company (during which one year we all took a 5% pay cut due to cutbacks), I’ve never complained about what I’m paid. Especially in the last 18 months, I have been even more grateful to my job overall, even though it drives me bonkers at times. The goings-on with Covid definitely tried my patience. But I do love my schedule and the flexibility my job affords. Some of my co-workers are actually not a total pain in the ass. Besides, they seem to tolerate ME well, which is a feat of both bravery and foolishness on their part.
In the last couple of years, the company had to adjust to market pressure and give the lower-end employees two pay bumps, many of whom finally went to $15 an hour. I now have 17 years with my employer. Given the number of shenanigans and stress I’ve often doled out to my managers, HR, compliance, legal, and just about everyone, it is a miracle that I’m still there. I’m a complete goof but sometimes people forget my background or my contradictory ideas about safety, employment law, and general do-the-right-thing beliefs. I’ve been lucky to be both vocal and humorous, even while doing a very physical job. I’m definitely not my job, but it does afford me the chance to be fickle and fiendish.
I have a minority opinion about seniority – and always have. While we can earn different benefits based on longevity, I’ve always believed that anyone doing my job should earn exactly what I do, regardless of tenure. It’s not exactly a popular opinion, I realize. It’s caused some hilarious team meetings and awkward moments. Not awkward for me; rather, for them. All of us are expendable and are only as valuable as our output and knowledge.
In general, I’d rather have more satisfied co-workers than a slightly higher wage. Since most of them SEEM to be working for money, it follows that more money should lead to better morale. Except for the assholes. There is no pleasing some people, as anyone who has thrown a dinner party knows.
I didn’t know what kind of raise I might get on this paycheck. I would have been grateful for any raise. When I checked my online paystub and did the simple math, I realized that I should not be doing even simple math without a calculator and probably a helmet.
My raise? 10%. That’s substantially larger than any I’ve ever received. I know that the raise was based on complex calculations, probably using a dartboard and while drinking shots at Art’s Place on College. But whatever the reason, I am grateful.
“The hardest arithmetic to master is that which enables us to count our blessings.” Eric Hoffer
So, as for the administrators who authorized the raise, I guess I need to nod in their direction, as much as it pains me. I prefer to snark at them!
I would write more, but I need to go spend this 10% on something vital to my life: notecards and PopChips.
“I will find you and I will hug you.” – Possibly Liam Neeson
PS The picture is from this morning. I walked down the trail and listened to the birds. The squirrels scampered along the branches and knocked puffs of snow loose as they did so. It was as if I had the entire world to myself; no traffic, no passersby on the trail. Only the peeking sun, the flow of the creek, and my thoughts. It was sublime and beautiful. .
Less than a week before my emergency surgery, I wrote a letter to someone who needed a living eulogy and to hear that he was appreciated. The timing of me writing and giving him the letter seems prophetic to me now. I wonder what my words might have meant had things gone differently with my emergency surgery. The lovely thing is that I overcame my awkwardness by sharing my intimate thoughts with another adult, something we don’t do enough. I don’t have to wonder about the alternate future because I chose to silence the voice in my head that said, “Don’t give him the note.” I hate that my first reaction is sometimes to pull back. Over the last year, the barrier I have to do so continues to disintegrate – and I’m as proud of that as I am of my weight loss.
Yesterday, the person who received the letter proved himself worthy of my praise. He went beyond the scope of work and reached out to help another human being, one who was experiencing a difficult day. It’s the only thing that matters. We’re not going to remember bad decisions and particular moments if someone proves that they will walk that extra mile and outside of all their comfort zones. “Trust your instincts,” I told him. They’ve worked out well for him so far. And if they push him to risk reaching out to help someone else, they are the best possible instincts.
Life will continue to beat us all up in unexpected moments; it’s a certainty. Each of us needs to be the giver and the receiver of compassion and understanding when we can. It will be our turn on both ends of this spectrum when we least expect it.
Yesterday, at work, something else happened that I can’t specify due to privacy. All of us mobilized without a second thought, seeing someone suffering and needing both immediately physical help and presence. It lingered with me. The person I wrote the letter to was also one of those who went above and beyond again to jump into spontaneous action. Life and work would be so much lesser without him; that was one of the points I tried to communicate to him.
As I exited the convenience store this morning after buying multidraw lottery tickets, a young woman with bright xanthous hair (I love that word!) sat in her vehicle. She animatedly shook her phone. She was obviously upset. I crossed in front of her to go to my car. As I unlocked my door, I looked over toward her and saw that she was looking over at me. I smiled and made the universal motion for her to roll her window down. Had she not, I would have understood. Strangers are always a risk. Her passenger window went down. “Do you need anything?” The words popped out of my mouth as they often do. Being awkward didn’t occur to me. “I need a miracle,” she said, her voice uneven. “Do you like your mom?” I asked her. She nodded and said, “Yes, she is pretty cool for a mom.” I smiled again and then said seriously, “Well, call her and talk to her about it. Call her right now. That’s what good moms are for.” The girl with the xanthous hair seemed a bit bewildered. “Okay, I think I will. You’re right. This is ridiculous.” I told her to have a good talk with her mom and waved goodbye. I drove away and saw that she was looking at her phone, probably to make a call. I wondered if she’d tell her mom about the odd man in the vest and suit jacket at the convenience store, telling her to call.
I walked into the early morning storeroom, flipping the lights on and making the first pot of coffee. I knew it would be different without her, on her first day of retirement. So I posted this on her door, the one that now opens to an absence.
Tonight, I sat at the end of a long table, looking toward a gathering of current and former coworkers. Atop the table was an assortment of good drinks, appetizers, and good food. More importantly, the perimeter of the table was lined with people connected to one person. The purpose of the get-together was a send-off to Leigh, someone who dedicated decades to work. They let me do a toast and I lit it up with a bit of humor and a dose of sincerity. I opened my toast with the Andy Bernard (The Office) quote: “I wish there were a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left the good old days.” I reminded everyone that as we gathered there, we had experienced those good days with Leigh and that tonight, we had to face the realization that not only had these been the good old days, but that they were drawing to a close, as all such times must do. Leigh’s shoes can’t be filled.
I laughed dozens of times. I teared up a couple, both due to the people sitting around me, as well the backdrop of time overlapping from memory and transposing itself onto the fact I knew I’d remember that moment for the rest of my life.
I left the restaurant with a fuller heart but also a slight wound there, too. Bittersweet moments both rejuvenate and pierce one’s heart.
As much as Leigh looks forward to retirement, I know she mourns the loss of people who’ve occupied her waking hours for so many years. I miss her already. I try to imagine what was in her heart as she looked around at us laughing and sharing stories.
Part of the sting is the knowledge that endings are a constant companion to our lives.
And if we can’t remember to bow our heads in reverence to the life we’ve been graciously given, we’re doing it wrong. Leigh was never one to get the doldrums about life; she graciously accepts the highs and lows as well as anyone I’ve ever met. Her faith takes care of the rest.
We gave our bon voyage as a group tonight. After tomorrow, she’ll find a new way to focus her energy. We’ll stay behind, each waiting our turn to say our goodbyes.
For tonight, laughter, good food, and a bittersweet farewell to a kind, funny person.
We’ll miss you, Chihuahua!
P.S. Leigh took this picture. I told her I would add words to reach her heart.
As part of my after-care, a Blue Cross case manager called me yesterday. We talked for an hour. You’re going to think I’m kidding, but it was like talking to a Grandmother and friend I never knew I had. She was engaging, personal, and we talked about a lot of things other than my health. I hope she’s rewarded for this kind of outreach. I would not have imagined that someone from such a large bureaucracy could be so personal. Because she’s a nurse, was on a ventilator in the hospital due to covid, and knows the medical system as well as anyone could, she also allowed me to openly discuss the mess we face when our health falters. She should be the face and soul of Blue Cross. As much fun as I have poking at organizations, she deserves recognition.
Having a horrible experience at a restaurant is a first-world problem; that, I acknowledge. Covid doesn’t factor into my latest mess. Few people working or visiting the eatery in question wore masks yesterday. That’s okay by me. Having survived attempted strangulation by my bowels makes it hard for me to throw stones at external threats beyond my control.
Yes, Tammy, I should have opted for Sam’s rotisserie chicken. : ) Now that I’m out of the hospital, I wanted to enjoy a calorie and flavor-rich simple meal prepared by a restaurant that c-a-n make delicious food. It was to be my first post-surgery restaurant experience. It was late enough past the post-lunch crowd that the most significant impediment would be circumvented. Or so I thought. After realizing that Renzo’s was closed on Sunday, my friend and I immediately agreed on Jason’s Deli. We used the app to simplify the process and paid online. I took a large cash tip with me to reward the employees involved. Curbside pickup would make it easy for me to avoid unnecessary strain and bypass any covid issues. (Not that I’m worried, as so many vaccinated people are getting breath-through cases.) I wasn’t in a hurry, and I left to go pick up the order.
Calling the number on the Curbside pickup sign, I immediately knew that I might have a bad experience. The employee answering the phone lashed out. My response was both surprise and a little laughter. I tried to picture what Hell she’d already experienced by 1 p.m. to motivate her to practice that degree of insult. Avoiding any humorous snark, I answered her as best as I could. The details don’t matter. I called my friend, laughing, telling her what the Jason’s employee had said. Since I work in an environment where customer service often morphs into malicious compliance when an employee gets angry, I easily recognized that the employee in question would have gladly jumped off a building to get out of there. I lowered my expectations and waited.
After 30+ minutes past the initial “order-ready” time, I went inside to the to-go area. I wasn’t upset, just confused. At this point, I was still laughing a little at the unlikely outcome I’d got myself into by choosing Jason’s. I called my friend who was going to share the meal with me. I apologized for laughing. It was so ridiculous I didn’t know how else to respond. I sent a picture of the lop-sided layout; 99% of employees on the dine-in side and one lone guy attempting to keep up with the to-go/curbside/driver end that comprised at least 50% of the business.
People were waiting, frustrated. A lone male employee was manning the entire ‘out’ portion of the long prep bar. He was hustling against piles of half-prepared sandwiches, missing items, and dozens of order tickets thrown and stuck everywhere. A dozen employees were helping dine-in customers get their food quickly.
A couple of food delivery drivers expressed their frustration and walked out. One announced, “Okay. I don’t want any of these orders. I don’t care about the money or the food.” And he left.
Twenty minutes later, I finally got to the to-go register. “Can I speak to a manager?” She looked at me, angry. “No. She’s working the line for dine-in.” And she answered the phone, ignoring me. I stayed in my spot. The woman looked back up to see me and walked off, leaving her spot. Another employee came up a minute later, and I said, “I’d like a refund, no harm and no foul, and thank you.” She rolled her eyes. “We don’t have time to issue refunds. You get what you get.” I’m paraphrasing. “Wait, ma’am, I’m sorry it’s so busy, but I’m tired and stressed. I need a refund.” She walked off.
Customers and delivery drivers watched and listened. For the second time, I thought maybe I was on an episode of “What Would You Do.”
When the first woman came back to the register, she didn’t make eye contact. “Move. I can’t help you. The manager is working the line and can’t come up here.” Stunned, I stepped slightly to the side as the employee helped someone else. I’m omitting things that would make this encounter worse. You can imagine the other words said to me and around me. Each time the phone rang, the workers recoiled and had an epithet to utter.
I waited a few more minutes. Order tickets, half-prepared food, and boxes continued to pile up as the single male to-go person fought against a tide of orders. Another driver said, “Hey, you’re supposed to treat this like a drive-through and process us out. I’ve been here an hour and have orders sitting in my car getting cold/hot/old.” No one listened.
I was sorry for everyone, workers and customers alike.
All the energy and enthusiasm I’d had evaporated. My body just wanted to sit down, even if I had to eat slices of bread for a meal.
I cut through and walked around to the dine-in register, now empty. The lunch rush was well over by then. No one wanted to come to the register. An employee walked up, exasperated. “Can I take your order?” I said, “No, I’m sorry. Look, I need a refund. I’m sorry.” I’m editing this portion, too. The employee, a young female, didn’t quite know how to do it.The long to-go order person walked up, answered the phone, and said, “#$#@ I’m working on it!” before I said anything. He threw a piece of paper at me. It said “$0” on it. It wasn’t a canceled receipt. “Sir, I’m sorry, I need a receipt cancellation, something indicating my order was voided.” Angry stare, followed by angry words. He waved me off, telling me to leave and shut up. Incredulous, I repeated, “Sir, I apologize it’s so hard here, but I need just a second…” He said something bizarre to the caller, held the phone against his chest, and screamed down at the manager working on the prep line, “Come take care of this asshole! He won’t shut up.” He shook his fist in the air in front of me. It was not a polite gesture. I took a breath. I remained standing there, waiting to give it one more try.
The to-go order employee screamed at the manager again. I won’t cite words here, either. Whether you believe me or not, I felt sorry for him. Work shouldn’t push anyone to that point. I’m pretty sure a few people in my position would have thrown a punch.
The manager walked up and said, “It’s always this way.” I said, “The details don’t matter. I just want a refund. I know it’s busy, but your employees have been rude, cursed at me, and treated me and others like we’re not human. I wasn’t in a hurry. I feel bad for everyone. Is this a receipt?” She looked at it. She gave me another explanation.
And I tried to make a human connection: “You know how you never know what someone else is going through? I’ve been respectful, calm, and patient. I waited 30 minutes outside and well over an hour here inside. I apologize that everything is impossible in here, I truly do. Let me show you that we have our own issues.” I lifted my red t-shirt and showed her my long, jagged metal staple wound. “I don’t think I’ll follow-up about this visit, but if I do, please remember that I was polite, didn’t raise my voice, and my only crime was trying to get food and celebrate. I’m so sorry for all of us.” I meant it.
She apologized. I felt terrible for her, the workers, and everyone else who found themselves in an unexpected retail Hell.
I left, feeling like I’d been at Jason’s for the equivalent of an entire afternoon, even though it had been at most two hours. Another Uber driver spoke to me outside. I told him a ten-second recap and wished him well, knowing his afternoon had already crashed. “I’ve got orders in the car, ones I’ve had over an hour.” I smiled. “I’m so sorry. There’s no fix for this.” And there’s not. The corporation won’t staff adequately, and the employees don’t know how to go from incredible anger to communicate the mess effectively.
I drove back to the apartment.
Within a little over 30 minutes later, a local Chinese restaurant delivered a mountain of dishes. I ate like a king. But the mess and melee of Jason’s stayed in my head all afternoon. More than anything, the most significant realization is how a retail encounter put so many people in the position of being lesser than any of us should ever be with one another.
I treated everyone I came into contact with kindness and regard. It was supposed to be a simple meal, one to celebrate being out of the hospital.
Instead, it was a reminder that staffing is too low everywhere – and that it’s easy to use stress as a lever to be hateful.
I’m not sure I can indict Jason’s Deli too harshly. But it now holds the title of worst retail restaurant experience of my life – and that’s quite the feat at my age.
Did I go too far showing the manager my surgery incision? Maybe. But we always hear that we don’t know what’s going on in another person’s life. I put myself into the shoes of every Jason’s Deli employee during and after the mess of yesterday. Except for the manager, none of them imagined why the soft-spoken guy in the red shirt looked so forlorn about humans being unable to stop the madness and reset.
I haven’t processed some of these same lessons from being in the hospital last week. People are stressed, understaffed, and unmanaged. Many of us don’t have adequate coping mechanisms to respond to situations that force us to forget that we’re just momentary flashes of life and need to do better.
You were there when I first started in 2005. A pretty, smiling face, a Southern lady who cleverly concealed her understanding of all our ribald and questionable words and actions. You understood where I came from, being from the same region and culture yourself. You sent me pictures of Brinkley, as you passed through. You were there when my wife died unexpectedly. You sat in the room across from me when we were certain we had lost the job lottery during a staff reduction. Despite my own shock, I was shocked and stunned on your behalf. These kinds of moments forge a connection. (Note: I miss Leroy, who didn’t survive the cut, much to our mutual surprise.)
I have no doubt that I exasperated you on a lot of levels.
Though I can’t remember any of them, I am certain I ate at your diner in Johnson many times while you tirelessly worked the tables, kitchen, and your poor husband Phil.
I love teasing you about your attention to detail and exasperating way of making sure I understand you. It was, for this reason, I nicknamed you the Chihuahua; tireless, small in stature, but impossible to ignore.
We all get caught up in the bureaucracy of living and work. In so doing, we glibly overlook how fascinating the people around us can be.
You are the rare combination of a hard worker and a compassionate listener.
You’ve dedicated thousands of hours that no one else in your position would.
Both of these qualities will dim our lives when you retire. Having worked in this environment for so many years, I can confess that we still share and tell stories of all the people we had the honor of knowing in common. It’s an infinite game of leapfrog, as people come and go and overlap. Your overlap is gargantuan and memorable.
I’ll steal the cliché and modify it: “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s almost gone.”
I don’t know what you’re going to do with the 30+ remaining years of your life.