Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Family feud, chapter 2 (unedited)

We had dinner at mom's on Christmas Eve, as usual. She invited Uncle Phil to join us. Uncle Phil was one of her two brothers that had Thanksgiving dinner with us.

Following dinner, talk turned to grandpa, Huggy Bear and the flooring business.

There was some sort of meeting that took place to discuss the future of the business. Uncle Phil doesn't work for the family business any more, he hasn't for many years. It's probably easier for him to raise concerns than for those working at the store on a daily basis.

Grandpa is starting to get it. He's starting to realize that the flooring business is suffering, like many other sectors of the economy. I'm not sure he's convinced that something has to change. He gets $11,000 a month in rent, and figures that if business is slow, perhaps it's time to cut some employees. He doesn't seem to think his rent checks should be reduced in order to keep the business afloat.

Things are really slow, evidently. I'm not sure if this applies to everybody working at the store or only the family members employed by the store, but my aunts and uncles, at minimum, haven't received a paycheck in December.

From what Uncle Phil can tell, grandpa funds the living expenses for him and Huggy Bear. Grandpa use to cook, especially in grandma's waning years because it was tough for her to do so at times. Grandpa doesn't cook any more, and neither does Huggy Bear. They go out to eat twice a day, every day. Huggy Bear wanted to have Christmas dinner at their house catered rather than have everybody bring food as we've always done in the past.

Huggy Bear has stock, a lot of stock, in a major corporation. It has been given to her by her brother. And since they got married, she continues to receive more. The theory is that she has spent very little of her money or income since marrying grandpa, and that she's living entirely on his dime, salting away all her money for her children and grandchildren. Mom referred to her as a piranha.

Grandpa doesn't have to worry about living another 25 years, and he's not obligated to leave a big lump of cash to his children, but he built a business over decades, and at a time when it's highly challenging to stay in business, he's flushing his legacy down the drain. A couple of my uncles have never worked for anyone other than grandpa, and a couple others have a lot of years invested in the company. His need for $11,000 a month is not only jeopardizing his retirement income, it's jeopardizing the livelihood of half of his 10 children. And he doesn't seem to see that.

Mom thinks it's time for a third party to step in and oversee his finances. But how do you tell somebody he's no longer allowed to spend his cash at will? It's a tough proposition, particularly since Huggy Bear certainly would have no interest in such an arrangement.

Grandpa definitely doesn't see the big picture. He came into the store on a recent Saturday morning, a Saturday when the weather was nasty. He shouldn't have been driving around, but he was. Given the weather and the lousy economy, it doesn't take the Amazing Kreskin to predict the store would be empty that morning. Yet grandpa showed up at the store and questioned why there weren't any customers in the store.

Mom was opposed to grandpa's wedding, and her objections seemed to be a bit self-serving at the time. I remember one of my uncles, perhaps Phil, suggesting that even if the marriage was less than kosher, grandpa is happy, and mom should be, too.

Unfortunately it appears that mom's objections have been validated by her siblings. And that's something nobody wanted, not even mom.

I hope it doesn't get ugly at Christmas dinner. There's no guarantee it won't.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The death of me

My blog is not dying in 2009, but I am.

Technically it's the life I've known that's dying next year, not me, physically.

2008 wasn't a year to remember. It wasn't a bad year, but it wasn't anything special. Thanks to a fire in the main house where I formerly had an apartment, I was temporarily displaced on Jan. 8. Four months later I was moving into a new apartment, with all my belongings "cleaned" of their smoke damage, and repackaged somewhat randomly.

I use to value keepsakes and mementos. Not so much any more. I have reminders of my past, and a lot of old comic books and baseball cards I don't want. I don't want to throw them away or sell them all for peanuts, but I don't need them any more. I'll keep the White Sox troll doll Monica gave me many years ago. Those White Sox yearbooks from the 1980s, I don't need 'em.

I have a lot of old video tapes of movies and TV shows. Yeah, it's fun to watch old David Letterman anniversary specials. I might keep those tapes, but a lot of the stuff I've had on video for two decades, not worth the time.

I use to geocache periodically. I haven't done so since Jan. 1. I hope to get out some in the coming year, but a lot of the trinkets and boxes I've accumulated for the purpose of geocaching just take up space. I'm not in the business of creating geocaches any more, and having cool trinkets to leave is no longer of interest to me. This spring I'm going to dump all of that stuff into a few select geocaches.

I have a nice new lamp mom gave me for my birthday. I need that. I don't need most of the outdated electronic equipment I have accumulated. Adios to all that, one way or another. I have some nice stereo equipment, but little interest in a stereo any more, or many of my CDs for that matter. Not sure what to do with that stuff.

Beyond all that, I am finally at the end of my rope at the newspaper. This week it was announced that our 2009 vacation allotments are being cut 20 percent next year. That is being done to save the company money, even though it won't save a dime in Minnesota.

Allegedly our Texas offices are far more valuable than our holdings in other states. When people in Texas go on vacation they hire temporary help, evidently. That never happens in Minnesota. They even talked about hiring temporary help in a department where it is badly needed during this holiday season, but ultimately they sad "screw you" to those left in the department during a co-worker's leave of absense. They don't spend an extra dime to replace any of us in Minnesota, but because they do in Texas, everybody is going to lose vacation time next year. Merry Christmas to all of us who have worked our asses off for years.

I should have left for years ago. I knew it was time to go, but I didn't push myself to get out. I have wasted the last four years of my career. I can't get those back, but those assholes aren't taking any more good years from me.

Given the newspaper industry is dying a rather quick death, this means I won't be working in journalism in 2009, I'm sure.

And that's fine, there are a lot of things that need to change in 2009. The life I knew for the past 38 years is dead. Rest in peace.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Year in review

I'm not going to review the highs and lows of the year that was. I certainly didn't foresee sitting where I am tonight as I unceremoniously ushered in the new year at the Naples, Fla., condo I was staying at while attending my cousin's wedding.

But I have wanted to look back at the bicycling year that was. Tonight I will.

It's hard to guess how many miles I biked in 1997 or 1998, the first years I began pushing myself to do distance riding. I bicycled the MS TRAM both summers. That ride is 300 miles over five days. And in 1998 I also bicycled the MS 150. Did I bike more than 2,000 miles those years? I have no idea, but based upon my experiences of the past few years, I doubt I ever made it to 2,000.

It wasn't until 2004 that it made sense to log my annual mileage. I don't know why it took me that long to do so, but that's the first year I did. I pushed myself in 2005 to better my 2004 performance, and I raised the bar again in 2006. It was in 2006 that I first reached 2,000 miles in a season. I finished with 2,120.

2007 was a letdown of sorts. Maybe I wasn't as committed to bicycling, but there were factors that definitely curtailed my bicycling at the end of the season. I finished with about 1,600 miles. I'm too lazy to go look up the final tally right now.

Given last year's letdown, there was a renewed sense of urgency to reach the 2,000-mile mark this season. Thankfully I made it, even if it took until Halloween to get there. I finished with 2,053 miles.

Most years I get started in April. It's not a substantial month of bicycling, but it's a good month for working out the rust. That didn't happen this year, however, as I was living with my mother in April. That pesky fire that drove me from my apartment in January resulted in nearly four months of temporary housing with mom. I didn't move into my new apartment until May 5, which meant I didn't have access to my bicycling clothes or gear until then.

Even though I moved in on May 5, it took time to get my act together. My first ride of the year: May 18. That 13-mile day is probably the latest I have begun a bicycling season . That date was less than a week before my annual spring camping trip over Memorial Day weekend. I was home by Memorial Day, but very tired from the weekend, and ultimately too lazy to bicycle that day...something that would not be forgotten by me for the remainder of the season.

some years I bike 100 miles or more in April. By the conclusion of Memorial Day weekend this year I had biked all of 52 miles. It certainly didn't look like I'd make it to 2,000 miles in 2008.

I began to pick up the pace after Memorial Day and finished May with 127 miles. That's not the least bit impressive, some years I bike 300 miles in May.

I quickly worked my way up to 40-mile rides, however, which helped me catch up for lost time. Ironically my June total doesn't include 150 miles of bicycling during the MS 150. For the first time in five years I skipped it, despite being registered. I wasn't as well prepared for it as I have been in years past, there was a slight chance of it being a rainy weekend and my friend Margaret, whom I have biked the MS 150 with during the past four years, was behind on her training, too, and didn't think she was prepared for the challenge this year. Put those factors together and it wasn't too hard to take the easy way out.

Despite that I pushed myself just about every weekend in June, thanks to the fact my life is relatively empty and meaningless. The high cost of gas this past summer helped encourage me to limit my travels. Instead of driving all over town I dedicated a few hours to bicycling each weekend. No, I'm not trying to kid myself. I wasn't exactly turning down social invitations left and right, but I didn't look for things to do, either. Like I said, my life is rather empty and meaningless these days.

During the end of June, however, I did something unusual by my standards. I took a week off from work. I usually take my time off in small increments, but with the Fourth of July being on a Friday, I used four vacation days and took the entire week off. I went up north and stayed at my friends' cabin that week, the site of my legendary 112-mile bike trips.

As noted previously, I wasn't prepared on Monday, June 30, to make the round trip to Fergus Falls, but I managed to do so in less-than-impressive fashion, finishing the trip after sunset, but finishing it nonetheless. With that last day ride I tallied 663 miles in June....probably a June record.

I did another 142 miles of riding during the rest of my stay that week. I had hoped to do even more than that, but getting out four times over six days wasn't too bad. I logged 250+ miles during my week up north, and that's better than most weeks of the summer.

Despite the 142+ miles of riding that first week of July, I managed just 410 miles that month. That put my seasonal total at 1,200 miles...which isn't bad, but I am underwhelmed by my July performance, and am at a bit of a loss to explain why I didn't do more.

With the sun setting earlier each night in August I hoped for a big month to get me on the doorstep of 2,000 miles. That push included the third annual Tour de Tonka on Aug. 2. The tour is an organized ride with three routes, the longest being 65 miles or so. Margaret and I planned to bike the 65-mile route, and that's what we started out to do that morning. And it was a beautiful day for bicycling.

Unfortunately for me, the gear-shift cable to my rear derailer snapped about three miles before the 30-mile rest stop. I was able to bike my way to the rest stop, but I couldn't shift gears, and I was stuck in the high gear. I had hoped I could get my bike repaired at the rest stop, but that didn't happen. It was the end of the day for me, less than half way to 65 miles.

I took my bike to my bike shop that afternoon and didn't get it back for several days. It was a serious setback to my bicycling aspirations.

When I did get my bike back, not all was kosher. I got a tune-up and new parts for the bike, but I had problems with my shifting, problems I hadn't had up until that point. I took the bike back and it was recommended I get a new chain. I did, and that didn't help. I continued to have problems shifting, problems that make a routine 25-mile bike ride less than enjoyable. I took the bike back to the shop yet again in hopes of solving the problem. While my situation improved, I managed to drop my chain periodically, much to my frustration. It became troublesome to bike uphill, and shifting while biking uphill was a recipe for disaster. I was not happy.

There was a point I was ready to give up on my bike. The costs of maintenance, and the inability to obtain a smooth ride, were starting to try my patience. I could have easily justified throwing in the towel on my dream of a 2,000-mile season, but I sallied forth.

I even managed a couple of back-to-back 40+ mile days in August, somehow. By the time the Minnesota State Fair rolled around, I was up to 215 miles.

For the second consecutive year I worked during the state fair. Given the hours I work, and the fact I'm on my feet all day, I had no energy to bike before working at noon during 10 of 12 days at the fair. This year, however, I did bike a few miles during the two days I didn't work at the fair. My total mileage for August: an unimpressive 245. My season-to-date total: 1,445.

Summer unofficially ends on Labor Day and I was more than 500 miles away from 2,000. By Labor Day the sun is setting before 8 p.m., and daylight is fading fast with each passing week. Despite that I managed to find time to push myself on evenings and weekends following Labor Day. I managed 48 miles on the first Saturday following Labor Day, and 30 miles one night the following week. It was downright hot on Labor Day, yet the day after the temperature dropped noticeably. Most Septembers feature a few days that are painful reminders of the dog days of summer. But that wasn't the case this year, it was as if the 70-degree valve was shut off after Labor Day.

And to complicate things, I got a cold Labor Day weekend. While I wasn't on my death bed, a cold provides no incentive whatsoever to pedal your ass off on a 62-degree evening. Nonetheless I pushed myself through September and finished with 315 miles. It's unusual for me to bike more in September than in August, but I'm a strange bird.

Honestly, my monthly totals for August and September would have been comparable had I not biked the Headwaters 100 on the final Saturday of September in northern Minnesota. Margaret and I had been planning to bike the event for months, and we had outstanding weather that day, making the mission far more pleasant to accomplish.

But the bottom line, I was 240 miles away from my goal on Oct. 1.

October has become a challenging month for me in the past few years. Besides the early-evening darkness and the dropping temperatures, I now work weekends in October at a local Halloween attraction. I love it, but the late nights and long hours on Friday and Saturdays makes it a challenge to motivate myself to bicycle on the weekend. Long before those weekends rolled around I was determined I would push myself to bike during the weekends in October, regardless of where my bicycling total was at. The fact I needed 240 miles to reach my goal provided extra incentive.

Even with dedication to my goal, those 240 miles didn't come easy. I didn't plan to take time off from the newspaper at the end of October, but when above-average temps were forecast at the end of the month, I seized the opportunity to burn off some of my vacation days to finish the mission. I biked 49 miles on Oct. 30 and biked my standard 24-mile route on Halloween to break the 2,000-mile threshold. I managed a decent 254-mile month in October.

November can provide several bonus days, and it can be a cruel reminder I live in Minnesota. I took a couple of days off before capitalizing on a stunning 74-degree day on Nov. 3. By my calculations, the last day of the bicycling season was Nov. 5. From that point forward it was too cold for me. I would have loved a bonus day or two in mid-November, but it was not to be.

Despite the obstacles, I persevered, and biked 2,000+ miles for the second time in three years. As always I can find a lot of fault with my efforts, but at the end of the year, I'm satisfied with the result.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Put the milf out of her misery

I work with a lunatic. It's love/hate with this woman.

She's in her mid-40s, divorced and so high strung that members of The Flying Wallendas would look at her as a challenge.

What have I learned about this milf with cougar tendencies, who, surprise, is in sales? (We'll call her Jilf.)

Jilf is divorced. You think she's raising her sons? Nope, they live out of state with their father.

She loves to drive the tune of 70+ speeding tickets in her lifetime. (How does she still have a license?)

She has done some form of modeling. And worked as a flight attendant.

She loves horses, and considers herself a cowgirl.

She can't shut up, and cracks herself up every damn day. My favorite is what comes closest to being her catch phrase. I paraphrase: "If you mess with the bull, you're going to get the horns." Sometimes she cracks up when she tells people that.

She stays active in adult sports leagues.

She doesn't drink. (I'd swear she's drunk all the time.)

She thinks she's fat compared to when she was in her 20s, despite the fact she's practically a twig at 40+.

She doesn't own her home, probably due in part to the fact she seems to move around the country every few years. She has a roommate, however, although it sounds like Jilf is annoyed by the roommate. (Oh, the irony.)

At least one member of the sales staff has moved to an open desk far away from Jilf simply to get away from her loud, nutty daily diatribes.

She chronically dates, and even if she has a short-term relationship with a guy, it fizzles. (I can't fathom how a guy could take more than one or two doses of her.) She may be a mid-40s milf who hates online shopping, but Jilf is all about the online dating and text messaging.

As I said, there's a love/hate thing with this woman. She can be highly entertaning, but I really wish our worlds had never collided.