Friday, June 26, 2009

My Michael Jackson Anecdote

Here's the best anecdote I have about the impact of Michael Jackson in my life.

I went to high school in northern Colorado. For those who don't know the area, imagine Wyoming or Montana. Very rural, mostly small towns and long dusty roads that connected them. Most of the kids from the area were the children of farmers and ranchers. It was the kind of school where kids wore cowboy boots casually and drove pickup trucks. There was one black student in my entire high school.

In 1984, during my freshman year, the Jackson Victory tour was coming through Denver. I remember that there was a raffle to raise money for something or another, and the top prize was tickets to the concert. "Thriller" had been out since November of 1982 and Michael Jackson was still the biggest thing in music. Everyone in the school was dying to see that show. The tickets were won by a kid who just happened to be the son of the principal. I think he won them fair and square, but everyone at the time thought it was a robbery.

Michael Jackson in 1984 was pop music. Everyone listened to him, even in our little cowtown. Everyone wanted to see him perform, see him do that moonwalk and do that crazy-legged shimmying jittering dancing. There was nothing ironic about loving Michael Jackson back then. It was just what you did. That year, if you had ears, they were hearing the Thriller album.

Almost twenty years later, I was a community organizer in Seattle. I was sent to Boise, Idaho for a week to a cross-train with our sister organization, and I was driving a colleague's pickup truck to visit their members. I turned on the cassette player in the truck, and I heard "Wanna Be Startin' Something" come charging out of the speakers.

And it sounded fantastic.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Workout Playlist - June 24, 2009

I think I'll start posting the songs I listen to during my workouts. It might be of interest to me more than anyone, but it might help give some of you ideas for new music for your various workouts/walks/runs/unannounced trips to South America.

Anyway, I worked out on the elliptical for 30 minutes today. Burned 228 calories. (Not sure if I'll always post that stuff, but there it is.)


Don't You Evah (Matthew Dear Mix) - Spoon
Ch-Check It Out - Beastie Boys
Hypnotize - Audioslave
Voidy Numbness - the The
Elevation - U2
A Shot in the Arm - Wilco
One Vision - Queen
Chasing Heather Crazy - Guided by Voices

Our elliptical machine is in the same room as our mini Mac, which is handy because I can either play music or watch a DVD while working out. Today, I remembered that I can control iTunes using the Remote app on my iPod touch, which was just delightful. I could select and skip songs and even control the volume without getting off the machine. Speakers aren't the greatest, but it's better than wearing earphones while alone in the house. There's just something satisfying about playing loud music out loud.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Job Fair

I just got back from a job fair. There were about fifteen employers in the room, and just about everybody who attended looked desperate, depressed, and willing to try anything. That includes me.

I don't know why I bother going to these things.

No, that's not true. Of course I know why I go to job fairs. It's because I don't have a job, and it's been over five months, and going to these things makes me feel like I'm doing as much as I can to find a new job. Leave no stone unturned, etc.

Except that there's nothing there for me. It's all companies that a) I'd never want to work for, b) are offering pure commission jobs, or c) aren't hiring for someone with my background. It's insurance companies and Avon and skilled labor jobs and sales jobs and the National Guard and the Border Patrol and temp agencies and Comcast's sales division.

I don't think I want to do sales, particularly for a big obnoxious company like Comcast. I'm not sure I want to sell insurance, particularly if my income depends on sales. I might consider a job if there was a base salary, but I need something stable.

I sure as hell don't want to be doing home parties for something like Avon or kitchen supplies or desserts. These companies are always at the job fairs, dangling the promise of fun and hoping people don't notice that in order to make a decent living, you have to sell a lot of crap to your own friends and family. And that's fine, but it's not for me.

And then there's the other employers, most of whom are offering entry-level jobs or management jobs that require skills I don't have. I don't think I do, anyway, and they don't seem to know what to do with me when I chat with them.

It's good to see that some employers are hiring, but there ain't a lot of them. There are always so many people waiting to get in the doors, and the reward always seems so small once you get inside. But you do what you can. You chat with people about careers you never thought you'd consider. You shake hands, give out resumes, chat with the other people about what they used to do. You try to be hopeful. You look for an opening, a chance, anything.

I remember going to job fairs for nonprofits, and there were ninety organizations in the room. Nonprofits! Now you can't even get twenty private employers in the same room at the same time. It's pretty stunning. It's literally stunning, every time I walk away from one of these things. I always feel somehow less hopeful instead of more hopeful.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Little Man

I'm learning. On-the-job training, I guess.

I was a bad helicopter dad for a long time, hovering over Oliver at playgrounds and in the backyard, ready to leap if he did something dangerous or needed some help. Or even if he just took a misstep. I'm better now. There are a lot of times when I grit my teeth and ignore him while he's in the backyard, climbing up his slide backwards with a garden hose in one hand. Sometimes I don't even bother to come outside.

Here's what I do. I shout into the backyard. "Oliver, I'm trusting you to make good decisions out there and not to do anything reckless. Can I trust you?"

If he says yes, I leave him alone.

At playgrounds, I force myself to stand on the sidelines, not next to him. I want him to be safe, but more than that, I want him to be responsible. I want him to know that he's in charge of his own safety, not me. If he's slipping, he's got to catch himself. It's his job, not mine.

I want him to be safe, but more than that, I want him to be in charge of his own life. I don't want other kids to pick on him, but if they do, I want him to settle the issue himself, not wait for his dad to fix it for him. Whether that means slugging the other kid or yelling for a teacher, he's going to have to learn how to solve his own problems.

I'm trying to do the same thing with discipline issues and those other little domestic issues. For a long time, I tried furiously to figure out how to solve those little earthquake moments of the day. Oh, no, he won't put his shoes on! Oh no, he won't eat his lunch because it's on the wrong plate! Oh, no, he's throwing a tantrum because I wouldn't let him turn on the water fountain!

I used so much mental energy trying to figure out how to cajole/charm/threaten him out of the crisis of the moment, and now I'm just trying to let him resolve it. You won't put your shoes on? Oh, well, we'll just stay here then, instead of going to the zoo. Let me know when you're ready to leave.

You won't eat lunch? Okay, well, it's going to be a long time until dinner. I guess you'd better figure out what you want to do. I'll be over here, eating my lunch.

When he grows up, nobody's going to be scrambling to offer him a different choice for lunch or a different place to set up his office or a different door to walk through. He's going to have to learn sooner or later that he's in charge of his own life, and maybe by giving him a head start, he'll be a little more prepared to deal with other kids and with the outside world. Maybe it'll make a difference. That's all we can do as fathers. We decide the best way to raise our kids, and we do the best we can, and we see what happens.

I can't turn him into a major league shortstop or a Congressman or a successful writer. But I can raise him the best way I know how. I can show him what it means to be a good man by how I live my life. I can work at being a better dad. That's really all I can do. If I do all that, whatever happens, I know that I did the right thing.

But if I don't care - if I don't think about how I'm raising him - if I don't care whether it's a slap or a request that gets him into the car - then I'm a failure as a father.

It doesn't take much to be a good dad. Pay attention. Talk to them when they talk to you. Remember that your kid is always watching you. Read to them.

And care. Above everything else, care about your kids. Just care. They're going to be adults someday, and those little decisions you make now are going to stay with them for the rest of their life. Give a damn about the impression you make in their lives.

Happy Father's Day to all the dads out there.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

A Manly Day

If you saw some crazy guy walking a push lawnmower down the street yesterday, that was me.

I had a very manly day yesterday. In the morning, I took my lawnmower to get the blades sharpened. There's a guy in the neighborhood who does lawnmower repair out of his backyard. (And it was easier to walk the mower six blocks to his house than to load it into my car.)

So I got to hang out in his very swanky shed while he banged on my mower with a hammer (it needed a bit of an adjustment) and then sharpened the blades with a power sander. Somehow, I thought there would be some kind of sophisticated tool to sharpen them, but he just leaned over the mower and carefully touched up each blade while sparks went flying off.

(The mower is now awesome, a grass-cutting juggernaut. I might take it out today, but I'd better do it early since it's going to get up to 90 degrees today.)

I thought a lot about my days as a machinist, back before I discovered the nonprofit world. I worked for two years making machined parts - screws, bolts, bearings - for a shop that mostly supplied to Boeing. I had my own toolbox - two of them, actually. I perpetually came home with grease on my hands, not to mention nicks and cuts that I usually didn't remember getting. I had to shake the metal shavings out of my shirts before I put them in the wash.

There's a part of me that romanticizes that period, my hard work phase, the blue collar phase. But it wasn't romantic. It was hard work, detailed work. High demand, high pressure, long hours, less-than-thrilling pay. Because I had to program the CNC lathes, I usually had to use my brain as much as my hands. It was a great learning experience, but I didn't see it then as a learning experience. I saw it as the only job I could hold down, even though deep down I always knew that it wasn't going to be a career for me.

In the afternoon, I had to go to Home Depot to replace the propane for my grill. It's amazing the effect that walking into Home Depot has on most men. You become less verbal, start answering questions with one-word answers or grunts. You start looking at tools that you'd never use in a million years, just because they look cool. You begin speculating what you could get done if you just had a radial saw and a router.

When I got back, I hooked up the propane tank and tested the connections carefully, making sure that I didn't blow up the yard accidentally. Then I grilled dinner, making sure I had all the essential tools of grilling wth me - tongs, heatproof mitts, and a bottle of beer. I made chicken and veggies grilled in a shaker basket. Pretty tasty stuff.