Noisy Jobs

The TV show Dirty Jobs features host Mike Rowe checking out jobs that involve difficult, hazardous, and frequently disgusting conditions — like working in a sewage processing facility.  The jobs featured on that show would be a tough way to earn a living, but I’m wondering whether having a job that exposes you to noises all day wouldn’t be worse — for me, at least.

spinaltap_128pyxurzWe’re having some work done to the exterior of our house, and the crew that’s doing the job is using an assortment of tools that make a wide variety of different loud noises.  There’s the humming drone of the air compressor.  There’s the sharp, staccato bark of the nail gun.  And then there are devices that make grinding noises, devices that make sawing noises, and devices that make incredibly high-pitched whines.  It’s like being in a This Is Spinal Tap dentist’s office from hell, with the volume on the amplifier turned up to 11.

For a while every day, when the crew begins their work, I think I can screen out the noise.  And for a while it works.  But ultimately the different sounds, occurring in different combinations, break through the mental barrier.  And once that happens, all I can think about is when the nail gun is going to be sounding off again, and I’ve got to get out and go somewhere where I can find peace and quiet.

The guys who are on the crew are a good group.  They work hard, know what they’re doing, and seem to enjoy having jobs where they get to work outside on sunny days and sing along to the songs on the radio while they saw and grind and nail.  The noises don’t seem to bother them.

My hat’s off to them, but I couldn’t do what they’re doing.  I’ve realized I really need a quiet place to work.

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Weeding, Before And After

When you work at a white-collar job, as I do, often you don’t see the results of your labors for days, weeks, or even months. That can be a bit frustrating.

Weeding is different. You put on your work gloves, apply the weed popper, and get your back into it for an hour, until the sweat is dripping off your nose, and voila! The results are immediately visible, which (for me at least) provides an incentive to weed even more. It’s nice to get instant gratification for a change.

Hey, there’s a wall that was masked by all of that undergrowth, and a cool granite boulder, besides!

A New Personal Best

This morning I got up a little before 7 a.m. and got right to work on a long list of chores. I was so busy cleaning, organizing, assembling, and rearranging that I didn’t check my email, internet news sites, or any social media until 11:49 a.m. — nearly five hours later. In fact, I didn’t even touch my iPhone during that dead zone.

It’s got to be a personal best for me, at least in the years since the advent of smartphones and immediate access to email and the World Wide Web with a few taps of my thumbs. And you know what? The world didn’t end while I was in social media silent mode. I’m confident no one noticed my absence. And focusing exclusively on completing simple, somewhat mindless chores, without trying to “multitask,” was pretty darned enjoyable.

With my vacation underway, I might just try to establish a new personal best tomorrow.

Remembering A Great Speech, And A Great Man

Today is the anniversary of one of Winston Churchill’s greatest speeches.  That’s saying something, because the indomitable Churchill — for all his faults and eccentricities and excesses — had a special, unique ability to turn a phrase and galvanize a people.

8ec76852803822411c294f54f33ec32d-1000x1000x1On June 4, 1940, Churchill rose to address the British House of Commons and the British nation.  His speech came in the immediate aftermath of the evacuation of British and some French forces from Dunkirk, in the face of overwhelming odds and the armed might of the German Werhmacht.  He reported to the House on the miracle at Dunkirk — for a miracle it truly was — but also recognized the need to address the terrible predicament created by the Nazi blitzkrieg.  Great Britain’s principal ally, France, had seen its forces routed and its supposedly impregnable Maginot Line bypassed and was on the brink of surrender.  The United States, with Pearl Harbor still more than a year away, was neutral, and the Soviet Union had made a devil’s bargain with Hitler and was, for the moment at least, Germany’s ally.

Great Britain stood alone against the Nazi juggernaut, and Churchill recognized that bombing of the British Isles, and an eventual invasion, were a virtual certainty.  How would the British people, having just absorbed one of the most devastating beatings in the history of the British Empire, react to that prospect?  Churchill knew that he had to rally them somehow, and he used his June 4 remarks to achieve that goal.  The conclusion of his remarks, where he addresses the prospect of continued struggle, is one of the greatest, most inspiring feats of oratory in the history of the English language:

“I have, myself, full confidence that if all do their duty, if nothing is neglected, and if the best arrangements are made, as they are being made, we shall prove ourselves once again able to defend our Island home, to ride out the storm of war, and to outlive the menace of tyranny, if necessary for years, if necessary alone. At any rate, that is what we are going to try to do. That is the resolve of His Majesty’s Government-every man of them. That is the will of Parliament and the nation. The British Empire and the French Republic, linked together in their cause and in their need, will defend to the death their native soil, aiding each other like good comrades to the utmost of their strength. Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.”

Note the reference to the United States in the last sentence.  Fifty-eight years ago today, Churchill knew that he would ultimately need our help — and eventually he got it.

Pity The Poor Weed?

Today I spent an hour in the backyard, weeding.  We’d gotten some rain, so the soil was moist, making it a prime weeding opportunity.  As I bent over, trying to use my garden tool to find the roots of the weeds and pop them out of the ground — because you always want to get the root, of course — I cursed mightily at the humidity, and my aching back, and mostly at the unsightly weeds themselves.

And then I wondered — is there any living thing more reviled, more roundly cursed, more uniformly despised by one and all than a Midwestern weed?

Consider this awful dandelion that had taken root in our garden beds.  It’s an exceptionally ugly plant, with its broad, sharp leaves that look like the blade of a rusty hacksaw.  I first noticed it last weekend but didn’t get to it until today, and in the intervening week it spread like a fungus to cover more territory.  It’s a tenacious plant, too, hugging the ground and stubbornly resisting all efforts to pull it out by the roots and kill it once and for all.  After some careful searching I found the root and gently pulled it whole from the damp soil.  I felt a glowing sense of accomplishment as I removed the unsightly blemish from the beds, dropped the weed and its roots into a lawn refuse bag, and then moved on to do battle with the thistles, chickweed, mallow, and other thorny, repulsive broadleaf invaders trying to ruin my garden and yard.

I paused for a moment, though, to straighten up my creaking back and ponder the poor weed.  It doesn’t know it’s hated and unwanted, I realized — it’s just trying to survive as best it can, wherever it can.  Perhaps, I thought, there is value in weeds?  Perhaps they provide the sharp contrast that allows us to better appreciate the beauty of flowers and boxwoods and hostas?  Perhaps their presence makes us more industrious, by incentivizing us to go out in the fresh air and do some productive work.  Perhaps the weed, rather than being reflexively hated, should be pitied . . . and even admired?

Nah!  It’s weeds we’re talking about, and I would happily do without them. So I moved on and thrust my garden tool into the ground at the base of the next offender, found the root, and pulled it out with relish.

Boxed Lunch Roulette

Yesterday I went to a professional event over the noon hour where every attendee got a boxed lunch.  At such events, the boxed lunches are grouped and stacked by the kind of sandwich printed on the outside, and you make your choice, take your box back to your seat, and hope for the best.

lunch_boxI say “hope for the best,” because when it comes to boxed lunches there’s a significant element of risk involved.  Sure, you can choose whether you want “roast beef” or “chicken salad” or “Italian” or “a wreck” (whatever that is), but of course the sandwich descriptions barely scratch the surface of the important information you’d like to know in deciding what to have for lunch.  At a restaurant, you’d be able to make choices about the bread to be used, find out what is put on the sandwich and add or subtract as you see fit, and pick your side dish, but in the boxed lunch scenario you’ve got none of those options.  You’ve got a mound of closed boxes in front of you, and it wouldn’t be seemly to start opening them up and pawing through the contents to determine which box is best suited to you.

Yesterday I went for the grilled chicken sandwich box. The grilled chicken came on a sub bun and — inevitably! — had lots of sliced tomato and shredded lettuce and other vegetable matter on top.  In the boxed lunch world, the prevailing assumption is that everyone will want every conceivable vegetable on their sandwich.  Call it the highest, or lowest, common denominator effect.  I despise both tomato and shredded lettuce, so I had to figure out how to remove them.  Since there was no utensil in the box, I removed the offending items by hand, which was a messy operation that created a small mound of unappetizing, limp vegetable matter in the box.  Add to that the fact that once shredded lettuce is added to a boxed sandwich it can never be fully removed because it tends to adhere to the bread and hide in cracks and crevices of the meat, and you’ve captured one aspect of boxed lunch roulette.

There’s more, of course.  With a standard boxed lunch, you get a side and a dessert.  Usually the side is a bag of potato chips or Doritos, but sometimes, if you’re lucky, it’s a small fruit bowl or edible pasta salad.  Yesterday it was barbecue-flavored potato chips, which equates to a losing spin on the wheel.  I’ve not conducted a scientific study, but I have to believe that barbecue potato chips appeal to only a tiny, tastebud-challenged segment of the American population.  Lacking the ability to appreciate delicate and nuanced food flavors and spices, this poor group must opt for chips coated in heavy, dusty, quasi-sugary artificial flavoring that stains your fingers red as you eat them.  I therefore passed on the chips and found myself wondering — if you’re making boxed lunches, why not just opt for regular potato or kettle chips, rather than pushing the envelope with something like barbecue or ranch or vinegar flavoring?  But although the side was a dud, the dessert was a positive — an oatmeal cookie that I saved and brought home to share with Kish.

Ultimately I got a pretty good sandwich after the vegetable removal process was completed, skipped potato chips that I shouldn’t have eaten anyway, and brought home a good cookie.  All told, I’d say I broke even in yesterday’s exercise in lunch box roulette.

Email Tag Lines

Lately I’ve noticed an increase in email “tag lines.”  At least, that’s what I call them.  They are the little quotes that some people have added to their email communications.  They appear at the end of every email, as part of the writer’s signature stamp.  Like “An unexamined life is not worth living. — Socrates” or “All you need is love. — John Lennon and Paul McCartney” or “When the going gets tough, the tough get going. — Knute Rockne.

quote-live-fast-die-young-leave-a-good-looking-corpse-james-dean-47-99-73Email tag lines are kind of strange (not to mention pretentious and presumptuous) when you think about it.  It’s hard to imagine that one quote, no matter what it is, could provide an appropriate coda to every different kind of email that a person might send.  “Live fast, die young, and leave a good-looking corpse. — James Dean” might go well with an email planning a trip to Las Vegas, but it doesn’t really fit with an email expressing concern about a colleague’s illness or sorrow about the death of an aged relative.  Similarly, a tag line like “The truest wisdom is a resolute determination. — Napoleon Bonaparte” seems jarring when it appears at the end of a email passing along some bad jokes.

When I get emails from somebody who uses one of those tag lines, I always wonder about their motivation and how they came to add the quote to their email in the first place.  Did they just stumble across a quote from somebody that they thought was so true to the very core of their being that it just has to be included as a matter of course in every communication they send to people on any subject?  Or, did they first conclude that their email communications needed a little extra kick, and would be empty without some kind of concluding intellectual, political, or social statement from Descartes, John F. Kennedy, or Martin Luther King?

The bottom line, though, is that an email tag line, even when it does fit with the subject of the communication, can’t save you from yourself or mask your true nature.  Intellectual quotes can’t salvage an email filled with typos, poor grammar, and incorrect word use, and tag lines about love and peace won’t change the tone of a message establishing that the writer is an angry, unprincipled jerk.

In the end, content speaks louder than tag lines.