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Tales from a small town

Short stories about life in a small town. Non-fiction. Great reading.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

about male singers...

I have some theories about male singers. I don't pay too much attention to them, with a few noteable exceptions. I think singing is primarily a woman's domain. When you think of singing, you think of something beautiful. Harmony is a form of cooperation. When I think of cooperation, I think it's primarily a female trait. Masculenity and cooperation seem like diametrically opposing traits.

When I think of masculentity, I think of the lone cowboy on the trail, or the lone-wolf in some endeavour. You'll never see two truck drivers wanting to go to the bathroom together for moral support. They're lone-wolves.

The few notable exceptions in male singers and why I think they're notable:

Prince: I don't think he's gay. He may be bi, but I don't think he's gay (and even if he is, he's singing for you - not screwing you, so it doesn't matter). I think he's an extemely talented, driven virtuoso. Men who are jealous that he's scoring hotter chicks than they could ever get: you should be as "gay" as Prince.

Bon Jovi and John Mellencamp: neither one of these guys are what I'd call gifted singers. They're good, but they're not great - at singing. In my opinion, this is what they're great at: putting together a consistent package in terms of combining their looks, image, lyrics and lifestyle, and making all of those things form the tip of the spear that allows them to penetrate the rest of the riff-raff, propelling them to the top. Also, both of these guys have exceptional guitarists - which Bruce Springsteen lacks - or he'd be in the same category.

Bob Segar: gifted. A bit of advice: take some happy pills when writing your songs.

Mick Jagger: gifted.

Robert Plant: not an all-around singer, but no one can mimick a white woman coming to orgasm because of a black man better than you.

Trace Adkins: you suck as a singer, but your lyrics and personality set you apart. I dig the deep voice, I just wish you were on key. Is it too much of your sound engineers to electronically tweak your voice in the studio so at least your recordings are on key?

Micheal McDonald: gifted, but I'd never buy your CDs - but you are gifted.

And last but not least: Taylor Hicks. Everyone is asking, "What happened with him?" I've got a theory: I think he's the kind of guy who's going to do his own thing, regardless of what the contract may have stipulated. If he's not allowed to do his own thing (which it's obvious, he isn't) then I think he'll do as little as he can get away with, and through the goofy grin and likeable personality, tell the powers-that-be to politely fuck off, because I think as long as he can at least make a meager living doing what he loves, he doesn't care about the stardom - which makes me like him that much more than the rest.

Other than these guys (and maybe a few others who didn't get mentioned only because I can't think of them right now) I don't think of singing as a male thing.

I think people of both genders like singers to be hot sirens who can be both passionate and tender - and win the swimsuit competition if they had to.

That's just my theory.

The boys, March 6, 2007

I didn't pay as much attention the guys.

The first one that came out: Blake Lewis: the human beat-box; he's an awesome performer. He'll wind up in the top 3, for sure.

Sundance Head: you've got potential, but you need a great voice coach. Maybe you should look up Kathrine McPhee's mother. Also, don't listen to your agent when he/she tells you to cry all the time. It looks affected.

Sanjaya: no, no one was surprised at all that you know how to hula. We'd be surprised if you were a soccer hooligan or a rugby player, or if you were ever a rider in a rodeo; but hula dancing fits you all so well. In fact, I don't know who's prettier: you or your sister. I think it would come down to whichever one of you wore a coconut bra the best. In the American Idol competition, stick to the Micheal Jackson, androgonyous nymph-like character, and don't turn your back on it. Micheal Jackson is huge for that reason, and you will be too, if you stick to that formula.

Brandon Rogers: you're a star.

Chris Sligh: you're a star.

The rest of you guys: go home. You suck.


Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The girls, February 28, 2007

This is just advise I'd give the contestants after watching the show.
I'm a blue-collar guy with no formal training. If you don't like my opinions, oh well.
Gina Glocksen: Can’t sing Heart – don’t try. I thought Paula and Randy were too kind. Simon was right on. Didn’t like the dyed red stripe on her hair. Pick something less ambitious, and you’ll survive at least one more week. Sorry, but the back-up singer was better than you.

Alaina Alexander: good enough to be a “b-list”country star, headlining county fairs –and packing them in – but not a country super star. Would never make it in pop. Also: gain some weight – and get a manicure if you’re going to use your fingers to show people which number you are.

LaKisha Jones: This better not be another re-run of Mahndisa: a black girl who can sing, but since she won’t ever wind up on a beer poster, off the show sooner than she should be. This one’s a natural. Don’t bounce around when you sing: you’re every bit as good as the MoTown singers whose songs you’re singing. You don’t need to bounce.

Melinda Doolittle: Great voice, and your stage presence gets better every week. Another natural singer. Your outfit choice seemed like it was right out of the “Lesbians –R- Us” catalogue. Change it up a bit with your wardrobe – that’s the only thing you could improve. The intense tigress look and endearing smile are your look. Stick with a wardrobe choice that’ll enhance these opposing personality traits, and make you look taller.

Antonella Barba: Visually stunning in every respect: hair, teeth, looks and fashion sense. You wisely held back on the big notes you couldn’t hit if you went all the way with them, and held it together nicely as a result. You won’t make the top 3 in this competition, but your looks guarantee a good singing career. For what it’s worth: you’re the contestant I’d most like to see frolicking in a hot tub with Paula Abdul.

Jordin Sparks: Great singer. Your voice will get you in the top 3; your fashion sense could keep you out of it. Don’t wear baby-doll dresses unless you have some girls to show off. You are a great singer.

Stephanie Edwards: You’d be the whole package, if you’d just grow your hair a little. I think you are the whole package – you’re not the greatest singer, but you are a great singer, and out of the great singers, you’re the best looking.

Leslie Hunt: You seem like the nicest contestant in the competition. Bad song choice. Also, your deep, smoky, sensual voice and your nice, housewife-next-door persona are in a definite state of clash. Your choice of wardrobe? WTF! It was goofy and geeky. Watch some Edie Brickell videos and emulate – don’t copy her. Drop the Cyndi Lauper fashion sense, and you’ll have a great career, even if you don’t go all the way in this competition.

Haley Scarnato: You electrified the audience with your stage presence. This was a fun performance to watch. You have more stage presence and personality than most of the contestants. If you work on the vocals – a lot – you could be a contender for the top 3.
Sabrina Sloan: They saved the best for last: ‘nuff said.


Wednesday, January 03, 2007

3 DUIs, 4 wives and 8 kids

Now that I'm on my new job as "Billy Big Rig," it's funny just how small this world is. The account I'm driving on is a good 50 miles from my house. You would think I wouldn't have anything in common with anyone there, since I don't have any ties to the town where I'm working.

Turns out my immediate supervisor grew up in a family who all worked for the same company where I had my 15 years of factory experience. The company I worked for has 4 factories in my state, and his family worked at one of those locations, just not the one where I worked.

When you work for this company (with the 4 factories in Ohio) the people who work there, tend to get a skewed view of the world, because this is a very good-paying company with great benefits, and in the past when they've gone on hiring binges, they've generally stuck with hiring almost exclusively, family members of current employees &/or veterans.

When you've got all your aunts/uncles/cousins/moms and dads all working for the same company making great money with great benefits, they tend to think of this company as the sun, with the universe revolving around that.

When my supervisor at the trucking company mentioned that almost his whole entire family worked for this company, my first reaction was to ask him, "Why aren't you there?" He said, (and this is sooooo true) he says, "Everyone I know who works there has had 3 DUIs, 4 wives and 8 kids. If I was going to live that lifestyle, I wanted to join the military where I could at least see the world before I got saddled with all that, instead of being tied down to the same town my whole life."

I told him, "I can tell just by what you said that you know what working for that company is all about!!"

Different location, same shit. Man, am I glad I'm outta there.

Monday, January 01, 2007

A new me

I've dropped out of blogging since August, because I've been busy reinventing myself - which can be hard.

For those of you who've read my blog, you may know that I worked in a factory for 15 years. I got out of that and into truck driving. I started off driving a straight truck (which is not a semi) because if a straight truck is rated to only carry 10,000 pounds or less, all you need is a driver's license. That's the good part. The bad part is, because all you need is driver's license, just about anyone can do it, which means it has the "anyone-can-do-it" pay that comes with it.

I told the safety director/personnel director at the trucking company I was at, that the low pay meant I had to have 40 hours a week or more - not less. He told me that the only way I was going to make the money I was used to making at the factory, was to go through the driving academy that this nationally-recognized trucking company runs - graduate from that, and drive for them. "Don't worry about that," he confidently says, "they only take the best."

Two days later I put in my 2 weeks notice, because I was accepted at the academy. This academy gets 300,000 applicants a year. They only accept 1% of those, and out of that 1%, two-thirds fail the academy, and out of that, about 25% don't get their CDL (commercial driver's license, which allows yout to operate a semi in all 50 states, plus all the Canadian provinces.)

The academy is rough. It's designed to be just like the military, just without all the marching and excersizing. They tear you down mentally and emotionally, and build you up in their image. In fact, I don't think there isn't a male instructor there, who isn't a veteran of one of the branches of the armed forces. You're on the go from 7 a.m., until 9 p.m., then you go back to your hotel room for about 2 hours of homework that must be completed before the next day.

Until you get your CDL, you're a peice of shit in the eyes of the instructors, and you better not have an opinion about anything, without their prior, express written consent. You are told how lousy you are from the time you get there, until you leave. The academy is 2 weeks long, but there are no breaks for the weekend - you train all 14 days, as though all 14 days were a Monday. They yell at you, they scream at you, they cuss at you - while you're driving a semi.

People cry, they puke, and yes, they even have heart attacks - literally. The only good thing that can be said about the experience - and it is a good thing - is that by the time you're done, you go through a metamorphasis, and you become more focued and aware and confident about everything you do. The transformation is amazing. Then you begin to wonder how you ever functioned before - seriously.

It does have a funny moment; just one. They have computer simulators like I-Max. They take a semi cab, put it on a platform that can shake, rattle and roll in conjuntion with your "driving," and put a back-projected, wrap-around computer screen in front of it, with computer graphics so real, you actually forget you're in a simulator.

Because the interior of this cab is complete, you steer, accelerate and shift - and all the analogue gages on the dash board are hooked up to the computer so they read just like they would if you were actually driving on the road. Again, you get so wrapped up in this thing, you actually forget you're in a simulator.

The simulations they put you through are intense. You're driving down a mountain, and all of a sudden, it begins to rain - then the rain turns to ice - then cars start cutting in front of you. When you make sudden lane changes to avoid the cars, the load shifts on you, causing the truck to do unexpected things - just like in real life; but that's just the beginning: then, your brakes fail - while all of this stuff is happening.

Semis don't shift like cars. In a semi, you've got to match the speed you're going to the appropriate gear - at the appointed RPMs for that gear. All three things have to be correct to shift, or you can't shift - you'll just grind the gears. That means, you can't down-shift to slow down, because the load is pushing you, which makes the RPMs climb (with your speed) and if you're not at the correct RPMs, you can't shift at all: it's mechanically impossible.

Bottom line: you're shitting your pants. About that time, an instructor (and only if they like you, because if they think you're a pansy who can't take it, they won't do it to you) will crawl on his hands and knees to your driver's door, and pop up like a jack-in-the-box, and scream at the top of his lungs. Of course, you're the last to know this is going on, and all the instructors laugh with a demonic glee at your reaction: they call it "the death look," because you're convinced you're going to die.

There's just one other funny story, but this wasn't staged. There was a student at the academy who looks just like Snoop Doggy Dog. Same dress, same cooler-than-thou demeanor, everything. This guy's hotel room was right next door to an old man's hotel room. This old man was going through the academy as well. The old man had a mild heart attack in his hotel room (while doing the next-to-impossible homework, of course,) and he calls 911. The 911 dispatcher gets the room number wrong, and the cops and firemen bust down "Snoop's" door. The problem? "Snoop" was smokin a fatty!!! Talk about the look on someone's face! Could you imagine sitting there, smoking joint in the privacy of your hotel room, and all of a sudden, the cops bust your door down?

The cops told him since they didn't have a search warrant, they weren't going to arrest him for anything, but they were going to call the head administrator of the academy and tell them what they saw, because they don't want any dope smokers driving a big rig, posing a risk to the general public. He was gone the next day.

Was that really funny? No, because it involved two tragedies: a man having a heart attack (btw: he lived) and someone getting fired from a job through circumstances he had absolutely no control over. But, I'm not going to make any apologies for the fact that comedy and tragedy are oftentimes inexplicably intertwined.

Anyway, that's what I've been doing with myself during my absence from blogging.

Before I forget, "Happy New Year!" to everyone reading this.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006


OJT: On the job training. The company I'm working for now, doesn't have any. I drive a straight truck. That's basically a semi-tractor with a huge cube fixed to the bed. The bed doesn't turn separately like a semi tractor/trailer does. Think of a produce truck - but I don't drive produce.

The company I'm at is a little family operation. The office people are great - and they are - but your "training" consists of "Here's the keys, here are the maps, the load needs to be there yesterday. Call us on your cell phone when you get unloaded."

I've figured something out: I love being a truck driver. But here's the downside, if the company doesn't provide training:

  • Break downs

One day, I back into a dock to get unloaded, and when I got unloaded, the damn truck wouldn't start. I had to be pulled from the dock. Since it was a stick shift, they told me to pop the clutch to get it going, which worked. When the guy who pulled me was taking off the chains, he says, "Damn! I'd get this checked out if I were you!" What was it, you might ask? Nothing but electrical sparks shooting out of the driver's side wheel well, that's all.

I pull out of the factory I was at, make a turn, get into the U-turn lane, make the stop to look both ways and as soon as I let my foot off the brake pedal, an alarm goes off in the cab. I look at the air pressure guage, and it went to zero. The significance of this? The truck has air powered brakes, so if you don't have air pressure, you don't have any brakes.

I call dispatch. The guy I'm talking to thinks I'm too new to judge what's a good reason to call an on-site mechanic, and he's thinking I'm just forgetting to press a button or release a lever, or something. He says, "Can you drive the truck to some big, empty parking lot, so if we have to tow it, the wrecker has easy access?"

I said, "You don't seem to understand the gravity of the situation! I don't have any brakes!"

The on-site mechanic was called. Turns out, the mechanics where I work, put the hot-wires from the battery, over the main air line. Not a big deal, as long as the hot-wires have insulation. In my case, the insulation became worn and caused a phenomonon called electrical arching. This is basically bolts of electricity randomly shooting out from the worn insulation. This caused my main air line to look like swiss cheese.

The on-site mechanic told me if I would have driven that truck any further, there would have been an electrical fire.

Another situation happened in Kentucky:

The heat guage starts to steadily rise. The red zone on the heat guage is 260 degrees, the normal operating temperature is 180 degrees. The needle gradually hits 200 degrees, and an alarm goes off in the cab. I remember dispatch telling me that this was a "hot load," meaning it had to be there as quick as I could get it, so I'm thinking, "since I'm not anywhere near the red-zone, even though this alarm is annoying, I'll just keep my eye on the guage and as long as it stays away from the red zone, I'll just keep driving till I get to a truck stop to put some more water in the radiator."

That was dumb as fuck!

You see, they failed to tell me in my lack of training, that if the heat alarm goes off for more than 10 minutes, the truck automatically goes into "engine protection mode." What's that, you might ask? It's where the freaking engine completely shuts down! I'm on a federal highway in the mountains of Kentucky (which you think would be safe,) and I'm downhill, hauling five tons of metal in the back, and I have no engine. The shoulder on the road is just barely wide enough to accomodate my truck. Just beyond the shoulder, is a drop-off so steep, you could toss a rock over the edge and count (one thousand one, one thousand two - and so on - before you'd hear it hit bottom) and I'm approaching a bridge with a concrete rail, and the bridge has absolutely no shoulder. There's nothing but jam packed traffic in both lanes while I'm riding the shoulder, and oh, yeah: since the engine's off, the power assist on my brakes isn't working either. That's not to say I don't have brakes, it's just I don't have power brakes. On trucks that big, with loads that heavy, power brakes aren't a luxury!

I had to stand on the brake, while grabbing the steering wheel at the bottom with both hands - palms-up - and do a curl with the steering wheel to get enough leverage to activate the brakes, before I either: slam into the concrete guard rail; pull into a mass of on-coming semi traffic; or go off the shoulder in the other direction, into oblivion.

I was able to stop, with about 100 feet to spare, but that was majorly intense. I called dispatch, and got the problem resolved, but I just wish they would have told me about this wonderful, "Engine Protection Mode" thing, before I ever started driving, so I would have known to pull over immediately upon hearing the heat alarm.

From here on out, I hear an alarm - I don't care if it's a bird shit alarm, I'm pulling over, no matter where I'm at.

So, why would I love truck driving, after all of that?

I remember in the factory, my favorite jobs, were ones where I was all by myself. I'm not alone, because those jobs are always the ones that require the most seniority to hold. I used to be in labor pool, where you'd fill in for people who called in sick, or who were on vacation, and that's how I got to work some of the high seniority, "gravy" jobs - which were always jobs where you worked by yourself.

Truck driving is essentially that - but with the most spectacular scenery you can imagine. You hear all kinds of jokes about Kentucky, but Kentucky has some of the most beautiful scenery I've seen - and I've been to Hawaii! (Not that Kentucky is in the same league as Hawaii, but it's damn close sometimes - surprisingly!)

Driving over the ancient, iron bridges built over a hundred years ago, when the industrial age was just kicking into overdrive, looking down on the barges and ocean liners below, seeing the rusting hulks of once-great factories along the river banks - it's all there - and truly amazing at sunrise or sunset. The mountains, hills and hollers - it's all there. It beats the hell out of the factory, because in the factory, you're staring at the same cinder-block walls and the same conveyor lines, and the same vending machines, all day long; you're stuck with the same damn annoying people, who you spend more time with than your own family, but you can't treat them like you would your own family, or you'll get fired - which makes it that much worse!

Why the hell I spent fifteen years in a factory, I'll never know!

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Pride and prejudice


Our middle son (the one with the severe asthma) came down stairs this morning in his helmet and shoulder pads. This is his first year of football, and I don't want this to sound corny or over the top, but I felt almost as much pride seeing him in football equipment, as I did when my wife walked down the isle in her wedding gown. I don't know what it was, but I felt this overwhelming sense of pride when seeing him in his helmet and shoulder pads.

He also has been labeled as a kid from the "wrong side of the tracks," because he got caught making out with this hot girl. Her parents actually told us we live on the wrong side of Lima Ave., and as a result, she isn't allowed to associate with our son. The reason that came out is, her parents were seemingly all pissed off about the "making out" thing, but when my wife pointed out that their daughter has been making out with a bunch of rich boys from her side of Lima Ave., "that was different." That's when it was explained to us that we're from the "wrong side" of Lima Ave.

Our son's been all down on himself lately, because the mothers of the clique of kids he used to hang out with (all from the "other side" of Lima Ave.) have been calling up other parents, telling them what a scoundrel our son is, and how they should keep their daughters away from him, because he's, "nothing but trouble." I can't believe it's gotten to this, but it has.

Getting all suited up has helped out his ego alot.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Southern Cross

That's the song by Crosby Stihls and Nash I think about when hauling something. They've got all their "flags a flyin' " and they're "nicely making way."

First load yesterday. I had to go to the factory I used to work for. Well, not exactly. The company I used to work for has several divisions all over the state where I live, and I had to go to a division where I never worked.

It was weird, because the warehouse there, has the exact same smell as the warehouse at the division I used to work for. It's a combination of cardboard, styrofoam and propane exhaust. The concrete floor has the same shade of gray, same "safety-yellow" painted guard rails and door frames for the rest rooms and offices. Same "safety orange" squares painted on the floor which are supposed to designate where the forklift drivers have to stack the pallets. Same personalities: for the guys, it's usually the younger, weight-lifting, dyed and spikey-haired dude in his late teens, covered in tatoos. For the women, middle-aged, exact same appearance as the guys. If it wasn't for the fact the guys have more developed muscle tone, you'd swear the women could kick the guys' asses!

They're all real nice and laid-back.

It was cool because my run started at 4:30 AM, so I drove to the factory warehouse in complete darkness the whole way there. By the time I got out of the factory warehouse, the sun was just coming up. I was driving east anyway, so I was driving right into the rising sun, which was peeking out of sparsely arranged, orange and pink clouds. The van I was driving is huge. I'm every bit as tall as any semi on the road. That's cool, because when you get behind the wheel, it gives you a sense of power. That sense of power lasted until I was crossing a bridge over a major river. I was in the lane closest to the side, and the van is so far up off the ground, when you look out the passenger window, you can't see the gaurd rail - all you see is the river below you, so it creates an optical illusion that you're going to fall into the river below.

It also creates an illusion that your balls are going to creep up, into your stomach. It was right then and there, I decided I wasn't going to let this bother me, so instead, I focused on the natural beauty of the rising sun, the clouds, and how the sunshine bouced off the leaves of the trees lining the riverbank below. Once I focused on that, I lost the feeling that the truck was going to fall into the river, so my balls could return to their normal resting place.

I think I'll like this job.