This blog shall reflect bits of my life...
|Henceforth, this shall be my blog.|
|I observed an unnerving event recently. I was served a subpoena to appear and testify in a case between a young woman and the apartment complex she was renting from.
The gist of the case is that the complex alleges that she was not paying her due rent. The company was suing for back rent, legal fees, and custody of the apartment.
The young woman was countersuing, alleging that her rent was not due because of an ongoing cockroach infestation within her apartment. I was summoned because I had responded to her residence per her request to document the said infestation. She opted to hire no attorney.
When I arrived outside the courtroom I immediately saw personnel from the apartment complex waiting as I was. After a few moments their attorney emerged from the courtroom followed by a few other people. They all gathered at a podium in the hallway and discussed what I thought at first was the case I had been summoned for. I was wrong.
I heard the attorney telling the people what he thought the judge would do, what would happen next, and why that would be bad for them. Then a sort of negotiation erupted that I opted to move away from. My primary concern at that point was to in no way appear biased in favor of anyone.
I went to the restroom, and when I returned the people were gone. The attorney summoned me to the podium with the personnel from the complex. He asked me questions about the events and seemed to be confirming that which he already knew. He then told me I should wait inside the courtroom.
In entered and saw the defendant sitting on the right side. I entered the bench in front of her and sat nearby. I found a wooden plug on the floor that had fallen from one of the benches, so I picked it up and located its origin. I pushed it back into its hole. Looking back, I believe that was one of those moments when we busy ourselves by giving too much importance to something unimportant simply because we are nervous.
The plaintiff’s team entered the room, and I wondered what they thought of me choosing to sit near their defendant. In the end, I was glad I had because I developed an ever increasing sense of sympathy for the poor girl as events unfolded.
Everyone took their places. Then a series of formalities ensued as the judge made some explanations, especially to the defendant who was unfamiliar with the proceedings. She sat opposite the attorney at a table, neither of them facing the judge. I had not expected that. Of course, other than municipal court the sum total of my courtroom data is a result of fictional settings on television, movies, and books. I was learning with each passing moment.
Evidence was introduces one item at a time consisting primarily of documents. The lease, ledgers of pest control measures, and things like that were entered into evidence. This was the point that I began to feel sorry for the defendant.
The judge asked her each time if she objected to the entry of the evidence. Several times she responded that she did and stated her reasons. Each time the judge overruled her objection because it was not based upon a valid legal objection such as having been obtained illegally or validity as an actual record. Had she hired an attorney s/he might have either not objected at all or objected in a manner that was sustained by the judge. Instead each objection ended in an uncomfortable moment of silent defeat. I did not like seeing that happen even though I was neutral. I suppose I can never truly be neutral when a fellow human being is under such duress before my eyes.
Witnesses were called including me, men from the pest control company, and someone from the complex. During one cross examination the witness did not understand the defendant’s question. The judge reiterated it to him. The defendant interrupted, intending perhaps to clarify, but the judge took it as an addendum to the original question and reprimanded her by sternly saying, “NO,” and putting his finger in the air to stop her from speaking. I wished he had explained to her that she could add that part to her questions after he was done, but he did not. She apologized, and I believe the exchange shocked her because she didn’t follow through with the additional inquiry. My sympathy for her was growing.
She cross examined the pest control people and seemed to be challenging the safety of the chemicals as well as their right to enter and leave her apartment without notice. The opposing attorney cited clauses in the lease covering right of entry. The pest control guys debunked the safety issue with responses that even I could have managed from my experience dealing with mosquito and rat abatement in my previous position. Had she hired an attorney, her lawyer likely would have researched all of this and avoided aimless questions and propositions about such things.
Throughout the entire process, as she meandered about the subject of roaches, the attorney constantly reminded her and the court about clauses in the lease. The lease provided the company access to her apartment to spray for bugs. It also provided that ‘she’ should have to pay legal fees if they had to pursue her rent payments in court. Again and again, the lawyer presented this. I suspect he did this knowing that the issue of roaches was going to be irrelevant to the paying of rent. He used her argument as a distraction and a forum to cement his own points. At this point my sympathy was still strong, but I was growing a little annoyed at her for showing up without proper representation.
When the trial was over the judge assured the parties that a ruling would be mailed to them. We were all allowed to leave. I charmed my way out of the public parking garage without having to pay, and then I went back to work.
What I witnessed that day was an uncomfortable affirmation that showing up to court absent an attorney is a bad idea. It doesn’t come down to who is right or even who is best. It seems to be about who knows the rules and maybe the odds. Perhaps an attorney would have advised the young woman that roaches in an apartment cannot excuse a tenant from thousands of dollars in rent. He might have told her that the roaches would be a separate issue and a much easier one to win if her rent was in good standing. These things I cannot know.
My simple assessment is this: A layperson challenging an attorney in court is a proverbial example of bringing a knife to a gunfight. All of the ability and rightness in the world cannot help if one does not know what to do with it. If you must fight a battle in court, do so with an attorney at your side.
|At the risk of sounding perverse, I will relate this tale. When sleeping next to my lovely bride, I am emphatically expected to stay on my side of the bed. My darling does not care to be touched or disturbed in any manner whilst trying to sleep. Her work hours are rather ugly; therefore, her disposition regarding this is a reasonable one.
That said, like any husband, I spend every waking moment trying to press beyond the boundaries set by my spouse. What happened last night though, happened quite by accident. It was well after midnight when it occurred to me that my foot was touching hers— a major infraction. Now this may seem a small thing, but after midnight such a violation is fervently prohibited.
Now a husband pressing beyond these boundaries is very much akin to a technician diffusing a bomb. Baby steps must be taken. I need only touch one wrong spot one wrong way and— Boom! I am undone.
As I traversed this metaphorical minefield, two questions echoed in my head. One: “Why have I not been reprimanded yet?” and two: “Why is her foot so cold?”
So on I ventured, wiggling my toes and such. I will not disturb my readers with sordid details. Still I mused, that to newlyweds this might be foreplay, but to a couple such as us, married twenty years, this activity equated to a wild orgy.
As I persisted in my husbandly nonsense and marveled that I was permitted to do so, I suddenly noted how easily I could move her foot about. My interest leapt from desire to curiosity as I nudged her this way and that. I was feeling a bit confused by then and wondered if it wasn’t all just a dream, which would have been far more feasible than what I had been enjoying thus far.
After pushing her foot in several impossible directions I sat up and threw off the covers. I reached down with my hand determined to set straight my perception of what was happening only to discover not just to my relief but also to my disappointment— I had been playing footsie with the television remote the whole time.
|In fifteen hours I will no longer be on call.
No longer am I a municipal maintenance worker. Now I am a Code Enforcement Officer. While my previous job required that I be on call when snow was imminent, this position requires that I rotate every few months with my fellows. I must be available and close enough by to respond.
Previously, I was extended two hours to respond, although alacrity was preferred. Now, Anything beyond thirty minutes presses the patience of all involved, as first responders must await my arrival before heading to their next grave call . Instead of snow removal, I am now called for house fires, meth labs, hoarders, and any manner of situation that calls for a residence to be deemed ‘unfit for occupancy’. I have the authority to declare that a person or persons may not live in their home until it is brought back to a safe condition.
It is not pleasant telling someone that I am, seemingly, adding to their woes; but it must be done. The atmosphere inside of a home used to manufacture meth is dangerous, in a burned home every light switch and ceiling joist is a potential deathtrap, and a hoarding situation can render first responders powerless to find a victim in a burning home filled with an inordinate amount of fuel. People frequently opt for the easiest path and not the smartest especially in the middle of the night— post disaster.
Imagine a father staring at his partially burned home, believing that there could be no harm in sheltering his children inside, if only for the rest of the night. Why not let them sleep in their beds? Only the garage and den were on fire. The fire is out. Isn’t it? And the only reason he cannot is because of me. Some pest that showed up with a placard. I placed it on his door, and now if he attempts to live in his own house he faces arrest by the police, faces prosecution. Isn’t it his property? Isn’t it his responsibility? Isn’t it his choice? Who do I think I am? Why am I doing this evil thing to him?
Or— imagine that I feel sympathy for him. I am swayed by emotion. Instead of compelling this father to find temporary but safe housing for a short while, I allow him to do whatever he wishes, to move back into his house, just hours after it was ablaze— after all only part of the house burned. And where else is he to go? Imagine that spark that wasn’t extinguished, smoldering in the attic until it finds the fuel it needs. Imagine that weakened rafter, not yet examined by an engineer because of my softness. Imagine that light switch with wires melted together that the protective father knows no better than to test (note that electric meters are usually removed at the time of house fires and desperate owners often use nails, wires, or even automotive jumper cables to close the circuit and restore power to their homes). Imagine the pain should one of this poor father’s children come to harm or death because I lacked the courage to face him, to tell him that his home was unsafe— unsafe from top to bottom until it is properly repaired and inspected.
Oh, how this father will hate me for doing my job. But if I do not— If some second tragedy occurs, after his children survive the fire, then some burned beam breaks, some fire reignites; what then? Have I done good now? Or have I undone a miracle of the Lord, Him saving lives and me— destroying them because I was too weak, too cowardly to do my job? How does the inconvenience of finding temporary lodging compare to the loss of a life, of a child? Can you imagine? What would you do?
The Police and Fire Department’s advisement as well as my own training and discretion determine the level of access a person will have to their own property. Fire, hoarding, and drug houses all have different danger levels. Typically owners are permitted to work and clean during normal business hours, except meth labs. Anyone discovered inside the house outside of the negotiable parameters will likely be a looter and dealt with appropriately. Consider how sensible an average person might be, then consider how their sensibility might become compromised when desperation is their driving emotion. This is why a civilized society must compel its members to obey certain rules not only for their own safety but for the safety of others. Why can’t I risk burning my house again? Risk my children? Is it not my house? Are they not my children? Indeed. But what of the neighbor’s house just yards away? What of their property, their lives, and the lives of their children? The lives of first responders, and the lives of children inside the dangerous structure? Should one desperate person in the throes of disaster necessarily be free to choose? And hence when one’s freedom encroaches upon the freedom of another the debate begins.
So with all that said, the burden of being on call is about to be lifted from my shoulders. The days of long hours plowing snow are over and not missed. These days are now replaced by call outs that are less intrusive upon my time but far more intrusive upon my emotions. My turn will come about again but not for months. Please pray that none of us are called in the middle of the night to perform our duties. Pray not for us but for those victims we are called out to serve.
|A trip to White Castle today reminded me of a time long ago, when it was my custom to bring this delicacy back to my lovely bride every Sunday morning. I always ordered the same thing, and my only challenge was remembering to ask for mustard (for her).
This particular run came after another in which I had forgotten this most important condiment. I was determined not to forget again. Now when I go to this particular restaurant I always make a point of purchasing a large coffee. I find their coffee particular appealing (in the morning when it is fresh that is.) So there I am, my turn at the drive thru window. "Ask for mustard, ask for mustard, ask for mustard," I told myself again and again. That's when it happened.
"Do you want any cream or sugar for your coffee?" asked the girl in the window.
She looked rather confused when I replied, "No, just mustard."
|Renewed my membership. Good for another year.
I'm working on a few things at once, as always. Just chipping away. I'm finding more time to write lately.
What I'm got on the front burner is kind of an anthology of poems I've already written. It came to my attention that a fair number of them have been written about things associated with my workplace, and a specific area of work at that. I think it simply means that I was at that place when I realized that poetry was something I ought to be doing. So of course a higher volume of items were written about that place and time, events and people there. Its special to me though. That workplace was a major part of my life. I've spent 31 of my 47 years working there. I couldn't fathom anything else.
Anyway, I'm putting these poems together with a sort of explanation of where I was and why I wrote what I did. I thought it might be kind of interesting for someone to stand in the precise location where inspiration struck, and to even look upon the subject of one poem or another. I think so anyway.
|Ok, I'm adding to this. It's been a long time.
So my back hurts. Nothing new about that. I don't do manual labor anymore, so I can hardly complain about a little pain. The thing is that it's relentless. Heat not working this time, so I iced it with some success. What I've discovered, though, is that little device available at any pharmacy (got mine at Walmart). I got one of those electric shocker things with two pads. Well, I'm not sure it helps anything heal, but the jolts certainly screw up a muscle's ability to spasm the way it would like to. Hence, the shocker does wonders to interrupt the pain.
My complaint is this: The little sticky pads seem to be coated with that stuff on sticky toys, the things you throw at the wall and they climb down. Do you know what I mean? Well, they work well but they tend to slide down and off over time. They stick to me good enough but they like to fall off at inopportune moments. Now when they come off, they are the proverbial butter side down of the bread. And when they get ahold of clothing or Heaven forbid, concrete like they did a moment ago-- they simply do not want to let go. When I finally pry them loose they are but a shadow of their former stickiness. Annoying.
All in all, I am not really complaining. Between the ice and the shocker, I'm doing good. I left work early today, and I'm off tomorrow. I'll go buy more pads if I must. I'm going to bring the thing to work with me and wear it all day. I might tape it in place. We'll see.
If you have muscle spasms give the shocker a try. They don't cost that much. I recommend getting one with standard batteries that are easy to replace. Some need little coin shaped batteries that I never seem to have around the house. That would be a frustrating pain to need in the middle of the night.
My doctor's office was supposed to call me back about a muscle relaxer prescription, but I've yet to hear from them. I also doubt that they are open tomorrow. Someone must have forgotten me. But it will all work out in the end.
I'll just keep zapping myself until it quits hurting. It usually takes about a week to clear up.
When things like this happen I always thank God for my pain. I thank Him for giving it to me instead of someone I love and for making it so small compared to the suffering of so many others.
Can't really complain about the deal I got.
|Not much to report. I’m on the final stretch of my on call period. Next weekend I will be free to take the kids to the mall, the museum, the zoo— wherever I like. It’s true that you don’t appreciate what you have until it’s gone. Freedom is certainly one of those things.
Dad is doing better. He’ll be going to the Cathedral at the end of next month to sponsor our oldest for her Confirmation.
I’ve spent the day editing a short story. I like to edit, then put it on the site for ‘my eyes only’ so I can view it on my phone an hour later or so between edits. It creates a weird perspective and seems to make mistakes stand out better. Of course maybe that’s a bunch of bs. Who knows?
I really need to work out tomorrow. The excuses have run out. I have the time. I have the equipment. I just have to walk down a flight of steps and do it. What the heck? Why’s it so hard to start?
Ok. I’ve vented enough random information into my blog. Back to editing.
I’ve talked with Dad about power of attorney. He seems to understand the importance. It’s not fun discussing the man’s situation with him. No man wants to confront the notion that he might sometimes need help. This is just part of the stupidity that comes from being male. Somehow, someway, we all believe that we could find a way to be victorious in any situation no matter how unsurmountable the odds are. At ninety-three, he is having to accept certain realities that must be a really downer to think about, including our own mortality. Still, we’re getting it done.
He’s really an interesting man. A WWII veteran, an accordion player, a singer, and a dancer— he retired from Stix Baer & Fuller in Crestview MO. I’ll share a story about him here in a bit. It is one I was telling to a friend just a day ago. His response made me realize the significance of the story even though it’s a short one.
It goes like this—
Dad was the accordion player and lead singer in a band called the Starlighters. There was also a drummer, saxophone, and trumpet player in the band. They played very old songs that wouldn’t be popular today, yet from time to time Dad would incorporate something a little more contemporary into his repertoire. I remember him practicing his own version of “Achy Breaky Heart.” He also played “Just a Gigilo” which at the time I thought he had robbed from David Lee Roth only to discover the song was much older than that. I just thought it commonplace for him to bring present day music into his act.
Well, this story is related as my mother related it to me. As old as my dad is, from time to time and for various reasons his band members changed. Now Dad’s band has since broken up as the members where getting along in years. But he’d played in that band for as long as I can remember. As child I recall a trumpet player named Elmer who happened to be blind.
According to Mom, Elmer was not always blind. He learned to play music before he lost his vision, but as a result of blindness he was no longer able to learn new music. He couldn’t see the sheets you see. So my dad one day decided to help Elmer. He went to Elmer’s house with his accordion and Elmer with his trumpet, and by playing one note at a time on his accordion, which Elmer then mimicked, Dad taught Elmer new music that he otherwise couldn’t learn. Mom said that Elmer’s wife, Betty, was very grateful to Dad for being so thoughtful and taking so much time to help Elmer learn new tunes. I suppose after a lifetime of being a musician, losing your sight but finding a way to play new music must have been really magical for the man.
Anyway that’s the story. I think it’s an interesting one. Hope you do too. I’ll write more later as things progress with Dad. Maybe I’ll even pump him for information so I can add more stories like the one above.
Thanks for reading.
Previously, as a negotiator and shop steward my stress level was at the redline most of the time. I knew that anyone’s misstep, anyone’s challenge to the rules, anyone’s loss of control would instantly fall upon my shoulders to defend. Damage control was only one of my responsibilities. I was also expected to keep the bargaining unit moving in a positive direction regarding working conditions and benefits.
I was in a constant game of David and Goliath. My loyalties were also in conflict; to the bargaining unit, to the City, and to myself and consequently to my family. If I failed to challenge the City I was at odds with the unit. Whatever was achieved was never enough. If I challenged the City I was at odds with my employer. Do too good a job as a steward and perhaps terminating me might seem tempting. I don’t give myself credit enough that the City’s collective mind would consider this, but I am certain that the thought crossed the minds of individual managers time and again. But this was the game. Hit hard enough to get movement. Anger who you must, but do not force them to dig in or no gain will be possible.
I recall waiting outside the City Manager’s office once. I don’t recall what I was to argue over. I only remember thinking, What the hell am I doing? This guy can take my job with the stroke of his pen. He doesn’t need justification or cooperation from anyone. And here I am, about to challenge his authority on behalf of someone else.
That was at the beginning, before the stress really compounded. The problem was that it was never relieved. Every battle led to another whether it was lost or won. I operated on borrowed power from the union and its political allies, always needing to outmaneuver the stronger foe. I never knew if or when my luck would run out, and my personnel file bears the scars to support that. I was a knight, but I stood against kings.
Those who counted me as an enemy knew that the best way to attack me was through someone I represented, someone I protected. Some of them were strong and smart, perhaps more so than I. In fact I must give credit where due and point to them as fellow generals, every bit my peers or better. Others though, were not so strong. But they were often innocent, trusting, caring individuals that would walk right into some trap or torture set up to indirectly punish me for my dissidence. It was an easy feat for a supervisor to divvy jobs in such a way that an innocent would suffer and then be told that it was my insolence that made this happen. Though I was not to blame, it was still an effective way to harm me. Reckonings always followed, but in the meantime innocent persons paid in my place lest my foe should face me. And they were careful not to. What steward who cares for his charges would not suffer an anxiety from such events?
Often times the City would come to me for help. Taxes made the City run. And taxes paid the salaries of my charges. It was a great calamity for me whenever I should ask the union members to help the City campaign for tax increases. They distrusted and disliked the City. Some even seemed to hate it. These were men, some of them at least, that would sink a boat they were in so long as their enemy perished alongside them. Such madness. The City would then, upon successful acquisition of a tax increases, spend their money dubiously, from certain points of view. I would then have to shoulder the culpability of defending the City’s purpose.
Through all of this, I had to constantly play politics. Commit and avoid committing betrayals, both intentional and not. Someone always wanted me gone. I could make no mistakes. The slightest error was documented as if I were a problem employee on the verge of dismissal. I had to monitor my personnel file for covert documents placed there without defense. I had to challenge the slightest loss of ground lest we find ourselves on some slippery slope and lose what accomplishments we had eked over the years. A man might be a friend in one moment and an enemy in the next.
While the stress accompanying all of this was unbelievable, it must be noted that much of it was my own doing. I treated every battle as if it were the most important battle of my life. I fought harder for my friends than I ever would have for myself. Any gain for me was only a side effect of defending another person. Having helped the group, I often helped myself, but the price was always paid.
Panic attacks and general anxiety plagued me. I redlined without faltering when I needed too and then fell apart when battles were over, safe at home. The stress on my family was tangible. I took medication with many side effects, most of which outweighed the benefits over time. The only solution was to alter my environment or find another one. And that was what I endeavored to do.
In time, after what I can only consider Administrative Evolution, I was permitted to transfer to a different division of Public Works, that of Code Enforcement. I had been battling for this transfer for years, but were I in the place of those whose choice it had been, I would have denied me just the same. Legality aside, promoting an aggressive shop steward is counter-productive from a certain perspective. It could be considered a reward for dissidence, and such a thing should never be rewarded.
After many of the generals who had stood against me were lost to retirement and after many walks for tax increases, I appealed to the new administration to ‘treat me fairly,’ and they did. I was promoted to the new position where I currently reside. But this position is not without its own stresses.
I once fought against ‘Big Brother.’ Now it seems I have become him. I patrol for code violations and issue warnings that, if left unheeded, turn into court summons. These summons often spur a sudden interest in correcting the previous warnings, but little can be done at that point. The blow has been dealt. No one may move into a house in the City without seeing the house into compliance and receiving approval from myself or one of my new peers.
Forcing the hands of residents, making them do what they otherwise would not— these are new sources for stress that I am learning to deal with. Submitting warrants to take away illegally stored property; cars, trash, and materials— the invasiveness, though fully legal, puts me in conflict with my decades long desire to unremittingly serve the residents of this city.
Knowing that each person who receives notice from me believes that they are the only person who has ever been called out on said violation, that they believe that every house in the City is in higher violation than theirs, or the notion that I have some evil desire to single them out for whatever reason— this causes stress equal to but different than that caused by my union responsibilities.
Watching someone charge toward the window of my car intent of challenging me in some way— not knowing if they are going to be kind or cruel, if they are sane or mad, exfiltration of photographs of people’s property as evidence in the preparation of court cases, having trials demanded by those who see such as a chance to man the bully pulpit for their cause, fielding a complaint that a green sticker on a door somehow makes a house with an eleven inch tall lawn look less attractive; these are some of the new stresses I must face now.
But what is different is this: Each blow to my psyche that I take, every elevation of stress that I endure, I can be confident of one thing. There is relief. For every elevation of anxiety the level is constantly depleting. Every event is not a part of the greater whole, of some never ending, interrelated, unwinnable battle against some unstoppable force that can crush my career with its thumb.
The difference is: there is relief and for that I am thankful.
Ok, updating the blog.
My head hurts. Work's not bad. It has its stresses, but they wax and wane. That’s one secret to stress management; I’m sure. We can all take pressure, but when it never abates, we burst.
I’m not thrilled with my wife’s work schedule. It’s very disruptive to our family unit, in my opinion that is. Work, sleep— work, sleep. That’s pretty much all we get. Maybe it’ll change someday.
Meeting up with Dad this coming Sunday. He might talk reasonably about the things we need to talk about. I hope he doesn’t get gloomy on me. Can’t say I know what it’s like in his shoes, but at least he’s got family around to help.
I wrote a short story, posted it, then took it down. I realized there were some errors in the reality I had created. I got so wrapped up in the red herring that it wasn’t realistic. In fact I kind of gave it away. Had the wife read it after I posted. She is very left brained. In fact I might as well have had a robot read it, but that’s the point after all. If she sees through a plot trick then it surely isn’t any good. Kind of convenient having her around for that. Got to catch her when I can, though.
I’ll rewrite what I must and repost. Glad I didn’t get any reviews yet.
I sent a couple of snail mail letters for the group. The second person, I hadn’t written to before, at least I don’t think so. It’s been a while. I tried to be funny in that one. I hope she reads far enough to see the joke and doesn’t quit early thinking I’m some lunatic. We should all get a little break on that though. We’re writer’s after all. Writing crazy things every so often is perfectly normal.
When my head hurts I’m not hungry, but I should eat. I should also get to sleep earlier tonight. The Xbox doesn’t always think so. Even with everything that’s going on, the things making my head hurt, it’s still not all that bad. I’ll get through. I’m not so very old, but I am old enough to know that making it past one hurdle only brings you to the next. That part is taking some getting used to. Just got to keep it from coming too fast.
Too bad there’s nothing to be done about that.