Monday, October 28, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: Paddle Your Own Canoe, by Nick Offerman

Where have I been lately? Here and there. I had a business trip to Colorado that took some of my time, and the rest has been a blur. There have been quite a few pretty late nights at work, though, and that's the main culprit.

But while I was traveling I did make time to read Paddle Your Own Canoe by Parks and Recreation's Nick Offerman, or at least the first third of it.

It started out pretty good in that it was basically just an autobiography of Nick's life growing up on a farm in rural Illinois. He intersperses each chapter with a philosophical 3-4 page essay on some basic life lessons. And like his Parks and Rec character, Nick seems to be mostly libertarian in his politics, which means that he's economically conservative and socially very liberal, and he mixes in a healthy dose of Adam Carolla-like 'the modern generation is a bunch of wimps, real men and women know how to make things (i.e. he built the canoe and oar he's using on the book cover) and do things for themselves.'

He lost me when he got to creationists, who he casually dismissed as something like 'retarded fools' or something like that. It was really mean spirited and it pulled me right out of the book. I wasn't sure if he 'meant' it or not, and kept reading for a while longer. And then I got to his chapter on religion and found out he definitely meant it. He seems to think creationists are basically deluded zombie morons who foolishly try to govern from our own ignorance.

I had a big defense of creationism planned here, but eh. If you think that the monstrous insanity of the complexity of existence all just happened at random, nothing I can say will make any difference to you. You can look at conscious thought or the inner drive in people to seek out a higher power, or to feel shame or guilt, or any other combination of emotions that have no evolutionary or biological purpose and go 'huh, that's weird. Better to not dwell on that too much.' And that's fine, as far as 'willful ignorance' goes.

But if you can't at least be respectful of differences of opinion, if you can't tolerate opposing viewpoints without disparaging the intelligence or character of those with whom you disagree, then why should I finish your book?

"Some people erroneously think that these marvelous physical attributes happened by chance or resulted from a big bang somewhere. Ask yourself, “Could an explosion in a printing shop produce a dictionary?”

-Elder Russel M. Nelson

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Jobs: 4th job

JOB: The Boulders, St. George, UT

9 months or so

The Boulders was/is a subdivision in St. George that my Dad worked at, selling lots for residential homes. He pulled some strings and got me and my best friend, John, a job with the developer cleaning up the construction sites. In retrospect, why the developer would have any interest whatsoever in cleaning up private construction sites is beyond me. I can understand cleaning up the empty sites, but unless you're selling all the lots AND building all the homes....oh, ok, so maybe they were the builder, too? My Dad will have to clarify this in the comments.

No, this is bothering me. Are there developments where you are forced to use a particular construction company as a builder? I ... suppose there could be? If so, it would have to be through the CC&Rs/HOA guidelines, so they could build everything to be matchy/matchy. Otherwise if you could just buy a lot and build any type of goofy home you wanted to, it would throw off the feng shui. You SHOULD be able to do that, but I suppose I can see that there would be places where you can't.

Anyway, so let's assume this was that type of place. Ultimately, what this meant for me and John was almost a year of riding around on a golf cart (which I somehow never ever remember charging) and listening to music and taking the golf cart off of jumps and even sometimes cleaning up construction sites.

It's not like we didn't work hard. We did work, and it was hard in the sense that it was St. George in the summer so it was a million degrees. But we made a very healthy hourly rate and performed the service of keeping construction sites free of debris, which we piled up in a gigantic trash heap on one of the lots (for some reason, one adjacent to the main sales'd think we would have picked something a little farther away).

Did we throw away valuable things? I don't think we did, although we would have been the last to know. There was an irrigation ditch high up on the mountain that comprised most of the subdivision (it was on the side of a medium-sized mesa, which was covered in several really large boulders, hence...) and it was meant to come through the subdivision and be a river down a very fakey man-made stream, which they poured concrete into. They probably had to - any water that met St. George soil would likely evaporate before it even got out of the gate. Anyway, John and I frequently hiked up to the water canal to locate and eliminate large tumbleweeds. Instead of just throwing them away, though, we would capture them and haul them back to the trash pile.

At the end of the job, we had (with adult supervision) an enormous fire and burned the trash pile. It was glorious.

Two memories:

  • I retained a little bit of work at the Boulders after the job finished. One time I dug a ditch for a sprinkler because our family's relative, Terry, was putting in a sprinkler system. The ground was about 90% rock, and I had to dig the ditch with a pick axe. It remains to this day the only time in my life other than at water parks or the beach that I have taken my shirt off in semi-public. It was about 300 degrees that day and I honestly couldn't physically stand the heat coming off my shirt. I got the entire ditch dug and then staggered over to the house to get a drink from the hose. A little boy inside the house looked out the window at me, very alarmed. A half-naked teenager drinking out of his family hose, even though it was a million degrees and I was sunburned and exhausted.

  • My senior year of high school, I missed a few too many classes. This was usually due to not making it back to school on time after lunches. John and I would drive over to some shady trees by Dixie College in his 1972 yellow Ford truck, would drink our 32 oz Maverick mug refills of Mountain Dew, and would listen to his eclectic collection of 70s 8-tracks. I distinctly remember the Best of the Carpenters, Helen Reddy, Elvis, and Jesus Christ Superstar. Time somehow often got away from us. Anyway, I had to make up some 'citizenship' in order to graduate, and the civic project I proposed was to clean off a city street. I proposed cleaning off the city street right in front of the Boulders that I was assigned to clean off anyway for my job there, and it got approved. I fulfilled my citizenship, graduated, and got paid all at once. Do I feel bad about this? I probably should. I would do a more honest project nowadays, but it's kind of a victimless crime, so whatever.

Oh, and it was the best job I ever had. Hanging out with my best friend and making great money and driving a golf cart around and doing some manual labor that 1) didn't involve any other human interaction, and 2) was physically impossible to goof up, was the single greatest employment I ever could have ever had thought of. Set the job in a milder climate and I would have retired with it.

That electric golf carts can get all 4 tires off the ground if you drive them down a very steep embankment and off a rudimentary jump that you created at the bottom. Also that construction workers all apparently smoke about 17 pack an hour, each individually.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Jobs: 3rd job

JOB: Westates Theatres, St. George, UT

About 2 years the first time, and 2ish years the 2nd time
Finally, we've made it to my first good job. I still have no idea how I made it in, since the entire city wanted to work here and I had exactly two 'jobs' to my name, one of which lasted for less than 8 hours, and the other one involved washing cars. But when you're hiring 16 year-olds, you take what you can get.
It was a snack bar job, and would prove to be one of the most important jobs I ever had, leading me to meet people who would turn out to be my entire social base for pretty much the next 10 years. I still remain good friends with several of the people I met here, in fact, a full 20 years later.
The job entailed selling people food from the snack bar as you rotated through each of the 5 other theatres in town in St. George, depending on where you were scheduled. The same company owned every theatre in town. Let's go through the list:
  • Cinemas 6: This started out as the Cinemas 3 and got a 3-theatre upgrade while I was working there. This was the newest and fanciest theatre in town, so it got all the big new releases and was the most consistently busy theatre by far.
  • Movies 3: This was a much older theatre up on the red hill in the industrial area of town. These were by far my favorite theatres. Everything was dark wood and dark carpet and the theatres had this terrific feel and smell and the ridiculous poster guy kept all the cool posters for the last 20 years here up in a secret room upstairs. The 3rd theatre here was apparently an add-on because it had a completely separate entrance than the other two. If working there, you would generally be left in complete solitude.
  • Dixie Theatre: A mirrored monstrosity downtown by the Tabernacle, this place had no A/C and had a terrifying projection room. More on this in a bit. It had apparently been an old play house because it had a big stage and a balcony. Just one screen.
  • Gaiety Theatre (later, The Electric): The 'twin' theatre to the Dixie, this was just one block away. Later, when I would return to Westates as a projectionist and eventually a manager, I would find myself stationed at both theatres and would go back and forth between them to keep them both going. Also just one screen, this, too, had no real A/C (it had a swamp cooler that blew room-temperature air) and had an unfortunate mirrored remodel. The projector here was about 750 years old.
  • Flood Street: This wasn't part of Westates right away but they quickly bought them and turned them into the dollar theatres. This was the newest of the theatres but was cheaply made and was in a strip mall by the Home Depot on Flood Street, so named because of a divot in the road that would flood every time it would rain. This was basically like showing movies to prisoners. No one but maniacs and vandals and troublemakers would almost ever arrive, and they would always cause some scene, and as a manger I had to call the police on several occasions to break up problems.
The job duties themselves were fine. I didn't mind selling food and drinks and popcorn, and I got good at doing basic math quickly in my head, as there were no functional cash registers to add things up for you. The cash registers were glorified cash boxes. In between shows you cleaned the snack bar and even had time to do homework for about 45 minutes or so, assuming you weren't goofing off with the Foster Twins or the Fackrell Twins or any other of my friends there.
We (OK, I) came up with a treat called the 'Suicide,' which was a 8-oz cup of popcorn that was sweetened directly with, oh, 1/4 a cup of popcorn butter and a full tablespoon of the concentrated butter salt that you added to the kettle to pop entire batches of popcorn. If you were eating cocoa, it would be like eating 3 cups worth. It caught on like wildfire and became very popular. To be young and invincible again.
Perk-wise, you got free drinks and all the popcorn you could ever hope for, and could occasionally take home damaged candy. The Butterfinger BB's were a popular item that, gosh darn it, always seemed to get mysteriously damaged.
One time there was a bat at the Movies 3. We spent the entire 'in-between' while the movie was playing throwing ice at it and trying to coax it down from the 2-story ceiling in the lobby. The very young ticket taker they had (I think he was literally like 11 years old and I think his name was David) fashioned a weapon out of a board with a bent nail in it, and was swinging it around. One of the girls said 'Don't hurt the sweet little bat!' but then it flew at her, David caught it like a pop fly, and spent about 5 minutes pulverizing it as if it had killed his father. The girl immediately switched to 'Hit it harder!! Kill it!' Also the brave guy who was making fun of us for our bat vigilante justice and boasted that he could take out the bat single-handedly hid sheepishly in he ticket booth when the bat started swooping at us. I think I laughed till I cried that entire night.
Another time when I was a manager there and my sister, Hillary, was a projectionist, I cut out a bunch of eyes from magazines and plastered them all over the extremely spooky projection booth at the Dixie theatre. That was up 3 rickety wooden flights of stairs, past a bizarre 'apartment' that apparently had either a real person or a ghost living in it, and ended up in a scary attic that had no walls and tons of boards together that had plaster oozing out between them. Anyway, I think I got a good scare out of my friends, the Fackrells, when they turned on the lights there. Oh, and the light for the projector booth was IN the projector booth, so if you left it you had to walk down 3 flights of stairs in the dark.
When I was managing at the Dixie, I would have to call my brother, Griffin, and talk to him on the portable phone (wireless phone? I can't remember what they called those) while I walked around the theatre to close up. It was a freaky place-the lobby was completely mirrored, and you had to walk through the entire building after the movie was done to ensure no one was left in the building before you locked up. I would often do this while jogging through the building as fast as I could.
I also recall laughing at my friend, Lisa, who was a ticket seller, when a customer asked her what Stargate was about (people constantly asked what various movies were about-a fact that boggled my mind at the time and still is funny to me) and she replied, in her standard "I don't have time for this" tone, "They go to another planet." That was it, that was the entire synopsis.
So many more stories. The philosophical manager guy with the beard who taught me about honesty and how it was 'all about being true to the face you shave in the mirror every morning' despite the fact that it would be like 3 more years before I would have to shave, the blowhard owner, Tony (Do you know who I am?!),  the cool boss, Tim, with the very dry sense of humor, the creepy poster guy, the free movies, the midnight shows, the reeking of popcorn every night after work, the bringing home entire garbage bags full of popcorn for my siblings all the time...and finally, my last boss, the 60-something befuddled Hugh, who fired me for posting a sign at the Dixie that said the theatre didn't have any A/C, which he felt was 'the worst salesmanship' he'd ever seen. This, of course, led to one of the most hilarious things ever-a voicemail Nate Fackrell left for my sister as Hugh, hitting on her and explaining that he fired me because I was an obstacle to them being together and business and pleasure 'don't mix.' Man that was funny. You had to be there, but still, I think of that about once a year and laugh myself silly. 
I had a great time at the theatres and made several friends and went on a few dates and consider it one of my best ever jobs. If I could return to any of my jobs and still support a family, I would love to go back provided everyone else I worked with would return too.
How to be social, how to be relatively normal, how to make friends, and how to make extremely unhealthy popcorn treats.

Random Thought

At the beginning of the movie "Armageddon" when Bruce Willis is chasing Ben Affleck around the ship and shooting at him with a shotgun, the movie would have ended really quickly if he would have accidentally shot Ben Affleck, killing him. It doesn't seem like a safe thing to be doing.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Jobs: 2nd job

(For previous installments, scroll down).
Job #2: Golden Corral, St. George, UT
1 day, somewhere in the early 90s

Of all my timeline questions, this one might be the most perplexing. It was only one day of my life, but I have no idea really where it fell. I want to say that I was maybe 15-ish years old and was in 9th grade or so, but it could have been later.
Anyway, I remember thinking I wanted to work here because I liked Golden Corral at the time (though as far as I know, I had only attended it once or twice in my entire life up to that point) and thought that I could get some good free food. This is what we now refer to as "making poor decisions based on even worse inputs."
I noticed they were hiring, went in to fill out an application, and was given an interview right there with the manager. The manager asked me why I would like this type of job, and I think I said I liked interacting with people-a bald-faced lie. He also told me that the job 'could' involve working 'later into the evening.' I said that would be fine, that I was a 'night owl.' This was and mostly is still true, but we'll soon see how this came back to bite me.
I was offered the job ON THE SPOT, which should have been my first red flag. I thought, "Wow, I must have really nailed the interview!" which I think was technically true in the sense that I was able to string sentences together in mostly the right order and I had a pulse and was willing to work at the Golden Corral.
The job: Dishwasher. This should be easy, I thought. You just load up dishes and put them into a thing and then go hang out for 45 minutes while it washed them.
I got there around, I think, 6 pm: just in time for the dinner rush. My trainer was a guy named, I think, Darnell. He seemed nice. And then he provided me with a hair net and I decided right then and there that I would be quitting. I asked if they were optional and he said they were mandatory per the health department. But no matter: even if the job had involved loading up the dishes and then eating Golden Coral food for 5 hours, I would have quit.
But we were just getting started. Someone brought a pile of disgusting dishes over to us and I found that we had to 'pre-wash' them off first, and that most of them were covered in filth and garbage, like used napkins and stuff. Plus most had been purposely messed up. Like people would put their toast into their cups and would just make a disaster of everything.
So, gagging, I had to scrape all the food off and clean up everything before I could put the dishes in the dishwasher. Finally I had that ready (Darnell told me I was going too slow-apparently other dishes were starting to pile up in a line, so this was a 'do this in about 1 minute' kind of thing) and we were ready to load things up for the dishwasher!
The dishwasher is a technical term. You put everything on this rack and then slide it down a path on some wheels and then you pull this big box thing down over the top of it, and it sprays out steam that is maybe only 200 degrees hot or so, and it sprays out onto your hair net, but you aren't supposed to notice that because you're supposed to be scraping food off the other dishes to get them ready for the 2ND DISHWASHER. The job never stops. You are constantly washing dishes. There is no single time in the entire night where you are not interacting with dishes, in a blazing inferno that is 7 million degrees hot, in a kitchen area that is extremely loud and clanky, where the cooks scream at each other all night long and fight over messing up the food or don't have the food ready yet, etc.
We did this for literally 4 hours straight, and then Darnell told me it was lunch time. It was 10:00 and we were only half way through the shift. And I was in like 9th grade and it was a school night.
Aft er the restaurant closed, we washed the remaining dishes for a few more hours and then helped clean up the restaurant and the kitchen and mopped and vacuumed. We finished everything and I wound up going home at about 1:30 am or so, dead exhausted. I think I had to call my Dad to come get me. I'm pretty sure I wasn't driving yet.
I returned the next day and told my boss this wasn't going to work out, that I couldn't possibly work that late on school nights. He said, "I thought you said you were a night owl." I said, "Sure! Like 10:00, maybe 10:30." And even that is technically fairly late for a school night.
I gave him my hairnet and left the Golden Corral in shame. I never got paid, either.
1) That I am ill-suited to certain forms of manual labor. Not all forms, just certain forms.
2) That about 95% of waitresses apparently smoke and badmouth the customers, and that when they go back into the kitchen, they only do so to get away from the customers and to hang out and smoke and badmouth the customers. They're not like 'helping with the food' or anything.
3) That I don't always make the best decisions.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Book Review: Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite authors, but it's kind of funny - his work, to me, is better 'as a whole' rather than specifically. Like, I really like certain characters, or certain settings, or certain plots, but it's difficult for me to find entire books of his that I really enjoyed from start to finish.

Neverwhere is probably the closest I've ever been to this. It's got great characters, an interesting story, an OK setting, great pacing, and realistic dialogue. Plus, it has some legitimately surprising plot twists and doesn't work out the way you think it does. It keeps you on your toes.

Briefly, the book has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with 'Neverwhere.' Have no idea where that name came from as it's not mentioned anywhere in the book. I guess it's the opposite of 'Everywhere'? Eh I think he just picked it because it sounded cool.

It's set in 'London Below,' which is an alternate London which exists underground. People who live in London Below typically can't be seen by anyone above ground, even if they are standing right in front of them.

The story is that a guy named Richard saves a girl named Door, and then inadvertently travels to London Below when he finds that no one can see him anymore. He discovers that when he saved Door, she accidentally pulled him into London Below. He also discovers that she is running for her life and that her entire family was just killed by two assassins. Can he help Door discover who has been trying to kill her and why, and can he get back to London Above? Answers: Yes, Sort of, and you'll have to read it to find out!

I recommend the book. It's a bit violent and has a small amount of language in it, but it's a good story and I liked the characters a lot, especially the Marquis DeCarabas. I listened to the audiobook, which is read by the author, and I can't imagine experiencing the book any other way. He does every voice of every character himself, and he does an extremely good job. Honestly the best book reading I've ever heard. He understands all of the characters, which is why the audio version is so fascinating. You've got to be a great author to be able to play out such a story in real time and have all your dialogue work so well and feel so natural.

The only thing I didn't like about it was that the setting wasn't quite as creative as it could have been. Everything is ragged and dirty in London Below, and there are some limited magic power-type things (this is light fantasy-not too crazy to lose anyone who fancies themselves 'normal,' but not too normal to be boring) but Gaiman doesn't go very far with it. It makes one wonder why anyone would choose to live in London Below if all you can wear is gross dirty stuff and all you can eat are rats and things like that. I think that could have been explained a bit better, or that more could have been added to show why living there would be, at least in some ways, preferable to being above ground.

I found out that the BBC has recently put on a radio play of the book, and they have a killer cast featuring two of my very favorite actors:

Yep: Benedict Cumberbach and James McAvoy. You know it's good with their stamp of approval. I wish they'd make it into a movie and put them in it.