Well, here we are, we made it… [Twenty years later]

IMG_2238

I wasn’t sure I was going to write this post out of fear it would sound petulant or petty, but I’m going to give it a go largely because – milestone.

I graduated high-school twenty years ago this year and while I don’t remember the valedictorian speech, I’m sure it included the phrase: well here we are, we made it. And so now here we are, twenty years later. This weekend is the carefully planned and coordinated reunion. It’s more than one event, actually, and I’m not going to any of it. I’m not busy and the events are just ten minutes away. Nevertheless, I’m not going. The thing is, a lot of classmates aren’t going to make it, some because they are too far, some because of scheduling conflicts, and others yet who had such a terrible time that they’d literally rather be in prison. I’m actually none of these. In all, I’d say my high-school experience wasn’t as awful as it could have been. Sure, it wasn’t great, but who the hell had a ‘great’ high-school experience? Virtually everyone didn’t.

The thing is, twenty years is a long damn time. I’m further from my date of graduation than my graduation was from my birth. On one hand, wouldn’t this be a great time for a reunion? On the other, most of the folks planning on attending were basically strangers to me in high school. Yes, I know their names and recognize their faces, but aside from that, we didn’t know each other then and we don’t now. I’m not saying that any of them aren’t worth knowing, just that I don’t. Plus, outside of high-school stuff, I’ve got no context here. I don’t even remember high-school that well. It would be the equivalent of walking into a brew-pub and striking up conversations with random folks. That CAN be fun, but it’s not my favorite thing to do. Largely because you can’t slink off into the digital ether if you stick your foot in your mouth as you can with social media, where I will absolutely tell strangers shit I wouldn’t tell anyone else.

Twenty years since graduation, however, is a milestone. When the talk of a reunion came up I did think about it. Spent a lot of time thinking about it, actually. Not so much about going, mind, rather I thought about me twenty years ago and the folks that I spent time with. I’m not sure any of them are going to make it at all, which would be the only port in that storm of nostalgic conversation from which I’d be pretty much left out. With the benefit of hind-sight, I realized that graduating wasn’t even the most memorable thing to happen to me that year. Hell, high-school, middle-school – all that, is less time than I’ve spent working my current job.

While this is a milestone year for myself and all of my classmates, I can’t help but look at it and just sort of shrug and hope everyone has a genuinely good time. And with that, I’ll leave you what I think about when I hear 1997.

IMG_2222

Advertisements

Getting Laid-off (again)

IMG_2298

These are layoff notices. Receiving two of these for a two-income family is a bad day. A really bad day. Today, we have two incomes. On July 1, we will have 0 incomes and no benefits. Over the past year, two of the key phrases heard have been “more jobs” and “drain the swamp.” Well. This is what that policy looks like folks. In Alaska, that has translated into firing many thousands of people and eliminating the option for even collecting unemployment insurance. The real bottom dwellers in our political system are the politicians who only act in the interest of people who give them money. In all other countries of the world, this would be considered bribery or graft. In our country we all pretend it’s ‘free speech’ and then try to go about our business as if it’s not going on at all. As the state moves to lay off some 20,000 people, the politicians will continue to be paid, and no-doubt, be receiving money from their well-heeled benefactors to keep them going.

To digress from the political rant a bit, and make this into something more positive, I posted something like this almost exactly two years ago. In response to the layoff threat two years ago, I went and got a new job. A job that would free me from the threat, a job that would offer me opportunities for advancement, and an opportunity that might make me more marketable in the broader economy.

That new job was generally most of the things I hoped it would be though to be honest, it was no less subject to layoffs than where I’d left. While there, I realized that there is no longer such a thing as a ‘stable job’. The best you can hope for is a marketable skill set and a local economy good enough to shop that around. That said, the job I got turned out to be what I describe as a hostile environment. Based on things I learned at ADF&G, I tried to be inclusive. Things go better when you involve your team and other folks who’s support you will need to proceed. I attempted this and for the first year or so received mostly responses of “well, it’s complicated, good luck”, and (quite literally), “I hope your project fails.” That last one stung the most, even though I tried to roll past it with good nature.

That hostile environment is one of the reasons I left. You can either be an agent of change or shrug and let them carry on. When my old job at ADF&G opened up and the possibility to return came to me, I was in a meeting being told about all of the things I wasn’t doing right at the new place. To be clear, the purpose of this meeting was to explain that I didn’t have the resources and might not make the deadlines set in spite of every attempt to get there. With this option in hand, I spent a few nights thinking very, very hard about what it meant. And yes, it did mean possible layoffs, but that’s going to be true across the board with the Trump administration gutting government – no job is safe. I concluded that, for the benefit of my family life, I needed to leave the job even with layoffs a distinct possibility. So. I left. There were other options, some lucrative, some very risky, but they were there, once I really started putting myself out there.

What that short-lived foray out of ADFG did give me, however, was a sense of optimism and life satisfaction with my old position that I desperately needed. Just six months back and I am a genuinely happier person with a seriously adjusted attitude for optimism. Even though both myself and my wife are going, as likely as not, to be out of work and out of health benefits without even the prospect to collect unemployment, I feel more optimistic about what comes after. There are no plans for me to bail from where I am, and I’m not even looking. Not because I’m not worried, but because I really like my job and want to hang on to it and because even if I’m asked not to come back in the end, I know there are options out there. If this extends into a month or longer and we default on our mortgage or wrack up tens of thousands of dollars in surprise medical bills or perhaps just lose a car or two for failing to make the bills, I know I can find ways to start digging us out. We probably won’t be living in a cardboard box.

The truth of the matter is that, I genuinely believe that the politicians engineering this shutdown really do want to inflict damage on state employees and, indeed, the state economy as a whole. If we’re in a shambles and desperate for work, we will sacrifice freedom, income, health, education, property, and environment to feed our family. They know this. So too do the politicians in Washington. If you make us hungry, we will beg. That said, I’m also confident that we’ll pull through this mess. Perhaps poorer, perhaps without the land we’ve worked so damn hard to get and keep, or even some of the nice things we’ve gown accustomed to, like the ability to afford reliable transportation and the certainty of our next meal. What I do know – what I believe – is in spite of the concerted political attack on families by our politicians, we’ll figure it out, even if we have to move to Canada.

The Wild West is all Wrong

LastLightofDay

Everyone’s seen at least bits and pieces of a western. You’ve got gunslingers and bandits, train robberies and shootouts. I’m not a historian, so I couldn’t tell you what the real wild west was like, but I live in a place that people still take for the wild west. I was out doing some shopping last night and this thought hit me, it’s fictionalish, and I couldn’t quite turn it into flash fiction, but here it is:

It’s a little late in the evening, but I need to hit the grocery story for a beer and breakfast for the kids. On my way along the two-lane country road, a huge jacked up truck crawls right up to my bumper. I check my speed it’s fifty-five, a few above the speed limit. He blasts his horn and roars past belching black smoke. Back of the bed is adorned with a pair of flags, the confederate battle flag on one side and a yellow flag with a snake in the middle on the right hand side. I slow a bit so he doesn’t clip me as he rolls into my lane a little too soon. Then he brake-checks me. I dive to the right and slam on my brakes. He floors it, tearing off into the dark.

I’m alright, my heart rate is up a bit, but the car’s not hurt and I’m still on the road. It happens all the time. Driving along, minding my own business and someone takes it upon themselves to bully the guy driving the beat up minivan. There isn’t anyone to deter or check the behavior. Doesn’t matter how dangerous it is. The people here just won’t pay for police, so there aren’t any. The truth is, I know this guy though he doesn’t know me. He’ll keep doing it until he spins out of control on that little road. That truck will flip three times and roll over on to a sedan with a small family in it. Three people will be dead, including the driver of the truck. When the dust settles, all of his friends will talk about what a good person he was and all of the good things he did and what a terrible freak accident it was. There won’t be a word paid to the unacceptable behavior this young man and the absolute disregard he has for the health and safety of other people.

By the time I get to the store, I’m already ready to be home, but I can’t remember all of the things I’m supposed to get, I’m too stressed out. There’s an overweight man at the check out counter, he’s wearing a cowboy hat and a t-shirt that reads ‘You can have your hope and change, I’m keeping my guns and money.’ He’s sporting a tough expression and has a .45 strapped to his hip. Turns out I know this guy too, but he doesn’t know who I am. His gun may be conspicuous, but it’s a naive gesture at best. He’s never shot a living thing in his life, doesn’t have the stomach for it. What’s really going on is that he’s afraid, he’s bought into the fear that someone, who he’s helped to arm, will roll into his rural grocery store and start shooting people up. The irony is that the man isn’t involved in illegal activities, he’s cautious, he’ll never see a shootout, no, he’ll die of a heart attack. Something he’s always assumed won’t happen to him, he’s too tough for that sort of nonsense.

I move past the register by the customer service desk. The manager is standing there looking every bit the part of a zombie. Even though I make eye-contact, he doesn’t acknowledge my presence. He doesn’t know me, but it turns out I know him. He was the valedictorian of his class who had decided to take a year off to save up. In that year he broke his arm and had reconstructive surgery. All of the money he had saved up went to pay for his hand. Another year went by and more expenses came, there was no savings for college, then another and another, and he met a young woman, and decided to put it off. Some twenty years later, here he is, divorced twice and working a job he hates.

Finally, I remember what I came for, it was in the freezer section. The girl stocking back there looked up, and then turned away to go do something else. She’s cute, perhaps 19, lots of curves, but fit. I remember her from twenty years ago, just after high school. Tonight she’s going to go back to the apartment she shares with a couple of friends where she’ll drink too much. She’s going to have sex with one of those guys. Later, she’ll giggle uncomfortably as she explains to another girlfriend of hers that she accidentally had sex with a guy, and that she didn’t really want to. She’ll never call it for what it is, rape. Her friend won’t ever call it that either. After all, she’s a flirt, she must have been asking for it. Everyone believes that.

With breakfast in hand, I wander over to the liquor store, pick up my six pack and hit the check-out. The woman I’m staring at is wearing a grimace her acne is as bad as I’ve ever seen and she’s rail thin. She looks as though she’s pushing sixty, but no, she’s no older than I am. I’m staring at the woman, she has a familiar face. Then it hits me I knew her back when too, she doesn’t remember me though. She left home just after high-school and started experimenting with drugs. At first it was just pot, truth be told though she was doing enough of that back before graduation. She wanted more experiences, acid, coke, then meth, and now heroin. It’s left her as no more than a skeletal representation of what a person should look like.

When I leave the store, I drop the six pack in the back of the van with the little sack of groceries. I’ll retreat to my little house in the woods, lock my doors and hope that someone doesn’t break in in the middle of the night. This here, this is the wild west, it is and was, and it’s not good, and if this is how people want it, it’s not a place we can take much pride in.


photo credit: Last light of the day via photopin (license)