Doctor Eclectic

Doctor Eclectic
Doctor Eclectic

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Unions

My father came of age in the Great Depression and he used to tell the story that his first dental patient after graduation was a bricklayer who needed to have his thumb drilled to relieve the pressure from an accident.  So it not surprising that he brought me up to feel that I needed to work.  I had the obligatory newspaper route and when I got into high school and college was expected to find employment during the summer.


An early job, when I was about sixteen was with the PG&E unloading wood from, railway cars.  My mentors were two, what I considered then ancient laborers of about fifty.  They were Union, and morning and afternoon took their negotiated fifteen to thirty-minute breaks, allowing me to tag along with them to the local tavern: a respite from the 100+ degree heat in the boxcar.  I forget how, but my status in their company allowed me to have my first morning beers and allowed me access to a lovely bartender who taught me cribbage and enabled my high school friendships to blossom as I became the purveyor of beverage for my underage friends.

Another job near that time was a manufacturing job: metal labels for office equipment.  I learned to stamp press, package and ship and actually felt like a journeyman on his way to learning a trade, a feat that used to be a Union function.  I don’t remember the shop as being Union.  The owner’s daughter, two years behind me in high school, was infatuated, something I didn’t handle too well.  I don’t know if her feelings got me hired or fired, when our romance became troubling to daddy, who sent her to live for a while with her aunt.

Fast forward forty years or so when I found myself hired as Dental Director for a Union company with a major client the Las Vegas Hotel and Employees union.  I remember the accommodations required: the different hiring and firing process, the need to use Union labor for all exhibit presentations; the need to use a Union shipping company (brown shorts and all), the “bug” on every publication.

And about that time I proudly joined AFTRA in an effort to bolster my lagging acting career.  AFTRA was a loose Union, easy to get into, relatively inexpensive, pretty non-restrictive to other than Union auditions, without a lot of benefits other than a little more money when the job was a Union/non-Union job.  I never made enough money to qualify for medical-dental benefits, nor to have any retirement benefit.  I longed to meet the requirements to join SAG or even AEA, where the jobs paid more and the benefits were greater.

Last year a new Union was formed; formed because only a small percent of SAG members found meaningful work.  The onerous requirement of having been cast in three SAG projects went away and job opportunity was thought to improve since projects could be cast with SAG/AFTRA members who were paid at SAG or AFTRA level, depending on which they held.

Hasn’t happened.

As SAG/AFTRA I am now forbidden to audition for any non-Union or “Other” projects, except for Print.  Where, as AFTRA I might submit through LA Casting for more than 50 auditions a week, I now have weeks where there are none I am qualified for by Union status or age.  Yesterday there were 52 postings and only one for my age and qualifications.

Mary, my wife, grew up in Janesville, Wisconsin where there was a General Motors plant since the early 1900s.  About five years ago it closed and the effect of losing about 2,500 jobs was devastating to a community of less than 50,000.  Detroit is an economic disaster.

I believe that the problem is that Unions lost sight of what they should be doing.  You might argue that the beer break was counter-productive as a health and safety issue, but that was the negotiation argument.  As someone who was a major participant in the evolution of tax-supported health care for more than twenty-five years, I feel somewhat responsible.  The ability to have a bottom-line effect on life style without increasing tax burden on either worker or employer made sense when it started after WW II.  Maybe now, not so much.

The idea of a secure retirement after working for a company for twenty-plus years doesn’t noodle out when workers move to four or more jobs in a career.  Even Japan has scrapped its “cradle to grave” work philosophy.

That is one reason why I feel the entire tax code has to be rewritten, and the individual has to become more involved in healthcare.

Unfortunately, with the present constituents and mood of Congress there is little likelihood of significant change in the near future.

My next post will be more positive as I describe my concerns over what I call The Elements of External Wonder.  I think you’ll like it.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Kris, Woody, and Entitlements

Kris Kristofferson was interviewed on NPR recently and, as I listened, I was reminded of how he has touched my life in so many ways through the years.  I was always a fan of his music and for a while lived in the Bay area where he grew up.  A close friend had gone to high school with his first wife (and was convinced he treated her shamefully).

Several years back another friend introduced me to a wonderful film he narrated called Brats: Our Journey Home, which I have recommended to several people since, as an excellent explanation of why military Brats, of which Kris was a third generation, share a common bond, irrespective of their age.

Mary and I had seen him not that long ago playing in what I guess was his fiftieth year of touring.  His philosophy of the military and patriotism has modified itself through the years, but is something I can respect and admire.

The Highwaymen
In the interview he sprinkled explanations of why he went to Nashville, what was it like at Oxford, why he continues to write music and tour, with what were his fondest memories.  One of these last was his touring with The Highwaymen.  In case you are too young to remember this super star group, it spanned ten years from 1985-1995, made three best-selling albums, and was comprised of four influential Country Singers: Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and the legendary Johnny Cash.

Kris said he was in awe of Cash, partly because the song Cash recorded, Sunday Morning Coming Down effectively launched Kristofferson’s career.

Nowhere in the interview did Kris make mention of Woody Guthrie, a fact that surprised me because this is the 100th anniversary of his birth (or was that last year?).  But when he mentioned the
connection with Cash, I realized that his influence and first love was Country, not Folk music.

This fact was made more obvious when Mary and I went to the 54th Anniversary of the Folk Reunion featuring: The Limelighters, The Brandywine Singers, the “original” Chad Mitchell Trio, one of whom is now an Orange County Priest and was in the front row, and an artist we first saw early in our marriage in a small Boston coffee house: Tom Paxton.

Tom Paxton - 2007
Paxton, who has remained a favorite of ours through the years, sang several songs, some new, some novelty and some like Rambling Boy, perennial signatures.  Like Kris, Tom had a story of his breakthrough, which came when he had a chance to meet his idol, again not Woody Guthrie, but Pete Seeger, who Tom claims single-handedly taught Folk Music and Folk composition to at least three generations.  Tom asked Pete if he would listen to a song and, with permission sang Rambling Boy.

Not only did Pete encourage Tom, he sang the song a week later for a live recording session: with the Weavers; at Carnegie Hall.

I was reminded in those two stories of how long and hard is the road to stardom for performers.  Aside from the world of art, which occasionally attracts benefactors to young artists, the rest of the entertainment world is hard and full of personal challenge.

With all the recent talk about entitlements, I was reminded of a song by the entertainer, Janis Joplin, which I originally thought might have been written by Kristofferson (not).  It might have been a plea for entitlement.  She called it Mercedes Benz and it is worth a listen.  The words are:

 “Oh Lord won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz

My friends all drive Porches, I must make amends

Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends

Oh Lord won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz

 

Oh Lord won’t you buy me a color TV

Dialing for Dollars is trying to find me

I wait for delivery each day until 3

Oh Lord won’t you buy me a color TV.

 

Oh Lord won’t you buy me a night on the town

I’m counting on you Lord, please don’t let me down.

Prove that you love me and buy the next round

Oh Lord won’t you buy me a night on the town.


Perhaps ironically, and certainly meaningfully, the petition is not to the government, but to God.  Interesting concept.

Another topic in the news lately is Unions.  I might take a swing at how Unions fit into my life in my next post.  Hope to see you there.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Signals and Alerts

I recently purchased a new toy, an Apple TV which, with the help of the friend who recommended it and my youngest son, is now operational.  Among other things, the attraction was that it allows me to share movies and music from my iPhone or iPad to my 50-inch HD television, and because of my SAG-AFTRA affiliation I have some major movies downloaded that have to be watched before the end of the month.

I only hope it doesn’t beep, chirp or trill!

It seems I am now surrounded by sounds that didn’t exist only a few years ago.  Starting with my kitchen where the coffee maker has two sounds: one, when the coffee is done or the warming feature is about to shut off, and another if I try to turn it on without adding water.  To my ear they sound the same.  They also sound the same to me as my refrigerator that beeps when I forget to completely close the door.  It does not beep when ice is ready, a fact I would prefer to know, since I usually close the door but often do not have ice.

Moving from left to right, as they say, my microwave has beeps for the timing feature and a reminder that I gave it a task to do and “It’s done already!” Its companion piece, the oven, lets me know when the temperature I set has been reached and has its own timer.  I think it may also have a signal that the clock needs resetting.  I have another just-plain timer that has three beeps for three separate times.

I used to have an alarm clock that woke me with a buzz or would turn the radio on at full blast to accomplish the obligatory task of getting my pulse rate to 80+ before my feet hit the floor.  My current clock gradually increases the volume over a minute or two and is much more civilized.  Should I forget to choose this feature, however, it wakes me with a series of, you guessed it, beeps.

Like most of the world I have a PC, a smart phone and a tablet, all tied to my Outlook Calendar(s) and all announce the imminence of my appointments at some interval or other, pretty much at the same time.  Before I had this opportunity I was forced to look at my watch to remember my 9:00 o’clock meeting and the only reminders I had were the melodic chimes of my Ship’s Clock (eight bells three times a day) or my grandmother’s Westminster chimes, which seem to bother new visitors, especially during meetings, but which I have seemingly turned off in my mind and ears unless I am listening for them.

My PC is new and I had to transfer all my programs and documents to it.  One of those was Quicken, which I have used since 1996.  Interestingly, I had forgotten that I had to turn off the “beep” feature because the “ka-ching” every time I wrote a check drove me nuts.  After some difficulty I found the switch and now do my banking with the quiet solitude of Tom Crachit on Christmas Eve.

When my frustration drives me out of the house I find another cacophony waiting for me in my car: the seatbelt signal, the beeper for a still-set emergency brake and of course the GPS “Turn right” signal.  Of course some of those sounds are accompanied by a voice command from Siri or whomever, but I have learned not to turn until the beep comes.

My cell phone has the option of making the alerts distinctive, and the one for text arriving is entirely different than what tells me I have mail.  Incoming calls are distinctive depending on who is calling.  Voicemail has another identifier.

One time an alert was problematic.

I had my third Infinity for only about three months when it developed an aggravating problem.  Every time I would start the car, after about 30-seconds, it would beep.  That would repeat for perhaps half a dozen times and then would stop.  For the life of me I couldn’t figure out why it was beeping.  Finally, in desperation, I took it to the dealer and asked the service parking attendant to investigate.  She had me go through the process while looking over my shoulder then, very respectfully honorific of my age pointed out that there was an accompanying dashboard signal, looking somewhat like a flat tire.  The alert was to tell me that tire pressure was low in one of my tires.  It even told me which one.  It turned out that I had a nail on my left rear tire, which was patched and my car washed free in under half an hour.

The one thing I didn’t like about my new car and it turned out it was trying to save my life.

I am reading about new alerts and signals coming to cars and recently rented one that beeped when I was backing too close to an object.  My car already tells me when I leave my keys inside, and used to tell me when I was moving outside my traffic lane.  My remaining car concern is that the only signal I don’t seem to hear is the turn signal.  My theory is that it must be on the same wave length as a woman’s voice, which I am told is the first range we older people lose in our hearing, a fact some men say is a blessing from God.

A favorite personality of mine was recently interviewed on NPR with some interesting revelations.  Also, this year is a centennial of sorts for Woody Guthrie.  Finally, entitlements have been in the news for at least the last six months on almost a daily basis.  My next post will be titled Kris, Woody, and Entitlements.  Come visit to see how I tie those disparate items together.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Surprise Gift

Everyone likes a surprise, so when Mary told me after Christmas that she had one more present for me, I entered our bedroom with anticipation.  Not that kind of anticipation, but ready to be surprised.  What she showed me were five pieces of cardboard.

Turns out I was being prompted to complete construction on my very first sock divider.

Up until that moment I had never given the subject of organizing my socks much attention.  I had a memory flash of when I was a little child knowing that there was no need to remember whether it was my socks or my shoes that had to go on one specific foot, but I could never remember which it was. I also flashed on socks I wear for special occasions: like Christmas, or formal wear, or the pair I won at an Alliance conference because I had the silliest pair of socks at a contest party.  The fact that there were only two of us men lessened the impact of my victory.  I remembered that those socks went in another drawer and one reason they did was there was not enough room in the drawer for all my socks.

I began to understand why Mary had purchased a divider, and I prepared for assembly mode.

It was harder than it looked because there were these little vertical slits that allowed one section to connect with another and every time I tried to put a new section together, the old connection fell apart.  Eventually, I realized construction outside the drawer was complicating matters, so we emptied the draw and eventually completed the project.

As I began to see an end point, I tried to see some benefits.  Picking socks from the drawer in the morning was sometimes complicated because I had a hard time seeing what pair were gray or blue or brown in the semi-dark bedroom light.  Often it wasn’t until I was putting them on in my lighted closet that I realized I had brown socks with blue trousers.

“Why not separate the brown from the blue or gray by putting one on one side and the other on the other?” I asked.  This suggestion got little more enthusiasm than when I occupied my days after retiring from the Navy by alphabetizing Mary’s spice racks.  That project drove her to search the want ads for a job for me that eventually resulted in twenty-five years in the Insurance industry.

And then we realized that there were only 36 compartments and, even excluding socks for special occasions, I had 38 pair, none of which were worn to a point where my mother used to darn them.  Figuring that Mary would work out the washing cycle to correct that situation, we placed all the light weight socks in the container and laid the heavy weighted ones on top.

I gave some thought to buying the dividers in bulk and contributing them to a convalescent home because the project of assembly was very satisfying emotionally and took the better part of an hour to complete, but I remembered that many of my older friends only have socks of one color so they don’t have to make choices, and the gift would probably cause more confusion than value/.

We are now three weeks post socks-organizer and, while I still occasionally mix my browns and blacks, I have resisted those spontaneous sock purchases that I used to have on occasion.  Should you wish to organize your socks, the divider came from the Container Store and I have provided a hyperlink for your edification.

My next post will explain what all those strange noises are that I now hear and why they trouble me.  I hope you will join me.