Category Archives: Becca

Minutia – Chapter 6: An Adequate Birthday

Chapter 6: An Adequate Birthday

I woke up on a Friday morning. It had been 32 years since I was born. If I know the story correctly, my parents had to leave the Hillbilly Auction for my birth. That sentence didn’t sound correct. Let me try again. If I know the tale, my Ma and Pa had to leave the Hillbilly Auction for my birthin’.

Perhaps it is tales like this that prompted my cousin Allan to once give my kin (sisters) the backhanded compliment that he was impressed with how well we turned out considering the White Trash we came from. I’ve always considered this to be a bold and clueless statement considering that we are related by blood. If I came from White Trash, he came from the same white trash bin. Believe me, I don’t want to compare sides of the family, but he comes from the side of my family that is considerably less sophisticated.

I had realized long ago that family is family and it doesn’t matter so much where you came from as where you are going. But where you came from always remains part of who you are. I embrace that fact.

Yet, where I was 32 years ago on this day mattered little for where I was going on this day. I got out of bed, showered, and went to work.

The drive for me to work is almost always the same. On this day though I was going to add the complication of trying to change my voice mail message. This really goes against my core belief that people shouldn’t talk on the cell phone while they are driving, but I really didn’t want to be bothered with a ton of phone calls wishing me a happy birthday. It was my birthday, but I didn’t want that to control my entire day. I was going to change my voicemail to say something to the effect that I “wasn’t taking calls on this day, but if you leave a message I’ll return your call tomorrow.”

It turned out that I pushed a wrong button along the way and changed my message to that message that just tells people what number they have just dialed. Then the battery on my phone died. I considered this to be good enough.

Work was more or less uneventful. More than half of our employees were in Seattle for the big convention. To placate (the people who care that they weren’t in Seattle, which doesn’t include me) the people left behind, the Company grilled out. This meant some kind of pork. It was tasty and prevented me from having to leave to find food.

The only other eventful thing to happen during the workday was a call from Jesse. Apparently he wasn’t to be denied. He actually called my work phone. This is a good thing, because if you take out him calling my work phone, it has rang on only a handful of other occasions. If it wasn’t for Jesse, my phone could break and I would never know it.

When he called I was not at my desk. I was talking to a co-worker about 70s science fiction movies. The Shipping Manager approached me and said, “I have Jesse parked in 4.”

“I don’t know what to do about that.”

She explained what to do and I was successful. I had Jesse on the line.

“You not answering your phone?” It was both an accusation and a question at the same time.

“The battery is dead.” It didn’t dawn on me that he was talking about my work phone because nobody ever calls it.

“I mean your work phone.”

“It hasn’t rang all day.”

“I just called you.”

“I didn’t hear it ring, but I was over talking to Co-Worker X about ‘Zardoz’.”

“Well, I just wanted to talk to you on your birthday.”

“Thanks.”

“You got anything big planned?”

“Just going over to Colleen’s for supper.” I had enough of this birthday talk. I changed the subject. “How is Seattle?”

“It is awesome. It is the greatest and cleanest big city ever.”

“Are you going to do anything cool?” This was a legitimate question. I’m always disappointed when I here stories about people that travel to exotic and interesting locales and all they can tell me when they got back was how drunk they got. I’ve never been much of a drinker, which people tell me clouds my judgment on such issues, but I’ve never been to Seattle or Hawaii or Los Angeles. I wouldn’t want to go some place that has so much to offer and only come back with a basket full of “I got so wasted” memories. I can make those memories in Boone for a quarter of the price.

The other side of this question was because I worry about Jesse. Our big convention is just like every other convention. It involves lots of drinking. Jesse is not supposed to mix alcohol with his medication. This is exacerbated by his well documented lightweight status. It only takes a few drinks to get him going, but there are theories that it isn’t possible for human to get drunk on as little alcohol as it takes to get him loopy.

A friend of ours by the name of Corey is a leader in the field of alcohol research. He is a man that is so passionate about the field that he has even suffered broken bones in the pursuit of new knowledge. He has purported the theory that none of us have ever actually seen Jesse drunk. We have only seen him pretend to be drunk.

That might be the case, but I do know that despite his doctors warning and being surrounded by alleged friends at the convention in Las Vegas last year, he had too much to drink. As I have stated, due to his medication, too much to drink is anything to drink.

I say this because while a few of them were walking down a Las Vegas sidewalk, Jesse decided to drop trou and have a whiz. This actually is not a completely rare sight. It is not uncommon for a group of men out and about to stop short and take care of business out in public. Men don’t even have to be drunk to engage in such an activity.

You don’t have to be drunk to take a leak facing a building. You have to be drunk to do it facing the street. I was hoping not to hear a repeat of the Las Vegas story come back from Seattle.

“We are going on an underground city tour and we are going to a Mariners game.”

I was jealous of these two activities. The Mariners were playing the Padres on this evening. The Padres have been my favorite team for over twenty years now. I have never seen them play. In fact I have never seen a real baseball game. I have been to the Metrodome and to Kauffman Stadium on numerous occasions, but that doesn’t count as real baseball. They use the Designated Hitter. Then I reminded myself that an interleague game at an American League stadium did not qualify as real baseball either. They would be using the great abomination as well. Still, I would like to see the Padres play some time, even if it is under such conditions.

The underground tour would be fascinating as well. If I ever do make it to Seattle, it is the one thing I would have to do. Seattle has a fascinating history in this respect. I’m a sucker for almost all kinds of history.

“Chris Young is pitching tonight. You’ll have to watch his control early in the game. If he throws strikes early in the game he will dominate. If he his is going deep in the count in the early innings, he will have a short night. There is no middle ground for him. He either has control or he doesn’t.”

“I’ll have to watch for that.”

“The underground tour, that would be the number one thing that I would want to see if I went to Seattle.”

“Why is that?”

“Seattle has a unique history and their underground is unlike any other in the world. Their city started to sink, so they just changed what was considered ground level and what was ground level is still there, but now it is underground.”

“That does sound pretty cool.”

“It sounds fascinating. You’ll have to let me know how it was.”

“I’ll let you get back to work.”

“Later.”

I left work at about 6 pm. I was supposed to be at Colleen’s for supper around 7 pm. We were having a giant birthday supper for all of the May birthdays. Rebecca, Nate, Colleen, and I all had the great pleasure of being born in May. Nate and Bethany were coming back from Minnesota for Rebecca’s graduation and this was really the only time that we would all be available to sup together.

It was my birthday, but it was really just like any other day. There were times in the past when I would take my birthday off and do whatever I wanted. I would make my birthday my own 24 hours of hedonism. I would only do the things that I enjoyed. I would even have grand birthday bashes where I would send out birthday invitations that glorified me. Those days were behind me now. I was perfectly content to let my birthday pass by just like it was any other day on the calendar. I didn’t want or need birthday presents. Today was an adequate birthday. It was a day like any other. That was all I wanted.

(Secretly though I did covet a couple of birthday presents and I have gotten one of those presents and I have an IOU for the other.) I have found though that whether or not you want presents or not, people some times insist on giving them to you. Which is alright, I guess.

I arrived at Colleen’s at about 7:15. She greeted me at the door. Rebecca and Kirk were there, but Bethany and Nate were not there. For the tenth straight time that I have been to Colleen’s, Kirk was watching some form of auto racing. It seemed like a waste of such a nice television.

“Where are Nate and Bethany?” I asked. It had been a while since I had seen either of them. I don’t think I had seen Bethany since we went to the Sculpture Garden and I don’t think I had seen Nate since the Jordis Unga concert.

“They are still on the road.” Colleen answered. “Apparently they had to stop somewhere because Bethany wanted to buy a camera.”

I took a seat and waited. I looked at the television. There were trucks driving around in a circle. I don’t know much about racing, but I hope this wasn’t the big race of the week for truck racers. There must have been maybe 100-200 people in the stands. I did not make any comments deriding auto racing though. I have quietly come to accept the fact that auto racing has invaded all of my families on some levels. Although I have accepted the fact with a defeated dignity, I figured that I would take a few jabs at the “sport” when Nate was present. He had the ability to do it in a good natured way where feelings were only bruised and not injured. If I started in with Rebecca as my backup, things might get personal.

So I turned to Rebecca. “Are your hands clean?”

“Why?”

“I got that book that is going into Kelly’s Salon, if you would like to check it out.”

“Sure.”

I handed the box in the book with it over to her.

“Good news,” I said, “Your picture came yesterday, so I just need to get it matted and then it will be ready for Sunday. Are you going to be around tomorrow?”

“I will be in the morning. I’m going to a Slaughterhouse 6 show at Vaudeville Mews tomorrow night and I have some graduation parties to go to.”

“What time are you getting up in the morning?”

“Pretty early. Probably about 9.”

I knew that meant 11.

“Did you like that Van Gogh book that I got you?”

“Yeah. It is pretty neat. I think it will come in real useful when I go to college.”

“I hope it does.”

It was then that the door opened and Nate walked in with Bethany. Nate looked at the television and saw that racing was on the television. Nate had been admiring the television for quite some time. He held his tongue, but the look on his face clearly indicated that he thought that this was a waste of a perfectly good television.

Bethany looked at me and said, “Hey Chris!”

Whenever Bethany is going to ask me for a favor or for my help she always starts the request with these two words and an identical inflection. This is the type of inflection that makes the two word “hey” and “Chris” a question more than a declarative statement.

I already knew that a request was about to be made and I already knew that the request was going to be granted. What I didn’t know was what the request was going to be.

“Yes Bethany.”

“What are you doing tomorrow?”

“I don’t have anything scheduled per se.” I still didn’t have much information. “Except that I’m going to be delivering Rebecca’s picture signature board thing.”

“Can you help me buy a camera?”

Wow! This was something I was actually, sort of qualified to do. In fact, people had sought my advice about buying a camera quite frequently lately. Only every single time I had given my advice and backed it up with reasons, the advisees had bought something completely different.

“Yeah, I can do that. I’m actually pretty excited about it. Perhaps you might listen to my advice.” I said and thought “rather than completely wasting my time”. Why don’t people listen to me? They come to me for a reason, but then they just wander off into the wilderness. Fools and knaves! All of them!

I stroked my goatee knowingly and then I asked, “What time were you thinking?”

Bethany sat there for a second.

Nate chimed in, “Why don’t you ask her what time she is going to get up.” Brothers are always there to help.

I acted on Nate’s advice, “What time are you going to get up?”

“I can get up and be ready by noon.”

“Then we’ll go at noon.”

Racing trucks roared in the background.

Moments later we were sitting around the kitchen table eating supper. Colleen had fixed a wondrous spread. It included turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, and asparagus. There were also various salads but I’m not going to try to describe them. I’m sure they were varying forms of pasta salad, but that is all I can say about them for sure, besides that they were delicious. This is a gap in my schooling that I have looked to close in recent weeks. I have yet to be successful.

After dinner I sat down in the chair where I couldn’t get a clear look at the screen. Trucks were still driving around in a circle. It boggles my mind that at this point they had been doing this for over 2 hours.

Nate, Bethany, and Rebecca all sat down around the television. We were all miserable from eating too much food. It was a good kind of miserable though.

In the kitchen Colleen and Kirk did the dishes and cut up the birthday cake. Even though it seemed that I couldn’t eat any more food, I managed to eat a piece of cake. It was a good cake, but it wasn’t the caliber of cake made by Nate. I think I would have added a third thing to my secret birthday list, but in retrospect what Nate did give me was almost as good as a Nate cake. Besides, he certainly didn’t have the time to make a cake while he was down this weekend. Nate makes such good cakes. Perhaps if he asks me for a birthday list next year, I’ll just point to my belly and tell him to make if full and happy. Happy with cake.

Even though I did not desire anything, I was given a couple of birthday presents afterwards. It not being just my birthday, I was not the only one. Rebecca had brought bag purses for Bethany and Colleen from the Senior Trip to New York City. One was a “Prada” and the other was a “Coach”. I received a pretty sweet stocking cap that says New York City on it. It makes me look even tougher than I normally do. When I wear it I will no doubt scare small children.

From Colleen and Kirk I got a copy of the first season of “The Office”. Always an excellent choice.

Shortly after the cake had been eaten, Sara H. showed. Sara had just graduated from college. She told me how she was going to work for Habitat for Humanity for a year in North Carolina to be near her boyfriend who goes to Davidson.

The thought crossed my mind about her working on a construction crew. It might be possible that her mastery over profanity could be taken to the next level. Habitat might be a non-profit organization, but I refuse to believe that anybody can frame a house and put up dry wall with out the occasional f bomb flying out of their mouth. Well, perhaps the Amish.

She ruined this dream. She is going to be doing office work. How boring.

After a few more minutes of polite conversation, Bethany and Sara H. left for a bar in the west end of town.

A little after they left, Colleen and Kirk left for the bar. That left the television remote unguarded and up for grabs. Rebecca and Nate both made a move for the remote, but Rebecca is younger and was quicker.

She turned the television to TBS and just like that truck racing was replaced by “Sex and the City”. Nate grumbled at this development.

“This is only marginally better than watching auto racing.” Nate declared.

I moved to the couch so that I could actually see the television screen. Nate grumbled some more. Then he watched in silence for about five minutes.

“Well, I’ve seen all of this I can take.” Then Nate got up off the couch and left to go to the bar.

This left just me and Rebecca. Watching “Sex and the City” reruns on a Friday night.

“Do you hate ‘Sex and the City’?” Rebecca asked.

“I’ve been more or less conditioned to watch this show.”

Then we more or less sat in silence watching the remainder of the episode where one character hooked up with the guy from “Office Space”, one character decided that she really did love her baby’s father, one character realized her relationship could only go so far because her boyfriend was Jewish, and I can’t remember the problems of the fourth character. The show ended and we watched another episode. Same problems.

“Sex and the City” was followed by an episode of “Scrubs”. About half way through this show I got up and said, “Well, I better call it a night. I have to get up early tomorrow to do some matting.”

Rebecca wished me a good night. As I walked down the stairs, through the door, and out to my car I had one thought cross my mind:

“This was a perfectly adequate birthday and there was nothing wrong with that.”


Bennett's Run
Former Birthday Party Invitation – Parody of “Logan’s Run”

06-03-07
Present from Rebecca – Photo by Corey Schmidt

06-28-07
One of my “secret birthday wishes” – Stained Glass Made by Jen

Mintuia – Chapter 5: HobbyLobbyphobia

Chapter 5: HobbyLobbyphobia

I’m not used to having an agenda when I’m dining with my friends. I like to keep things loose. Not on this day though. I was having lunch with Monica and I had an agenda. Monica is my matting expert. We were meeting to discuss the plans for Rebecca’s graduation “present”.

Rebecca is somebody that does not like to have her picture taken. It is not a family trait, but Nate also is afflicted by this condition. This is Rebecca’s senior year. When she needed somebody to take her Senior Pictures she asked me. I agreed to take her pictures, but I had to tell her I am not a portrait photographer. We may have to attempt this on a few different occasions due to my lack of skill. She accepted this deal because she was more comfortable with me taking her picture rather than a stranger.

It turned out that there was enough useful material from one photo shoot for her to pick a few different pictures out for gifts and to use as wallet sized pictures to hand out to her friends. What I wanted to do was make a giant picture out of one of those pictures. Then mat the picture with a black mat board. Then place everything in a silver frame. Then have people at her graduation party sign the mat board with a silver sharpie.

I had run this idea by Rebecca a few weeks ago and she thought the idea was fair to excellent. I told her I didn’t really know what she would be able to do with this picture after her graduation party.

She thought for a second and then said, “Maybe I’ll get into having really big pictures of myself.”

We picked out a suitable black and white photo and I thought about ordering it. I didn’t order it though. I waited.

At the same time I was also working on putting together a “photo book” for Kelly’s Salon. I also needed to order 20 5×7 pictures for June and Dean to give out to celebrate their 50th Wedding Anniversary.

I normally order all of my enlargements from Adorama. They are a company that is based out of New York City and they do an incredible job. They are fast on the turnaround and even with paying shipping I always save a tidy sum thanks to their low prices.

However, Adorama does not have very much to offer when it comes to gimmicky photo gifts, like a photo book. Instead, I decided to design and order my photo book through Sony Image Station. I figured that I might as well order everything through them. I knew this was a risk because I didn’t have any history with them. So I ordered everything a couple of weeks in advance and hoped that they would come through.

By the end of the first week, my photo book had arrived. The photos did not. It was now the Wednesday before Rebecca’s graduation. The photos still hadn’t arrived.

Monica met me at work for lunch. She gave me total control over where we ate because she said that she was “tired of making decisions”. This was fine with me, I hated the awkward moments of negotiating an eating place that we both didn’t hate, but that usually meant that neither of us loved it either.

I was having a hankering for the club sandwich from the West Street Deli. While my search for the best tenderloin in the state continues, my search for the world’s best club sandwich was completed earlier this year when I took my first bite into the pure goodness that is the West Street Deli club.

There is just one problem with the West Street Deli. There is never any parking. At least not during the day. So I brewed up a back up plan. If there was no parking at the West Street Deli, we would go to Chinese Homestyle Cooking, home of the 2nd best crab rangoons in existence and the best restaurant owners in existence.

There wasn’t a parking spot to be had anywhere near the West Street Deli, so I drove the two blocks to Chinese Homestyle Cooking. It was a compromise that I was willing to make because in the back of my mind I knew that I was going to get that club sandwich eventually.

As I turned into the small parking lot that is shared by Flying Burrito, CHC and some gas station, I realized that there wasn’t a parking spot to be had. I drove across the street and parked in the Taco Bell parking lot.

We got out of the car and I stared at a sign that said, “Taco Bell Customer Parking Only”. I thought about the time when I was running Campus and the store manager at Duff parked in our parking lot to go to a nearby bar. I had her car towed. When I think back at all the time I wasted with that organization that might be the best thing I ever did.

The Store Manager at Duff was the Owner and the Son-in-Law’s favorite, so they were pretty angry when they found out what I had done. It was still worth it. They hated me either way. It was better that they hated me for a reason.

They told me that I wasn’t allowed to tow cars any longer. Like everything else they told me, I ignored it. I continued to tow cars. It was my public service. I was keeping drunks from being behind the wheel. Plus, you can’t beat the entertainment of somebody coming in on Saturday or Sunday morning after they have sobered up and asking if I might tell them where they could find their car. It was the only thing that made working on weekends worthwhile to me.

I hoped karma wouldn’t come back and get me as we crossed the street. I hoped that my car was still there when we crossed this street again.

Once inside CHC I ordered pepper beef and an order of crab rangoons. Monica ordered mongolian beef. We sat down and waited for our food.

As we waited Monica began telling me some of the burdens of management. Although Monica loves her job it reminded me that I don’t really miss management. I don’t really miss “responsibility”. I have responsibility in my job, but at the end of the day I’m only responsible for myself. I don’t miss being responsible for other people. I don’t miss it at all. Every day when I leave my job, I don’t think about it again until the next time I show up for work. In actuality, so much of my job is clicking and waiting and busy work, I can go large chunks of my workday without thinking about my job. This is a tremendous luxury.

I listened to her stresses and gave her what comforting words I could muster, but I was really still thinking, I’m glad I’m not responsible for “Co-Worker X”. Explaining that person’s actions to my superior would sure be a painful process.

It was then that the food came. Monica asked the foolish question of whether or not she could have one of the crab rangoons.

“No, but you must have two.”

She laughed at this display of wit. Or it was the uneasy laughter of somebody who was just relieved that they weren’t going to have to watch me eat all four of these fantastic appetizers.

After she ate one she did agree with me that only the crab rangoons at New China in Boone are superior. Then we had an awkward interaction where we agreed that the flat rangoon is superior to the bunched up rangoon. Although we decided we knew what we were trying to say, we really weren’t very good at describing the physical appearance of the two known types of rangoons.

Monica then began picking at the white flaky things that were in her food.

“What are these?”

“I don’t know.”

“I’m not crazy about them.” She said and then began about the serious business of picking them all out of her meal.

I wondered how she could not enjoy every single aspect of CHC. I wondered what Mike (the man that turned me onto CHC) would think if he saw her do such a thing. I averted my eyes. I pretended I didn’t see what was going on. I concentrated on my plate of pepper beef and its inherent goodness. I hoped to just get out of here without any attention being drawn to what was going down on her side of the booth.

I decided to calm my nerves. I would just start the agenda.

“This is what I got planned. The picture is black and white. The picture is 20×30. The mat will be black. The frame will be 24×36. The frame will be silver. People will write on the mat with a silver sharpie. How do you think that will look?”

“I think that will look awesome.”

I knew Monica would like it. From the style of her paintings I know that she preferred a dark palette. I knew from experience that she hates pastels. HATES PASTELS!! Even though I always tried to convince her that it was silly to hate pastels because every color has its purpose, she has yet to admit to the validity of my point. She still hates pastels.

“Do you think this is something that we can pull off?”

“The picture is 20×30?”

“Correct.”

“The mat board will by 24×36?”

“Correct.”

“You need this done by when?”

“Graduation is Sunday, but I don’t know when I would be able to work on this because the picture has not arrived yet.”

“You want me to cut this?”

“I didn’t buy a mat board cutter for you not to cut mat boards for me.” This statement wasn’t actually true, I was hoping I would become skilled in the art of mat cutting and not need to rely so heavily on Monica or the area craft stores.

Monica thought for a second and said, “I have a better idea. How about I go pick out a mat board and we’ll have Hobby Lobby cut it for us.”

I was about to agree to this suggestion, with one caveat, but then the wife of the husband-wife team that owns CHC stopped by our table.

“How is everything?” She asked.

“Excellent.” I said.

Then she looked down at Monica’s plate. We were busted. Although I had no implicit guilt in the crime that had been committed, I felt like I was certainly an accessory to the crime.

“You don’t like the rice noodles?” She asked Monica.

“No not really, they’re kind of weird.”

This caused the Wife of the husband wife team launched into a long diatribe about how the rice noodles were made. She went into great detail about how when you started cooking them they were very small and they rapidly expanded while they were being cooked.

She was very passionate about the food. I felt bad that Monica didn’t like the rice noodles. Monica assured her that she loved everything but the rice noodles. The rice noodles were just too weird.

The Wife accepted this answer and gave Monica some suggestion about things she could order next time she came. Menu items that didn’t have weird stuff in it. Then she moved on to the next table.

“Where were we?” I started up the conversation again.

“I think this is a really big mat to cut. It would be really expensive to make a mistake on it. So I think we should take the mat to Hobby Lobby and have them cut it.”

“I can agree to that. Except I have one caveat.”

“And that is?”

“That you go to Hobby Lobby and do all of the talking.”

“Why is that?”

“I don’t like Hobby Lobby employees.”

“What?”

“I don’t like Hobby Lobby employees.” I reiterated.

“Why not?”

“They aren’t interested in helping you and they are mean.”

Monica wanted me to provide examples and so I told her stories about one Hobby Lobby employee yelling at another Hobby Lobby employee just because the first Hobby Lobby employee was actually assisting Jesse. It got so heated that the manager had to step in and he sided with the second employee. When Jesse asked if he could get some help from any Hobby Lobby employee, the manager told him, “No. This department closes in half an hour and we have lots of work to do.”

I was not interested in experiencing this situation on my own. In my own experience I had found Hobby Lobby employees not interested in being helpful and not knowledgeable about nearly anything.

In addition to those facts, it seems that Hobby Lobby hates men. That would seem to be a facetious statement about a store that is clearly aimed towards women, but if you ever look at the types of things that they stock that are male specific you will see that they think that men are Neanderthals. Everything is the ugliest fishing, sports, or golf memorabilia. It is all hideous.

The men’s restroom is filled with terribly ugly golf course pictures. Everything is just so ugly.

When I do go to Hobby Lobby I try to get my stuff and get out as quickly as possible. This never turns out well for me because no matter how busy Hobby Lobby seems to be, they refuse to open up a second register and I always get in line behind the lady that is buying 100 glass objects that the cashier has to individually wrap.

Monica soaked in my points and agreed that after I dropped her off at her car she would go to Hobby Lobby and try to negotiate the mat board that I needed out of those people.

We finished up our meal and walked back across the street to Taco Bell. My car was still there. I had won this round.

About one hour after I dropped Monica off at her car, she returned with my mat board. It was cut perfectly. It was exactly what I wanted. It was a thing of beauty.

“How much do I owe you?”

“It was fourteen dollars.”

“I don’t carry cash; can I bring you money to your work tomorrow night?”

“That works.”

The Monica turned and was gone. Now all I needed was for the picture to show up.

Minutia – Chapter 2: Beans

Chapter 2: Beans

I do not get many e-mails at work. The ones I get are either related to a phone system failure that doesn’t affect me, the aisle copier being broken, new orders, or loaner requests. If I get a personal e-mail it is usually a link to read a story about or watch a video containing somebody doing something pretty darn stupid. Then there are the occasional e-mails that are of an actual correspondence nature. I wonder if I end up being a person of consequence someday, whether or not future historians or psychiatrists will have access to my pile of correspondence e-mails and what they will decide they say about me. I wonder what theories they will postulate about my decisions. I wonder what theories they will postulate about my motivations. I wonder what theories they will postulate about my mental health. I then stop myself from wondering. It is a futile enterprise to wonder what future generations might make of the sum of your life. For when they are, you will not be.

My wonderings aside, if it turns out that I go on to a smashing career in the field of commercial photography, there is one correspondence and one date that will be considered the genesis of that career. Historians will remember that it was a Wednesday. The time was 11:45 in the morning. The following e-mail blazed across the server at the computer mine and landed squarely in my inbox.

My boss just walked into my office and asked me to call a photographer that we’ve been working with. She didn’t do what we needed to have done. I asked why we work with her if she’s been difficult to deal with in the past.

He said something about just being convenient. So, I mentioned that I know a guy…and I had him look through your calendar. He’s interested in talking to you about doing a shoot for us.

Right now we’re looking at needing some close-up photos of roasted corn and soy beans. Would you have time (or want) to swing by {COMPANY NAME CENSORED TO PROTECT THE INNOCENT} today or tomorrow to speak with him?

You can say a lot of bad things about the Photography 139 calendar and its extensive use of free labor, but for the first time ever, it actually worked as a bit of advertising. 5 months ago when Shannon “purchased” her copy of the Photography 139 calendar and hung it up in her office at work, it began what would be the process that would on this day lead her to sending me an e-mail asking me whether or not I would be interested in an audition for a gig as a commercial photographer.

I read the e-mail and thought a second. Then I replied thus:

I could stop by and discuss it at least. I’m not what you would call a gifted commercial photographer, but I could give it a try.

What time were you thinking?

After a couple of more e-mail exchanges it was established that I would come in on Thursday and discuss the possibility of taking close-up pictures of soy beans and roasted corn.

I wasn’t sure really what they wanted. I wondered if they wanted to send me off to some farm to take pictures of somebody’s operation. I wondered if they would want me to do this photo “shoot” in their offices. I wondered if I was just to be a trained monkey for their amusement. You know, like at my old job, before I worked the mines.

I did know that one thing was likely. I would probably officially have to cancel the tenderloin road trip for Saturday. That was fine, because the tenderloin road trip that was planned was not tenderloin based, but was dance recital based. Frankly I wasn’t comfortable with the lack of purity.

So it was then that I sent an e-mail to Baier explaining the situation. He sent me a one word reply:

“Booooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!!!”

I know it hardly qualifies as a rebuttal, however his response is what passes for discourse for people from Audubon.

I arrived at Shannon’s place of work at 1 pm. I had been there in the past, so when I walked in and saw nobody around, I began to walk toward her office. I only made it about as far as their massive television set, when Shannon showed up from the back room and indicated her boss would be with me shortly and invited me to sit down on the couch next to the massive television. I did what I was invited to do and wished that we had a couch like this back at the mine.

After a couple of minutes, her boss ran by and said something about, “being busy fighting fires.” I had a flashback to that previous job where the owner used to stay he didn’t want his managers to be “fire fighters”. He wanted us to be “boat captains”. This would lead into rhetoric about how the “Pre-shift Checklist” was the elixir that prevented fires from cropping up on your ship. That man loves his boat captain analogies almost as much as he love shoveling Grade A cow dung straight down his employees throats.

I wasn’t here for a walk down bad memory lane though. I was here to learn about the possibility of earning a little extra scratch through one of my passions. As I sat on the couch I did start to have a desire to turn on the massive television. It was unlikely that this television was hooked up to cable or satellite. It was even more unlikely that even if it had been I would have been able to find anything on daytime television that was more interesting than snow or the most recent development, the “unusable signal” channel. A favorite channel in the Baier household I would learn soon enough.

As I thought about touching the massive television, the Boss returned in the same rapid gait and uttered something to the effect that he was busy and I could just talk to Shannon. This was fine with me. It was what I preferred. Even though this was hardly what I would classify as a job interview, I still didn’t really want to go through the process of answer questions about my alleged photography skills with a stranger. I am not a person good at being interviewed. Maybe it is because I don’t like being judged. Whatever the reason, my interview skills are probably the reason that the only two jobs I’ve had for an extended period of time have involved Lowell.

I got up and started walking towards what I perceived to be Shannon’s office. To which she indicated that I was heading in the wrong direction. Her office had moved. So I turned and walked in the opposite direction back towards the door. Towards her new office.

I sat down in her office next to a file cabinet with a clear flaw. I noticed this immediately, but because this was to be a pseudo-professional meeting, I let it slide. “It” being an Iowa Hawkeye football schedule magnet.

Shannon is a Panther by education. This is fair enough. I do not hold this against her. Not everybody can go to Iowa State. Yet, when she is asked to pick a side between Iowa or Iowa State she reveals a terrible character flaw by choosing the Hawkeyes.

There was some polite conversation to begin this meeting, but then the conversation moved towards what they needed from me.

“We need close-up pictures of soy bean nuts and roasted corn on a white background. They will be used for a website and brouchures.”

Then she produced two clear bags. One was about ¼ full of soybean nuts. The other was about 1/3 full of roasted corn.

“Sorry, but this is all we have left. We gave the rest to the other photographer. I guess this is where you get to be creative.”

It was a fair enough observation. It does sound like an incredibly boring job. Taking pictures of beans. Where do I sign up? I would learn in the near future that most people seem to think that this involves taking one picture, and then you are done. It is quite a bit harder than you would think. And I allegedly know what I’m doing.

I didn’t want to make the same mistakes as my predecessor. That lady was in the unemployment line. So I asked, “So what was wrong with the other images.”

“Too low of a resolution. Plus you can’t tell whether or not you’re looking at beans or whether you are looking at roasted corn.”

I looked closer at the bags that were in my hands. If you did look closely, they were slightly different. This really only left me with two questions:

“When do you need these by?”

“Pretty soon.”

I knew I couldn’t work on this project tonight. It was Rebecca’s birthday dinner at Shorty and Doris’. I wouldn’t be able to work on it Friday night because that was Friday Night Supper Club and besides being sacred, we were also breaking in Willy’s new pad. I had cleared up Saturday. It would have to be Saturday because Sunday was Mother’s Day.

“Would Monday be soon enough?” I offered, but actually thinking that it wouldn’t be soon enough.

“That would be perfect.” Shannon said.

“What resolution are you looking to get?” I asked my final question.

“I’m not sure. I’ll have to ask the Boss.”

That concluded the business end of this meeting, I thought. Yet there was one question still to be decided. I had never thought about this question. That question was money.

“How much do you want to be paid?”

I hadn’t really considered that I might have to enter into a negotiation. Another reason I was glad to be dealing with Shannon rather than some stranger.

“I don’t know.”

Shannon quickly answered with, “That is what I told him you would say.”

It hurt to be so predictable, but it has never been my goal to be unpredictable. My goal has always been to be me. Who ever that might be?

So I answered the best way that I could: “Just pay me whatever you were paying the other photographer.”

That seemed to settle it. The business had been settled. Shannon gave me a run down of what they did at her company. They mostly produce football highlight videos for a third party. I scored 2 Cyclone highlight video DVDs. Then she showed me shelves and shelves filled with boxes and boxes that were filled with DVDs for high schools. Apparently the high school videos don’t sell very well. She showed me a list of schools in Iowa for which they produced these videos.

There is one thing that has always annoyed me. It is when people who aren’t involved in a business want to tell you what is wrong with your business. Even though this is a major pet peeve of mine, I couldn’t help but start running my mouth about what I perceived to be their problem.

“These are all large schools. That is why they aren’t selling. What they need to do is focus on small towns that having nothing going on but their high school football programs. Places like Madrid, Harlan, or Aplington-Parkersburg. There might not be as large of a customer base, but these people are going to buy them.”

It harkened me back to a particular customer from my past. I can’t remember his name, but he was an Engineering Professor at Iowa State, allergic to onions, potentially stalking me, and a super sized jerk.

The night that Campus closed one of the first things I did was take down the drive-thru menu board. While I was out there, Professor Know-it-all pulled up to the drive-thru speaker.

“Am I too late!” he bellowed out a half question and a half snarl.

“Yep we closed at 7.” I said, trying not to engage him in conversation but answering his question.

“This is too bad. I think you guys really could have made this work.” He said and then looked off at the distance like people do who are having deep thoughts and are about to say something compelling. What he did say was this, “What you guys needed was a hook. Something to get people in the door.” Then he made eye contact with me and continued, “You should have given people a free drink when they ordered something else.”

He continued the eye contact as if to tell me two things. He didn’t need my approval of his idea and secondly I should acknowledge his wisdom by pointing out the greatness of his idea.

I said, “Yeah that might have worked.” Then I grabbed up my tools and walked back into the story, leaving the genius alone in the night to think his genius thoughts. I’m pretty certain his thought was that he had saved the store. I was going to go in and tell the owner this brilliant idea. The owner would then say something about boat captains and change his mind about closing the store.

In reality I went inside and told some of my fellow Campusites about what I had just endured and we all had a good chuckle at the knave.

Truth be told, there was nothing that was going to save Campus. The owner had wanted to close the store down for years and years. He was emotionally invested in closing the store down. He had done everything possible to make sure it closed and certainly wasn’t interested in any ideas that might actually help the bottom line. On the contrary he was interested in ideas that would hurt the bottom line so that he would have more ammunition to take with him to the corporation as he pleaded with them to let him close it down.

Even if Campus would have been blessed with an owner that was interested in making Campus into a profitable venture, giving away free drinks was possibly the worst idea imaginable. Food cost on a soda is around 3.5%. Food cost on a sandwich is sometimes as high as 60%. You don’t make a profit by giving away the thing that makes you most of your money. Add in the labor involved in making a sandwich and you probably lost money on it. But a person would have to get over 30 free refills to put a dent in your profit margin.

Laughable! The ideas of that knave!

Perhaps that is the exact thought that was going through Shannon’s mind when she said, “Actually the problem is that they try to sell them for fifty-five bucks.”

I conceded her point that these DVDs were in fact priced out of the marketplace. She then offered me any high school DVD that I wanted. There weren’t any areal teams, but I thought that Jay was a graduate of Cedar Rapids Kennedy and they were on the list. Shannon snagged me a copy of their 2006 DVD. I was disappointed to see that the Cedar Rapids Kennedy Cougars had flat out stolen their logo from the Kansas State Wildcats. Whatever happened to originality?

After I had collected up my DVDs the Boss streaked by again and blurted out “RAW!” I now had all the answers I needed to tackle my project. I had a format. Which isn’t the same thing as a resolution, but it worked for me.

I left her office loaded up on DVDs, soy beans, and roasted corn. As I drove back to work I called Jay’s answering machine and left the following message:

“Jay Janson! Jay Janson! Were you a cougar?” I might have growled a smidge as well.

I decided to do this shoot outside. Saturday was a tad bit windy, but I would take the wind for the better light and the joy of working outside. I was also concerned that bright light was also going to make shadows somewhat troublesome. So my plan was to rely a little bit on fill flash and a little bit on the gentle shadow of the garage.

It turned out that the joy of working outside was slightly diminished by the neighbors across the alley. They had chosen this weekend to rent a power sprayer to clean their deck furniture and the toys of their children. This steady noise was not the blissful peace that I had imagined.

When I am working in a creative way, I strongly prefer to listen to jazz or classical, but mostly jazz. In particular I find I respond best to the albums that Miles Davis recorded in the mid 1960s right before he got hardcore into fusion. Although the sound of water hitting plastic at breakneck speed might have fit in decently with “Bitches Brew” or “Dark Magus” it wasn’t doing anything for me on this day. It was not mixing well with “Miles in the Sky”.

So I switched my background music to a little harder stuff. I found that Led Zeppelin nicely covered up the sound of noisy neighbors. Although I’m not sure what the other people in the neighborhood used to cover up the sound of this noisy neighbor.

I shouldn’t go into great detail about what happened when I finally started taking pictures of my subjects. I could. I’m sure that there are many interesting things I could discuss about exposure compensation, depth of field, aperture setting, saturation, sharpness, and leveling tripods. I will leave all that out because I don’t really like to discuss how I do what I do. I like it be sufficient for people to know that I do do what I do.

I will just state that it is a lot harder to tell whether beans are in focus or not. Way harder than it sounds. Let us just say that I eventually got enough of something on the memory card. I had enough to at least present something to Shannon. Whether that something was going to be good enough, I didn’t know. I did know that I was not a gifted commercial photographer and spending an afternoon photographing beans is more interesting than it sounds. I called it a day.

I burned the best of what I had onto a disc and went to visit Shannon again. She was in a rush to go somewhere, so the interaction was brief. I dropped off the disc. She looked them over and said she thought they looked good, but she was not the final word.

I acknowledged her compliment and indicated that it is a lot harder than a person thinks to tell if a bean is in focus.

I then left her to do what she had to do. She said that she would show the bean photos to her boss and they would get back to me today.

I returned to work and felt a little bad. I was worried that the Boss would look at the pictures and tell Shannon that this was the lousiest set of bean pictures he had ever laid eyes on. Then I would get the following e-mail:

The Boss says that your bean photos are no good. Get out of here kid! You got no future!

Unlike Marty McFly though, I can handle that type of rejection. It might be the only type of rejection I can handle, but I handle that type of rejection.

However it wasn’t the rejection that worried me. I would have felt bad for Shannon if she would have had to tell me that I suck. That is a hard thing for one friend to have to tell another friend. Even when it has to be done, like when you have a friend walking around insisting that “Shrek 2” was way better than “Shrek” and you have to tell him to stop doing that because he is embarrassing himself.

As I contemplated this potential dilemma, an e-mail popped into my inbox. It read:

I finally just got your CD to the Boss. When I asked him what he thought, he said something to the effect of, “I think we just found our new close-up photographer.” So my opinion was valid. They are great photos!

I was relieved and excited, but yet I wished that they would use the term “Macro Photographer”. Is that too anal?

Other Projects

A note to let you know that I haven’t forgotten about the Artist’s Notebook. In fact I have so many things to write about that I don’t know where to begin. There was the trip to Minnesota to see the Foo Fighters, there was Rebecca’s senior picture shoot, and Halloween of course. I might even write a little bit about the Iowa State Football season, but right now I’m just going to go to bed.