All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy

It’s a busy week of meetings with my global business team, as we plot world domination, and crush the souls of the working class between the grinding cogs of capitalism. So here’s a rerun of a post from a few years back about the joy of closing factories, and putting people out of work.

The first thing you notice is the scent. Before you have even stepped onto the production floor, the smells of the factory hit you. Oil, grease, and cleaning fluids, combine to form a perfume that hangs in the air. You have been inside of many of these places, in many different countries, and the odor is always the same. You could say it was the smell of labor, but you have not earned the right.

The sounds are the next things to hit the senses, the hum of machinery, the thump of presses, mix with the ever present beep of a fork lift somewhere in the distance. Voices die in the noise, so you bend close to the speaker as he shouts above the din. You catch every third word, and nod as if you understand. Even if you heard the words, you would not fully understand what it means to stand there amidst the clamor for hours, days, and years until the sounds blended together into a beat as comforting as a mother’s heart.

Your eyes dart around to find your bearings. Everywhere you look is a maze of machinery, bodies, and metal, stacked and placed according to a design you cannot decipher. Tagged, numbered, inventoried, everything has its place, everything but you. As your eyes adjust to the swirl of light, and movement, you see the eyes. They are looking at you. Impassive, but curious, like deer in the woods, they watch your movements through the forest of steel.

You stop at a station, and your guide gestures, and explains where the man ends, and the machine begins. You put out a hand to shake, and touch flesh the strength and texture of wood. You know they feel your weakness. There amidst the jungle of machinery is a locker, adorned with photos, and a few stickers. Look close and they tell the story of a life outside of these walls. They serve as a reminder that they live apart from the machine, although it is easy to believe they are always here. Three shifts a day, the hum and rattle of metal hardening them until they stiffen like statues.

You think of the statues in your own past, Mother’s, Father’s, Aunt’s, and Uncle’s, who stood for days at their machines, and dreamed of escape. They bought your freedom. You look into their eyes, and feel ashamed. What have you done with it? Where has your education taken you? You talk, and calculate for a living. Your words and math hold the fate of many in your hands. A few words, and string of numbers and someone would come and cut them away from their machines. The wires cut, the hoses dangling, as the machine is boxed up and sent away where someone hungrier will be yoked to it.

You do not deserve such power. You have not earned it. Their eyes stare back at you, and you look away.

They know why you have come, and they say


Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio? Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you. Woo, woo, woo…

That I am a lover of nostalgia, has been well established by now. And if my sentimentality is not enough to turn your stomach, let me add my love of “authenticity” to the list of pretensions.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the trend for the past 20 years has been an increasing “corporatization” of minor league baseball. One by one the old wooden, small town ball parks have been disappearing, as MLB pulls their affiliates into larger markets and looks to squeeze as much cash as they can out of their farm system. I understand that the economics of minor league baseball have changed irrevocably. The romantic day’s of long bus rides to Podunkville, and cold showers are things of the past, and today’s prospects are treated far better than pro’s were 40, or 50 years ago. However, I really am having a hard time accepting the heavy handed MLB branding initiatives that are going on behind the scenes in the minor leagues.

Here’s a link to the only site that I can find that gives a comprehensive overview of the problem.

I don’t think I am being a conspiracy nut about this, but as you look at these different caps & logo designs it’s apparent that there is just a small handful of design templates, and one MLB appointed graphic design firm at work here.

Compare the artwork in the following three logos. I call this template, the “Ginormous Mascot with Club” design

Clinton Lumberkings

Clinton Lumberkings

Lake County Captains

Lake County Captains

Trenton Thunder

Trenton Thunder

Then there is the “Mascot Peeking Through Initials” design template:

My Beloved Muckdogs

My Beloved Muckdogs

Binghampton Bees / Mets

Binghampton Bees / Mets

Greensboro Grasshoppers

Greensboro Grasshoppers

Finally, we have the most egregious of the designs. “The Anthropomorphic Cap”

Lake Elsinore Storm

Lake Elsinore Storm

Orem Owls

Orem Owls

Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs

Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs

This last one is enough to give me feverish nightmares of the Amityville Horror.

I am happy to see that Minor League Clubs have begun to drop the practice of copying their MLB affiliates nicknames, and I applaud their attempts to somehow link the club to the uniqueness of the local community by choosing nicknames that somehow connect to the history of the area. However, the heavy handed, generic, corporate approach makes me want to retch. Do they think we are that stupid? Do they think we don’t notice, or care? Do they think we will be good little consumers and lap up whatever mass produced corporate pabulum they spew our way?

Apparently yes. The “Disneyfication” of Minor League Baseball is getting out of hand. Honestly, they are straining so hard to look “cute” and “marketable” it’s hard to take them seriously. If I were a player I would be embarrassed to wear any of these caps. Not even for ironic purposes, which as a Gen-xer, is firmly established to be the end all, be all of fashion statements (Case in point, in 2003 the AAA farm club of the Dodgers, in Albuquerque New Mexico nicknamed themselves the “Isotopes” after the fictional Springfield Isotopes from the TV show The Simpson’s, and experienced a huge increase in merchandise sales.)

Personally, I think the “Poochies” would have been more appropriate.

The Itchy, Scratchy, and Poochie Show!

The Itchy, Scratchy, and Poochie Show!

If MLB really wants to tie the teams to their communities, why can’t they let each organization choose it’s own name, its own logo, and its own look? Wouldn’t it be wiser to allow each team to contract with local graphic artists, and ad agencies to develop their own image instead of using a centralized, corporate overlord from MLB to squeeze them all through the sausage maker of MLB dictated branding guidelines? I think going with local control over branding would allow the teams to forge closer ties to local companies, who will become sponsors, and advertisers, and marketing partners in the community. The result would be not only better looking business, but better business.

I know, all of American life has become mass produced, franchised, and Walmarted into anonymity. You can drive from coast to coast eating at the same restaurant, sleeping in the same motel, and getting gas at the same gas station, so why should we expect anything different?

Sigh… There’s nothing wrong with a simple letter on a cap. It’s worked for over a hundred years, and it will likely work for a hundred more.

Fox on the Run

When we last spoke about our intrepid new employee, he was lurking about the lair of my dark corporate overlords, causing mayhem and worry. That was 2 months ago, and I am happy to report that despite the best efforts of the “Wildlife Control Professionals”, our resident Robin Hood, continues to strike blows for the common man by leaving piles of fox scat in front of my boss’ window. Also of note is a decided decline in the number of rodents running about the grounds, and a total lack of goose shit in the parking lot.

For people that don’t live in northern areas, the Canadian goose must seem like a majestic waterfowl. To those of us who live within the Twin Cities they are just large, surly pigeons. After we moved into our new building 5 years ago, a flock of geese had taken up seasonal residence in the drainage pond by the parking lot, and had taken to leaving piles of goose crap all over the pavement, and sidewalk leading to the front door. Calls we made to building operations, and complaints were lodged, but in those days before wildlife control specialists, they were powerless to stop them. So we became accustomed to stepping over gooseshit on our way into and out of the building. At least until the next meeting of the board of directors, whereupon building operations showed up with a power washer and brush, and scrubbed the sidewalk leading into the building lest the gods of Corporate governance soil their slippers. Personally, I think spreading the rose petals on the sidewalk would have been good enough, but that’s why I’m only a middle manager.

So while the goose shit may have been an inconvenience, in the grand scheme of things, it was a minor one. I had once worked in an office park where the geese would routinely take shelter in the revolving doors, and hiss at any unsuspecting employee. If only management could have trained them to only do this at quitting time, productivity might have soared. Thankfully for us, our resident flock of incontinent Minnesota geese were only passive aggressive, in the great tradition of all native Minnesotans.

However, since the arrival of our furry highwayman, even the geese have decided to vacate the building. Shitting in front of the boss’ window, eating mice, and scaring away geese; much to the dismay of my Dark Corporate Overlords, Mr. Fox is proving to be a man of the people. Which has given me hope that maybe we can train him to bite the board of directors.

More stories from the road

As I’ve explained before in other stories, my first 4 years after college were spent traveling the country. Not the 60’s, hippie, hitchhiking, peace-love-and-understanding kind of travel. (That was my Big Bruddah) No, my adventure was all expenses paid by my employer. Of course, the one catch to this deal was I had to go wherever they wanted, whenever they wanted me to. Not knowing what state I was going to be in from month to month, and sometimes day to day, tended to put a crimp in planning my social calendar.

It wasn’t the easiest way to live, but it wasn’t without its charms. Had I not been living out of a suitcase and eating all my meals in restaurants, I’d have never met the lovely Mrs. 20 Prospect. I’d also have  much lower cholesterol.  For 3 years I think I ate French fries at least twice a day. Not the healthiest way to live, but far from the worst vice for a field service engineer.

Most of my co-workers and I fell into the category of social misfits, or eccentrics. It really is the perfect sort of job for a person that can’t function for any length of time in normal society. Whether I was spending weeks alone in some God-forsaken corner of the country working at a power plant, or enjoying the camaraderie of a team of coworkers it always helped to be easily entertained. I know it’s hard to believe but such locales as Colstrip, Montana; Stanton, North Dakota; Springerville, Arizona; Pascagoula, Mississippi; and Nekoosa, Wisconsin weren’t exactly hopping places. While the poets of my generation were living in Seattle, or Prague, taking in the “scene”, and spending their nights in bacchanalian orgies, I was usually sitting on my bed in a motel room watching Twin Peaks, and drinking beer from a can.

I had a simple policy that I tried to follow no matter where I traveled; I never went to bars alone. So no matter where I was stuck, unless there happened to be another field service engineer along with me, I stayed inside most evenings. Even at 22 I knew that this sort of lifestyle was all too conducive to becoming a hard core alcoholic. It seemed that in this line of work you were either single and in your early 20’s, married with kids and in your mid-30’s, or divorced and in your late 40’s. I vowed to get out while I was still young.

In the mean time, I was paying off debt, and enjoying the lessons in humanity 101 that seemed to play out before me on a daily basis. I swear I learned more about people in my 4 years of traveling, than any school could ever have taught me. The cast of characters I encountered were drawn with sharp lines, and bold colors. I think I feel a story coming on…

In the spring of 1993, I was one of four engineers on site for a 3 week outage inspection in Central Pennsylvania. We were working 7 day weeks, and the lead engineer on the job was a friend of mine named John, from Philly. He was seemingly always unshaven, cussed with every sentence he spoke, and always had a dip inside his cheek. He amused me endlessly. We’d worked together before out west, and he’d taken me under his wing like a kid brother, always looking out for me as we shot pool in cowboy bars. For my part I became a great non-judgmental resource for him to learn proper grammar, and teach him the ways of normal society.

The second engineer on the job was a short, skinny Irish kid from eastern Massachusetts named Pat. He spoke with a classic Boston accent, and looked for all the world like a leprechaun. Putting a beer into him, was like inserting a quarter in the jukebox. His mouth would start moving, and for the next 20 minutes you could just sit and listen.

The third and final engineer on the job was a 40 something guy from Texas named Steve. I’d had the displeasure of working with Steve several times before in various spots around the country. He was far from being a stellar performer, which explained why his District Manager was always shopping him around to other districts that were in desperate need of a warm body. I won’t mention his last name, except to say that it started with “R-U-D”. This is important to our story because John from Philly insisted on calling him the “Rud-Dud.”

Rud-Dud would show up at the breakfast room at the motel each morning, coffee in one hand, cigarette in the other, and a far away smile on his face. As the day went on, he would gradually become more and more cantankerous, until by 4 pm he was downright surly. John wasn’t the sort of guy that had a lot of patience for ineptitude, so he always teamed me up with the Rud-Dud. It was my job to babysit him, and make sure he didn’t wander off and find a quiet corner of the boiler to take a nap in.

I was still a pretty young and naïve guy, and as such I was curious as to why he was always so happy in the morning, and cranky in the afternoon. One Saturday afternoon as we peeled off our coveralls to eat our lunches, John looked at the clock and asked if we’d like to put in another 4 hours to finish off our work, so that we could take Sunday off. For me and Pat, it sounded like a great idea; a morning to sleep in, and lay around the motel watching TV and reading the paper. So I was surprised when the Rud-Dud refused. John lived a couple of hours away with his wife and small kids, and was hoping to be able to spend a day at home with them, so he pressed on and insisted that we put in the OT. It was at this point that Rud-Dud got squirrely, and started to sweat. He continued to refuse to stay late at the plant, and finally confessed that his issue was the local Liquor Store closed at 7pm, and wouldn’t open again until noon on Monday.

That’s when I learned to never come between and alcoholic and their alcohol. A compromise was reached, and we let Steve stop at the liquor store during our dinner break so that he could restock himself with a bottle of Jack.

Sunday passed peacefully. I sat in my room reading the NY Times, and drinking coffee, while Steve stood out on his balcony smoking and sipping on his Whiskey. When Monday arrived the weather had turned, and heavy wet snow was falling hard. We met for breakfast in the lobby before heading to the plant, and in a momentary lapse of judgment, Pat and I decided to let the Rud-Dud drive.

The snow was piling up quickly as we drove through the dark. Climbing a hill I saw a pair of headlights appear ahead of us, and begin drifting into our lane. Sitting in the passenger seat, my eyes grew big, and my mouth fell open, but the Rud-Dud just drove on staring straight ahead at the onrushing car. Finally Pat let out a scream, and yelled at him to watch the eff out, and slowly the synapses began to light up in the Rud-Dud’s cerebral cortex. He turned the wheel and veered into the other lane, just as I dropped my cup of coffee onto the seat and reached for the dashboard to brace for impact. The whole world seemed to slow down, and I can remember watching my coffee cup bounce off of the seat and land upside down in the Rud-Dud’s lap. I can remember looking out the window and seeing the open mouth of the other driver as he slid helplessly into our path. I can even remember thinking “why isn’t my life flashing before my eyes like it does in the movies? What a gyp!”

Thankfully, the angels were watching that day, and swept down from the heavens to steer us out of harms way. The other car smashed hard into our passenger side door, bounced off of the guardrail and came to a stop 100 feet down the road.  We spun in circles on the icy road and came to rest in the ditch facing back down the hill.

I sat there stunned, looking out the window at the tire marks twisting through the snow, as the Rud-Dud screamed in pain from the lap full of hot coffee, and Pat lay in the backseat spewing a stream of profanity that would make a sailor blush. I suddenly had a new appreciation for life. Brushes with death can be like that. To this day, that is the closest I have come to biting it in a car accident. Thankfully, no one was hurt and the incident soon became fodder for Pat to tell over the bar at happy hour. Hell, we even bought a round for the Rud-Dud.  Just not before breakfast.

Calgon take me away

I’m done, I’m spent, I’m exhausted. It’s been one week since I left on this trip, and I am waving the white flag. Country road, take me home… etc.

Japan is an interesting place to visit, but I find that as I get older it gets harder and harder to maintain the pace of these week long trips without wearing myself into the ground. Right now I want nothing more than a pizza, a tall cold glass of milk, and couch. Instead I get 6 hours of waiting to get on a plane, and a 12 hour flight, before stepping back into life. Then follows a two day delay for my soul to catch back up with my body, and the worst of the jet lag to dissipate. So don’t be surprised if you don’t seen much on the intertubes much in the coming days.

So enjoy some music in the comment boxes below, and say sayonara to Nippon.

Godzilla vs. Mothra

OK, it wasn’t quite a monster week flick, but today was brutal and epic in its own way. I just put in a 15 hour day, a full half of which was spent in trains or train stations. Pressed cheek to jowl with the populace of Toyko for hours on end I began to sympathize with Godzilla. If I’d have had a pair of lilliputian Japanese twins to cheer me on I’d have probably gone on a Mothra like rampage. Instead I settled for a cup of Gelato on the walk back to the hotel. Never under-estimate the power of frozen Italian confectionery to soothe the savage beast. So instead I leave you with some pics of my previous visits to Japan. Forgive me for the lack of photogenic artistry this time ’round. It’s damn hard to take evocative photos of telephone poles and cinderblock houses. As anyone that has ever been here can attest, Japan is not the picture post card perfect photo of Shinto Temples and Cherry blossoms. It’s about as lovely as a convenience store dumpster.