Wednesday, February 26, 2003

I was supposed to go to Nashville this weekend for my youngest sister's 10th birthday, but she's decided to come visit me in Atlanta instead. In light of my cancelled trip to Music City, I give you:

The Next Three Nashville Stories

I was talking to my middle sister Sara, the one in High School, on the phone last week. I love talking to her on the telephone; in the past two years, I've found she's always got interesting things to say, things like:

"This guy shot his whacker off at a basketball game last week!"

"No!" I said.

"Yes!" squealed Sara in that excited giggle way that only teenage girls can squeal.

We both started laughing, and she told me that while she was at a basketball game with her friends, a gun had gone off in the crowd. Instantly everyone ran down the bleachers and out the emergency exits. In the push to get out of the gym, ("It was crazy", she said), she turned around and relaxed, because it was obvious what had happened. There was one boy, sitting in a pool of blood. He had shot himself in the upper thigh.

Of course the kids panicking and running out assumed that one of the less fortunate kids had gone nuts and started to shoot people in the school; what had really happened was that one of the "gangsta" kids - the social grouping that emulates rap stars - had shot himself. He had a pistol tucked into the waistband of his baggy jeans. The pistol didn't have the safety on. When he stood up to do the wave, the gun went off, injuring him in the "upper thigh" said the press, but Sara and her friends know the truth.

"He shot his whacker off. And everybody knows. The doctors aren't sure if it can be fixed yet. They had to rush him to the hospital. What an idiot. They're gonna redistrict the High School next year."

I laughed, because an idiot kid shooting himself accidentally is kind of funny, but I was also laughing because it's not really so much funny as scary, and you have to laugh at the scary things some times because there's nothing else you can really do about it.

One of my uncles went to High School in Nashville briefly for a time in the early 80's. The school he went to was one of the really big ones, with nearly 2000 students. They had some classrooms set up so that several dozen students could be taught at a time - not auditorium style, like universities, but just really long rectangular classrooms. Kids at the back couldn't hardly see the teacher. The rooms were really just three classrooms with the dividing walls knocked out and big collapsible aluminum folding walls in their place. One class in high demand - say, Freshman English, would come in, and fill up the giant rectangular room. After that period was over, kids would run to the side and pull the two folding walls back across - they ran on metal runners up at the ceiling - and turn the large space back into three rooms again, so that different classes could be taught. Everyone came in and turned their desks around -

"And you had better hope that when they pulled the walls out you had enough desks in your part." Said my uncle -

And classes - say, calculus, civics, and French - would be taught in the separate spaces. An hour later, the bell would ring, the curtains would be pulled back again, and the space used for another very large class.

The overcrowding problem has gotten better in Nashville since the early 80's, partly because administrators have realized that overcrowding, weather it be in High Schools, prisons, or even just sporting events, leads to violence. My uncle once saw another student use a drafting triangle as a weapon. The kid threw the triangle, and it stuck, plastic point first, into someone else's forehead.

Of course, my uncle loved that drafting course, and credits it for starting him on his career path as a civil engineer.

I actually learned how to shoot a rifle from one of my High School classes, in the vocational building, on its campus, which seems like a ridiculous idea today.

My parents lived for a while outside the Nashville city limits in one of the less affluent factory towns that surround the city. There I enrolled in the ROTC program my freshman year of High School because, well, I was afraid of gym. I've never been a team sports type of person, and I was a very late bloomer, and a lot of the girls I went to school with were frankly scary. ROTC allowed me to fulfill my physical ed credit by sitting in a classroom 3 days a week. We only had to be in uniform on Wednesdays, and we only had to really sweat on Fridays, when we worked out by running in formation or doing sit ups or whatever.

Our second unit in the class was marksmanship. We were all given .22 rifles and shot while laying down on the floor at paper targets in little yellow metal backstops. And when I think back on all the other kids I knew in ROTC, I have to giggle. We were all the outcast kids who were afraid to go to gym 'cause we'd get beat up, or the kids who were so poor they knew they'd end up in the army after High School anyway, or the psychopaths who wanted to kill, kill, kill (or at least wanted to project that image).

And into the hands of these young freaks, the school not only willingly put firearms, but also taught us how to use those rifles in the most efficient manner possible. We were even taught about scopes and how to find the best place, strategically, to place yourself in a position to shoot but not be seen.

Of course the Gulf War happened that first year I was in ROTC, making it the last year I was in ROTC. I still have mixed feelings about letting military programs into High Schools. ROTC really helped a lot of my friends, and our teacher, Sargent Clater, was really a great guy. I doubt he's still teaching marksmanship on school grounds though. At least, I sort of hope not.

Read the first 3 Nashville Stories
Read Another 3 Stories About Nashville

Monday, February 24, 2003

Right, I'm an Archivist

Oh, Right, I'm an Archivist

Hey, there are new links on the side: Feets is back, Baub the Boston Guybrarian is up, and my favorite guilty pleasure, Unsent Letters, is listed. Check out B is for Barbarity over at Forthrights if you have time. It's all fun.

Given my profession, you'd think the archives to this page would be prettier. Instead, it's been a bloody mess since I first started, because the blogger format won't let me fiddle with the HTML template on the archive page. I shouldn't complain, because blogspot and blogger pro are darn outstanding on all other matters....but the untidyness of my online archive (which you can see by clicking under my nose up there on my title banner) has been bugging me for awhile now.

Instead of actually bothering to set up a new page entirely tho, I've decided just to update my old blog every time I update here, sort of making a blog of my archived blogs, if you can fathom it. Or maybe you can't. Er, hang on a bit and I'll have it sorted out by tommorrow night. You can read my last entry here for now, and soon all will be well again, I promise.

Tuesday, February 18, 2003

Broken ring

Broken Ring

I broke my left ring finger three weeks ago. I was rushing down a set of stairs in a parking garage, the stairs were wet, and as I started to fall, I had one of those moments where time felt like it slowed down. I thought this is going to be bad, and I had just enough time to throw out both my arms and catch the banister. By catching myself, I managed only to hit my upper left arm and my right upper thigh. But my left hand hit the metal banister all wrong. The ring finger was in the wrong place, twisted a bit and hit so hard it was all I could do not to scream. I knew it was broken right away, and took off my sapphire class ring immediately, before my hand could swell. I didn't want anyone to have to cut my ring off.

I didn't go to the doctor. I could still move the finger. I figured it couldn't be that bad, and really, it wasn't; the bruises on my hand didn't rise for two days, and when they did, my blackened knuckle didn't alarm me. The worst was that I bruised my hand all the way through; there was a mark on my palm that you could see through on the other side. So for the past two weeks I have typed a little less than usual, but now it's nearly healed. The finger aches in the cold weather though, and rings that formerly fit on it won't go anymore.

And so this is a big change. I have worn my ring from my BA degree on my left ring finger every day for three years. I can't do that anymore, which makes me giggle in that place where I love symbolism. I wore my ring on my left ring finger because I had married my education, you see. Now that I'm making money again I suppose I could have the ring resized, but I don't know. Maybe that's not who I am anymore.

Another big change: I own a car for the first time in nine years. Sunday I bought a 1987 Toyota hatchback for cash. I thought about financing, but I'm still leery of that process. This is the kind of car I wanted in High School - an unbreakable beater that runs on fumes. Of course, when I was in High School 10 years ago, a 1987 Toyota was considerably more recent than it is today, but I don't mind. I feel guilty enough as it is driving every day in one of the most polluted cities in America - I might as well drive something that was designed to be a little cleaner, something that isn't contributing to any further ills. I also love the fact that it's inexpensive to drive as the gas prices rise.

I really do feel like I'm in a time warp the past few months. The last time I had a car, I was in High School. That was also the last time gas prices were this high, the last time we were invading Iraq, the last time I was thinking about getting my first apartment, the last time I was around family this much. Wow. The more things change...

Friday, February 14, 2003

A Punk Rock House

Dust and I are remodeling the looks here. It'll all be good again soon.

A Punk Rock House

Things continue to pull themselves together for me, but oh so slowly. I've now got my first decent paycheck in 10 months, my tiny tax return, and a dash of shiny new self-confidence.

Last Friday I wasn't needed at the movie theater, so I rambled down to Little 5 Points and treated myself to nice evening of reading comic books in a coffee house, something I haven't done in ages. There was plenty of good people watching to be had down there too - club kids, homeless, and your usual post-graduate stew of the poverty-stricken over-educated twenty-somethings. Also a lot of people whom I suspect over use hyphens.

Anyway. While I was there I read a 'zine form Vancouver, all about this guy who owned a house where loads of people would crash and where bands played in the basement. The 'zine made me all remembery about Aral and our rock-on apartment back in Boston. And I looked up from that 'zine and just sort of drank in all the people in the coffee house around me for a moment. There was a guy and a girl behind me folding and stapling their latest self-publication. There were a group of art students to my left laughing about something sexual. There were people outside walking along in the warm Friday dark of the Atlanta night with dyed hair and odd jackets and nose rings.

And I almost cried, because I realized how long it had been since I had really had my life. I mean, I've been learning a lot the past 7 or 8 months. It's been a great growing experience I've been through, and I really owe my cousins more than I can talk about for putting up with me all this time. But I miss my life, my assembling-'zines-with-friends, hanging-out-in-coffee-houses, throwing-big- parties-with-no-money life. I miss party leftovers. I miss hangovers. I even miss the bad boyfriend drama.

I'm going to have to work really hard to get it all back, but it's do-able. I'm moving to Little Five in May, come hell or high water.

You know, it's quite sunny and funky down there in the way I need places to be. I wrote Aral all about these longings this week, about how we needed to be in places that made us happy in that special party kinda way. It'll happen. I know it will.

I really want to own (though I'll probably just end up renting) a big funky punk rock house, with odd people stuffed in rooms the size of walk in closets. I want to be surrounded by people who stimulate me intellectually and artistically. I'm gonna have bookcases and bookcases of graphic novels, new music whenever I want it, pretty young men who want to sleep with me, loads of the best cooking things, big tea parties where everyone wears drag queen hats. The lawn will be properly lumpy and full of weeds and wild strawberries. I want aluminum lighting fixtures from Mexico with bits of colored glass in them, quilts made by the black ladies at the Atlanta flea markets, hardwood floors with a history.

And I want you to know that when I get all this stuff set up - it won't be too long, I promise - I want you to know that my friends are all quite welcome whenever they'd like to stop by for a week or two. Because wherever I set up my home for good will be full of sunlight and good things to eat and comfortable pillows.

We all deserve to have a place like that to lay about, full of good smells and warmth and comfort.

And I'm gonna make it happen.

It'll be just that way, for as long as I can help it, for the rest of my life.

Promise. Pinky promise. Sealed with a kiss, man. Happy Valentine's Day, I loan this dream to you.

Wednesday, February 05, 2003

Conveyable Flow

Conveyable Flow

I'm at my second week on the job. I've got a small corner office with two tiny windows on one of the Peachtree Streets. The walls are bare because I haven't had time or resources yet to hang anything, but the office is mine. Soon they'll make me one of those little plastic plaques to go on my door with my name and the title "Assistant Archivist" on it. I can stand in front of one of my two narrow little windows and look out on Atlanta, and know that outside it's February but over 50 degrees, and in the cafeteria I can have fried chicken and okra or vidalia onion rings or any of another dozen familiar foods that I missed so much while I was away.

I can listen to music while I wear my cotton gloves and document the history of the area.

And I can know that I appreciate this, while it lasts. Because I worked for it.

I'm still going to work at the movie theater Friday nights and Sundays until I get my own place. I have a lot of bills to catch up on, and I owe so many people money it's just ridiculous. So there's no reason to give up putting on a name tag and selling tickets just yet. I find the atmosphere of the theater comforting, soothing even.

Wait - I never got around to writing about Target, did I?

I should write about Target before I forget what it was like.

I was on the Price Change Team. The normal hours for the Price Change Team were 6am to 2:30 in the afternoon every weekday, but we often left early or stayed late due to the nature of the job.

When I came into work I clocked in on a digital timeclock with my employee number. Then I used my keys as collateral to check out an LRT - a laser gun with a keypad and pixilated screen on its top. Then I would walk to the back of the store into the stock room, a concrete floored place where all the merchandise was stacked in narrow aisles 20 feet tall. I always thought the store room was pretty magical - here was every type of candy and toy in little cardboard bins, and the bins had bar codes on them. The LRT gun could tell you where every piece of merchandise was in the store according to those bar codes, and the bar codes on the merchandise itself. Take a minute, the next time you're in one of these big department stores, and realize that every piece of cataloged in a computer somewhere. The error rate is actually pretty low for so many hundred of thousands of little pieces of stuff.

My job, and the job of everyone on our team, was to mark down merchandise on clearance. To do this, we had little printers (called "hip printers" because they allegedly fit on a belt around your hip, but none of us ever had one of those belts). The printers were made of the same light grey plastic as the LRT guns, and they could be loaded with rolls of tickets.

Each day, we could turn on our LRT guns, enter into the proper menu for price change, and see what sections were being marked down that day and how many items in each section were due. Then we'd hook up our printers to our guns, and scan every item in the appropriate sections until all the markdowns were done. When our guns hit a barcode on an item up for price change, the printer spit out the appropriate ticket.

And allegedly, it all should have worked very smoothly that way, except that it didn't.

The guns were often difficult to use; they ate batteries, and because the batteries drained so fast people would take charged ones and hide them for use in their own departments. The guns sometimes froze up just like bad computers, or refused to communicate to the printers. The hip printers were even crankier than the guns, and to make matters worse, there weren't enough working printers on any given shift for everyone on the team. The printers would jam, feed the sticky tickets wrong, eat their own kind of rechargeable batteries, refuse to communicate with the LRT gun.

We had a supervisor who would blame worker's attitudes for the tricky equipment's failure to operate. One girl cried in the bathroom after a particularly frustrating night.

There are a number of teams that work the sales floor at any given time; in addition to the price change team, there's the stock room team, in charge of getting everyday merchandise restocked; the flow team, in charge of unloading trucks and getting that merchandise into its proper stock location or out on the floor; the "front" team that works the registers and opens and closes the store, the cleaning crew contracted by the store that does the floors and bathrooms at night, the customer service team that works the front desk and helps out all over, the snack bar team, the electronics team and the jewelry teams in charge of their locked up merchandise, plus the management team which consists of all the team leaders and the head store managers. Workers on the floor were usually divided into "hardlines" workers or "softlines" workers. The softlines departments in the store were carpeted; the hardlines were not.

During Christmas the price changes come so fast and so many that the Price Change team stops working afternoons and goes to work 11pm to 6:30am every night except Saturday and Sunday. We pull workers from the stock team and double our size. In a typical season, the Price Change Team works a week to ten days of overnight shifts, but this week there were four weeks of overnights.

The overnight shifts are wearing to those who have to re-arrange their whole lives to make it to work. The smokers suffered the worst; because of the alarm set on the outside doors after midnight, they couldn't go outside to take their breaks. A lady in her fifties, a solid worker for almost two decades, was almost dismissed for smoking in the women's room one night the third week in.

My favorite part of the job was going into the back stock room to pull merchandise from those giant tall shelves. When you take merchandise out of its bar-coded stock bin, it's called "pull". When that merchandise is pulled, marked, and on one of the great metal sleds used to move it onto the sales floor, it's called "push". The act of putting this merchandise onto the sales floor is "pushing".

Sometimes when there weren't enough working guns, or printers, or somehow when the whole system had gone crazy, they would put the Price Change team on the flow team. We couldn't help the flow team unload trucks though, because they had a whole system down as a unit and we'd just get in the way. So we'd end up pushing flow, easy enough to do at Christmastime when the shelves could get bare in a night. We were taking stuff the flow team had got right off the truck, put on a cart, and putting it on the shelves. A lot of the stuff came off the trucks on a long conveyor belt made of many metal rollers, and the boxes were marked for the team by companies Conveyable Flow.

Conveyable Flow was mostly ordinary dry goods that were not breakable, like giant boxes of toilet paper or detergent or cereal. Sometimes Conveyable Flow could also be stuffed animals or panty hose or waffle irons. But by in large it was that stuff that you could find in a lot of houses at anytime, the stuff of ordinary life. hundreds of boxes of Conveyable Flow would pass through my hands some nights, and my mind would reel with a million thoughts about my own life and the stuff in it. Luckily, I've never been terribly materialistic, but I understand my own needs better after spending all that time up all those nights.