c shawn mcdonald http://cshawnmcdonald.com writer | communications specialist | instructional design Mon, 22 Jan 2018 02:48:21 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.14 @. ≠ 4 Part II — A Crapton of Unfair Snap Judgements about Seattle that I Will Undoubtedly Later Regret http://cshawnmcdonald.com/?p=2958 http://cshawnmcdonald.com/?p=2958#comments Wed, 01 Nov 2017 19:49:35 +0000 http://cshawnmcdonald.com/?p=2958 Continued from Part I – “Why?”

PROGRAMMING NOTE: I’ve been sitting on this post for a while. Nothing really controversial about it. It just sucks. The writing sucks. This kind of linear narrative without a subtext of humans and human frailty doesn’t make for good blogfodder. It’s not my thing. I guess I’m out of practice writing, but I’m working on it.

Seattle is the anti-Tampa. The two cities are photo negatives, as one might expect from two cities that are as geographically disparate as two cities can possibly be in the Lower Forty-eight. Apparently I’m told they do have nice weather in Seattle, but that was in the summer, before I got here. I take the locals at their word, perhaps it isn’t dreary all the time in July.

Florida is a level wash of flat limestone, a bicyclist’s dream though hardly anybody in Florida bicycles. Seattle is a bilious texture of roller coaster transitions, very San Francisco-ish, pure torturous hell for a bicyclist in a city where everybody bicycles. Bicycles are everywhere. There are public bikes that you scan with your phone. Once you scan the QR code, the wheels unlock and the app charges a paltry $1 an hour. You can’t beat it. Between the hills and all the extra ground I cover walking between bus stops, my calves are starting to look like cantaloupes. My Fitbit is so confused, it has started sending me texts warning me to return my wristband from whomever I stole it.

Tampa roads are wide and meticulously groomed. Seattle roads are narrow and pocked with potholes. Must be the a factor of the climate that the concrete dissolves faster here.

Tampa is rather clean, overall. Seattle has a definite litter problem, and not just downtown. Everywhere. This baffles me. Is this some kind of passive-aggressive “acting out” by all these environmentally aware Liberals? I don’t get it. The litter makes no sense.

Tampa homeless people keep to themselves. Tampa has a lot of homeless people, but they just amble along, pushing their shopping carts filled with crap and slowly transitioning from human being into ambulatory giant leather sock. To borrow a term-of-art from my wife’s days of working at a mental hospital… Seattle homeless people “broadcast.” There are more broadcasters in downtown Tampa than media day at the SuperBowl. There are a lot of conversations with invisible people going on here. There are a lot of people on the bus and huddled in the bus stop shelters who are nonsensical motormouths, yammering away. Some scream. There’s one lady on my bus route who meows like a cat being stepped on at regular intervals.

Tampa cost of living is a bit higher than St. Louis. Seattle cost of living is way higher than Tampa. Close to double.

Tampa traffic is ridiculous. Seattle traffic makes Tampa look like a scene from The Omega Man.

And on the flip side…

Lot of fucking assholes in Tampa. Sorry, but it’s true. (One fewer, at the moment!) Many of the recruiters and hiring managers I dealt with in Tampa were dicks. The locals in Tampa tend to be passive-aggressive. The drivers there are self-important and there is zero courtesy for a turn signal or a merge. Never forget that Tampa is actually the southernmost borough of New York City. Goombahs in board shorts.  The influence of the influx of NYC asshole transplants on Tampa culture cannot be overstated.

Folks in Seattle are super nice. I mean SUPER nice. Like, Wisconsin-level nice.  

My first hour in Seattle, I ran around to the XFINITY retail stores, trying to pick up a kit they said I needed to set up my internet. There was some kind of XFINITY employee event going on all over the city and all of the XFINITY stores had closed early. In desperation I went to a Comcast kiosk at the mall that was open. Andrew at the kiosk did not have an internet kit, but he asked questions and realized I didn’t really need an internet kit. He gave me some free cables and a customer service number to activate my router. Bingo. Before I walked away I told him that he had made the mistake of being helpful and I had another question. Where could I get the ORCA card used for the busses? Surely there was a retail store where I could pick one up. Nope. Had to order them through the mail and wait. Crap.

But then Andrew reached into his wallet and pulled out his ORCA card and gave it to me. “I just bought a car. I don’t really need this any more. It only has about $8 on the card, but that’ll get you wherever you need to go for a while, anyway.”

Wow. Just… Wow.

I tried to charge the ORCA card online, but there is a two-day delay between when you add funds online and when the credit shows up on the physical card. I realized while standing downtown between bus routes that I had run out of Andrew’s generous credit. I asked a woman waiting at the bus stop if there was some machine somewhere where I could charge my ORCA card with dollars. She left her bus stop and walked me three blocks to the terminal where I could charge the card.

“I don’t want you to miss your bus,” I said.

“Meh. There’s always another one,” she said.

Wow. Just… Wow.

I could do many more laps of minor variations on this theme. Lots of hyper polite bus etiquette, including the adorable meme of everybody thanking the bus drivers before getting out. Nobody steps out into traffic without looking, as if they have a ring of Jesus fire protecting them from impact. Everybody waits at a crosswalk until they get the walk light, even if there’s no traffic in sight. Super sweet servers and bartenders and chatty grocery store checkers. For a guy like me who values politeness and bemoans the death of courtesy, Seattle is heaven. Really. It’s awesome. My co-workers are super nice, too. (More on that to follow.) I had a dear friend assure me that Seattle courtesy was only skin deep. But yaknow what? Even if it’s only one-sixteenth of an inch of thickness better than Tampa courtesy. I’ll take it. Call me a relic, but I fucking miss the Midwestern courtesy of my youth.

Perhaps Seattle courtesy is the Seattleites’ collective balm for the sucktastic geography of the city; the steep hills, and the dreary Pacific weather, and the unfortunate terraform that fractures the city into a bunch of ersatz islands that render cheap suburban rent impossible and getting anywhere in a hurry laughable. The map of Seattle looks like somebody dropped a six-piece box of chicken tenders on an azure rug. There’s no place to absorb growth where some other tech company hasn’t already planted a flag of their own. Starbucks has the southern half of downtown. Amazon has north downtown and Puyallup south of SeaTac. Costco has Issaquah and half of Kirkland. Google has Freemont and the other half of Kirkland. Microsoft has Redmond. There’s no elbow room left for the worker bees to live and housing zoning is actually moving in the opposite direction; towards fewer apartments to accommodate the crushing influx of workers, not more.

If you want to buy a house, half a mil will earn you a spot in a bidding war for 800 square feet of craptastic fixer upper, but the city thinks there’s too much housing.

Which brings us from the macro to the micro in the story of my relocation journey next time in the next chapter of @. ≠ 4 Part III – Transitions

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@. ≠ 4 Part I — “Why?” http://cshawnmcdonald.com/?p=2951 http://cshawnmcdonald.com/?p=2951#comments Thu, 19 Oct 2017 05:02:49 +0000 http://cshawnmcdonald.com/?p=2951

 

At. Not for. I work at Google. I don’t work for Google.

The Powers-that-Be are a wee bit particular about that distinction, and I don’t blame them. The guy who badges-in to fill the vending machines at Foggy Bottom works at the CIA, he doesn’t work for the CIA. Makes sense. Google only hires the brightest, so there’s an element of stolen valor if I misrepresent the status of my contract job.

I’m a TVC, Temp-Vendor-Contractor. The secret project that I have been hired to support isn’t technically secret any more. It’s out there. It has been declassified (mostly) in financial reports. That said, it would be really easy for me to blather my way out of a job by talking too much. Google knows. Yes, Google knows all. So it’s easier for me to just say I’m working with cool people on a cool project at a cool company. Leave it at that for now.

I obviously haven’t blogged for a long, long time. If I’m not blogging there’s generally a reason. I don’t blog when the missus and I are fighting, because I’d blog about the missus and I fighting, which would inevitably extend the timeline of the missus and I fighting.

I also don’t blog when my job is going bad for the same reason.

My last job was about as bad as bad gets for me. Hands down the worst job I’ve ever had, and that’s saying something. The opportunity had potential, but the jackass douchebag nano-manager kid I to whom I reported was an assclown who knew more about everything than everybody. He spent his days unwriting everything I wrote because he could do it better. Never mind that I was hired specifically because the documentation he had written wasn’t cutting it.

By volume I cranked out more documentation in 18 months at Mom and Pop Industries, Inc. than I had in my previous ten years combined. But in the crucible of ready-fire-aim management, there was an inordinate amount of “Oh, hey Shawn, that X project that I said was the most important thing in the world that had to be done yesterday? The one you stayed late to finish? Er… We’re not going to do X after all. We’re doing Y instead. Y is actually the most important thing in the world and it has to be done the day-before-yesterday.”

Or the number of times I lived this:

NANO-MANAGER: [walks into my office and shakes paper like he’s discovered German porn in the middle of one of my repair manuals] “What’s this? This is wrong! Who told you this?”

ME: “The guy on the factory floor who builds the part.”

NANO-MANAGER: “Oh no. Never listen to those guys who work in the factory about how to build something. They don’t know anything. If you’ve got questions and you can’t find me, then ask Tim, the factory floor manager.”

ME: “I did. Tim confirmed the same thing.”

NANO-MANAGER: [sneers] “Yeah, Tim’s an idiot. Don’t listen to Tim.”

Facepalm.

Nothing ever got done right because it was a never-ending circus of rush rush rush redo redo redo.

My first week at Mom and Pop Industries I tried to explain to the kid how important it was to take a minute to work through the templates and organization that I’d reuse everyday. I told him that we needed just a minute to get a process in place. I had been to this rodeo more than once. We should stop fighting fires long enough to craft a firefighting plan. No no no, OMFG, the world was going to end if we didn’t have three manuals done in the first six days. Riiiiight. How much time was wasted over the next 18 months reworking the templates and redoing those early manuals because we couldn’t wait four days for me to get a plan together? Way more than 48 hours. By a longshot.

I was miserable. It had been a long time since I backed my car out of the driveway in the morning and felt actual dread about going to work. Back toward the end of my tenure at Edward Jones, after I’d been reassigned from a manager for whom I could do no wrong to a manager for whom I could do no right, I threw up in the shower every morning. I would back my car out of the driveway, stop, and open the door to throw up once more. I swore I’d never let myself get in that position again.

But I did.

And I knew. I knew somewhere around Day 3 that I had made a huge mistake.  I started trying to find another job somewhere around the end of my second month at Mom and Pop, Industries, Inc.

Jesus Christ. What an ordeal. I guess a lot of it was rooted in how desperately bad I wanted out of my loser job that suddenly It became impossible to land a different writing job in Tampa. One of my dad’s nuggets of country wisdom was “Scared money never wins.” The more you need it, the less likely you are to get it. Tampa is a low pay market for tech writing. There were job offers, but I would have to take it in the shorts. My ego wouldn’t let me take a huge pay cut. I interviewed for a lot of jobs for which I was either a perfect fit or possibly overqualified. A lot. A lot lot. I wanted out. I wanted to get away from the douchebaggery, but I couldn’t get an offer that was anywhere close to the same pay range. As much as I wanted to put my idiot nano-manager in my rearview, I wasn’t going to pay 20K to do it. I owed it to my wife to keep pulling on the splintered oar and not revert us back to the days when we clipped coupons and sweated the bills.

That’s when a series of unusual events unfolded: Two recruiters, two job opportunities, one in the United Arab Emirates, and the other in Saudi Arabia. Of course there was no way I was going to move to the United Ara– WHAT? IT PAYS HOW MUCH? Tax-free? And they pay for my housing too?

Could I live away from my wife? Was our marriage strong enough to withstand a long distance relationship if it meant that we could retire early and spend our later years sailing the Caribean on a boat? It was worth a discussion. Discussions were had.

For naught, it turns out. Both jobs evaporated for different reasons. The UAE job req was pulled by the Royal Family. They didn’t know what the heck they really wanted. The Saudi Arabian hiring manager thought I was overqualified; some problem they had with another pedigreed writer in the past. Sigh. Trust me. I would have washed dishes in the commissary for that kind of crazy money and been just fine.

But… The conversation had with my wife had already taken place. We had agreed that I should chase opportunity elsewhere if it meant that there was something great for us on the other side of the sacrifice. If I was ready to move to the other side of the planet, why couldn’t I move somewhere else in the U.S. if the right opportunity moved us closer to our retirement plans?

That’s where the crazy odyssey really began. I flew to Sumner WA for a third/final interview with Amazon’s robot building team. Got bumped at the last minute by an internal candidate. Landed a job offer in Charlotte that was just okay, but not stellar enough to justify moving away from my wife. Another job offer in Albuquerque working for the nuke lab that was intriguing, but… Albuquerque, yaknow? Flew to Hood River OR for an onsite interview with folks who build military drones. Never heard back from them. Who flies a guy across the country for an interview and then doesn’t have the courtesy to at least email to tell him that he didn’t get the job? I followed up three times. Nothing? Really? You’re going to ghost me? I took off two days of work on short notice, put my job at risk with my a-hole manager, I ate the cost of the rental car, and you can’t even shoot me a form rejection email? Crickets? Really?

Sigh.

Flew out for a close call interview with a big national company with an HQ in Reno, but they had just merged with another industry player who had a low opinion of tech writers and dropped the payscale for the position by $30K between the time I started interviewing pre-merger and the time they were ready to make an offer, post-merger.  JFC. That was a kick in the balls. Scared money never wins.

Lots of interviews and nibbles from other Florida companies, places far enough from Tampa where I’d be required to move, but could still drive home every weekend or every couple weeks. None of those came through.

Google came through. Seattle came through. And here I sit, 3200 miles from my home, my dog, my wife, her crabby cat, our palm trees, and everything I love.

To Be Continued in @. ≠ 4 Part II: Seattle

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Acquire http://cshawnmcdonald.com/?p=2920 http://cshawnmcdonald.com/?p=2920#comments Wed, 20 Jul 2016 21:22:41 +0000 http://cshawnmcdonald.com/?p=2920  

Well howdy.

I’ve been in a bubble of secrecy for a while. A long while. The company that moved me to Tampaland was bought by a bigger company. We were acquired. My position in the new company was uncertain. My (lucrative) Tech Writer position at the old company was always a bit odd. I was the only Tech Writer in a company of 3000 people spread over 40 states. My job title wasn’t anything close to “Tech Writer.” They just found the job title that scaled closest to what they wanted to pay me and gave me that title: Project Manager IV. Uhm. Okay. Whatever. The man who hired me at the old job had no idea what to do with me. He knew that writing was not his strength, so he placed an ad for a Writer, assuming that I’d spackle all the gaps where his workload was suffering. Together we kind of made it up as we went along. It was sometimes rewarding but always odd. I wasn’t never certain where I fit into the larger enterprise.  There was no career path. No next step. If my boss ever left the company, I wasn’t sure what my role would be for a new boss.

And then, with an eight month countdown timer provided by the FCC (as it was technically a telecom “merger” that had to be approved by the gubment), I found myself counting down to that proverbial new boss.

There was a chance I’d be beamed into the mothership by our new corporate overlords. There was also a good chance I’d have to drive to Orlando every day (2.5 hours each way) to the closest office of the new corporate overlords.

I got several offers from local companies for Tech Writer jobs, but the pay cut was just too brutal. I was spoiled. Finally an offer crossed my desk where the work interested me and wasn’t too much of a salary snub.

The weird part is this: Old job did not want to let me go. They kept me on for almost nine weeks as a consultant.  That’s nine weeks of double pay! Whoo-HOO! The strange working arrangements lead me to keep radio silence for a long time. I did not want my dual agency to be misunderstood by either employer, and one can never be certain who reads this blog.

It was a good ride while it lasted. God bless double paychecks. The extra cash really helped feather the nest upon which we are scheduled to close in a couple weeks.

We sold almost all our Earthly possessions when we moved to Florida. I don’t want to understate that. I mean, we sold damn near EVERYTHING. Every stick of furniture. We don’t have a microwave. We don’t have a toaster. One of The World’s Greatest Mother-in-Law’s Florida friends loaned us a toaster oven. We have dishes somewhere, but they are in a storage locker.  I sold off almost all of my clothes (90% of which no longer fit or had not been worn in the last 15 years). It was symbolic: Leave the past behind. Start over together.

And so we did. And so we have.

I bought an entire wardrobe of tropical shirts. Fuck it. Why not? They are cheap, comfortable, and Fatboy doesn’t have to tuck ’em in!  All I wear now are tropical shirts. Because Florida.

After living seven months of a very Spartan apartment lifestyle (knowing anything we bought is just something else we’d have to pack when we moved again) the missus and I have shifted into Acquire Mode; weekends spent power-shopping for furniture and furnishings. Buying lots of stuff and leaving it behind at the various stores to be delivered once we have the keys to the new house.  Crock pots. Knife blocks. Dining room tables. Acquire. Bar stools. Lamps. Acquire. Couches. Sofa tables. Acquire. Acquire. Acquire. Fill that new house with shiny new Acquire, Ese!

Mount B

Sigh. The new house.. The new house is small. Suh. Mall. That was the plan we hatched when we moved out of our four bedroom ranch with a giant basement back in St. Louis. Downsize! That’s what we did. Small house. Small yard I can probably mow in 12 minutes or less. There are no basements here in Florida, of course. Your garage is your basement, and our new garage isn’t very big. Some nagging evil angel inside my head kept urging my ego to buy as much house as we could afford. Something spectacular. We were tempted. But nah. Downsize. Double down on our retirement dreams and retirement savings. Maybe buy a boat.

My new company is okay. My office is nice. My fellow employees are friendly. My boss travels 80% of the time. Deadlines are reasonable. Ninety minutes have dropped off my daily commute (at least for the moment; before we move to the new house development out in cow country.) I like the job. My issue with this job is completely within my own head: It’s virtually identical to my very first job. Same manufacturing environment. Same rookie mistakes playing out in Operations as business starts to take off and revenue outstrips managerial oversight. Same communication disconnect between the guys in the offices who design the product and the guys out in the hot, unairconditioned plant who build it. Same uncomfortable détente where the guys in Engineering don’t want to come down too hard or too aggressive with the guys out in the plant, so nobody is assuming any responsibility for any ongoing problems. One of my responsibilities is making training videos, which I have not done in 27 years, but I’m still having PTSD flashbacks to the old days when my camera weighed 80 pounds more and my editing studio of specialty equipment cost $30K more than the downloaded software I use now.

It’s déjà vu. My brain tells me I’ve somehow moved backwards in my career. But that’s not true. Yngwie Malmsteen still has to play Stairway to Heaven every once in a while. It’s what he does. 30 year career nurses still have to stick hypodermic needles into asses. It’s what they do. I have to crank out repair and programming manuals. It’s what I do. Five years of writing policies, RFPs, and industry whitepapers for Congress left me thinking that I was somehow more than just a Tech Writer.

Nah.

“Insert Part A into Slot B at a 45° angle.” Rinse. Repeat. Cash check. Be happy. STFU. Acquire.

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Virtual Reality-Check http://cshawnmcdonald.com/?p=2911 http://cshawnmcdonald.com/?p=2911#comments Mon, 16 May 2016 20:11:06 +0000 http://cshawnmcdonald.com/?p=2911  

Back in 2001-ish I was a single man. My limitations on my life were – for the most part – determined by my bank account; ergo whatever ether wisps of pecuniary leverage that remained after I paid the mortgage, truck note, and child support.

One of the ways to make my entertainment dollar stretch were playing MMORPG games, specifically Everquest and City of Heroes. I had two desks set up, back-to-back and my son would play a character on one PC while I played on a second PC across from him (in real life) and next to him (in game). We had a blast.

For those of you who never dabbled in Warcraft or Everquest, a player develops a character over the course of months and sometimes years. When you “die” in-game, a clock starts whereby your respawned character has to find your “dead” character avatar and collect all your loot. Otherwise, you could lose some really great stuff you worked really hard to earn. It just evaporates.

My then-girlfriend/now-wife did not understand this at all. She would call while Ian and I were playing our game and not understand why I couldn’t just turn off the game and talk to her. You can’t do that. If you walk away from your character, somebody in Cleveland or Mumbai is going to slaughter your character and take all your good stuff. You have to run your character to a safe quitting place. Or you have to “loot your corpse” and then get to a safe quitting place. This could take ten minutes.

 

CONNIE: “Are you… Are you still playing that stupid game? I hear a keyboard clicking.”

ME: “Almost done.”

CONNIE: “I’m talking and you’re distracted. You’re not listening to me.”

ME: “I am so listening to y—OH SHIT! Cave bear! Hang on!”

 

The time my son and I spent playing in that virtual world was golden. Great times. But… Like every good bromance, it was broken up by a girl. I got married. My wife didn’t understand video games and associated them with emotionally stunted men. I got shamed out of the fun. My son transitioned to “LAN Parties” with his school buddies. Everybody brought their game console or PC to one dude’s house on a Friday night and they’d all hook up and play a game in the same virtual world. I was secretly envious.

Flash forward. I finally bought a Playstation 4 last month. I’ve been waiting for a game that interested me enough to invest in the platform. Tom Clancy’s The Division seemed to fit the bill. It was well-reviewed. Mainly though, I bought it to scratch the itch of the fantasy of playing video games with my son again. The Division is a game one can play alone, but it’s really designed for multiple player teamwork. I gifted a copy of the game to my son through Amazon. Ever since I moved away from Ian, I’ve been nursing a fantasy of being able to stay close and talk to one another through the headset while we solved problems in team-up mode. It sounded like a balm for my homesickness for him. Sigh. It was a nice thought.

the division

But the cat’s in the cradle, yaknow? His career is finally taking off. He works retail (kind of) management. Lots of late nights. He doesn’t like the game as much as I do. He has no nostalgia for playing games with his father and he’s got his own life. He’s too busy to miss dad. We’ve never played the game together.

Hell, the kid won’t even answer my texts. Like we’re really going to play a video game together?

My plan to stay close to my boy through virtual reality was just a fantasy.

SMASHCUT:

I have at least three posts in this blog about my desire to buy a sailboat now that I live on a coast. Again, this is a romantic fantasy that is actually about connecting with my wife. I’m crazy for the connection. Working a sailboat requires a simpatico mindmeld between captain and crew. Anybody can power a motorboat while passengers drink. Sailing is a dance. It is motion and anticipation and communication.

But I don’t merely want to sail. I want to sail somewhere. I don’t want to just take a boat out on the Gulf in a giant circle on a Saturday afternoon. I want to sail to Sanibel. I want to sail to the Dry Tortugas. I want to sail to Key West. I want to GO SOMEWHERE in the boat. And I want to GO SOMEWHERE in the boat with my wife.

Yeaaaaah.

sanibel-pano

But here’s the thing… The average speed of a 35 foot sailboat under weigh? 7 knots. That’s seven miles per hour. That’s fucking slow. The closest “cool” island to me is Sanibel, and it would take us 18 hours to sail there in moderate wind. (It only takes two and a half hours to drive a car to Sanibel.) Add another 18 hours to get home. I’m not sailing through the night, so that’s four days of practical sailing plus maybe a couple of days to actually dock and visit the island. Even if we castoff on a Saturday morning, that’s still a significant dent in our vacation days (times two) that my wife and I would need to burn to make the simplest cruise we could make. Again, it’s a trip we could drive roundtrip in five total hours. Or we could buy a giant money-sucking piece of fiberglass, keep it maintained, and pay dock fees every month just so we’d have the privilege of traveling short distances really slow and burning through our PTO.

My plan to maintain closeness to my wife through sailing was just a fantasy. At least until we retire, and neither one of us is ever going to retire.

Sigh.

SMASHCUT:

Last night I tried on my first pair of VR goggles at an electronic store display. It was a very simple demonstration; a quilt of short, immersive Virtual Reality experiences. I was more impressed than I expected to be.  My little mind was blown by the sensation of turning my head left and right and seeing a huge visual panorama surrounding me.

This particular set of VR goggles was the kind that use a smart phone mounted to the front of the glasses to drive the 360° effect.  The coolest effect wasn’t swimming with sharks or riding in a race car. The coolest effect was when it filtered actual reality around me using the camera on the phone and then layering the “Terminator effects” on top of that. A perfect mix of real and virtual.

terminator effect

We’re so close to phone calls (going to need a new name for them) where we use VR goggles to map our image and our real surroundings into somebody else’s virtual goggles. We will be 3000 miles apart and have the experience that we are sitting in the same room talking.

I can’t wait.

I can’t wait for that bonding experience to turn to shit when the actual-reality (AR) of the people I want to connect to usurps the available tech and I own yet another expensive vehicle in which to go nowhere and connect to no one.

 

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Dispatched http://cshawnmcdonald.com/?p=2904 http://cshawnmcdonald.com/?p=2904#comments Tue, 01 Mar 2016 19:22:59 +0000 http://cshawnmcdonald.com/?p=2904 Courtney Campbell Causeway 8-19-13 197

I sit and watch the cursor blink. I sit and scratch and try to think.

Every day here in Base Camp Papa Hotel brings something new; something I could write about. But I don’t. There’s a point where you stop pointing at all the streaks of color pouring past you and just spit and say, “Yep. That there’s what dem city folk call a blur, Lurlene.”

I could have done fifty blogs on the difference between St. Louis and Tampa, but why?  “Hey! This is a shocker, you won’t believe it, but NOT ALL CITIES ARE ALIKE!!! Yeah-no-yeah. Seriously!”

So here are the highlights of my last month. Or perhaps the mid-lights, as it were.

I think I’m in Tampa permanently now. No more running back and forth to my as-yet-unsold house in St. Louis. The stagers started staging today. With any luck it goes back on the market in a week.

The missus found a job in her field that has a lot of promise. More importantly it has terrific insurance, so that’s all coming together. I still have to find a new doctor down here. I’ll be interviewing medical professionals based on their small hands. I’m closing in on 50 and that means I’m getting a couple fingers shoved up my pooper every year going forward. At the top of my new D.O. requirements are small hands.  My last doctor was built like Lurch, and when he checked my prostate, BOY HOWDY! My contact lenses would pop out.

Last Monday my company was sold to a larger competitor. My fellow employees and I have lived in the shadow of this possibility for years. We are owned (for the moment) by Carl Icahn. My St. Louis brethren remember Carl as the corporate raider who bought and dismantled Pan Am as well as TWA, for which STL was a hub city. Gordon Gecko of the movie Wall Street was largely based on Uncle Carl. (Blue Star Airlines was TWA.)

Working for a telecom, one of the most fungible, asset-heavy industries there is, we always knew it could happen any day. All telecoms have virtually the same assets and the same equipment. The only difference is the people who sell it and the way they price their network assets. The weird part was that Uncle Carl walked away from dozens of previous deals because he wanted a ridiculous asking price for our company, about four times what it is worth. Damned if Verizon didn’t pay the asking price to get some wireless bandwidth rights we acquired three mergers back and forgot we had.

It has been a good ride. I was ridiculously well-paid for the years I was here.  (Consider also that I wrote three novels on-the-clock here in the last five years.)

We got the news Monday morning. Technically, the sale is not official until the FCC says it’s official. Our brass says that’s going to take 18 months. I expect it take more like seven to eight months. It’s not like they handed us pink slips. I have time.

Last Monday morning took the shape of the impact crater left by the news. By Tuesday morning I had submitted eight resumes. Today marks BOMB PLUS SEVEN DAYS and I am getting SLAMMED with interviews. I have had three phone interviews with one more phone interview in the chamber this afternoon and two secondary face-to-face interview scheduled for Thursday and Friday. Amazing!

One of these jobs is a military contract job. It requires an S-level secret clearance. This means a G-man would go around interviewing my old neighbors and my friends and my EX WIFE, as well as going through my finances for the past ten years. I can’t tell you how exciting a proposition that is for a privacy nut like myself.

I was worried about the job market for Technical Writers in Tampa, but I can exhale. There are a metric ton of corporate headquarters based here.  Not as many as Dallas, but a lot. We’re not going to starve.

And anyway, My Beautiful Wife and I could not be better positioned to weather a storm: Downsized to a cheap apartment, house sale proceeds (hopefully) right around the corner as a safety net. We could live comfortably on her paycheck.

I have enough optimism about my future that MBW and I went ahead and signed a contract to build a new house here. I’ve never had a house built before. It’s too small to qualify for McMansion status, but it’s big enough for us two empty-nesters and the cat and the dog. Down here in Florida, they stack the houses closer together than the balls on a Beagle. There’s not much in the way of lawns. We had one real estate agent at an open house in Dunedin explain that the exorbitant asking price was to accommodate for the HUGE YARD. I stepped outside. The “huge yard” out back was almost the size of my tiny front yard in St. Louis. If my St. Louis property was picked up and moved to Florida, some developer could build three more Florida homes in my back yard.

The house should be finished two weeks before the lease on our apartment is up.  Nice. Then I realize that I’m financially responsible for three dwellings at the moment. I’m practically a slum lord!

It’s crazy how happy I find myself down here. Any hint of depression seems a distant memory. Even though I have a history of being a night owl and the clock is an hour ahead of my previous life, there’s something about the circadian rhythms of my day that seems perfect. At 10:20 I can’t keep my eyes open. When my alarm goes off at 7 am, I don’t go back to bed or hit snooze unless my missus is occupying the shower.

The traffic here is unbelievably bjorked, but I’m adapting to that. I had been avoiding the causeway that cuts across the Bay, twelve miles of a strip of road built into the waterline. Then I asked myself “why?” The traffic through the bad part of town takes just as long as the causeway. If I’m going to spend an hour in bumper-to-bumper, why not look twenty feet out my passenger side and watch old dudes fishing. Why not look thirty feet out my side of the truck and see the big sailboats cutting through the sunset, headed for the marina. It’s all perspective, I suppose.

And let’s face it. There’s something magical and calming about palm trees. It must be something in human DNA. How bad can your day be when you are passing an endless fence of swaying palms? Perspective.

It’s always perspective.

 

 

 

 

 

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Atlanta is a Lie http://cshawnmcdonald.com/?p=2889 http://cshawnmcdonald.com/?p=2889#comments Mon, 04 Jan 2016 21:32:28 +0000 http://cshawnmcdonald.com/?p=2889 In the summer of 2000, my then ten-year-old son and I drove to Orlando for a pauper’s vacation. I had virtually no money. If Molly Moots hadn’t let us crash at her house in Tampa, there’s no way I could have afforded the trip. I had barely enough money budgeted for two tickets to Universal Studio and gasoline. Ergo there was no stopping at a motel half way to Molly’s house in Tampa. Could not afford it. I remember driving to the first rest stop over the Florida state line early in the morning after driving all night (we had to leave in the afternoon when my custody started). My head lolled in forward jerks. Micro-sleep washed over me and suffocated my brain. I parked the truck, rolled up the windows for safety and passed out for a few hours. I woke sweating through my clothes. I looked over at my son and his face was beet red and he was sweating profusely too. He was reading a book like this was perfectly normal. The interior of the truck was suffocatingly hot.

It was the same deal on the way back to Saint Louis. No hotel. The trick was to rest up and try to drive it all in one wakeful hauling of ass. Yeaaaah. I-75 through the heart of Atlanta was construction-choked down to one lane. It took me four hours to squeak through Atlanta. Four additional hours of wakefulness that would extend my sixteen hour drive to twenty hours and make me late for custody switchback (I still remember that lovely call to my ex from a Texaco pay phone in the days before cell phones.) Another half-tank of gas that I hadn’t budgeted for. (We spent our slim contingency fund on Disney tickets we could only afford because Molly had a coupon.) Thanks, Atlanta. Fuck you, Atlanta.

I’m still pissed. Still holding a grudge.

We’ve driven to Almost-Orlando a couple-three times over the past few years to visit the World’s Greatest Mother-in-Law™.  I’ve never forgotten how much I distrust Atlanta for traffic. We always go down through Jackson Mississippi and cut through the Florida panhandle, even though it adds a couple hours onto the trip. Fuck yourself with a cactus, Atlanta.

Sure, the maps and GPS say, “Go through Atlanta, Shawn. You’ll save hours of travel time! Hours!”

Uh huh. Atlanta is a lie. Atlanta makes you a promise, but Atlanta always finds a way to renege and screw you back for more than it offered to save you in the first place.

My Beautiful Wife did not cry as she left behind her job, her home of thirteen years and the State she’s lived in for the entirety of her 32 year life.

goodbye

On the move to our new base camp on the St. Pete peninsula she blew a tire in the middle of Nowhere, Arkansas. Have you ever been driving down the highway and seen some poor schmuck who obviously had to unload a packed car on the side of the road to get to the spare tire? Yeah, that was us. Our ten hour Day One drive was extended to a twelve hour detour through a tire store in Memphis. The entire trip was a twenty-hour odyssey, door-to-door.

The World’s Greatest Mother-in-Law™ picked out a terrific apartment for us. Not being sarcastic. It’s new, it’s quiet, and it’s perfectly located ten minutes from a string of amazing beaches. Having packed only what could fit into an SUV and a truck, we arrived at the new apartment with nothing but boxes of her clothes and an inflatable mattress. No furniture. Within 48 hours we rented a bed and hit a bunch of Salvation Army stores for clean, cheap furniture. We celebrated Christmas in an apartment that looks like an actual apartment. MBW says when we move out, we’ll just donate the furniture back to the Salvation Army and take the tax credit. Sounds like a plan.

MBW bought a frying pan at a thrift store. She said to me, “We can’t keep eating out every night. Why don’t I cook something that fits in one frying pan? Like Hamburger Helper?”

“Sounds great to me,” I said. “I love Hamburger Helper. We haven’t had Hamburger Helper since the kids were actual kids.”

Flash forward three hours: MBW and I are sitting at a card table in our apartment on folding chairs. We’re eating Hamburger Helper from Corelle plates that were probably someone’s grocery store rewards premium in the 80s. The absurdity of it all caught up with us at once and we started giggling so hard we almost collapsed the legs of the card table. We had a funny little window into what our life would have been like if we had married each other right out of college.

It was a nice moment. MBW is a champion at making a house a home, and our little southern base camp is coming along nicely. The new 4K TV we bought each other for Christmas doesn’t hurt. We grabbed a real table and a TV stand at a flea market after this picture was taken.
palm harbor

I claimed my cube at my new downtown Tampa workplace. No more office for me. Also I have to pay a pretty steep price for monthly parking, which almost offsets the money I save by not having State income tax. Grumble. The office break room overlooks the rooftop pool of a swank hotel. That view was – shall we say – quite impressive. Lots of big bouncy beach balls in the deck chairs around that pool. I’m going to be refiling my coffee A LOT.

Some general thoughts on Tampa:

– The people in Tampa drive like shit. I completely understand why my car insurance premiums jumped. To be fair, I can’t say it’s the locals. Florida is a mélange of people transplanted and visiting from all over the Eastern US. And I’m too busy just trying to avoid collisions to focus on the license plate of whomever just pulled in front of my truck like it was invisible.

– The traffic lights are BUH-RUTAL! It’s as if the head of the street department merely shrugged and said, “Eh. Eight minutes this way. Eight minutes that way. Four minutes for turn lanes A. Four minutes for turn lanes B. Do that for every intersection and don’t worry about maintaining any kind of traffic flow for the major roads. Just random is fine.”  GAH! When you stop at a red light, pull out a book. You’re going to be there for at least twelve minutes.

– It has been such a long time I had forgotten, but golly the beaches in St. Pete (and up by Dunedin where we live) are nice. It blew my mind to wade into the gulf on New Year’s Day with the water as warm as bath water.  The Labrachow had a grand ol’ time swimming at the pet beach.

– The weather is as amazing as I wanted it to be. Locals were complaining about the heat. MBW and I just shook our heads and smiled.

But the party is over. At least for me. Me and the dog had to head back to Saint Louis until the house sells. We rolled north; me talking to the dog like Harlan Pepper rambling to Bufford B. Hound.

daisy

I was desperate to not spend twenty hours on the road home. I did the math and figured if I took the short route through Atlanta, I’d be hitting downtown Atlanta at 7 pm on a Saturday night. Seriously. How much traffic could there be at 7 pm on a Saturday night?

Sigh. Fucking Atlanta. Fuck fuck fucking FUCKstain Atlanta. Ya got me again, you mutherfuckers. This time a traffic jam for no apparent reason. Standstill parking lot traffic on I-75 on a Saturday night. Any plans I had to roll into the Chattanooga hotel in time to find an open restaurant went up in a cloud of exhaust along I-75.

Grrrrr.

And now I’m back at the lonely bachelor pad. Me and a very depressed dog. MBW says the cat has never been happier, but that’s no surprise. The cat hates me marginally more than she hates the dog. It sucks to be away from my honey. She’s got a job interview next week, so there’s nothing but optimism in her sphere. Me, I’m looking around a five bedroom house that I need to pack by my damnself and I don’t know where to start. Turns out that starting with Scotch was both a great idea and a terrible idea.

Two things I won’t be packing: The calendar that counts down the return trip to My Beautiful Wife, and my grudge against Atlanta.

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Falling into Place http://cshawnmcdonald.com/?p=2881 http://cshawnmcdonald.com/?p=2881#comments Mon, 07 Dec 2015 22:38:49 +0000 http://cshawnmcdonald.com/?p=2881 Moving out-of-state is a pretty big task. It’s a checklist that expands faster than one can check the completed boxes.

There are two horns on this bull. One project is getting my wife moved. She’s my Advance Team; Pocahontits.  She’s got to find us a pet-friendly apartment that offers a short-term lease while we scout houses. The second project is getting our current homestead fixed up to sell so I can hurry up, sell it, and rejoin her before I die from missing her.

Ergo, we’ve divided the home remodeling chores into those that require her help (slowing down her goal of getting packed) and those I can accomplish by my damned self once she’s gone.

Top of the list was replacing our 1977 laminate cheap-ass  countertops with 2015 laminate cheap-ass countertops. That was an absolute DIY hoot, lemmetellya. We hauled a 12 foot countertop home in the back of my truck, five feet of it hanging out the tailgate and bouncing precariously. I kept listening for the snap of the thing splitting at the sink cut-out where it’s structurally weakest. We got it home in one piece, thank goodness. Then came the unmitigated joyful experience of fitting a 12 foot countertop with backsplash in a 12 foot wide room. That sumbitch was heavy and it took quite a bit of manhandling and lifting to wedge it in-place, half of said manhandling being outsourced to a woman.

It was finally in place. My shoulders screamed with relief. Then MBW screamed. Literally. My eyes followed her scream. The sink cut-out was in the wrong place. They measured from the wrong side. “Please, Dear God, don’t let this be my fault,” I prayed. I checked our paperwork. Nope. It was their mistake. Unfortunately, this was 3 pm on a Saturday and the counter shop didn’t have Sunday hours. The guy express-created a new counter for us. We drove like maniacs and made it to the shop seconds before they closed and locked up. I mean literal seconds. Lights were out and the crew was walking toward the door.

Back home. Lift. Ouch. Back in. Our backs and arms collectively exhausted. Looked fabulous.

Except…

By my shitty math, the new backsplash on the new countertop was supposed to overlap our existing backsplash tiles on the wall by ½ inch. That’s cool. That would work. But… The countertop backsplash turned out to be an inch too low. So much for Shawn’s math skills. There was a one-inch peekaboo stripe of some hideous wallpaper from 1977 between the new countertop and the tile backsplash we installed five years ago.

Sigh.

Back to the hardware store for new backsplash. (Yes, we tried to match the old tile first.) Then back home. We demoed the old backsplash until midnight on Saturday. Sunday I installed the new sink and ratcheted the new countertop in place. Then onto the mess of mastic and wet-sawing little glass filets that shot glass crumbles all over our kitchen as I cut them.

Sigh.

It looks fantastic. Replacing the traditional terra cotta tiles with a modern glass mosaic was not in the plan/budget and certainly not the way I’d have chosen to go, but it looks great. Tonight we grout. More mess. More mess. More mess.

MBW is an absolute champion. I adore her. She worked like a yeoman. She ran her sweet ass off, anticipating tools and what needed to be done next. There were a few moments where my inclination to despair got the better of me, and she stepped up and got the shit that was frustrating me done. It helps that she had the small hands that could wedge up under the sink and install the tension clips. My big hams just didn’t fit in those small gaps.

Funny how we talked about that particular upgrade for years and never pulled the trigger until we did it all for some other family to enjoy.

My entire moving strategy hinges on us clearing out virtually everything we own at an Estate Sale. Apparently I cannot start this phase of the plan until after the realtor has an Open House. We have to leave the house “staged.” Then I think I’m going to sell the contents down to the floorboards. It doesn’t make sense to pay someone $8,000 to move $3000 worth of crap across the country. It’s easier and cheaper to liquidate it and start over in our new digs. Leave it all behind. Turn the page.

That sounds romantic, but wait until Day Six of sleeping on an air mattress and eating at a card table in a shitty apartment with loud neighbors thumping the baseline to “Bitches Ain’t Shit” on repeat 24/7. All those callbacks to my 20s that I thought were behind me.

Hey. As long as my wife is there, it’s home. I can’t wait.

 

 

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Onward and Downward http://cshawnmcdonald.com/?p=2874 http://cshawnmcdonald.com/?p=2874#comments Tue, 24 Nov 2015 20:53:02 +0000 http://cshawnmcdonald.com/?p=2874 My Beautiful Wife and I had our first conversation about possibly moving to Florida over two years ago. It was just an idea. We’re empty nesters, so why not get a jump on the next phase of our lives? Where do we want to be? Where are we best positioned for retirement? She wants to be warm. I want a sailboat. Her mom lives in Florida. My company has offices in Florida. Why not Florida?

Over the last year, MBW put in for a few jobs in Florida. Testing the waters. One series of job interviews got as serious as her flying down to interview in person.  It looked like it was really going to happen!

But then it didn’t.

Crap.

About six months ago, I heard the first rumblings at my job that the St. Louis office might be repurposed to a different division of my company. Those of us not in the aforementioned division might have to relocate to one of the 17 other offices across the country. “Really?”  “Yes. Really.”

Well okay, then.

MBW redoubled her efforts to find a job in one of the cities where my company has offices in Florida, just in case the rumors were true. (The rumors are never true.) She already had to start her career over once when the railroad HQ left town for Omaha. She went from a big dollar executive position to working in a collections boiler room for barely more than minimum wage. From there she clawed her way back into a real, meaningful career, step-by-tenacious-step. It was so hard. I am so incredibly proud of her. She didn’t want to start over from scratch again. It’s always easier to find a job when you have a job.

Alas, it did not happen in time. I got my notice that I need to bug out of town as soon as I can sell my house. She’s screwed. I just lost a big chunk of my household income. We’re moving to a city where we know no one and neither of us has spent any real time.

I’m moving her into a hotel in a couple weeks so she can spearhead the effort to find us a new house. I will return to St. Louis for a while to clean-up, fix-up, paint, and put our St. Louis homestead on the market.

It’s all so very… Terrifying. Surreal. Stressful.

It came right on the heels of my father’s passing. I was already an emotional Tilt-a-Whirl. Now this.

Four months from now, everything will be unpacked in our new house. Our new city. Our new state. We’ll be teasing our hometown peeps with pictures of us frolicking on the beach while they are digging out of that late March snow dump that always breaks your heart when you think winter has passed. I’ll still be a Cardinals fan, but I will shed my Neutrogena peel-thin Rams patronage and become a Buccaneers man in a heartbeat. Hopefully by that time MBW will be among the employed once more and we won’t be pinching pennies. Until then, I’m walking in a circle, scratching my balls and wondering which part of this elephant I should sink my teeth in first.

God bless MBW. She looked around, pointed at six pieces of furniture she wanted to keep, and said “Sell the rest. We’ll start over. A room at a time, we’ll put it all back together. Don’t drop eight grand on a moving company to ship our crap across country. We’ll buy new crap. Or different crap.”

That makes my life a lot easier.

It’s a chance to hit the reset button. We needed to downsize our big house anyway. We don’t use half of it, now that the kids are gone. Housing prices in our St. Louis neighborhood are up and housing prices in Florida are still way down. Zillow says we’re going to come out ahead on the dollars-per-square-foot thing. Interest rates are still low. No state income tax. This could be a win.

If only MBW wasn’t crying all the time.postcard

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Jerald Benton McDonald 1942 – 2015 http://cshawnmcdonald.com/?p=2863 http://cshawnmcdonald.com/?p=2863#comments Wed, 18 Nov 2015 22:34:11 +0000 http://cshawnmcdonald.com/?p=2863 Jerald Benton McDonald, passed this Earth on November 17, 2015 from complications related to colon cancer at the age of 73.

Born in 1942, his middle name was supposed to be Benjamin, but the clerk confused his address on Benton Place as she typed his birth certificate. That’s the way it happened in 1942. Somebody mistyped your name and that was your name.

He was Jerry to his friends and Jaybee to his six older sisters and two older brothers. Jerald was the last of nine children, a late life “oops” who was adored and pampered by a cadre of grown women who knew a thing or two about raising kids. In the final year of his life he discovered that his one surviving sister, Mary Ellen, 89 of Topeka Kansas, may have been his actual mother. It turns out he was not nine of nine, but rather one of a kind. It answered a lot of nagging questions.

Jerald was a South St. Louis city boy, but he spent every summer of his childhood and adolescence working on the farm of Mary Ellen and her husband, Norman. The McDonalds and Shaws and Mooneys who originated in Salem Missouri and bounced back and forth to St. Louis were a colorful lot. Humor was a valued commodity at crowded gatherings, and Jerald became a skilled practitioner of quick comebacks and button-pushing.

As a teenager, Jerald returned home from a date and explained to his mother Grace that he had been invited to eat dinner at the girl’s house.

“Mom, you won’t believe it,” Jerald said. “There were seven of us at the table, but they only had six pork chops on the serving plate!”

“Oh no!” said Grace. “That’s terrible!”

“Not really,” said Jerald. “The two I ate were pretty good.”

Jerald recounted this story to explain the head-slapping that affected his hearing in later life.

There were many girlfriends, but only one true love. Jerald married Glenda Kay Halleman out of high school and joined the Air Force. A son, Scott Allen, was born soon thereafter and Jerald, Glenda, and baby Scott survived a meager existence of military housing allowance trailers for four years in glorious destinations like Murphysboro Tennessee.  The three of them scraped by on unclaimed payphone change and smiles from hearing Mac Davis and Bobby Goldsboro’s Watchin’ Scotty Grow in rotation on the radio. Jerald was always proud of his opportunity to serve his country. There has been a photo of the C-130 he serviced on his office wall as long as I can remember. Memorial Day and Veterans Day were always held in reverence.

After Jerald’s military service ended, he moved back to South City briefly before landing a job with Engel Equipment. He moved to a tiny suburban house in the middle of a cow pasture that would eventually become Hazelwood, Missouri.

Jerald always wanted a daughter and the new house had an unclaimed bedroom, so Jerald and Glenda made an ill-fated decision to expand their family and ended up with a son instead. Naming this son “Mulligan” was a bit too on-the-nose, so they compromised on Christopher Shawn. Although disappointed that Christopher was not a girl, Jerald took some solace later when he realized the daughter he never had and the second son that he did have threw a football with approximately the same level of acumen.

Jerald clawed his way up a career ladder, despite never having a college degree. First at Engel Equipment, then Ferguson Machine/Universal Match, and later Sankyo America.

Circa 1974, Jerald grew what the kids today call a “pornstache.” In the forty years since, Jerald shaved his pornstache from time-to-time, but he never looked right without it. He took Berlitz courses in Japanese language and customs before Japan became a manufacturing powerhouse, and it never stopped paying dividends to his career. It became his niche. He was the guy you assigned to shepherd projects for Japanese companies and customers.

Jerald learned to be an engineer without an engineering degree, learned to be a father without any real template for what a father should be, and he learned to fix things without having the money to hire jobs done. Jerald could fix anything but a broken heart. He owned two VW Beetles at the same time and pulled the engines out for repair with a casualness that other men display during a rummage through a snack drawer.

Jerald insisted that his sons memorize the poem The Cremation of Sam McGee by Robert W. Service, and Dr. King’s I Have a Dream speech.

Jerald had a heart too big for one man. I cannot count the times I saw him give money to beggars. In a different era, these men were called “bums.” Jerald the Father taught me to always have two dollars of “bum money” folded in my front pocket to give out, so we did not stop and open a wallet in an invitation to be mugged. There was an art to pressing “bum money” into man’s palm, looking him in the eye, and nodding; all while the feet never stopped moving forward.

While standing in line at the VW parts counter, the young marine in front of Jerald got a quote on the part he needed and cringed at the price. It was too much for the man’s military paycheck. Jerald hooked him at the elbow before he could walk away. Jerald bought the part for the man. Then they went into the parking lot of the VW dealership and Jerald installed the part on the marine’s engine. Then Jerald noticed that the man’s windshield wiper motor was failing. Since Jerald had an extra one, he had the marine follow him home where he repaired that as well.

That was Jerald.

He’d give you the shirt off his back, but first he’d sew some gussets into threadbare seams so you ended up with a better shirt than the one he took off.

That was my dad.

Jerald McDonald would have no use for your flowers or cards. But if you’d perform an act of kindness for a stranger, particularly a veteran, he’d be tickled pink.

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Too Long. Too Short. Too Much Muchness. http://cshawnmcdonald.com/?p=2849 http://cshawnmcdonald.com/?p=2849#comments Thu, 22 Oct 2015 19:08:18 +0000 http://cshawnmcdonald.com/?p=2849 My inner-logician nudges me to score things. Is *it* good or is it bad? Did *this* work, or did *that* work?

It’s tough when life-events that beg to be scored defy easy categorization.

The Cliff’s Notes reads as follows: Cancer Dad beat colon cancer. Four months later dad had a kidney blockage and CAT scans discovered metastatic cancer in his lungs. Okay. A non-smoker who just got done being cooked and chemo-ed into a crisp gets lung cancer four months after getting a clean Bill of Health. Right. Uhm… What?!?

It’s just weird. Seven years ago I wrote about a young character who was struggling with his father’s terminal illness. Six months ago I resurrected that story to rewrite it. Now I’m living it. Life imitates art in the most sucktastic way.

Two days after getting the devastating news about metastatic cancer, my mother went into an extended hospital stay for removal of an abdominal mass.  Not cancer, but doctors had to remove organs and sections of other organs and sew her digestive system back together in a way that God never intended for guts to be connected.

Mom and Dad can’t work out a strategy for their future when both of them are in a drugged stupor in two different hospitals across town. My brother and I are driving a circuit between two hospitals and their homestead (in the country) to take care of their cat, bring in the mail, chase drifters out of the outbuildings, etc. I’m catching up with all my podcasts as I’m perpetually on-the-road.

MBW and I are closer than ever to a major life-changing event(s).  I’m excited. I’m terrified.

I finished a new novel. Kind of. I realized that the manuscript I’ve been dribbling out over the past year was shaping up to be another unpublishable epic. Way too long for a breakthrough novel. Too far outside the lines of the Agent’s Coloring Book.  Plus it defies genre, so it is DOA. So… I broke the plot into two hard beats, the way a season of episodic television would end: Not a cliffhanger, but just shy of it.  I’ve begun writing the sequel/conclusion. I can’t pitch the first manuscript until I have the conclusion in the can. It’ll force me to give the setup novel time to get cold so I can edit it mercilessly in a few months.

My terrible vampire novel was 150,000 words. That word count equates to a trilogy of three short novels (the way it was designed, for online distribution). So how do I score that when I’m counting how many novels I’ve written? One or three? Have I written ten novels or twelve? After I finish this sequel will I have written ten novels or fourteen?

ANSWER: “Nobody fucking cares, Shawn.”

Yep. Got it.  Stack fourteen unpublished novels on one side of the scale, and a published 26-page gift shop book of pictures of cats eating pasta on the other side of the scale. Pull back your hand and THUNK! Pasta Cats all the weigh.  I mean “way.”

What little free time I have is all bookmarked for finishing home improvement projects so we are ready to put the house up for sale in the event that I get transferred.

You know that feeling you get when your plane is descending about a half-hour before wheels-down? The hiss from the air vent above your head goes asthmatic and quiet. Your ears pop. Your blood tingles. You feel light and uneasy. You can’t do anything productive because the Flight Attendants have prematurely banished your electronic devices. All you can do is float. Wait. Float. Wait. Float.

Yeah. That’s my life these days. Waiting on my parents, waiting on my agent, waiting on my dreams.

I’m waiting on the bounce and the squeal of rubber; that deceleration whiplash making it official that I didn’t plummet to my death over an irrigated circle of cotton field and instead I must rejoin the hive of my fellow Earth bees, the frenetic resumption of business.

One day I’ll have my turn in the CAT scanner and it will all come to a screeching halt. Until then, I’ve got places to go.

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