30 March, 2017

Bloglet: Never Be Alone With A Woman...

I could write a long article on Mike Pence, the Vice-President of the United States, and why he scares me more than Trump and more than almost anyone in Trump's orbit. (Almost: Steve Bannon is terrifying.)

I could write that blog, but nobody would read it.

And so I will confine myself to writing about the Pence's family rules, which came out in a televised interview last week and which have set Twitter on fire. To wit: Mike Pence does not have dinner with women who are not his wife, and will not attend any event where alcohol is served without her by his side.

This is supposedly standard practice for many Christian families. And oh, boy, I have no idea where to start.

What exactly does this say about men and women? It says, at least so far as I can see, that women are sex objects and that men, or at least men subject to these rules, are incapable of controlling themselves whenever one of those sex objects shows up.

What are we, twelve?

Full disclosure: when I was twelve through seventeen or so, every woman I interacted with showed up in a mattress-staining dream sooner or later. Even then, somehow, I restrained myself from touching...well, most of them...inappropriately. (I will never forgive myself for the shameful conduct detailed there; about the only mitigating thing I can say is that I would never, ever even think about doing something like that now.)

Many -- not all, but many -- of my closest circle of friends are women. Ask those women and most of them will tell you most of their closest friends are guys.  I'm talking about platonic friendships here. I know plenty of other guys who have female best friends, and girls with male best friends.

Is there sexual tension in a small subset of these friendships? You bet your ass. Will sex happen, then? Not on your life. Any inappropriate conduct on my part and the wall goes back up: I lose the friendship. Not worth it. Not even close.

I can have dinner with any one of these friends and trust myself not to succumb to her Eve-like charms. Hell, I could share a bed with one of those women, stay fully clothed, and wake up in the morning without even the tiniest spot of rape in the night.
 I am not my genitals.

Is Mike Pence? Is he nothing but a walking erection looking for somewhere to stick it? Sure seems like it, doesn't it?

If men aren't allowed to be alone with women, then they segregate. Professionally, this perpetuates the male power cycle and denies women equal opportunity. That's part of the appeal for Christian men, who are the unquestioned heads of their households (women are commanded to submit to their husbands). But it does Christian women a huge disservice. Really, it denies their full humanity.

You see this to an even greater degree in Islam, where -- in the stricter sects -- women aren't allowed to leave the house unaccompanied. This, we're told, is for their own protection. Do they need it? The plural of anecdote is not data, but I have read numerous accounts of what happens to women clad in Western attire in Muslim countries. Groping is so common it goes completely unnoticed. Outright rape is a real risk.

I am often ashamed of my gender...but never more so when it comes to this. Maybe Pence and others like him are simply prudent, not prudish. That hurts to even type.

26 March, 2017

"It's Hard To Explain..."

Today's sermon at GRU was on "process theology". I'd never heard the term before. The philosophy presents a conception of God that is radically different from those most people have.

That's another thing I love about this place: different perspectives every week, with emphasis as needed on respecting differing belief systems and the unifying traits they share.

Today, though, was challenging.

Every week they do a 'story for all ages'. The story this time was called "Wabi-sabi", and it was, well, beautifully simple. A cat named Wabi-sabi questions what her name means. Another cat tells her it means 'beautiful'; a dog snarls at her that he can't possibly explain the meaning to someone so simple. "Am I beautiful or am I simple?" she wonders, and learns those two things can be, and should be, celebrated as one and the same. Throughout the story we hear the phrase 'it's hard to explain'. And it is...if you're wedded to the idea that beauty is in the destination, not the journey.

This resonated strongly with me, because finding perfection in imperfection and cherishing the journey... both are things I strive to do each and every day. Musically, what came to mind (and what has stayed in my head since) was this excerpt from an iconic piece of American classical music: 'Simple Gifts'.

'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free 
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be, 
And when we find ourselves in the place just right, 
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight. 
When true simplicity is gained, 
To bow and to bend we shan't be ashamed, 
To turn, turn will be our delight, 
Till by turning, turning we come 'round right."

It should be noted that 'come 'round right' means to come back where you began. That might sound wrong--who wants to be back where they started? But if you do so armed with new understandings, how is that not progress?

"I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I ended up where I needed to be." --Douglas Adams

That's an epitaph. I have made of it a mantra: it's something I repeat to myself whenever I feel out of place, a reminding that right here, right now, is where I am and where I belong.

The children's story about beautiful simplicity, about perfection in imperfection, was a well-chosen introduction to the idea of process theology. And here is where I must stress that this was NOT presented as Truth with a capital T: they don't do that there. This was food for thought, to make of what we would.

WHAT IF God was NOT all-powerful?
WHAT IF God was NOT all-knowing?
WHAT IF God was NOT a Being at all, but a Process?
WHAT IF we, all of us, were a part of that Process?

and finally

WHAT IF that Process could be called by another name...Love?

(full disclosure: not all of this came directly out of the sermon today. Some of it comes from here)...and oh, how it makes me wish *I* could have presented this material. Because this doesn't just speak to me, this IS me.

"to become...the next grandest version of the greatest vision ever you had about Who You Are" -- Neale Donald Walsch, Conversations with God

The idea here that God is Love. Love is a process. Properly applied, it grows, it expands (don't worry, I'm not going there, not today); it calls to each of us to be the best version of ourselves that we can be in the present moment. We become co-creators with God, in reforming the universe with our every choice. (Quantum mechanics is frolicking in this playground...)

You can take Process Theology as a starting point and apply any number of lenses to it. The site I linked views it through a Christian lens--and yes, that can be done, despite the seemingly unChristian starting point. The idea of 'process' is very important to Buddhist thought. It's also quite amenable to atheism: this is not your typical theistic construction of God. It makes no moral judgments on your actions; it simply evolves, and you with it. We all evolve, you know. Some of us more slowly than others, but we all evolve. Because the journey is an evolution, the evolution is a process, the process is Love, and Love is God.

19 March, 2017


The question is, how do we respond?

Today's sermon at Grand River Unitarian was both the most overtly Christian and the most overtly political I've yet attended.

It's worth noting that the Christianity was still muted, and was the inevitable byproduct of the guest speaker (the Lutheran chaplain of the House of Friendship), and the politics was the inevitable byproduct of the topic (poverty and homelessness).

I'm still glad I went, because once again today's service cleared up something religious that has bothered me for a long time.

Lutherans believe you are 'saved' -- a concept I have enough trouble with --- by God's grace alone, through faith alone. That's always suggested to me that there's nothing you have to do except believe. And if that doesn't work out for you, well, you're not believing hard enough. QED.

The speaker explained that Lutherans believe everything in your life is a God-given gift, and "so  the question is, how do we respond? We give back." Faith without works is thus a false faith.

People fought wars over this. Over whether salvation was by faith or faith plus works. And all one side had to do was explain that really, both sides are saying the same thing. But I guess murder is more fun.

(Next time you're in an argument, stop for a second and check to make sure you don't actually agree with each other.)

You know, I think I'd make a pretty fair minister, at least (and only) in this tradition of Unitarian Universalism  I'm increasingly attracted to. I have the requisite level of caring. I can get up in front of a congregation and tell a pointed story, which is essentially what a decent sermon is. I've got the open mind and an open heart. I'm maybe a touch introverted, but Rev. Jess -- who wasn't there this week -- says she was, too.

Anyway, today there was a fair bit of time devoted to the concept of a universal basic income (UBI). Ontario will be experimenting with a modified version of this plan starting this spring, essentially ensuring that no person's after-tax income can fall below $22,000 a year.

I find it sort of telling that no matter what the topic under discussion is there, it's either something I have studied in some depth or simply run across recently and 'bookmarked' for further investigation. Universal basic income is both those things, and "so how do we respond" is a nice five word summation of my answer to the problem of evil.

We need a response to the evils that are poverty and homelessness.

And we need UBI because 47% of jobs are going to be automated within the next 50 years, starting with truck drivers and (yike) most of the retail sector. We also need UBI because just giving people money with no strings attached is approximately 50% cheaper than paying the costs of poverty--chiefly health care and policing.

The sermon today stressed that people living with homelessness--there's that construction again--are PEOPLE. People who were once your neighbours, people who are still your family.  You may look down your nose at the dishevelled 'bum' hallucinating on the corner, not knowing anything of the trauma that brought him to that corner, not understanding that he medicates that pain with alcohol or harder drugs because what else is there, really? We tell these people to go out and get a job. Hey, you know, it's just that simple. Let them eat cake!

I've never been homeless. We came much closer than I'd like to acknowledge a couple of years ago, but we've always had a roof overhead.  I'm thus not qualified to even speculate on what my existence would look like without one. It's something you take very much for granted.  I certainly have, so much so that I've repeatedly complained about just how many homes I've lived in. It's like the guy with no shoes who met the guy with no feet. We say romantic things like "home is not a place, it's a person" and "as long as I'm with you, I'm home"...and most of us probably have no interest in testing that hypothesis.

There is a tsunami of senior citizen homelessness just around the corner to go along with the tide of homelessness that's already here and largely hidden from view.

The question is, how do we respond?

18 March, 2017

Three Wheelin'

I have written a few times on the single thing that has defined and limited my life more than anything else--my lack of a driver's license.

You people who have them probably take them somewhat for granted. The lack of one tends to manifest in many ways, none of them pleasant and some of them very much unexpected.

Of course, there's the first order consequence: you must rely on others for your transportation. This has several corollaries. Taxis are insanely expensive, but other than inconveniencing a friend or relative, there's no other feasible way to do something as mundane as, say, grocery shopping.  Seeing friends who live across town is doable, but if they live an hour by car away, you're beholden to Greyhound or Via's schedule. (You'd better hope they live in a city big enough to merit a bus/train station).  
There is no feeling quite so helpless as when a friend or loved one gets sick or injured in your presence and you can't drive her to the hospital. Yes, ambulances are a thing, but (a) driving  is faster and (b) ambulances cost some pretty serious coin if they're summoned to a private property.

Your choice of career hinges on your workplace--and anywhere that workplace might send you--being accessible by public transit. This is tremendously limiting unless you're lucky enough to live in a megacity such as Toronto or New York, and even then, a wide swath of jobs in my field is off-limits to me. I'd make a hell of a good vendor but for the minor technicality that I can't get from store to store in any territory the way someone who drives can. 

And sometimes a missing driver's license will rise up and bitch-slap you when you least expect it. I couldn't rent videos from the store closest to my home because they demanded a license as identification and no other piece of ID would do. I was not allowed into a casino at the age of 31 because somebody decided I looked 16 and I never thought to bring my passport to disabuse them of that notion because I was in my own fucking country. (Yes, I know there's a provincial I.D. card that's in theory accepted everywhere. I also know that most people have never seen one and have no idea they're valid.) I actually had somebody demand to see my driver's license before I could get on a Greyhound bus once. Think that one through. Take as long as you need.

My disability -- I may as well call it that -- is getting considerably more common. Car sales are down. The number of people with licenses is declining across all age groups. On the one hand, this makes me feel a lot better...anyone "weird" tends to feel less weird if his weirdness is contagious. On the other, and I know how strange this sounds, I almost feel like I should get a license just to have something more and more people don't. 

A G license is not an option, though. Even with corrective lenses, my vision is not quite adequate, and there are quirks galore that make it considerably less adequate. Chief among those is my depth perception, or rather my lack of one. I have real, ongoing issues making spatial judgements, especially when the edges of something (like, oh, let's just for instance say a car) are not RIGHT THERE. Where do I end and where does the road begin? Your guess is considerably better than mine. The longer the hood of the vehicle, the more hopeless I am. Theoretically, I could manage something with no hood. Now if somebody would oblige me and make a car like that...

What about a motorcycle?

I've thought about that, off and on. Obviously a motorbike is not a bicycle, but it's closer to one than a car is. I've actually handled a little dirt bike for a few hours without ditching it....presumably I could --

-- well, no, probably not. I've yet to meet a motorcyclist who hasn't laid the bike out at some point. Hell, I've been in entirely too many  bicycle mishaps. I've gotten quite good at extricating myself from my bike mid-catastrophe. Yeah, Ken-my-buddy. try that at forty...or sixty...miles an hour. 

What I need is something more stable than a motorcycle. Less likely to send me arse over tip into the next life. Now if only somebody would oblige me and make one.

Umm, yeah. Like that. That looks ideal. A $25,000 price tag, so I'd be getting mine used and not for some time yet, not until five or so years after our next vehicle, which is itself probably three years off. 

Wait a second. (This is me: my mind throws up obstacles like so much chaff, and seizes on any and all of them as ironclad reasons not to bother...it took seeing this up close in someone else to realize just how often I do it myself, and how much I really am at fault for limiting myself over the years. Don't bother writing that, it'll just get rejected and make you feel like a reject (reframe: the worst thing that can happen is a simple rejection letter, i.e., the status quo? What the fuck are you waiting for?)

About this, though. What's the monkey-mind gibbering about? Let's tune in--

you're going to have to take your road test on a two-wheeled bike, you know. And to take that road test you're going to have to prove conclusively to yourself that you can drive a two-wheeled motorcycle without turning yourself into a tasty smear. Since we both know that you can't prove that, you useless pile of uselessness, you may as well just give it up. You're hopeless, you know. Waste of spa

*snaps the station off*

You know, I've had about enough of thinking like this. Maybe I lied, above. Maybe the single thing that has defined and limited my life more than anything else is my attitude.

You think?

And would you look here?

"If you take a road test on a three-wheeled motorcycle, you will get a class ‘M’ licence with an ‘M’ condition. With this licence, you will only be able to drive a three-wheeled motorcycle."

Ken, you know, you oughta get the facts before you starting Trumping them up and living your life by the falsehoods in your head. You want the freedom of the open road? You want to be "the balance that could keep her safe"? You've always done that figuratively. You wanna do it literally, huh?

"have you ever felt the warm embrace
of a leather seat between your legs?


"what you see is what you get, girl
don't ever forget, girl
ain't seen nothin' yet..."

--Macklemore, "Downtown"

Stay tuned. This isn't imminent...but it's going to happen.

16 March, 2017

Lacking Life Skills

"What basic life skill are you constantly amazed others lack?"

I asked this on Facebook figuring the first answer I'd get would be "common sense". It wasn't. That was the second answer I got.

The first answer came from Haley, the meat department manager at my store. "Ripping labels".


Haley was briefly my second in command when I was meat manager. I was promoted into that job based on having been a department manager for 13 years...none of which was in meat, and none of which was at Walmart. It fell on Haley to train me, which must have been humiliating for her: she had applied for my job.  I knew this going in, but of course couldn't acknowledge it.

Haley did the best she could with me, but there were things she didn't know, not having been a department manager herself. And Walmart is comically bad at training. They have a solid training program in place...the problem is nobody uses it. Ever. At all.
You learn what you have to do from CBL (computer-based learning) modules. Once you've done that, you're supposed to go out and practice tasks under the supervision of your "coach",.  
Problem: you don't have a coach. And if you do, (s)he's never available to help you. And if (s)he is, it's only for the briefest minute, so invariably (s)he does the task at lightning speed in front of you and you're left to muddle through how it was done.  
Case in point: Walmart's computer system. It's light years ahead of other chains in terms of what it can do. But very few people know even a fraction of the capability, because you're never shown more than the bare essentials.

Anyway...that first day, I almost cried. Because the very first task I had to do was process discounted (close-code) meat and affix labels to it.

Great. Sub-assembly redux.

The damned labels wouldn't come off their backing, and when they did, they tore in two or three places they weren't supposed to. Or they wouldn't come out of the printer at all.

Haley watched me struggle with these things with patience I frankly admire. She helped me several times, and all the while I'm sure she was thinking and they gave this job to him and not me?

I got better with practice. At that task, anyway. The things I didn't know, especially the things I didn't know I didn't know, accumulated until they moved me out. And when they did it, they spent ten minutes telling me that "I wasn't set up for success".

Now, back in dairy, we have the same discount program for close-code stuff, and so I'm ripping labels once again. I was busily doing that yesterday when Haley sauntered up to me, all glowing because she had completed her mods. I told her how I couldn't rip these labels in front of her without thinking of that first day, and how utterly pathetic I had been at what, let's face it, is a simple physical task.
She said all the graceful things about how she tore the labels at first too, and as if on cue, the label I was working on tore right down the middle. And Haley had to point it out because I was oblivious. I shooed her away, feeling more than a little chagrined.

(I did tell her, as I was shuffled out and she was shuffled in, that she should have had the job all along. Since then, she's been one of several reasons why I don't mind getting out of bed in the morning.)

Life skills. My friend Craig was the one to suggest "understanding/compassion", which I'd shorten to "empathy", and that's the first one that leaps to mind for me.  We live in a society where empathy is not prized and is often ridiculed. These days us empaths get called "snowflakes". Which I find kind of amusing, because the real snowflakes are the people who can't abide differing world views. Such people exist on both sides of, well, any spectrum.

Kathy suggested "basic math skills", and that's another one that irks me: yes, I get it, you have a calculator on you, but kitchen-table arithmetic shouldn't demand a calculator. I'm horrible at mathematics, but I don't think of arithmetic as math any more than I think of reading a warning label as reading a novel.

Numerous people came back with "spelling and grammar", and that's another one that really peeves me off. We all learned it, people. It's part and parcel of being a functional human being, as far as I'm concerned.

Cooking and basic home repair: Stipulated, these are important skills to have. So is basic automotive repair. The thing about these skills, though, is that you really have to have an interest in them to want to acquire them.

I have a bland palette, an affinity for comfort food, and a very cavalier culinary attitude in general. Many of my friends and both my loves are crackerjack cooks. It's not something I'm passionate about.  As for repairs..mea culpa on that. Home repairs are like ripping labels or trying to replicate subassemblies. They require mechanical aptitude I simply do not have. Could I get it? Of course. Is it worth the frustration? You may have to be me, or at least like me, for that question to be the serious brainer (as opposed to a no-brainer) that I find it. If you could only see just how pitifully bad I am at this stuff, and the need for it is intermittent enough that I never get practice, and who wants practice anyway?

A big one is situational awareness. People who stop and gab in the middle of fucking doorways, GRRRRR. At the top of escalators, GRRRR.
Now, I don't have situational awareness much of the time: the outer world is background noise for me. But because I do have empathy, I try to make a point of not getting in the way. I'm not always successful at this, but that's because my spatial awareness is awful. I have very little ability to judge how much space I am taking up, and how much space there is between me and that OW FUCK object.

What life skills are you amazed so many others lack?

12 March, 2017

Covenants and Choices

Source material here

It's not often a respected political columnist runs a column titled as if it's one of those stupid Facebook "tests".
But there's David Brooks in this week's New York Times, asking "What Romantic Regime Are You In?"

The "regime of fate" is presented as Russian. In Russia, we learn, love is seen as a "madness". Sociologist Julia Lerner characterizes the Russian idea of love as “a destiny, a moral act and a value; it is irresistible, it requires sacrifice and implies suffering and pain.”

(Aside: this rings true to me. Russia's benighted attitude towards domestic violence -- the "good" husband is expected to beat his wife every now and again, and a "good" wife endures her share of beatings--probably springs from this fatalistic view of love.)

America, by contrast, is under "the regime of choice". There, both men and women assess each other constantly: does she check all the right boxes? does he have any red flags waving? In a regime of choice, you're not just encouraged but almost demanded to choose again, which might explain why the marriage rate is plummeting and "most children born to women under thirty are born out of wedlock".

We are told the best option is between the extremes: a "regime of covenants". I do like the turn of phrase here:

The Regime of Covenants acknowledges the fact that we don’t really choose our most important attachments the way you choose a toaster. In the flux of life you meet some breathtakingly amazing people, usually in the swirl of complex circumstances. There is a sense of being blown around by currents more astounding than you can predict and control. Mostly you’re bumblingly trying to figure out the right response to the moments you’re in. 
When you are drawn together and make a pledge with a person, the swirl doesn’t end; it’s just that you’ll ride it together. In the Regime of Covenants, making the right one-time selection is less important than the ongoing action to serve the relationship.

I'm emphatically with Brooks almost to the end of this. While noting that, given an open enough heart, it's possible to fall in love with (almost) anyone, love can also bushwack you. The two greatest loves of my life came out of a job interview and an almost random friend request on Facebook and I didn't see either of them coming; once they were in front of me they were inevitable. And yeah, there's been a bit of bumbling after the tumbling. (It's been, at times, humbling).
For sure you ride the swirl together. Yep, I'm in total agreement wi--
making the right one-time selection is less important than the ongoing action to serve the relationship


Okay, yeah, this is how we're taught to think. And it does make a strong surface sense. If you want to stay together long term, the relationship must have primacy over individual needs, right? You put your marriage first?

Well, not quite. And by not quite, I mean, not at all.

Actually, if you want to ensure happiness in a relationship, you put the other person first. So long as the other person does the same and puts you first, the relationship will most likely endure. The instant one of you stops doing that, your relationship is doomed. It will turn toxic in a hurry as needs go unmet and resentments rise.

What's the difference? Ask any old-school Catholic wife who has been abused by her husband. She's doing what she thinks of as "being a good Catholic", putting her marriage first. Divorce, she knows, is a sin. She married for LIFE. Without parole.

That's an extreme. of course, but plenty of people suffer through emotionally dead relationships, without respect, appreciation, or even basic decency, "for the sake of the relationship". Whom, exactly, does that serve? Neither party, and certainly not any children. So how can that possibly be held as an ideal?

"For better or worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health". Indeed. Notice those vows are made to each other, not to some symbol of the marriage.

Does that mean you discard your marriage at the first sign of trouble? Of course it doesn't. At the first sign of trouble, you open your mouths and use your words. Respectfully. I believe in solving the little problems before they become big ones. And if you don't bother to communicate those little problems, and neither does your partner, then they will become big ones for sure.

That said: people do grow and change and...diverge, sometimes. When your basic life goals are no longer in alignment, again, whom does it serve to act as a drag on each other? Neither of you, nor your kids.

I made a covenant in my wedding ceremony to Eva. They weren't my vows, and I'd write them EVER so slightly differently today, but they concluded:

with these words
and all the words of my heart
I marry you
and I bind my life to yours.

What would I change, you ask? I'd omit two words: "and all". My heart has many words for many people, and so does Eva's, and we both knew that of each other going in, even if Eva didn't quite see it in herself right away. And of course, heart-words don't invalidate other heart words. Both of us have learned a different heart language, replete with its own love poetry.

My covenant was to Eva and hers was to me. Over sixteen years later, we are no less mindful of it, even as the prospect of other covenants looms.

I have said several times here that I view marriage as an act of continuing choice. The same is true of any level of relationship, really. But the choice has got to be mutual and ideally it ought to be self-serving as well as other-serving. If it's a choice made solely to keep the relationship going...to whom are you a slave? Each other? Societal approval? Your concept of a deity?

I get even more antsy when I read that in a regime of covenants, couples have overthrown the proud ego and learned to be utterly dependent on the other.

God, I hope not.

Eva has helped me to become more INdependent, such that if she were to, perish the thought, drop dead tomorrow....I just might be able to function once grief has lessened its grip. I couldn't have done that when I met her, because I wasn't. I was eating nothing but junk, my idea of a "budget" was how much money do I have? that much and I lacked numerous life skills. For my part, well, I had nothing to teach Eva about self-reliance, but I think she's grown too. She's learned how to relax a little, and that it's possible to love and be loved more than she thought.

Supposedly you can only succeed in marriage "if you've set up a framework in which exit is not an easy option." That too sounds rather like a prison, doesn't it?

I do like that "people in a covenant "try to love the other in a way that brings out their loveliness. They hope that through this service they’ll become a slightly less selfish version of themselves". Well, um, yeah. When you put it that way, I have a covenant with every friend and love in my life.

And that, too, was my choice.

11 March, 2017

Modular Madness

I just got off a week of nights.

It hasn't been all that long, really, since I worked solid graveyard shift. I was promoted to Meat Department Manager at the beginning of September; went to Seasonal and Pets at the beginning of December, and than one day in mid-January I got invited into the manager's office and told "all my dreams are coming true".
What they meant by that was a transfer to dairy and frozen. Which, as longtime readers will know, is what I've been doing since 2001.

This was not a dream come true for me, much less all of them. Don't get me wrong: I like the position. But it's technically a demotion: just as they are in other chains, dairy and frozen here are a subset of grocery. They're called departments but aren't, really.

I've never understood this. Studies show that most visitors to a grocery store will buy something from dairy and/or frozen, and Walmart is just like a grocery store in that regard. I move a lot of product.
It probably has something to do with margins. Grocery in general and dairy in particular do NOT make a store any appreciable amount of money. The staples and sale items are loss leaders almost without exception. You would be stunned at how much money grocery stores lose on 4L of milk...and Walmart sets the retails for everyone else.

Because dairy and frozen do not constitute a "real" department,  I would no longer be a "real" department manager. Which meant my hours would not be guaranteed. And I balked at this. I had already lost my $1/hr night premium coming to days (worth the sacrifice in terms of my quality of life, in my estimation)...but I couldn't afford the risk of losing more money.

I got them to guarantee my hours in writing, with the caveat that company-wide changes could disrupt anything and everything. And since then I've been motoring along, gradually improving things (I inherited a mess).

Until the mods dropped.

Walmart is its own world. It has its own language. Use industry-standard terms for everyday things in a Walmart store and you'll get blank looks. A power jack is a "walkie" at Walmart; backroom shelves are called "bins"; head office is "home" office, employees are "associates", and on and on and on. Planograms -- the schematics that detail what goes where -- are called "modulars" in Walmartese, "mods" for short.

The larger stores, especially those in the U.S., have a modular team (which really ought to be called the "Mod Squad", but isn't). Their sole responsibility is to ensure the planograms are in compliance. This is critically important in a Walmart, much more so than in some other chains. At Price Chopper, yes, there were planograms, but they were created by people with no experience or understanding of what actually sold in our store. And so if I could justify changing something, I had the freedom to do it. Sobeys was more rigid, to be sure. But Walmart is a different animal entirely.

It's rigid and regimented. There is a numbered position for every single sku. The numbers go in order, shelf by shelf and section by section. This has numerous time-saving benefits. Any employee (sorry, associate), no matter what department she normally works in, can easily find any item in any other department. When she does price changes, the labels come out in order, so she doesn't have to waste time matching the label to the product. And most importantly, the shelf capacities are also programmed in, and so as long as you've got data integrity, the system knows exactly when something needs to be stocked...and it will tell you what to stock and where you'll find it in the cooler, freezer or backroom to within  three square feet.  It's pretty damned impressive, if you're easily impressed like I am.

If you've ever wondered why you just get used to shopping a store only to have everything move around on you--there are lots of reasons.  The biggest is change for change's sake. People shop on autopilot. It's incredible to what degree people shop on autopilot. Consider this three-shelf endcap of tubs of yogurt on sale:


STRAWBERRY  <-----eye level="" p="">

Which one will sell most? That's right, strawberry, with vanilla a close second and peach a distant, distant third.  (That mirrors the sales patterns when the yogurt is not discounted, which is why I would build the display that way.)

Except one time, just for shits and giggles, I did it like this:


PEACH       <-----eye level="" p="">

And the peach yogurt sales went through the roof. Peach actually outsold vanilla and damned near outsold strawberry. 

I was flabbergasted. It seems a huge number of people don't care what flavour of yogurt they buy so long as it's easy to reach.

Even if you do care what brand and flavour you buy, you generally shop without really looking after awhile, and so stores like to switch it up and force you to actually engage. Add in new products and deletions (usually but not always due to poor sales), as well as companies constantly jockeying for greater visibility, and you can see why the planograms -- the modulars change.

Relines--"new mods" in Walmart-speak--are  never fun. And I had five of them drop at once, comprising most of my frozen department:

  • 5 doors of fries and hash browns
  • 3 doors of "naturals" -- gluten-free and organic frozen products
  • 13 doors of ice cream
  • 14 doors of entrées
  • a whopping 22 doors of pizza.
I'd done a four-door breakfast reline the week prior. Took two of us two hours to do. The rest of these buggers were considerably more demanding, and it's MUCH easier to do frozen relines at night, when there are no customers to drag you away.

Relines are a simpler proposition at Walmart thanks to that rigid, regimented system I outlined above. You print the modular, then you print the labels for that modular...which come out, handily, in order, door by door, which each door a section and each section noted. Go out to the floor, tape each sheet of your mod to a door,
strip one door into shopping carts, pull the old labels, and put the new ones up according to the mod. Then fill. And repeat. Dead simple...but tedious, especially you get to entrées and a single door might have four or five hundred units in it. 

I got ice cream done on Sunday night. Which surprised me, because I wasted the first hundred minutes doing the mod wrong. I had thought the entire section was flipping--door 1 becomes door 13, 2 becomes 12, and so on...and I'd flipped 1 and 13 before I realized that no, door 1 was staying door 1 and GRRRRRR.

The first thing I did Monday night was fix the shelves I'd installed crookedly the night before. I'm terrible for that: I'll look at something and think it's level, when to anyone else it CLEARLY isn't. GRRRRRR again. Then I did potatoes and naturals.

Tuesday was pizza night, and I didn't think I could possibly get 22 doors done in seven hours. But by that point I had a real rhythm going, and somehow...I'm still not sure exactly how...I finished the job with ten minutes to spare.

Then came the night I was dreading: entrées. Only 14 doors, not 22, but each door had six shelves in it and each shelf was GROANING with product. That mod alone was supposed to take 30 hours to do.

I taped up the first half of the mod. Seven doors. And I honestly had doubts, before starting, that I'd be able to get that much done.

But the saving grace of the entrée doors was that nothing overlapped at all. Each door was a section distinct unto itself. I stripped the first door and realized that door five was moving, pretty much as is, into that space...which left door five empty, and it turned out door 3 was moving there, and it became a game of hopscotch.

I figured I had to get a little less than two doors done in each two hour segment of my shift to be on track. At 1:00 a.m. I had just about finished the fourth door, and I'd started to think I might actually complete the entire mod in one night, not two.

And I did. I was more proud of that than I had been of the pizzas. Those pizzas only had four shelves per door and the packages were much larger. THIRTY HOURS, done in less than seven. It's not often I shock  a store manager. I managed it with this.

I had originally arranged to work three nights, until the scale of the task became apparent; I was told to work five, take Friday off, and work days Saturday (today) through Monday. Having completed my mods in four nights, I decided I'd still work the Thursday night, only stocking freight à la nights of yore. Wednesday night's frozen/dairy truck showing up midmorning on Thursday had a lot to do with that.

Yesterday I stayed up all day, the better to actually sleep at night like a normal human being. (Thanks, Kathy, for chatting with me at intervals and keeping me awake.) I slept last night like something dead. And I'm still pretty tired. But the mods are done. For at least six months. And I've decided to christen myself...

..the mod god.

04 March, 2017

No, you (probably) don't have OCD.

My friend Laurel asked for a blog on a throwaway Facebook post I wrote this past week. Much obliged for the idea.

Warning: nuance abounds in these waters.

Language matters.

The words we use have meaning, both to us and to those who hear them. We can not be responsible for how clearly our messages are received, only for how clearly we send them.

Now, I'm not generally a fan of euphemism. I believe in calling things what they are, and preferably in not obscuring them in reams of polysyllabic bafflegab.
The immortal George Carlin traces the (d)evolution of "shell shock". That was the term in World War One that later generations knew as "battle fatigue" (WWII); "operational exhaustion" (Korea), and "post-traumatic stress disorder" (since Vietnam). What sounds more painful, more human, to you? "Shell shock"? Or "post-traumatic stress disorder"? Granted, you get PTSD from events besides warfare, but still. Can we agree that maybe, just maybe, we could coin a phrase that captures the agony of that condition and that isn't eight syllables (plus a hyphen!) long?

But Carlin's wrong sometimes, too, and that's when he offers up "crippled" for the same treatment. He suggests there's nothing whatsoever wrong with the word "crippled", that any mollifying phrase to mask it detracts from the fundamental reality: the person is crippled.
Sorry, George. I love ya, man, you've done more than most to shape my thinking, but here you're not just dead, you're dead wrong. When you refer to a human being as a cripple, you do the very thing Carlin laments with "operational exhaustion": you strip that person of her humanity by referencing only their condition. That's why we're encouraged to say things like 'person living with hearing loss' rather than 'deaf person'...and I, for one, would rather place that person's personhood ahead of their condition. I'd rather minimize that condition, too, by saying the person is living with the condition, and if that takes me an extra half a second, I think I can spare the time.

Better yet, call the person living with hearing loss "Mike" or "Angie". Unless their condition figures somehow in what you have to say about them, is it really necessary to bring it up? Probably not, but people can't seem to help themselves, can they? No matter the handicap, people are not and should not be defined by it outside of a medical setting, as far as I am concerned.

When the illness is mental, though, there's this curious opposite effect at play. The word for the condition is everywhere. I'm depressed that my team lost. (No: you're sad.) I'm anxious because I don't think I've studied enough. (No: you're nervous.)  I could just kill myself! (Are you REALLY suicidal?)  (Hat tip to Barbara for these examples: I'm sure you can think of others.)

When everybody's "depressed" every now and again, actual people suffering through actual depression are minimized. Ditto any other mental illness. It's odd, in a way, because if you insist that yes, god damn it, you have generalized anxiety disorder, the same people who say they're "anxious" over every least thing will stigmatize you. See what's happening here? They're stealing your word and minimizing it to describe their own trifling-by-comparison condition, and then trifling you for having the condition they appropriated.

Arguably the most glaring example of this is OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder). There are actually tests on Facebook asking "how OCD are you?" Get a load of the grammar on that: "how obsessive-compulsive disorder are you?")

These tests invariably assess how detail oriented you are. Being detail oriented is not OCD, in the same way that sad is not depressed and off-white is not dead black. Do you know what OCD is? It's washing your hands until they bleed, still convinced they're not clean enough. It's being completely unable to function unless a routine is followed in exacting and minute detail. It's absolutely having to  (that's the "compulsion") do everything in sets of three, or seven, or eleven.  Unless you are living with something along this line, you do not have OCD. So don't pretend you do, okay?

That Week Flu By...

For the second time in my life, I've come down with the flu.

I had a cough on Monday. Now, I have a cough more often than I don't. Sometimes it seems like I just get over the cough from the last illness before a new one hits. Chronic bronchitis for the loss.

There are a lot of things I don't do "right". I don't see right, even with corrective lenses. I don't walk right or bend right. All three of these are attributed to my prematurity (more than two months), or more precisely in the case of the latter two, to the lack of physiotherapy given to preemies in 1972.

And I don't cough right. I have no idea why that is.

I seem to be almost incapable of coughing the way 'normal' people cough, with two or three coughs to a breath. My coughs each require a full breath (often, it feels like, more than one). They're great hacking explosions and if I'm sick, once they get going they're bloody hard to stop. After seven or eight, my chest is uncomfortably tight.

Add in the bitchly sore throat I woke up with on Tuesday and I was a portrait of misery.

I called in sick, of course. I didn't want to: this is the only place I've worked where calling in sick costs you a day's pay. But I had no choice.
Symptoms progressed. I'll spare you the list, because you can probably imagine. It wasn't until Thursday that I got in to see the doctor and was told I had the flu. He gave me a note saying I would return to work "when well"...and that might be in "10-14 days".

They hate open-ended notes. Also, 10-14 days? Screw that. I don't have that many sick days available to me. (After the first day, I do at least get sick pay, but of course I have to present a doctor's note to get it. A doctor's note costs an hour and a half's work, and my doctor is cheap as they go.)

No, I didn't get the flu shot. For the first time in many years. Why not? Because I had read somewhere that last year's shot was 36% effective. Joke's on me.

I've been medicating myself out the ass. I'm no longer contagious (but of course I've given it to everyone in the house). I am scheduled to work a string of three night shifts starting tomorrow night, and I aim to work them. I'm resting as much as I can.

We're back to a feline-only household. It hits you at certain times, the lack of a Tux: mostly when you come in the door and no jingling, chuffing dog smiles out to greet you (and yes, "smile" is also a gait--don't believe me? own a dog and see). Bubbles, who had proclaimed himself Tux's BFF, has been taking it especially hard, spending most of his time in his cat tree looking out for his vanished partner. Eva found Tux's leash and collar the other day and inadvertently jingled it...Bubbles came running out to the kitchen where Eva was and stared all around, quite clearly confused. That hurt.

No plans to get a dog in the near future. Our dog-plans were for the far future, but in all honesty, I suspect now there'll be another dog along in a couple-few years. Dogs give you a different kind of love.

I was going to write a post on coming out (to others) as poly, but that's going to wait a couple of months, now.

And I find I don't have much else to write. Sickness has eliminated three planned outings so far.  Maybe I'll think of something else to type out in the wee hours tonight, as I try to flip to a night footing.