Thursday, July 28, 2011

How to be a Swedish Crime Solver

I'm plowing through a lot of Swedish crime novels lately.  I tell myself it's because KT has asked me to help her write reviews for, but it's more out of a guilty perversion than anything.  I've come to realize that there are certain requirements to be an exemplary murder solver in Sweden.

1.  You must have an intense dislike for chain of command.  You must work best alone without a nosy son-of-a-bitch bureaucrat mucking things up with things like protocol and laws.  You must have an intensely antagonistic relationship with your direct report and be threatened with dismissal or criminal charges for your cavalier attitude.

2.  You must have a deep-lying psychological trauma that you live with daily but refuse to seek the help of a psychiatrist for even though everyone tells you to.  It will most likely involve the death of your parents or children and your sense of guilt over how they died, even though IT'S NOT YOUR FAULT!  There will be an intelligent, incredibly beautiful psychiatrist who tries to figure you out and help you, but you must resist.  You will have a flirtatious relationship with her and you may quite possibly have sex with her.  The murder you are solving must somehow conjure up your personal demons and - consciously or not - you must believe that solving this murder will give you the inner peace you are so desperately lacking.

3.  Younger, incredibly beautiful, smart, charming women must find you irresistible.  You should have sex with several of them, but never commit because you are horrible at love and have many past experiences to prove it.  It's always your fault, and you are well aware that you are horrible, married to your job and can't be trusted.  None of these qualities should prevent you from having sex with these incredibly hot women.  After all, they are throwing themselves at you.

4.  You should have a friend from your police academy days you have a mutual respect for but haven't talked to since your days at the academy.  This friend will be able to provide you invaluable help to solve the murder.  Seriously, as soon as the murder occurs, call this person!  There is no reason to wait until halfway through the book.  Calling him/her immediately will help you solve this murder much sooner.  If you don't have such a friend, a retired detective who was your mentor will suffice.

5.  You must follow a hunch at least once and have it go horribly, horribly wrong.  Either someone must be injured (but never killed) or the police, and your asshole boss (see number one), must be publicly embarrassed and ridiculed in the press.  And, speaking of the press, you must have an awful relationship with them (unless, of course, you are an investigative reporter instead of a cop).  The massive screw-up should have you removed from the case/story, whereupon you should resign or threaten to resign to solve the case on your own.

6.  You must capture the killer alone, without help, and incur great physical harm while doing so.  You must overcome seemingy insurmountable odds to capture the killer.  The killer may or may not die - either is fine.  You should call for back up, but there must be circumstances that require you to confront the killer alone before help gets there.

7.  All of the above must be accomplished in no less than 400 pages.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Unemployment Chronicles Part Eleven - The Employment Chronicles Part One

As hinted at earlier, I am once again in the world of the gainfully employed.  My official title is Route Sales Driver for Interstate Brands Corporation.  Put more simply I am selling/delivering Hostess brands.  Wingin' the Wonder Wagon.  Trippin' on the Twinkie Truck.  Or, perhaps most accurately, Delivering the Diabetes.  It is really one of those strange karma deals that got me here.  The day my position was eliminated at my old gig and I was at the height of my misery - down with people, down with companies, down with just about everything - KT and I were heading to the grocery store when I saw a bread truck and said, "Maybe I should just get a bread route".  It was a tongue-in-cheek statement, one which I didn't even recall saying until KT reminded me when I was called for an interview.  Being much more in-tune with the universe than I, she immediately said, "you put it out there and thus it became" (I'm kinda like Jesus in that way).  Regardless of whether you believe in karma or not, however, the job was one of several (over 50) that I applied for and the only job I received so much as a call back on.  So, long story short, I interviewed, did a "ride along", interviewed again, went pee in a cup and started on Monday.  Some early impressions:

The Good

- I was unemployed for exactly 59 days, or just over eight weeks.  According to the NY Times (and they know everything) the average length of unemployment is 37.1 weeks (9 months!).  So, I feel pretty good about getting back in the game after a short two month summer vacation.  Had I been unemployed for nine months I would have surely reached Charlie Manson levels of lunacy.  Fortunately, eight weeks only brought me to Charlie Sheen levels.

- In 60 days I will officially be a motha fuckin' Teamster.  I just like saying that.  I'm fully aware that unions can be as polarizing as religion and politics, but I'm ecstatic to be joining one.  I grew up in a union household and my parents still rave about the benefits they received because my dad was part of the UAW.  Plus the Teamsters just held their annual convention in Las Vegas (the town dirty Teamsters' money allegdy built) and their president is Jim Hoffa - yes Hoffa.  I will be dilegently searching for books on Teamster history now.

-  Speaking of books, I can still read them.  When I get home from this job, the job ends.  I don't have to think about it until I arrive the next morning.  I asked the guy I am training with if he ever stresses about his job when he goes home and he looked at me as if I asked him if he enjoyed gang bangs.  Books, movies, running, Schlitz Sports Club, this blog - all items I didn't have time to do previous to losing my job - I will be able to continue to do.  I won't be continually haraunged at all hours on all days via emails/phone calls.  Hell, I don't even have an email address with this gig.  I operate a tiny hand held "computer" with only a number pad and Enter button.  That's about as analog as you can get these days - and it's awesome.

-  I start work at 4:30 each morning.  No, this wasn't accidentally placed in The Good.  I love starting work this early for a couple of reasons.  First and foremost, it means getting home early.  On Monday I was home at 1:00.  Yesterday I was home at 2:30.  Plus, I haven't slept past 6:30 in the morning in over 19 years ( old is Al?) so a couple of hours earlier isn't really an issue.  I'm at my productive best early in the morning and dawn - when everything is eerily quiet, serene and beautiful - has always been my favorite time of day.  I was apprehensive about a 9:00 bedtime, but as usual KT set me straight in her famously loving gentle way by saying, "you're always old man asleep on the couch by that time anyways, so what's the difference?".  Touché.

-  It's an active job.  It involves a lot of lifting, walking, climbing, pushing, pulling, etc.  I won't be sitting behind a desk with my eyes glazing over staring at a computer screen (at least until I get home).  I have yet to come across another bread guy who is obese.  It would be pretty hard to do with this job.

The Bad

- I no longer have a weekend.  Ironic, as unions' catchphrases are often "from the people that brought you the weekend".  My days off are Wednesday and Sunday.  This will take some getting used to and pretty much eliminates being able to go anywhere too far away for the weekend.  More devastating, however, will be the loss of Friday night Happy Hour, which is always a highlight of the week.  If you want to be one of those annoying bright-side people, however, I suppose you could look at it like this:  I'm never more than  three days away from a day off.

-  It's a D.O.T. job, which means random drug testing.  Before you snicker and make stoner jokes, I passed my test, and I will pass any tests they give me - I'm not worried about that.  It's just that I think random drug testing is incredibly invasive and stupid.  It's like randomly selecting people to stand trial for burglary or murder.  Having to prove your innocence even though there is no evidence or even suspicion of guilt bothers me.  I can understand why a driving job would require a pre-employment or a post-accident screen but random tests can bite me.  (Side note:  I once saw a sign on the front door of a Blockbuster that said "We drug test our employees for your safety".  Thank god for that.  Heaven forbid someone stoned suggest a movie.  You can only watch A Clockwork Orange so many times.)

-  Driving a bread route is, admittedly, not quite the job I had fantasized about when I first became unemployed.  However, since my repeated harassing emails to the Bundesliga, St. Pauli, Eurail, Sparta Rotterdam and the Swedish Allsvenskan have (so far) failed to convince them that they absolutely must immediately hire me to travel Europe on their dime and write English language content for them, it will have to suffice for now.  However, if they do finally realize that they can't live without me, I might still be open to considering it.  Don't tell Hostess.

The Unemployment Chronicles Part Ten - The End

So I got a job.  I started on Monday.  Thanks for playing along.

The end.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Unemployment Chronicles Part Nine - Memory Lane

Yesterday I undertook the gargantuan task of finding my Social Security card.  Or, more accurately, I undertook the heroic effort of following KT from room to room as she searched for my Social Security card.  We gave up after about four hours of searching and decided I would just venture to the Social Security office today and get a new one (which I thought would be a blog worthy adventure of its own.  Turns out it wasn't - I was in and out of there in five minutes and saw nothing but pleasant and helpful people the whole time.  Damn their efficiency and professionalism!).  Although we failed to find my card, we stumbled across a box deep in the attic which contained some of my personal items dating from early childhood through college.  It contained some of what you would expect - High School graduation program, confirmation picture, basketball cards (including thirteen Sherman Douglas rookie cards - I must have figured he was going to be awesome), etc.  There were also a few more noteworthy items.  Here is an inventory:

 - An envelope labeled "Paul's Teeth".  It contains exactly what you would expect.  Why I have kept my teeth for 30+ years, I have no idea.  I have a small box in our bathroom full of my kid's teeth as well.  Do other people do this?  I'm a little worried.  I can see perhaps saving a child's first lost tooth as a keepsake, but all of them?  The teeth in the envelope I discovered yesterday have no sentimental value.  They weren't my first teeth lost.  They didn't even come out naturally.  I had a messed up set of choppers when I was younger.  Think British meth-addict.  The seven teeth in this envelope were pulled out because they were growing in weird places or at weird angles.  Or at least that's what the dentist said.  In retrospect, he may have just been a sadist.

-  A white rabbit fur.  I don't know how or why I got this, but I remember my brother had one as well (his was gray).  It sat on the nightstand next to my bed and I kept my alarm clock on it.  The immediate question that comes to mind is who the hell manufactures rabbit skins?  Is there a sick farmer somewhere who raises rabbits simply to skin them and sell their hides to pre-pubescent children?  And if there is such a person, are they automatically on the "person of interest" list in all missing persons cases?  I would ok with throwing this away, but the fact that KT finds it so revolting that I can threaten her with it (really KT, I think this would look nice next to my side of the bed) means I have to keep it.

- A giant conch shell.  This didn't come from a memorable childhood trip to the ocean.  It came from a garage sale.  I think I paid 25 cents for it.  It also sat on the rabbit skin next to my alarm clock.  I have absolutely no idea why I have kept this and moved it from house to house no less than seven times.  I would dispose of it but I'm not sure if it is garbage or recycling.  Google couldn't help me on this.

- One Coca-Cola can and one Coca-Cola bottle.  When "new" Coke came out in 1985, I hoarded a bottle and can of classic formula, convinced they would be worth millions some day.  When Coke reverted back to their original formula less than a year later my plan was shot to hell.  I threw away the can yesterday because of leaking/evaportation but I'm hanging on to the bottle.

- An envelope containing corresondence from my first year of college at Gustavus.  This was back in the day when people actually wrote letters using pen and paper and stamps.  Here is a sample from one of my favorites from a high school friend who shall remain nameless:

Paul - Let me start out with a disclaimer of sorts:  I am extremely intoxicated from the hallucinatory effects of the drug THC, normally referred to as "marijuana".  In other words I'm Baked (note Capital "B").  So if the writing seems to wander a bit, don't surprised (sic); it should be good entertainment at least.

Needless to say, it was good entertainment.  Seven handwritten pages, single spaced, covering topics ranging from the Kansas City Royals to a dick down the hall that owed him $14 dollars.  At one point, without warning or explanation, the language switches to Russian and continues that way for half a page before switching back to English mid-sentence.  God I miss college.

The other favorite was this postcard my brother sent me from Chicago:

It reminds me of the picture Audrey found in an old coloring book at a friend's cabin last year:

The caption reads "Ape is bringing a big bunch of bananas."  Ape also seems to be bringing something else rather large.  KT and I were bursting with pride that Audrey took the time to color it, tear it out and bring it home for us.  Yes, that is hanging on our fridge.

- A jar full of pieces from the backboard my friend Eric shattered in High School during practice one day.  It was the most awesome day of practice ever.  Back when I went to high school, hardly anybody could dunk.  We had one person on our team that could throw it down on a somewhat regular basis, but only in practice, never in a game.  That didn't stop everyone from trying, however.  The rims and backboards took a beating everyday when every player who could grab the rim (I wasn't in this group) would spend at least 30 minutes attempting to dunk.  They would inevitably miss badly, but hang on the rim for a while for the cool factor anyways.  Eric apparently held too long one time because before anyone knew what was happening he was laying on the ground with thousands of small pieces of glass raining down on top of him.  We all froze, convinced he was dead.  I can literally remember watching him lay on the ground as his face turned from the palest ghotly white to a bright shining red as he realized what he had done.  Luckily, he escaped with only a few minor scrapes.  It goes without saying that he was a celebrity for a few days.  Side note - Eric was also the guy that somehow broke a window and nearly fell out from the 7th floor of our hotel on a 9th grade band trip.  Somebody shot him with a squirt gun, he backed up and went right through the window, just catching himself on the frame before he tumbled out.  He must have developed a taste for the adrenaline as he is both a cop and fireman now.

- An envelope containing some of my "poetry" from high-school and college.  Good Lord am I a colossal douche.  I will not subject myself (or you) to an entire entry, but let me just give you a small sample:

Morning brings in the setting sun
And you sink deeper into its grips
Recovery is the ultimate setback
It is a mere illusion of the impending doom
You can be born only once
Although death is a reoccuring procedure

I was emo before it was cool to be emo.  Except I wore button-fly 501s (rolled up of course), powder jackets and Swatch watches (I found one of these in the box as well!) instead of trench coats and black eyeliner.  As tempted as I was to destroy all evidence my "dark period" and the poems that flowed out during this time, I shoved them back in the box before pushing it back into the deep nether-regions of the attic.  Someday, when my grandkids or great-grandkids discover them, it will explain a lot.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Unemployment Chronicles Part Eight - Tales of a First Grade Paul

I once read a study that losing your job is the fourth most stressful thing a person can endure in their life, behind only death of a spouse/child/parent, divorce or jail.  I've been fortunate enough in my life not to have had to go through any of the top three, so what the brain doctors are telling me is that I am going through the most stressful time of my entire life.  Admittedly, being jobless has been trying at times (probably more so for those sharing a roof with me) but for any shrink trying to tell me this is as stressful as it gets, I submit the following photo as evidence to the contrary:

That's me in first grade.  Notice the hunched shoulders, overbite holding a trembling lip still and big brown eyes moist with the tears of a thousand stresses.  This is one stressed out little kid about to lose his proverbial (and quite probably literal) shit.  How can a kid with two loving parents, a roof over his head and plenty of food on the table be this stressed?  Glad you asked.  Let me tell you about the day this kid had been through.

Back in the mid-seventies, there was no such thing as all-day kindergarten.  You were either an AM or a PM.  I was a PM, meaning school started about noon and went until about three.  Mornings I was free to sleep in, watch cartoons and be a general pain-in-the-ass to my mom.  I liked school but was comfortable with my three hour a day afternoon shift.  So, when first grade came around and the bus picked you up at 7:45, it threw a major monkey wrench into my sedentary lifestyle.  Now, I had to be up at seven, washed-up, breakfast eaten and teeth brushed within forty-five minutes.  Nearly impossible under normal circumstances.  On this day, however, being picture day, a shower had to be thrown in as well.  Although I highly doubt I missed the bus - even then I had an anal-retentiveness that forbade such things - I have to imagine 876 Oriole Dr. was an utterly chaotic scene that morning.  Stress level rising.

I realize it's pretty easy to second guess, but looking back at picture day at Southview Elementary, I have to question the strategy of the administrators.  They always started with the fifth graders, lining them up first thing in the morning for photos and then moved their way down grade by grade until they got to the first graders in the late afternoon.  I would think common logic would show that the younger the child, the greater potential for jelly faces, boogers on the collar, dirt on the shirt, etc., so you would want those photos taken first.  Instead, the first graders were expected to remain clean and presentable throughout the day, which was a nearly impossible mission.  I had an early history of screwing up picture day.  In Kindergarten, my mom took me to the Sears Roebuck Outlet Store in the morning of the day I was to have my pictures taken.  She picked out a nice pair of corduroy pants with a matching turtleneck and accentuating sweater vest.  I was looking sharp and naturally insisted I wear the outfit out of the store.  I also naturally insisted I be awarded with a piece of gum for my excellent behavior during the shopping outing (I had to be bribed to go shopping - still do, although now it's with beer and not gum).  Needless to say, by the time we had gotten home, the entire outfit as well as my hair had somehow become infused with Fruit Stripe.  Consequently, my kindergarten picture features me in too small clothing and a suspicious chunk of hair missing.  Anyways, back to first grade.  With recent history in mind, my mom shooed me out the door with the following instructions: "Whatever you do, stay clean until you get your picture taken."  Then, as I was hopping on the bus, she yelled "AND DON'T HUNCH YOUR SHOULDERS!" - which I had a strange tendency to do.  Stress level continuing to rise.

As if the stress and pressure of picture day weren't enough, the powers that be of Southview Elementary decided to fill the morning with a grade wide spelling bee.  As Apple Valley was a booming suburb by this time, we had three first grade classes in the school.  The contest started within each classroom, with the top five from each class advancing to a big spell-off in the gym.  I was a pretty talented speller in first grade and didn't have too much difficulty flying through the preliminary round, snickering as kids messed up on gimmes like book or cat.  Before I knew it I was in the top five of the class and preparing to take on the other first grade chumps.  Shortly before lunch the entire first grade gathered in the gym.  At the time, I imagined my peers to all be spellbound (no pun intended) by my dazzling spelling skills.  In retrospect, however, I imagine they were bored out of their minds counting the minutes until lunch and recess.  The fifteen finalists were lined up in the front of the gym ready to compete when the principal informed us that the top three overall winners would be advancing to a regional competition to face the winners of the other elementary schools in the area.  Holy crap.  The thought of traveling to Rosemount, Burnsville or (ohmygod) Bloomington was too much to handle.  I froze.  Luckily, most of the other kids did too.  They were dropping like flies, getting more wrong than right.  I slipped through the first round - stuggling through "pillow"- and soon realized there were only five of us left.  I only had to outlast two more schmucks to be on my way to fame and glory.  When my turn came, I was ecstatic to hear them say "nickel".  Nickel?  Please.  Piece of cake.  I smiled broadly and nearly shouted, "Nickel.  N-I-C-K-L-E.  Nickel."  It was all I could do to contain myself from yelling "See ya suckas!".  When I looked to Ms. Dilworth, expecting to see a proud smile spread across her face, I saw her slowly shaking her head.  I had blown it.  My one shot at fame, fortune and happiness gone because of a stupid L-E mix-up.  To this day, I refuse keep nickles (yes, NICKLES) in my pockets.  Stress level high.

Oh well, at least I had recess to calm me down before pictures.  I, like most kids, was a huge fan of recess and figured I would be able to compose myself through a solid thirty minutes of basketball.  Even in first grade, I was obsessed with shooting baskets and would invariably spend each recess either playing pickup basketball or just shooting hoops on my own.  The vast majority of the other kids were obsessed with kickball, which to me meant getting one turn "at bat", which lasted 20 seconds, and spending the other 29 plus minutes thinking about how bored you were.  No thanks, I'll stick to basketball.  On a typical day, there was always a crate of standard issue red rubber balls for use at recess.  I always made sure to rush through lunch as fast as possible so that I could be one of the first out for recess and have my choice of balls to use.  In another case of questionable judgement (or perhaps it's sadism?) Southview Elementary chose on this day to only have two balls available.  I applauded my good judgement on choking down my lunch when I secured one of the precious orbs.  I took off to the hoops and began futile after futile attempt of hitting a free throw.  As the other kids trickled out for recess, I began to notice quite a few fifth graders watching and pointing at me.  Uh-oh.  Sure as shit, within minutes I was surrounded, the ball was pried from my fingers and headed over to the kickball diamond.  I was pissed and determined to see justice.  I marched over to the playground aide and through snot and tears emphatically explained the gross injustice I had just experienced.  He yawned (in hindsight, he may have been stifling a laugh) and said, "well, there's more of them so they get the ball".  He then went over and acted as umpire for their kickball game.  No trial, no appeal, no justice.  Stress level was now through the roof.

By the time pictures came, I was a hot mess.  The disruption of my morning routine, the devastating spelling bee loss and the unpunished mistreatment I had suffered at recess (you can see the puffiness under my eyes from crying) combined to make it the worst day ever.  I had hit rock bottom - or so I thought.  As I neared the front of the line, I realized with horror that the process wasn't as simple as sitting in a chair, smiling, and being sent on your way.  This was before digital photography allowed bad photos to be simply deleted and a new photo taken.  Each and every photo had to count.  So, before you ever got to the chair, you had to get past Mrs. Baumerkirsch.  Mrs. Baumerkirsch was normally the school nurse, but today her job was to ensure that each child was ready for their big moment.  She would take the child in the on-deck circle, forcibly sit them down, then run a plastic comb through their hair, straighten their clothes, attempt to rub out a stain if needed and send them onto the stage.  Then, and to an only slightly lesser extent now, I had huge issues with strangers pawing at me.  When my turn came, Mrs. Baumerkirsch grabbed me by the shoulders, placed me in the chair, whipped out the comb and got to work.  To expound my misery, the day was hot and humid, which caused my hair to fuzz out in every conceivable direction.  Mrs. Baumerkirsch raked the comb through my hair several dozen times to no avail - my hair was not cooperating.  She leaned back, sighed, and then did something which to this day I have not been able to forget.  I can still see her, in slow-motion no-less, dropping her jowly chin, sticking out her thick pink tongue and licking the comb.  She then took the comb, now dripping with her saliva and went back to work on my hair.  I went catatonic.  I remember nothing else about the experience.  I have vague flashbacks, usually in the dead of the night, of people yelling "don't hunch", "smile" and "nickel", but I can't recall any cognizant details of the experience from that point onward.

When we got the pictures back several weeks later I was terrified to show my parents.  To their credit, they feigned anger but could only laugh.  Retakes were out of the question as they not only cost a lot but my parents weren't interested in the coorelating therapy bills that would have gone with them.  So, to finally get to the point of my story - whenever my stress level over the past seven weeks gets to the boiling point, I simply pull out the photo album and look back to my first grade picture.  Put in perspective, things really aren't all that bad.