Wednesday, February 28, 2007



Just heard the most depressing words from my boss while discussing letting a salesman borrow his phone for convention trips.

"I don't need it unless I'm going out of town and I'm not going out of town for a long time"

I repeat..., "Ugh."

Friday, February 23, 2007

A Dream Realized...

Here I sit. It's almost 9am on a Friday. Usually I'd be here in Caribou Coffee in Royal Oak simply sitting in one of the comfy leather chairs, sipping coffee, and thinking of all the things I should (or at least want to) get done on the computer once I get to work.

...but not today.

Today is my first full day with my own laptop.

I have been wanting to spend my time in the coffee shop doing my own projects for so long. Usually, most of my time in front of a computer is either at work, where I am either scrutinized most of the time for not "working", or at home where there are the distractions of chores, kids, and such that prohibit getting too engrossed for too long on any given computer related project - like blogs. Even when the kids are calm or in bed and the chores are relatively up to date, there's the temptation of TV and such that make it difficult to focus.

I have wanted a laptop for years. Mostly I wanted one to make going to the coffee shop to study and do papers for school a bit easier. Sonya got one a couple years back with money from her AmeriCorps grant (qualified as a school supply) and has always let me use it when I need to, but she's understandably picky about how and what is installed and such. She's never acted perticularly posessive, but no matter how generous she is with letting me borrow it - it's still HER computer. That's mostly my hangup. It's kinda like borrowing a coat to go to the store - ya gotta give it back and you're not gonna sew a new hood or trim onto the thing for the brief time ya got it.

I spent the majority of yesterday installing programs and transferring my media from my MP3 player. My biggest worry with the new Windows Vista was that it wouldn't run my older programs. I heard a LOT of complaints about that. So far, everything seems to have loaded fine. All the programs I plan to use (Photoshop, Pagemil, my audio editor, games and such) seem to be fine. I only hope that when I find my Finale disc that it will be as at home on this thing (fingers crossed).

Mostly, though, I want to start keeping up with my blog and maybe start another journal. I started one for each of my kids when they were born with the intent of giving it to them at graduation to give them some insight on their past. I was hoping to write in it at least once a week, but have gone months at a time - or even years - between entries because it's hard to find the time to think and my handwriting is SO slow and barely legible at times. This will help. I plan to transcribe what I have to digital format and continue from there. I'll keep the hand-written copies to present with the full version. Something old-fashioned and nostalgic about it - plus, I doodle.

I am absolutely GEEKED! I have SUCH plans for this thing! I'm gonna write more, arrange songs for my quartet, write music, develop my drill writing & quartet websites, edit my home movies - Oh the possibilities!

Stay tuned for more frequent ponderings and such.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Prepare to be inundated...

Thus far I have only blogged when I had a rare few moments of peace at work. Soon, you will hopefully be virtually PLAGUED with my endless rants (thus, hopefully, you'll get more of the good stuff, too).

After 2 years of failed attempts to earn, scrimp, save, and beg at holidays and birthdays...


An early birthday present from my dad. It ain't the top 'o the line multi-thousand dollar media center type I would have bought had I shot into an oil well huntin' fer rabbit, but it's brand new, and thus LOADS better than what I have at work or home! Everything I need! All I have to do is possibly get rid of Vista in favor of XP, depending on if all the programs I use work or not with the new, unproven OS du jour from the evil Gates Empire. At about 4 gigs to load, I hear Vista's bloated, clunky, and doesn't play well with older children (read: older software).

So brace yourselves, kiddies! I'm movin' from the wading pool and swan-divng into the deep end of the bloggosphere (and other technological endevors) next week!

Another Op'nin', Another Show... Philly, Boston or...Livonia!?

That's right, folks. My barbershop chorus, The Gentleman Songsters, 68th anual Parade of Harmony Show is THIS WEEKEND at Clarenceville High!

If you've never been to a Barbershop Show, this is your chance to not only see one of the finest choruses in the Pioneer District, but a couple PHOENOMENAL quartets as well! Something for everyone.

FYI - My chorus has a LONG history of booking the quartet that goes on to win the Gold Medal at the next international competition. Flipside is in a good position for that title. Catch them before they're too big or too busy for you to afford!

Tickets are $16 in advance (Get money to me by Thursday 2/22) or $18 at the door with student and senior discounts available (I think). Any other questions, just ask me.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Professional (if you can call it that) Frustration: Part 1 – The Best Suck Job I’ve Ever Had

Understand, I classify a "Suck Job" as a meager position with little authority and even less pay that you take because you need a job – any job. This mostly includes the service industry, but generally is any job that doesn't fit into your chosen career or vocation. This doesn't mean they're BAD jobs, and even (as I will empart) good things can happen there.

First and foremost, I direct your attention to the center ring…

Last Friday I went to work at Blockbuster and was greeted by my shift manager with, "You better call Scott," referring to our district leader. One never likes to be told to call one's superiors – especially the ones a couple steps up on the chain of command. I wasn't too nervous, but a bit perplexed.

I called him up, knowing that despite my unorthodox behavior as the "Active Seller" at the (now only) Royal Oak store, he couldn't say much that was bad about me. I don't adhere strictly to my job description as set forth by company policy and standard operating procedures. I joke, I come in costume, I play my ukulele on the job between customers, I bring in my barbershop quartet on occasion, and generally have as much fun with my job as the management will allow (or at least pretend to ignore). This has turned me into almost some weird kind of local icon in the neighborhood and with our customers. Despite my unusual ways, I've never had a serious customer complaint in my 6 years with Big Blue and I have quite likely the highest sales rate of any individual in the district, perhaps region, even given my meager (until recently) 10 average hours a week.

Apparently, he emparted, a columnist from the Detroit Free Press had caught my "act" after being clued into it from a coworker and wanted to do an article about me and my offbeat ways at Blockbuster! I agreed, gave a call to the Media Relations guy from corporate and got the rundown on what NOT to say (basic stuff like don't talk business trends and corporate policy). I then called the reporter to schedule an interview.

He came by this past Tuesday, watched me do my usual weekend routine on a weekday (for show), and asked me some innocuous questions about why I play that darned thing week after week. The article itself is brief, but good and in its proper context. He left out a few key details I had hoped he'd leave in like a plug for my quartet, mention of my other endeavors, and a quip praising the Blockbuster online program (per my district manager's suggestion), but the picture is nice and big!

You can purchase a copy of it here:
Detroit Free Press Archives: A Few Minutes With a Blockbuster Ukulele Player

A bit of background…

I started at the Clawson Blockbuster, after one of my occasional 2-week bouts of unemployment. Back then (late 90's, pre-kids and mortgage), finding a 'job' was easy. Each new job I took was a little better paying and my stints without one were brief. My friend Anthony, who was the store manager at the Clawson Blockbuster mentioned that he needed an assistant manager, so I figured I'd give it a go. He mentioned good benefits, quoted a decent hourly he'd suggest to the mucky-mucks that I start with, and the free rents were a nice perk, so I took the job.

It was a good job. I've always said the work to pay ratio at Blockbuster was great, even if the pay itself was not. I was well respected as an assistant manager and was often asked to transfer when there was a store in need of some shaping up in that regard. Managing is not my cup o' tea, per cest, but I got to relate to customers, talk movies, watch movies under the pretext of work-related research, and enjoyed most of my time there.

I took a year off after getting a job at Mars Music in the band instrument department. Those of you who know my theater résumé, know that "selling band instruments, AAAND instruction books, AAAnd u-nee-forms" is right up my alley. Deciding I needed to have health insurance with a family, and when that job proved to suck due to poor promotion of the store as a band instrument store as opposed to a drums/guitars/sound equipment store, I went back to BBV.

I continued to manage for a few months, but got tired and burnt-out quickly, as I was also working my new day job as an instrument repair tech and working with a few marching bands in the fall as well. I started to suck at my job and had less enthusiasm for it every day.

I had actually decided to quit when my store manager called me to a little meeting. He confronted me with my lax performance and ennui as of late, and I confessed my intentions. To my only slight surprise, he and the district leader had discussed firing me, but couldn't justify it, as I was the only one keeping their sales goals on track. He suggested the newly created role of "active seller" – someone on the floor during peak shifts whose express purpose is to promote the newest sales priorities and assist customers on the sales floor. No paperwork, no cash handling, no conflict resolution – just customer service. It would mean a bit of a pay cut and being stripped on my management authority and computer access, but would keep my benefits and relegate me solely to my strengths. Bingo.

After a few lulls during a few on my shifts, I asked my manager if I could just run to my car and grab my ukulele when the place was empty (which would happen occasionally even on a weekend night shift). A few regulars would come in while I was dabbling on it and I'd blush a bit, tuck the instrument aside and help them. A few were rather impressed, however.

As I got a bit better and taught myself some more chords, I started teaching myself songs that I felt lent themselves well to the idiom. I started with "Tonight You belong to Me", the duet with Bernadette Peters and Steve Martin in the Jerk. From there, I added a few Monty Python songs, and several other movie-related tunes – pretty soon I had a repertoire and started unabashedly playing them when there were folks IN the store.

It became my gimmick.

When I was transferred to the South Royal Oak store after my home store was unceremoniously closed, I asked if I could do the same there. I was met with a shrug and a, "why not". I serenade fussy kids with "Rainbow Connection" or "You've Got a Friend in Me", sing "Happy Birthday" when I'm clued in to the appropriate situation, and even start learning the songs from film on the in-store trailer tape (hence my ukulele rendition of Abba's "Dancing Queen" mentioned in the article).

It's gone over well with customers, overall. Most smile as they walk in, a few roll their eyes, and now I can't work a shift without a dozen people asking where my uke is if it's not immediately in my hands! I've never been confronted directly with someone who doesn't like my gimmick – only a couple relayed from folks at the register.

So that's the in-depth story BEHIND the story in today's Freep. If you'd like a print copy with a nice big black & white photo of Yours Truly, go check today's (Thursday, Feb 8th, 2007) Detroit Free Press and turn to page 2 of section B.

If you do the web version, leave a comment for the writer! Nice guy and treated me very well, I'd say!

Oh, and let me know what YOU think of the article!

Friday, February 2, 2007

Mi Vida Loca (Take 2)

Incredibly whiny blog ahead!

Is there ever a time of the year when I'm NOT incredibly busy?

I just got 5 hours sleep after being up for about 21 hours straight and working for 17½ of them. Money's crazy tight right now, so I'm picking up extra shifts at Blockbuster. I'd pick up extra hours at Custom Music (it pays almost double what I make at Blockbuster), but the place is only open 38 hours a week and I'm already there for pretty much every one of them. So this means that pretty much every day this week, I have virtually every moment booked from top to bottom. I'm working both jobs 3 days this week, and one or the other on 3 other days, giving me about 61 hours this week. Sunday is my only day off, and that will likely be spent on chores.

On top of that, my Barbershop Chorus has its annual show coming up on Feb 23rd & 24th, and as I'm in the front row, have missed several rehearsals through the fall marching band and holiday seasons, and one of the few tenors, I kinda have to be there and catch up on the songs and choreography.

The only respite I get is occasionally in the mornings after dropping Liam at school at 7:30 or so. I head to a Caribou Coffee in Royal Oak until Custom Music opens to sit, organize my planner, and maybe read a few pages of a book. Usually gets me about 1 to 1 ½ hours to either relax and/or think (rarely both, because if I think about things to much recently, I can't relax - I start to panic).

So far, to give you an idea, this is what my life's been like this week:

So far…

7am – wake up, shower and get Liam ready for school
7:40am - Drop Liam at school
8am - Head to the coffee shop and read for an hour
9:45am - Work at Custom Music
3pm – Pick Liam up from school
5:30pm - Home for dinner
7pm – Off to Barbershop Chorus rehearsal
10:45pm – pick up some groceries
11:30pm – Arrive home, clean cat box and surrounding piles and refill, mop back room floor and replace papers, tidy living room, empty garbage, clean cat vomit off of stove and sterilize surrounding area
12:30 - make snack, go to bed.

7am – wake up, shower and get Liam ready for school
7:40am - Drop Liam at school
8am - Head to the coffee shop and read for an hour
9:45am - Work at Custom Music
5:30 – Work at Blockbuster
10:30 – leave work early, as Sonya has been called to a birth
10:45 – Arrive home and do some minor chores
11:15 – go to bed

10am: Wake up and shower after forgetting to turn on alarm (Sonya got Liam to school on time, thankfully, and I got a little extra sleep! Yay!)
10:20am – get to work late and get crap from annoying coworker
5:40 – get home and help with dinner
7pm – Sonya is called to ANOTHER birth
7:30pm – give kids a bath and ready for bed
7:45pm – Cresta pops by for a visit (Some actual socialization time for me!)
8:15pm – kids in bed (yet awake and whiny for another hour)
10pm – after a nice long conversation and much-needed catching up, Cresta leaves.
10:45 – after making myself a sandwich and a White Russian, I catch up on my e-mails.
11:30 – Sonya gets back, fills me in on the birth, and I go to bed.

7am – wake up, shower and get Liam ready for school
7:40am - Drop Liam at school
8am - Head to the coffee shop and read for an hour. Lou shows up the last 1/2 hour, we catch up a bit and I play Dr. Phil to him about women.
9:45am - Work at Custom Music
5:30 – Work at Blockbuster
Midnight – picked up a few extra hours doing inventory at Blockbuster
4am – home and bed
4:30am – actually fell asleep

Friday (Today):
10am – Wake up and shower after hitting the snooze alarm a few too many times (Sonya agreed to get Liam to school so I could have nearly 6 hour sleep)
10:45am - Sneak out of work (so as not to get docked ANY time) to pick up Liam from school and drop him home after an increasingly rare bad day in class
10:15am – work at Custom Music
5:15pm – run by bank and deposit paychecks, replenishing it from the big Goose-egg the mortgage brought it to
5:30pm – Work at Blockbuster
11:30pm – Home, chores, and plan weekend
12:30am - bed

8am – wake up, shower
9am – All-day rehearsal with the Barbershop Chorus
5pm – Work at Blockbuster
10:30pm – Home..

The kids will hopefully be in Ann Arbor all day with their grandparents, so we can get some cleaning done and maybe even shampoo the carpets like we've wanted to do for months now. Most likely the day will be filed with chores, with a brief diversion to watch the commercials during the Super Bowl. We usually have a few friends over for it, but we're flat broke, so no money for munchies, and the house needs a lot of work before we can have guests (well, maybe Leigh, since she's seen our house at its worst plenty of times). I dunno – we'll see. Don't be surprised to get a call from around 6pm saying, "The game's on in ½ hour! Come over and grab some beer on the way!"

Even my commute time is spent listening to the learning tracks for the chorus songs on my mP3 player in an attempt to get the few remaining notes in my head and wipe the bad habits out before the next rehearsal.

Next week has much the same schedule, without the inventory shift, all-day rehearsal, or Super Bowl. I'd like to say this will have me rolling in money, but Blockbuster pays just over $8/hr, so it doesn't add up quickly, if at all. Usually it's just enough to pay for the insurance premuims for the family on the company health plan. It will, however, help us barely claw out from the financial pit we're in, just before the gravedigger would cover us in the soil of collections litigation.

I'm exhausted, but keep going on pure panic, adrenaline, caffeine, and the hope that it will all calm down eventually. Getting the taxes done early and getting our (hopeful) refund may ease my mind a bit, but it's a band-aid on the problem. It doesn't solve the problem of being over employed, underpaid, immersed in debt and projects to be completed, and financially strung-out.

Realistically, this winter is going to suck, but I have little choice but to do what I have to do to keep the lights on, food on the table, and the heat pumping through our under-insulated house. However, I will maintain my hopeful and optimistic attitude and press on with the knowledge that "this too, shall pass".

Coming up next: "Professional (if you can call it that) Frustration" and "Not everything sucks – Honest!"

PS. If your wondering where I found the time to write this blog, it took me a week of lunches to complete it!