Musings from Brian J. Noggle
Saturday, August 23, 2003
Drink, Drink, to Charlie Forte's Memory

(Apologies to Leslie Fish whose filk song "The Gods Aren't Crazy (They're Higher Than Kites)" produced the headline, and to my dear readers, who won't find the song's lyrics online and would be hard pressed to find the song on CD or cassette.)

Fark points to a story about the wonderful world of coincidences, and how the laws of probability indicate that every billion or so tries, a billion-to-one event will occur.

It's only old Pan, and he's crocked to the gills.

What? Who's That?

Now that I have been roused from the recliner from what was promising to be a perfectly delicious Saturday afternoon nap to find a child with a pen and fundraising catalog rapping upon my door, I can only wonder

Why are kids fundraising the first week of school?

Can't our Fagin educators start teaching or something before sending the little Twists out begging?

Lessons from a Grocery Store

I didn't learn everything that I learned while I was at college in college. I went to Marquette University and got a B.A. in English and philosophy before I looked in the classified ads to see how many listings there were for 'Philosopher Wanted.'

Fortunately I worked at a grocery store to put myself through college, an unremarkable feat alone. It did teach me several things that the university professors or the views outside the classroom windows did. I value what I learned in the hallowed halls of Marquette, but that's not all there is to life. What I learned in Dave Straz 501 and Marquette Hall 301 is theory, and without wedding it to the practical it is worthless. Likewise what I learned in the back rooms of stores in Milwaukee and Missouri would seem a bit too specific to be of use anywhere else. Fortunately the two have gelled into a set of lessons to pass on:

  1. Always have something to fall back on.
    The lights in the break room never seemed to all work at once, and it was dark one September evening at Gold's Shop Rite. I had just started my freshman year at Marquette, and I was a three month veteran of the grocery industry. The new assistant manager, a portly man named Dean, convinced Mike Fredericks, store manager, to hold a meeting for the baggers. The summer short-timers had shaken out, and seated around the crumby table in front of me a small core of baggers that would last a while. Tim, a recent refuge from some other town, new to everyone in the city and somehow lonelier than all of us; Shawn, a flame-haired future high school dropout whose hobbies were heavy metal-music and piercing himself; Robert, a recently born-again Christian with energy that seemed barely contained in his small frame; Cortney, the largest of us, a high school athlete; Earl, a thin, bespectacled black young man that would follow his family into the Marine Corps as I had not; and me, a recent homecomer from Missouri with pretentions of "Poetry." "Take pride in your work. You guys do a good job, and we want you to know what you do is important." Hard to convince seven guys at minimum wage that they were in a noble undertaking.

    "It will always be something to fall back on." Over the years, I have seen many retirees come back to the grocery industry to supplement whatever pensions and "old people" incomes they receive. I myself have returned to produce clerkdom to pull myself out of debt.

    College never afforded us that luxury. With the intensity of the new curriculums, less time is spent on the liberal arts and more is spent focussing our graduates into one field, into one narrow path through life where deviation means confusion. Much of what passes for my personal "limbo" experiences and possibly for the rest of my generation is the feeling that if we don't get a good job in one narrow bandwidth of life we have failed.

    Like an Existentialist Jesuit told my class, "Most of life is plan B." It helps to have a plan B, and if not specifically the grocery industry, then something to fall back on.

  2. Touch the product.
    When I first became a produce clerk, Chris stood next to me, both of us clad in our green aprons. Mine was a symbol of pride; his was a uniform. We were "culling the rack," checking each display of fruits and vegetables for bad merchandise. "Touch them all; touch them, feel them, become them," he said with mock Bodhisatva wisdom and baring his teeth in the peculiar Michels smile. "Only then can you cull the rack effectively."

    Each morning I ran my fingers over all the waxy apple skins, among the tartly scented grapefruit, and over (and occasionally into) the dull tomatoes. When rotating the produce, I picked each peach and plum up individually and put them into place, insuring less damage than what a later produce manager would call the "dump and run." When the deliveries of new product came in, I would wheel the skids-pallets-into the cooler and hand unload them, moving first the old product out of the way and then restacking them all by hand. It gave me a sense of knowing what the product was, what it looked like, and even a sense of accomplishment when it was done.

    Too often I remember other, less manual jobs where I would deal with items and people I had never seen. It was far removed from me; I think sometimes other people feel the same way.

    "Why so many?" A purchaser asked me at a later job. She gestured a lithe arm at the four oversized skids of foamboards. Our loading dock held six skids of product comfortably, with room to move carts and ourselves. I had left the other seven skids, one a double-size with four by eight foot sheets of foamboard on it, out on the concrete loading dock.

    "That's what you ordered." I flipped pages on the purchase order and showed her the number of sheets she ordered. "Fourteen hundred. Four bins of three hundred and fifty."

    I'm sure it looked a lot simpler on the computer screen when she typed it in. Fourteen hundred is four keystrokes and a return. Fourteen hundred foamboards is one hundred and twenty eight cubic feet. Something she remembered for three months, until it was time to order it again. Something I and the others who sell it and move it every day take for granted.

    I am not above it. The first produce order I wrote, several years ago, was a bit large. The produce manager took a week's vacation, and I wrote the order for a Saturday load and was in the process of moving it around when I checked the order book. It was only ones and twos in the book, with an occasional four or ten, but when it was totaled, it was a two hundred piece load. Almost twice the necessary amount for an average summer weekend. Almost too much for a green green grocer to handle. But I managed, and I remembered that little ticks in the book add up to lots of cases in the cooler, lots of cases of perishables in the cooler.

  3. Remember the people.
    William, third grade, liked to help me fill the rack whenever his mother shopped at the store. He told me in his many visits of his preference for comic books with Wolverine in them and his performance on recent math tests.

    Val, a highly educated woman with a gravelly voice always shortened my name to "Bri," her current husband's name. She was a discriminating produce buyer and knew the seasons better than I do.

    "Swivel-hips." Someone in the store designated the red-haired lady that because she did not pivot at the waist. She always asked for help buying good grapes for her mother and lived her life on the sixty-seven bus line. I often saw her waiting for it going one way or the other.

    There are more faces than names, the customers in the various stores I have worked in. Every one of them have different preferences and different experiences.

    "Cut these down and put them on the floor. They'll buy them." One of the in absentia owners pointed at scraps of paper to be bundled and priced. I didn't care to ask who "they" were or why "they" would want to by assortments of mismatched color papers. I doubted if he knew.

    Too often this happens in the retail industry. Someone remembers they have a target audience, and the abstraction takes over for individuals. It happens in other circumstances, too, when we stereotype individuals by their occupations or positions in life. A certain amount is inevitable, given the small amount of attention and time we can give to any one person, place, or idea these days, but it helps to keep the individual in mind. Not for some strange esoteric "we-are-all-brothers-and-sisters" forced-fraternity, but because we might miss out on some interesting and personal contact. Something too often missing in the flurry of modern existence.

    Besides, if you don't know who "they" are, you might not know that they don't need multi-colored trinkets.

  4. Don't waste timing covering your arse.
    There's a lot to be done and very little time to do it in life. It's not so bad when you're in a store and you know when your shift is over. You can pace yourself to get everything you want to do and need to do done. Life doesn't afford us that luxury. We need to make the most of time. Covering yourself and hiding or obfuscating your mistakes wastes precious time.

    "Who threw all those greens out?" Number Two asked. My second produce manager blinked his expansive blue eyes at me from his low height.

    "That's a silly question. I did." There were two of us working in the department.


    "They were rotting in the cooler." The smell had been driving me crazy for days. He proceeded to tell me how his gross profit margin would be affected and all the other good reasons I should not have thrown them out.

    He did give me every opportunity to avoid it, though. I could have answered that I didn't know, I could have made lengthier explanations and excuses. Either way I would have wasted time trying to avoid the consequences of my action. I leave the excuses and the innuendo dances to the people in the front office.

    I don't claim some sort of produce omniscience, either. I make mistakes, too. Like wetting leaf lettuces and cabbages from a water bottle where a ten percent bleach solution has replaced pure water. When I found out what happened, I pulled all the cabbage and leaf lettuce and threw them out. I rinsed the rack and filled it with fresh product. Time spent on making excuses, pleading innocence or ignorance, or bemoaning error could be better spent on fixing them or just going on. Some of us have to work for a living and live for a lifetime.
So there you have them. It's not enough to write a snooty book prompted by the editor of Harper's, but I got something from my years in the retail industry. Now, for only $10,000 per instance, I can come to your company and explain them.

St. Louis Cracks Down

Meanwhile, at the decaying center of the patchwork of municipalities, the City of St. Louis (which is not itself a part of St. Louis County due to a bit of short-sighted governmental miserliness before suburban expansion made the county's tax base a multiple of the city's) and its Metropolitan Police (known less-than-affectionately by those who have been threatened for jail time for fencing as "Metro Tins") are cracking down on people who come into urban neighborhoods and sell their product for bags full of money.

That's right: they're taking the ice cream man down hard.

Friday, August 22, 2003
Son of a Raskol!

Pejman links to a valuable psychological self-examination in which you can determine which Dostoyevsky protagonist you are.

You are Raskolnikov of "Crime and
Punishment". You are a student who has
dropped out of college, cosumed with your
ideas, much to the concern of your family and
friends. What's interesting you the most right
now is your idea of surpassing morality, and
becoming a "superman". However, your
love of a religious prostitute, your concern
for your sister, and your guilty conscience
indicates that there is morality. Watch out for
urbane police inspectors!

Which Dostoyevsky protagonist are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

Whew! Thankfully. Crime and Punishment is the only Dostoyevsky I've read, although I have a paperback collection which includes Notes from Underground, Poor People, and Friend of the Family among my hundred or so volume "To Read" library (and as a Russian novel, it's tied with War and Peace and only slightly before or after the incomplete 14 volume set of History of Philosophy for the title of Last Thing To Read). I would have been lost if Quizilla had determined I was a Karamazov.

First, I would like to apologize in advance to my elderly neighbor. Please understand, I am a victim of circumstance:
  • I am Ubermensch.
  • Quizilla told me to do it.
Also, I would like to apologize to my hot conservative chick on a bike for calling you "Sonia" in an inappropriate moment in the near future.

I Can't Believe She Watched The Whole Thing

Rachel Lucas watched Bowling for Columbine all the way through, which is more than I have, since I haven't watched any Michael Moore since The Big One. Ms. Lucas describes her thoughts on it here.

My sympathies, Rachel. You can't throw a DVD or a television like you can a paperback copy of Stupid White Men.

Also, Ms. Lucas, as someone recently outed as a Milli Vanilli cassette owner, I'd like to point out that you're too harsh on Milli Vanilli. Someone made that catchy pop music, even if it wasn't Rob and Fab. Werd.

When Suburban St. Louis Municipalities Attack!

Those of us who live in the St. Louis area can easily get inured to the absurdity that passes for politics in the area's dozens of postage stamp municipalities, where high school drama kings and queens can ply their cliquish fantasies decades beyond graduation. The spectacles tend toward comedies, in the sense that life is a comedy to those who think and a tragedy to those who feel or own land about to be eminent domained for a new Wal-Mart.

Typically, it's the powerless home owners against the slightly less powerless municipal Powers-That-Pose-To-Be in their own government. However, the regularly-scheduled development brouhaha takes a novel twist when it's the citizens of neighboring communities who try to dictate development in a neighboring community.

To sum it up in a nutshell for those of you who don't want to click the link, a tony suburb called Town and Country (whose very name conjures up visions of failed Warren Beatty movies and Lincoln-Mercury minivans) wants to throw in one of those strip malls guaranteed to bring in $2.4 million in sales taxes every year until the next development siphons half or three quarters of the sales next year. However, residents in neighboring communities whose lots abut the development site have annointed themselves to determine what's best for not their communities, but Town and Country. That land would be better used as a park to raise their property values than anything the duly elected government of Town and Country could approve.

That sets off my special Rant-Sense. You see, it's bad enough when municipal governments and the fascist power of the majority gets to infringe on the property rights of owners, whether homeowners who don't want to sell or developers who want to build, but for unelected and un-asked-for people from different communities to start their a-clamoring and a-litigating.... Well, it's so very wrong and against many principles upon which this country was founded. Self rule. Property rights.

I wonder if these same "activists" think that the United States government should submit to the will of its neighbors before making decisions in Minnesota or Arizona. I'm not sure which would trouble me more: hypocrisy, in which they would say, "Of course not!" or eager belief that a single world government is a good idea, and that Luxembourgers could best determine where to put a Target.

Reporter's Feelings Apparently Hurt

Drudge links to this story in the Washington Post about the two soldiers who some Iraqis had claimed to have captured. The Pentagon, in this story, points out that the soldiers aren't missing at all.

But the story points out:
    LBC broadcast close-ups of the cards: one carrying the name of Capt. Katherine V. Rose of the 142nd Corps Support Battalion from Fort Polk, La., and a Pennsylvania driver's license with the name Andrew C. Peters, 37. A call to the address on the driver's license was answered by a person who hung up.
Why in the wide, wide world of sports did the reporter include that sentence? What sort of pavement-pounding (or Internet-searching-and telephoning) petulance prompts someone to point out that he or she got the abrupt brush off when he or she called the family of a serviceman reported as capture by probably psycho enemies? He or she's probably lucky he or she only phoned; a slamming door might have bruised.

By putting the sentence in the story, the reporter wants our sympathy. He or she was trying to do his or her job, when this person out of Pennsylvania showed a lack of cosmopolitan sensibility and good breeding by refusing to emote publicly for Associated Press. Something our intrepid reporter thinks he or she has, and assumes we share.

Not likely.

Thursday, August 21, 2003
Called for Backup

Today's trivia microcosm: a list of singers who got high-powered backup for a song. Why am I providing this valuable service to you tonight? Because I heard Glass Tiger on the radio, that's why!

Song Sung By Backed Up By
"Don't Forget Me When I'm Gone" Glass Tiger Bryan Adams (for Heaven's sake!)
"My Life" Billy Joel Peter Ceterra (from Chicago, you damn kids! No, not that Chicago)
"Stormfront" Billy Joel Richard Marx (the only act I have seen twice on the same tour, werd!)
"Put On Your Little Brown Shoes"
"C'est Le Bon"
Supertramp Ann and Nancy Wilson (partying Heartily, no doubt)

That's what I could think of off the top of my head.

I have so much good bar bet trivia roaming in my head, I should go to bars and bet more frequently.

More Public Versus Private Blurring

Mark Steyn examines how a person's views on homosexuality are often used to impugn the person's rational capacity to do some job.

(Link seen via Tim Blair.)

Wednesday, August 20, 2003
A Mad Genius!

What sort of mad genius transcribes the complete content from Denis Leary's No Cure For Cancer album and puts it online?

Who knows, but let it be said that this gentleman, Gerrit, is also a fan of Jewel and Evanescence.

As previous scientific studies on this very blog have shown, Jewel_Fan + Evanescence_Fan = Genius. The Denis_Leary_Fan addition is merely gravy.

The Chicago Tribune Has a Blog

Unfortunately, it's Eric Zorn and not John Kass or even Mary Schmich.

Note to Zorn: This does not mean I want e-mail correspondence blog entries between you and Mary Schmich like that shtick you guys do on slow commentary days. Thank you, that is all.

Sequel Query

But how am I supposed to test without any requirements?

Use the ad hoc, Luke.

Mistress Says: Join the Summer Reading Club, Slave!
It's Always the Quiet Ones
The Secret of Leatherbound Books Revealed

Sorry, I couldn't go with a single headline to describe this story about a Washington librarian who was discovered to be into S & M. She even had a Web site, but Google's not caught on yet in non-technological industries's recruitment habits.

Within any profession, including librarians, teachers, and even certain presidents, you'll find a swath of lifestyle choices, including some sexual practices which some people would find unaesthetical at best and an abomination at worst. But like this lady says, she's a reasonable person who can keep her hot side hot and her cool side cool and can separate work from play. I'm a firm believer in the public face/private face dichotomy since I like to project a strong, firm image to the people I meet and only when I get to know people do I admit I have cats.

My quickly-leaping mind has landed upon the conclusion that this reflects the proper culmination of the "let it all hang out" philosophy of the unbridled and paradigm-dumping youth movements of our country. Now that those youths have let out enough to be hung with, the peers who encouraged it can tighten the noose. So be it. And in twenty years, the only people that the baby boomers will have left to vote for and to hire for any position requiring public trust will be six guys and eight woment who have lied about their pasts.

Or maybe the rest of us will grow up by then.

(Link seen on The Meatriarchy, which is not as sexual as it sounds.)

Tuesday, August 19, 2003
I Hope They Appreciate It

As I sat in one of the Signature Medieval Interrogation Collection devices at Gold's Gym, I was heartened to learn that the intense burning sensation I was feeling was in my tensor fasciae latae.

Cripes, I better hear at least one woman tell me I have sexy tensor fasciae latae.

Light Posting

Okay, I have been posting lightly lately. I've been out of town, and I have started a new job which involves business hours and a suburban commute. When I get used to it, and when I figure out how to take an afternoon nap when I don't get home until the evening, posting will get back to abnormal.

Monday, August 18, 2003
Wisconsin Busybody State Law Thwarted

The Mighty Wisconsin Legislature (and its governor), Took Firm Action against hoteliers who would gig their customers. Wisconsin State Statute 254.83 states:
    Every hotelkeeper shall keep posted in a conspicuous place in each sleeping room in his or her hotel, in type not smaller than 12-point, the rates per day for each occupant.
Amid some other conditions.

Of course, hoteliers are happy to oblige by posting rates higher than their actual prices on the doors of the rooms into which you have already checked in. For example, the room at the Milwaukee Hyatt Regency, where I stayed this weekend, cost me $139.00 a night. The rate posted on the door: $300.00 a night. I've stayed in a number of hotels and motels in Milwaukee, and the practice is the same. Inflate the rate for the door, and give anyone who actually books the room a great discount.

Even if you factor in the "Welcome to our friendly town/state (sucker) tax rate of 15% on the room, you're not going to pay the posted rate in Wisconsin, ever. But their state legislators cracked down on someone, sometime, and made a new law that's easily dodged by everyone in the industry. But taxpayers pay for its enforcement, assuming its enforced, and hotel guests pay for its avoidance. Good work, legislators!

I mean, I would never pay over $300 for a room in Wisconsin unless it included a private indoor swimming pool with waterfall, a sauna, a bidet, and a complimentary bottle of California Sparkling White Wine.

Addresses on Emergency Notification Forms

I started a new job today, and as part of the mound of personnel Human Resources department paperwork, I had to fill out an Emergency Notification Form. Just in case something were to happen to me while I am at work. Such as a developer finally snaps under the nihilistic blizzard of defects I am logging and staps me with a black Bic right through the spot where the bones of the skull have knit together. And then, once he or she realizes that ramming a writing instrument into my "brain" has not harmed me, stabs me through the neck.

I tried envisioning the emergency scenario wherein the address of my emergency contact would become relevant....
    "Simpson! Something has happened to Noggle! Send out the Died in His Cubicle postcard, and try to get his next of kin to schedule removal sometime this week. Oh, and turn up the air conditioning."

Sunday, August 17, 2003
Poor Search Engine Optimization

It seems as though I am only number 17 in MSN's search engine for Muscular women who spank.

Nuts! Maybe I have to hire a highly paid professional consultant to ensure I get all the irrelevant search hits.

To say Noggle, one first must be able to say the "Nah."