I tried to go to bed early on Sunday night so I’d be bright tailed and bushy eyed for my first day at work. Instead I was treated to the incessant rat-a-tat-tat of a jack hammer coming from the street construction nineteen floors beneath me. The worked stopped (or I fell asleep) at around 2:00 a.m.
My otherwise worthless phone did manage to wake me at the appointed time. The crappy phone is dumber than my old flip phone. Wireless won’t open and the data network moves at such an excruciatingly slow pace as to render it unusable. Second time I’ve had this problem. Jee Yeun is down at the Samsung store as I write trying to get a replacement phone. Failing that, I’ll have to buy a new one and eat the penalty on the contract we signed when I bought the Edsel of handphones. UPDATE: Jee Yeun came home with a new and nicer phone, and only paid a W50,000 penalty. She’s quite the negotiator!
I still had a darts tournament to run in Itaewon. I elected to take a cab into town because I had somehow managed to develop an embarrassing (and painful) diaper rash and the top of my thighs. Ballsy of me, I know. Heat and friction, a tortuous combination for sure.
Finished second in the tourney, hightailed it out of there and caught the 110B bus home, arriving a little after midnight. Put on some diaper rash ointment and hit the sack. Only to wake up tired four and a half hours later.
I’m still tired. Too tired to write about day 2. Suffice to say it involved a lot less walking.
Vacation is just about over. The alarm will ring at 0530 tomorrow morning and I will begin my new old life as a worker bee after a lengthy hiatus as a retiree. Do I still have what it takes? I admit it is of some concern since I’ve been out of the game so long. But I’ll take comfort in the warm embrace of cliches–fish to water, riding a bike, etc.
My impending re-employment has also led me to think about all the other jobs I’ve done in my lifetime. If memory serves there’s been 25 occupations all told. Here’s a brief rundown:
1. Paper Boy, Westminster, CA (1967) Hell of a lot of responsibility for a 12 year old. It was an afternoon paper (plus Sunday mornings), the now long defunct Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, which I delivered from my bicycle 7 days a week. Had to collect from my customers each month and I was expected to knock on doors to gain new subscriptions as well. I recall it being a major pain in the ass.
I quit long before the paper did…
2. Car wash, Huntington Beach, CA (1971). A summer job in high school and probably the hardest physical labor I ever performed. I think the pay was $1.35 an hour. This song came out around the same time:
3. Flagman, Huntington Beach, CA (1971). This was at a motorcycle race track. When there was a crash I’d wave my flag like a madman to warn other riders. It was hot, noisy, and dirty work. I lasted maybe three weeks.
4. Ray-o-Lite, Huntington Beach, CA (1972). You know those reflective lane markers on the highway? Well, someone has to make them. I did one summer. What I remember was falling hard for one of my co-workers who, alas, had a boyfriend. I finally got her to go out out with me to a CSNY concert. She was into the music but not into me. Years later I found myself delivering mail to her house in Anaheim which made me a little sad.
Doing my part to keep America’s highways safe. Because when I was making these I wasn’t out driving.
5. Blinky’s Pizza, Westminster, CA (1972). The closest I ever got to the fast food industry, but this was a full fledged pizza restaurant. The job had it’s perks–I’d always take a pie home at the end of my shift and sometimes we’d sneak some beer out too. Whenever I eat out I try very hard to not remember some of the stuff that went on in the kitchen, which even after all these years is still too gross to recount.
6. Pacific Coast Publishing, Garden Grove, CA (1973). I got to use the skills I developed as the editor of my high school paper putting together church directories for area Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) congregations. I seduced one of my SDA co-workers out of her virginity which was probably the highlight of my tenure (oh hell, it was definitely the highlight!). The owner of the business was apparently embezzling money from the church and he killed himself (and my job) when he was exposed.
7. Newspaper delivery, Orange County (1973). So, I got back in the newspaper business, but this time I was feeding those vending racks you see in front of the store. It meant getting up at 0400 or so seven days a week. My car at the time was a piece of shit clunker and when it quit so did I.
8. Stop-n-Go Market, Cypress, CA (1973). Ah, who doesn’t aspire to be a convenience store clerk at least once in their life? I worked the graveyard shift (11-7) until the night I got robbed at knife point. Decided then that my life was worth more than a couple bucks an hour.
9. Teledyne Cast Products, Pomona, CA (1973). This was a foundry that made cast aluminum parts for jet aircraft engines. My job was to monitor the temperature of the molten aluminum so it was just right for pouring. As you might imagine things got more than a little hot and I was always paranoid that some stoner would spill some on me. Never happened though. I actually didn’t mind the job, but the foreman wanted to hire his nephew so he fired me.
I wonder if some of the jet engine fan blades are still in service. I hope not.
10. Adco Plastics, Santa Ana, CA (1974). Leaving my life in aluminum behind, I entered the realm of vinyl plastic fabrication. Our main product was the Boat Bath, a device in which rich folk would park their boats so as not to have to clean off algae and other maritime growths (the boat bath would be filled with chlorine or something similar) . I still have a nasty scar on my finger from an unfortunate accident with one of those razor blade knives. The memory still makes me cringe.
A Boat Bath. Park your boat, add some chemicals, and voila!
11. Modern Messenger, Orange County (1975). In this job I provided the vehicle (my 1974 Datsun pickup) and the company provided the two way radio. I’d be dispatched to banks, law offices and the like to pick up important documents and deliver them to their intended recipients. Sorta like being a mailman without the pay and benefits.
12. Brown’s Distributing, Anaheim, CA (1975). With the birth of my daughter I was looking for some stable work and I found it in route sales. My company made a product called “Picnic Sandwiches”. My job was to keep the convenience stores on my route stocked with fresh sandwiches. There were also incentives for getting new customers, and I proved to be a pretty good salesman. Go figure.
13. Letter Carrier, United States Postal Service, Anaheim, CA; Prescott, AZ; Fort Smith, AR (1976-1985). Ah, the sweet memories I have of my days as a mailman. Hiking around outdoors, meeting lonely women, and being a union agitator. Good stuff.
14. Softball Umpire, Prescott, AZ (1981-1983). I used to be big into softball. Even founded an organization called “The Mile-High Softball Club” (an intentional double entendre–the elevation of Prescott is 5400 feet). We sponsored an annual Cinco de Mayo tournament which was a pretty big deal. The Parks and Recreation Department asked me to join the umpire cadre, it was a paying gig and so I did. A pretty thankless job, no matter what call you made someone was unhappy. I remember one player after unsuccessfully arguing that he was safe telling me “ah well, you are still the second best umpire in town”. I said “oh yeah, who’s best?” He responded “everyone else is tied for first”.
15. Safety Specialist, United States Postal Service, Fort Smith, AR (1985). The only real problem with carrying mail was it eventually got mind-numbingly boring after a while. Also, them Arkansas winters were brutal. I had met a woman on my mail route who was smart and well-connected and she saw in me some potential I really didn’t see in myself. Anyway, she provided the motivation for me to apply for a management job. I knew nothing about safety, but the HR Director knew me from our labor-management meetings and I guess she wanted me on her side. Twelve weeks of training at the USPS Management Academy in Potomac, MD and I actually learned how to do the job.
The training was much more fun than the actual job…
16. Labor Relations Representative, United States Postal Service, Columbia, SC (1986-1993). Once I had made the jump into management I got the urge to use the skills I had acquired as a union steward and branch president. I figured it was the same collective bargaining agreement, I’d just be approaching it from a different perspective. So I started applying for every vacancy around. I finally got interviewed for a job in Charleston, SC. After that interview, one of the panelists said he had a vacancy in Columbia he wanted to talk to me about. He asked me some technical questions and the only answer I had was “I don’t know, I’ve never done that”. I figured that was that, but when I got back to my office in Fort Smith there was a message waiting for me that I’d been selected for Columbia. When I asked my boss later why he’d picked me he said “because you didn’t know anything, you wouldn’t have to unlearn any bad habits.” True story.
17. Acting Director, Human Resources, USPS, Roanoke, VA (1988). I guess I was doing pretty well at my job in Columbia because one day I got a call from the big boss asking me to go to Roanoke, VA and clean up a mess. The HR Director there had been fired for sexually harassing a member of his staff. When I arrived on the scene I found the staff in complete disarray–half supporting the former director and half supporting the victim. By the end of my assignment I had everyone pulling in the same direction again and the big boss said “well done”. It was a good experience and I loved Roanoke.
That’s me in Roanoke getting some recognition…
18. Labor Relations Specialist, Mid-Atlantic Area, USPS (1993). The Postal Service had a major reorganization in 1993, going from five Regional Offices to ten Area Offices. I scored a labor relations spot on the Mid-Atlantic Area staff. It was probably the sweetest gig I ever had in my career. I remained domiciled in Columbia, but I had responsibility for the entire Mid-Atlantic (offices in Philadelphia and Arlington, VA and the states of Maryland, Virginia, Kentucky, West Virginia, and the Carolinas). So, I was generally on the road three weeks a month (racked up a kazillion air miles with US Air). And I was basically a hired gun–I’d blow into town and kick the union’s ass in arbitration, then get out of Dodge. Sweet!
19. Manager, Labor Relations, Mid-Atlantic Area, USPS (1996-2000). My boss got promoted into a Postal Executive position and he wanted me to fill his old job. I told him no thanks, I’m loving the job I have now (see above). One day he called and said “John, I need you to do me a favor”, which was his way of saying he wasn’t asking this time. So, I got promoted and moved to Northern Virginia. It was a helluva lot of responsibility–six people working for me, three major unions whinging and agitating for the 80,000 employees within my sphere of influence. Long hours and a long commute, but I never got bored. I was also selected for the Advanced Leadership Program, which was designed to develop future Postal Executives. Lots more classroom time at the Management Academy and a Masters program at Marymount University. Hell, I’m tired just remembering how tired I was during this period.
20. Acting Human Resources Director, Little Rock, AR USPS (2000). My boss retired and I thought I was in the running for his Postal Executive position. However, I was deemed “not ready”. Now, I suspect this was because I had pissed off all the right people at Postal Headquarters (including the guy who eventually became Postmaster General) by not appropriately kowtowing to their superior wisdom and calling bullshit when they dished out bullshit. Anyway, I realized that I had gone as far as I was gonna go with the USPS, so I started applying for jobs in the federal sector (which paid substantially more than the postal service does). In the meantime I took an assignment as far away from L’Enfant Plaza as I could find, which happened to be Little Rock. I actually enjoyed going back to Arkansas where my management career had begun. I even considered staying permanently. And then one day I got a phone call.
21. Labor Relations Specialist, U.S. Department of Education, Washington, DC (2001-2005). I got offered a job as the number two labor guy with ED, an agency with a total of 5000 employees. It was a GS-14 with maybe a third of my previous responsibility and a $25,000 per year increase. It was an easy decision to make, and even my commute got better because I could take the train to work rather than spending hours in the nightmare traffic of I-95. Oh, but the boredom I experienced! The few issues I dealt with were all so silly and there weren’t that many of them. The politics were marginally interesting. The political appointees (Bush Republicans) liked my hard-ass style and my boss was a go along to get along kind of guy. So, I’d get the call to attend meetings on the 10th floor which understandably pissed off the guy I worked for. We managed it, but by my fourth year I was on the verge of going insane.
Everyday on the train ride home I realized just how off the rails my life had gone.
22. Human Resources Specialist, 8th U.S. Army, Seoul, Korea (2005-2007). Things were so bad that I started applying for every vacancy I could find, including Iraq. The then-wife was certain I had lost my mind, and she was probably right. Well, Iraq didn’t want me, but Korea did. I had absolutely no clue about what I was getting into, but I was certain it had to be better than what I was getting out of. And obviously, I made the right call. I had two big adjustments to make, learning about Korea and learning the ways of the Army. Hell, I’d come out of meetings with a list of acronyms to look up. The Army language was as foreign to me as Korean. But the work was good and exciting and different. The Koreans I worked with were outstanding, even the union leaders. And this job is where I’ll be going back to the future tomorrow.
23. Deputy Director, Human Resources Management, 8th Army/USFK, Seoul (2007-2008). My supervisor got cancer and died, and the Director asked me to fill his shoes.Being a Deputy is basically just making sure the staff gives the Director what she wants, when she wants it. As easy as that may sound there was a learning curve. A couple of times I had not understood precisely what she required and I’d get blasted with “this is not what I asked for”. Before too long we got in sync and I came to really enjoy working with her.
My new family in Korea, circa 2007. About half of them will be there to greet me upon my return tomorrow.
24. Director, Human Resources Management, 8th Army/USFK, Seoul. When it came time for my boss to return to the USA she encouraged me to apply for the job. I was a little ambivalent given that I expected to retire in less than two years myself. Still, I figured I’d rather be the boss than work for a bad one, and I wound up getting the job. I actually enjoyed my time as Director. Given that I knew I was going to retire I had a certain freedom to “speak truth to power” and somewhat surprisingly, the brass seemed to appreciate my honesty. Most of the time anyway. Anyway, it was a great way to finish what I assumed was going to be the end of my career. Obviously, things change.
Everybody’s so different, I haven’t changed…
25. Admin support, MES, Seoul, Korea. When I retired on December 31, 2010 I figured my working life was over. The plan was to spend six months in the USA and six months in Korea. After doing that for 4 years, Jee Yeun balked at returning to the states. I decided I’d rather be with her here than without her back home. To facilitate my return I started beating the bushes for a job. It’s easier to have a SOFA visa and base access than it is to be without it. So, I briefly became a Wal-Mart greeter of sorts at the K-16 Airbase Multi-use Learning Facility. The job was as boring as it sounds and the pay wouldn’t cover my month bar tab. But it got me back here, and for that I am grateful.
The misspelling of my name was emblematic of my “career” with MES.
I love custom made shirts. Store bought shirts just can’t accommodate my protruding belly. I’ve had success with the Houston shirt shop in Itaewon, so that’s where I went to outfit myself with some new work attire.
All dressed up and come Monday I’ll have somewhere to go.
I’m also in the process of having two sport coats tailor-made. Had the final fitting last night and I’ll pick them up tomorrow.
All I need now is a haircut and some soul stranglers (neckties).
Sent in the final documentation to the CPAC this morning and come Monday I’ll be reporting for orientation at 0830. Bring it on!
The owners of Dillinger’s Bar asked me to play host for their Monday night dart tournament. It’s easy enough to do, I still get to play, and they comp me some beers for my trouble. So it’s not a bad deal.
During last night’s event my partner and I went undefeated through the winner’s bracket. And when it came time for the finals I once again had to face off against my arch rival and nemesis Vidal, the same guy who beat me in the finals of the Saturday night tournament. Sure enough, he and his partner beat us twice to take first place money. I guess I motivate him, but damn, why does he have to enjoy beating my ass so much?
That would be the notorious Vidal on the left. Curse you!
Second sucks, but it’s still better than third.
Had a good time and was even able to catch the last 110B bus home. That qualifies as a good night in my world…
In celebration of ten years of blogging here at LTG, each week for the next 52515049484746 4544434241403938373635343332313029282726 weeks I will delve deep into the sewer archives of past posts to bring you a tidbit of blog history. I had originally planned to call this series “The best of LTG”, but damn, there just wasn’t much “best” to be found. And mediocre is too hard to spell.)
Five years ago found me attending an honor guard ceremony to commemorate the unveiling of a statue of Lieutenant General Walton H. Walker, the 8th Army Commanding General who died during the Korean War. I wrote about the event in a post entitled “Honoring Walton H. Walker”.
I always enjoyed the pomp and circumstance associated with these ceremonies and in the post linked above I have quite a few photographs that somewhat capture the pageantry. Honor Guard events are uniquely military and they serve to remind us that when you work for the Army you have a responsibility to maintain the traditions and to respect and honor the sacrifices of those who have served. I certainly never had seen anything similar in my years with the U.S. Department of Education and the USPS.
Last night we did the Seoul International Dart League end of season banquet/tournament. I left the house at 1330 and returned home at 0330. I was as exhausted as I can ever recall being. Along the way my team, “Team Walrus” as we called ourselves, went undefeated in the winner’s bracket, only to be beaten twice by a team coming up from the loser’s bracket. They were hard fought matches, both going 5 legs, but in the end we had to settle for second place money.
Not to make excuses, but I was dead on my feet. I had the winning shot in both of the finals matches but couldn’t get it done. So it was pretty frustrating letting my teammates down like that. In a tournament of this nature it really comes down to an endurance contest and as much as I may be in denial about getting older, I was feeling my age last night.
Second place money was W175,000 for each player, so by my reckoning I made around W15,000 per hour for my efforts. Hey, that’s better than my last job paid!
Today I finally received the long awaited firm job offer. Effective 28 June 2015 (may as well get used to using the Army way of writing dates again) I will once again be a Human Resources Specialist, GS-0201-13 with HHB, Eighth Army Directorate of Human Resources Management, duty location Seoul, Republic of Korea.
In celebration of ten years of blogging here at LTG, each week for the next 52515049484746 454443424140393837363534333231302928 27 weeks I will delve deep into the sewer archives of past posts to bring you a tidbit of blog history. I had originally planned to call this series “The best of LTG”, but damn, there just wasn’t much “best” to be found. And mediocre is too hard to spell.)
Ten years ago I did one of my notorious “everything that’s been happening since the last time I posted” post in a post called “Time for a post”.
It was one of the rare times I wrote about some work related stuff, comparing the U.S. civilian union unfavorably to the Korean Employee’s Union. I’ll be dealing with both again as the primary responsibility of my new old job. Which I have it on good authority is going to happen in just under two weeks. Stay tuned.
But what I really found of interest in that long ago post was this:
Last night my Air Force buddy Jeff called and interrupted a game of CIV so we could meet a Caroline’s for a couple of beers. We wound up playing darts. I can’t remember the last time I’ve tried to hit a dart board, but it has probably been over 20 years ago. I assumed my darts would be worse than my pool, but surprisingly I played pretty well. Not well enough to win (Jeff is really good), but most of the time it came down to who got the last bullseye first. I really enjoyed myself and I’m thinking with some practice I might actually be a decent player.
Jeff and Sweet Caroline’s are both a long time gone, but I’m still chucking the spears. And that’s the day it all started. In the beginning as it were.
Most men and women lead lives at the worst so painful, at the best so monotonous, poor and limited that the urge to escape, the longing to transcend themselves if only for a few moments, is and has always been one of the principal appetites of the soul.”
Other interesting things have been happening in my life as well. Why just the other day I was getting off the elevator at my apartment tower in lovely Gireum-dong. A little girl of maybe three years was waiting with her mother for the ride up. The girl stared at me wide-eyed for a few moments, probably not used to seeing a foreigner so up close and personal. And then she said matter-of-factly “hal-abeoji” (which means grandfather). The mother nodded and said, “ne, hal-abeoji.” Which made me feel older than I am. Or at least older than I like to pretend I am. Although, it is true that I am in fact a grandfather.
Meanwhile, my buddy Kevin Kim popped up on YouTube. Granted, it was annoyingly funny but he describes himself as “another frumpy American walrus in a long line of frumpy walruses.” Although I’ll cop to being a grandpa I don’t think this American walrus is frumpy. I was recently tagged in this picture on Facebook:
Frumpy? I think not.
Switching gears, they say life is for learning. And today I learned the origins of Canadians.
Just as I always suspected.
Now, I tend to be respectful of all religious beliefs that don’t involve beheading, stoning, or throwing homosexuals from tall buildings. Still, when I saw this I couldn’t help but laugh.
No offense intended.
What else have I got for you? Well, on the MERS front the World Health Organization (WHO) offers this helpful advice: “don’t drink potentially fatal camel urine”. I shit you not. I think I’m pretty safe in that regard, although I have never actually checked the ingredients of OB beer. I’d rather not know.
I’ll tell you something more deadly than MERS–an angry Korean woman with a gun. Which I guess is why South Korea has such strict gun laws.
I have seen that look on a woman’s face more than once.
Now, I’m not a big fan of soju, but this ad made me want to go out a buy a couple of bottles.
Alrighty then, don’t you just hate bloggers who go days without posting and then do a Friday afternoon dump of everything they thought about posting during the week but didn’t? Yeah, I hate them too. Even if I are one.
In celebration of ten years of blogging here at LTG, each week for the next 52515049484746 4544434241403938373635343332313029 28 weeks I will delve deep into the sewer archives of past posts to bring you a tidbit of blog history. I had originally planned to call this series “The best of LTG”, but damn, there just wasn’t much “best” to be found. And mediocre is too hard to spell.)
Six years ago I was at the Grand Hyatt hotel celebrating the Army’s 234th birthday at the annual Army Ball. I wrote about the event in a post called “Had a ball!”.
Every Korean apartment I’ve lived in has this “squawk box” type thing on the wall where messages are periodically conveyed from the building management. I’ve always found it pretty annoying, especially since I can never understand what they are saying.
So this morning I’m sitting at the kitchen table and the box emits a series of several loud beeps. Simultaneously, my phone chimes that I’ve received a message. That message is captioned “Emergency Alert” and is followed by three bullet points in Korean (which I also can’t read). Of course, the first thought that comes to my mind is that the NORKs are invading. But no, it turns out that the message says: 1. Wash your hands. 2. Cover your mouth when you cough. 3. If someone has a fever, don’t touch them.
And in the few minutes I’ve been writing this post the squawk box/phone message has been repeated twice more. So I guess they really, really, really mean it.
I probably could stand to wash my hands more often, but doing so is situational for me. If I’m in a public lavatory and they have a bar of soap on a stick, I’m like “no thanks, I’ll take my chances”. After all, all I’ve really touched is my own junk and I don’t even want to think about where those hands that touch the nasty soap bar have been. I do cover up when I cough, but use my arm, not my hand, to cover my mouth. I don’t want my unwashed hand anywhere near my mouth, right? The last point about not touching anyone with a fever is a bit disconcerting. I mean, what’s the first thing you do when someone says they are not feeling well–you touch them to see if they are hot. Apparently, if they do have a fever you are both screwed.
My first instinct that war had broken out has proven correct, Korean government officials have declared war on the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). I guess there is a fair amount of panic taking place among the populace. Schools are closing, rumors are running rampant, and oh yeah, people are dying. Four as of this morning.
I noticed on the subway yesterday that nearly half of the riders were wearing masks as opposed to the normal handful. I came up with the bright idea for insuring I’ll always have a seat on the train. I’ll just stand in front of the seat I want and start coughing uncontrollably. I reckon that might score me the whole row!
Anyway, I don’t mean to make light of this potentially catastrophic health emergency. But other than taking normal precautions like practicing good hygiene there’s nothing to be done but live your life and hope for the best. At least that’s what I plan to do.
What, me worry?
More famous last words?
UPDATE: Here’s what all the cool kids riding the subway wear.
They made me wear those funky shorts for the x-ray. 30 minutes in the crowded waiting room was pretty humiliating. The peels of Jee Yeun’s laughter didn’t help much either…
I told the hilarious Dr. Yu about the leg pain I’ve been living with, described it’s onset and duration, and my fear it might be vascular. He gave me a quick examination and then discounted the possibility of a clogged artery, saying the pain intervals were inconsistent with that diagnosis. He thought it more likely it was muscular or a nerve problem. So, he ordered up a blood test to check for elevated “CPK” and an x-ray of my lower spine.
My office visit with Dr. Yu was interrupted by a radio interview he conducted regarding the MERS outbreak here in Korea. He said he was going to try and tamp down the panic that has ensued as the result of two Koreans dying from the disease. His view is that while MERS is serious, the potential for an epidemic is low and with proper medical care the fatality rate could be minimized. Let’s hope he’s right about that. And my leg.
So I gave the blood, got the x-ray, and reported back to Dr. Yu. He put the x-ray up on his monitor and declared my spine “a miracle”. I confirmed that by miracle he meant no issues, and indeed that was his meaning. He said my CPK level was slightly elevated (10-120 being normal, mine was 160) which confirmed to him that my problem is indeed muscular.
Well, he’s the doctor so who am I to argue. I just don’t understand why it’s not getting any better, in fact, it’s a little worse, after three months. So, he gave me a prescription for a muscle relaxer and told me to soak in the tub for 10 minutes every night before bed. And I guess that’s what I’ll do. I wish I wasn’t such a pussy when it comes to pain, otherwise I’d just walk it off.
But by god, I’m still alive. Which makes me luckier than my two friends in Columbia. As much as I love irony, I sincerely hope those don’t prove to be my famous last words.