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January 31st, 2011 - Escape From Plainview - Based on a True Story - Chapter Two

Escape From Plainview - Based on a True Story - Chapter Two
Well, I did have long hair and round glasses back then, but I don't think I looked much like John Lennon.

Before I go on, I have to reiterate that I don't personally have anything against New York City, but as I've said previously, it seems to have something against me.
We just don't get along.

Granted I've only been there twice; this, the Queens time, and another time when I was sent to midtown Manhattan to do some repair work for my same employer at the time. 

The uptown Manhattan work part sorta sucked, but it was during a nice October when I stayed near Central Park. I could walk to the lab in the morning and work with the nice Irish guy that didn't have his green card yet. After work he would invite me over and his Italian girlfriend-dance-instructor would make us antipasto in their tiny apartment, then he'd take me out to his favorite Irish pubs. Nice. 

He DID get his Green Card on my second to last day there, and we partied in congratulatory fashion. Originally being from small-town Wisconsin, I began to realize he knew more about the United States than I did.

On that trip however, I was stationed in the hotel then known as "The New Yorker" which was - strange. At that time it was owned by the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, with it's architecture being sort of a run-down Art Deco.  

My room was somewhere up around the 85th floor. Now I'm wondering if since old elevators rarely had a button for the 13th floor, if this building actually had one for the 113th floor. Hmm, I should have looked for a button. But then again, just because there isn't a button doesn't mean there isn't actually a 13th floor, ...right?
That's an intense concept. 

I was once in a building in Santa Monica that had 13 floors, but the elevator button for the 13th floor was labeled 14. The thing was, no matter WHICH button you pressed, it ALWAYS took you to the 14/13th floor, first.
Also really weird.

To get to my room in The New Yorker, I had to take one elevator up to the 50th floor, get out, cross the hallway, and take a different elevator up into the nosebleed-numbered floors.

My room was this tiny tall Deco rectangle about the width of the bed, with one narrow but tall rectangular window that perfectly framed the Empire State Building and nothing else, which was very cool, but also extremely surreal.

At this point you could be thinking, "Well, it's not the city that's the problem, it's just you that has the problem with New York." And you could be right. I felt like a fish swimming upstream the whole time I was there. 

In New York I've seen people take cabs to go a block down the street. There seems to always be a lot of yelling, for seemingly no reason. To me it's like this huge hive of humanity that is always noisily thrumming and swelling like a plutonium core about to go critical. 
It's just not my style, but hey, some people thrive on it. I just prefer not to associate with those people.

There is of course the stereotype about "A New York Minute" and "pushy New Yorkers." Maybe it's just a stereotype, but I felt like it's not without at least some basis in fact. 

It's true that not everyone in the city is an "I'll step on the back of whoever is in my way to get ahead" type asshole, but, that town is without a doubt, one hell of a competitive arena. 

So far what I've described could apply to any big city, anywhere; but when I'm in New York City, for me there is "a feeling." A sort of squeezing, choking, suffocating feeling. 

Then again, in New York there's somehow just enough cool stuff thrown in to be the carrot at the end of the stick. Which always seems to lead me unsuspectingly down into the tunnel of doom. 

And now, back to our story...

So I told Alex to get an air compressor at Sears, and gave him the specifications he needed to get the right one. 
He got his official-looking cashiers check ready for the UPS delivery person, and I prayed that it was for the right amount. He called the prick paper-processor rep, who again said he couldn't come by for a couple days. 

I wasn't sure what we would be doing while we waited for this all to happen, or how long Bupka could stay out of school without the state child labor bureau shutting us down, or how long it would take her to learn the theme to The Flintstones, and if I would still be sane by then.

This, as in all "field-technician situations" I have ever been in, was "winging it." 
It is, as they say, "The Nature Of The Business."

To initiate me for the the first field installation I did for this company, they sent me to Oklahoma with a machine that wasn't finished yet.

It was long past the promised ship date, and the customer was desperate for the machine. However, a part of their order hadn't really been, um, "designed" yet.
So they shipped the machine anyway, sent me there to meet it, and said, "Just start installing it, and we'll send you the attachment after you get things running." 

On the plane trip there I'm thinking, "This is a suicide mission."
It's "the New Guy Syndrome": send the new guy in as a human sacrifice, he can take all the heat for your corporate problems.

They had never installed this new part on anything. What were the odds it would work? Slim to none. I half-joked they should send me with a Sawz-all and a Dremel. They considered this, and did not laugh.

On the next job, and the next job after that, and the next, what I found was that they are ALL suicide missions. So at this stage I was good at rolling my eyes and shaking my head.

After the restaurant, Alex dropped me off at the Ramada by the airport. 
It, like most buildings in any big city, was "a little lived in." 

Jet engines incessantly shook the building, taxis honked, and through the walls people chattered in every language of the globe, around the clock. 

The weird thing about that neighborhood, though, was "The Church". 
Out by the airport you expect to see maybe an Air Force Training Facility, which was there, and the ubiquitous "Hotel Row," which was there, and an occasional Denny's, which was there, and maybe even a Tennis Center (which was down the highway a bit.

From my hotel window I noticed this oddly-shaped building, from which I couldn't figure out the purpose by the architecture. So having the time, I decided to take a stroll down "The Road." The only road. The airport road. 

The road with no sidewalks or trees, nothing except raw pavement around the airport with what turned out to be a church surrounded by a chain-link fence with coils of razor-wire on top. 

People drove by in rental cars looking at me like I had wandered off the runway while looking for my gate. 

I don't remember what denomination the church/prison/church was, but it had an auto-locking chain-link entry gate that rolled open and closed, and was set back from The Road a good thirty yards, I guess so that the eggs, spray paint, and hand-grenades couldn't make it to the building. 

Just another architectural feature lending flavor to the mystique of Gotham. Not the most inviting parish that I have ever come across.

The next morning, Alex chugged up to the front of the hotel to pick me up in his Aries, and we drove off to his "studio" while he cursed the traffic and I talked about the plan for the day.

"Did you get your air-compressor, Alex?" I prompted.
"I get today. You know how to put together..." Alex replied, more of a statement than a question.

Pregnant pause. I'm grinding my teeth, realizing that if I don't hook his air compressor up, it's just going to delay things further, but really, dammit, it's NOT MY JOB.

"You know Alex, I'm not supposed to be doing any of this prep work. But just to speed things along, I'll see what I can do." I say, as one long flat sigh.

"You do fine." Alex says, like a father teaching his kid to drive for the first time.
I scowl and stare at the side of his face. He pretends to focus on the road.

Arriving at the lab, we walk in and quickly lock the door behind us. Annetta is already there, playing the theme from the Flintstones. Alex leaves to get the air-compressor and I begin fiddling with the printer.

I ask Annetta if she has ever worked with a computer before - she says, "Yes, a little, in school." I try to start up some small talk, but she's not biting. She likes music in school, and that's about it. Flintstones, meeeet the Flintstones....

After futzing with the printer for a while and doing about everything I can think of to prep it for hookup, I have a horrifying realization: This machine is what is known as a "darkroom" printer and is designed to be in a DARK ROOM for the operator to be able to change the paper, as it has no light-tight paper magazines to take out and load in a separate changing room. You load it by taking the light-sensitive paper out of a dark-bag and putting it on a big spool while the doors of the machine are open. 
So, the machine needs to be in total darkness while this is being done. Right now the machine is sitting in what amounts to an alcove, or vestibule in the large main room of the studio, with no doors, curtains, covers, or any way to block out the room light while changing the paper. Groan.

Alex comes back with an air compressor in a sealed cardboard box, and thankfully it looks adequate for the job.

"I have tools!" Alex bellows, and suddenly after much clanking from some unseen dark corner in a previously unknown part of the room, two arms are thrust from the shadows with one hand holding a vise-grip and the other a pair of pliers with one of the plastic grips missing.

"Um, no, that's okay." I say, "I have mine." Good thing too, because Alex neglected to get any thread-sealing tape for the air fittings, and was just about to go after the soft brass with his vise-grip before I intervened and pried the tool out of his hands.

"First, let's get it down into the basement, and then maybe you have some ideas for lunch...?" I add hastily to distract him.

Out the back door and down the steps we go. We set the compressor down on the ancient floor and I straighten up and look around.

It's not so much of a basement, but sort of a root-cellar with an overhang that opens out into a large, square, long-overgrown courtyard connecting the backs of all the adjacent buildings. I can see my breath from the cold, and the light has sort of a dreamlike haze to it.

Three floors up, a frowning, weathered old woman is hanging brightly colored wash out to dry on clotheslines. Ramshackle lean-to's, pieces of corrugated tin, and weathered canvas awnings are nailed in every configuration over the porches and outcroppings of what must have been tenement housing in the 1920's or earlier.

Clotheslines are strung everywhere and it looks like it hasn't changed much in the last 75 years, if at all. I get a shudder of déjà vu and think of F. Scott Fitzgerald and William S. Burroughs at the same time. 

The light filtering down through the courtyard is surreal and I long to have a good camera in my hands right then. A few snowflakes drift down onto my toolbox and melt quickly.

As I watch them melt, it snaps the effect. I shake it off eerily and begin to trace electrical conduits to find a place to plug in the compressor. 

After finding something that looks like an outlet, I plug in the compressor thinking, "Come on baby, don't blow the fuse, DO NOT blow the fuse," because I will NEVER EVER find the fusebox in this place.

It fires up and starts to pump air with a reassuring hiss, and I shut the petcock valve on the bottom of the tank triumphantly.

Above me the door jerks open and Alex clambers down the stairs after hearing the noise. 

"It works...! Genius, John Lennon!" he squeaks with glee. He is looking at it like it's a chrome custom engine in a car show, with eyes glazed.

Before I can get, "Don't..." out of my mouth, he grabs the shiniest part with his bare hand, which happens to be the copper tubing connecting the tank to the compressor head, which is probably about 300 degrees F because of the high-pressure air travelling through it.

"Ouch! (followed by unspellable Romanian expletives) Why you not tell me not to touch that...!!!" he shouts and recoils, hopping around cradling his fingers in his armpit.

"ICE...! Bupka...!! ICE...!!!" he yells as he turns and trips up the stairs. 

I look at the shiny new air-compressor and shake my head. I take one more glance at the layers of tenement porches expecting to see men with shoe-polish hair and chickens running though the lot, but the washer-lady is gone, and it's disturbingly quiet. The sky has turned dark gray again.

After snaking the air hose up through the ancient walls of the building and explaining the problem about the printer needing to be in a light-tight space, (to which Alex is saying, "Why I not know this...? Why I not know this...?" and coddling his hand with an ice bag tied to it with an Ace bandage), he says he will come up with some black curtain to frame the printer into the alcove and "shut the lights off in the room" when the paper needs to be changed. Right.

I'm visualizing him shooting a portrait session with three crying babies when Bupka interrupts to say that she has to shut the lights off for a few minutes so she can change the paper in the machine. I say nothing, and look at my boots. Hunh. I don't remember getting that scuff by the toe...

"Bupka! What ees better for lunch, Chinky or Slav...?" Alex blurts out.
"I don't know, Papa." Annetta mumbles, pushing buttons on her keyboard, going from a Samba to a 4/4 Rock beat rather rapidly. "McDonalds."

"No McDonald's! You would eat there every day if I let you. Auk, you kids. I get Slav."

More of the same goes on. Minutes blur to hours, hours to days. Flintstones to well, more Flintstones. After running extension cords from God knows where, probably the neighbor's apartment, the printer is plugged in and aired up, and amazingly, working, mostly.

I try to teach Alex the rudimentary computer commands and the basics of the floppy drive system, but he keeps Annetta front and center and keeps asking her if she is "gettink all this?" She seems pretty good with it, really.

Days turn into more days, and still the paper-processor remains empty. The boxes of chemistry are stacked on the floor next to the machine forlornly.

Alex tells me he won't be coming to pick me up the next day, as the paper processor guy will finally be coming in to set up his machine. I stay in the hotel and try to avoid listening to the businessmen having nooners with their hookers, but I make the mistake of going out with the ice bucket right as the um, couple, in the next room are leaving after their "session." A big smarmy guy in a cheap black suit strides down the hallway with a bemused and slightly superior smirk on his face, while an aging, slightly-embarrassed dark-haired woman with smeared make-up struggles to catch up to him as she adjusts her bra from the front. "Hi...!" I say as I pass, much too loudly. He scowls, she blushes.

Another phone call, another day told not to come in. The paper processor is "not working quite right yet." I rot and fester in the Ramada Inn. I watch the planes, the TV, and crack cans of beer until I can't take it anymore. VERY ironically, "Groundhog Day" is on, and I can SO relate.

I wish I was home, or had someone to talk to. I check in with administration back at the home offices sporadically, and appraise the situation. It's getting to be the 21st of December. Christmas looms beyond the edge of some formless bubble. The days are as gray as my concrete neighborhood. My boss tells me there is a big storm on the way. So what else is new? I think.

The next day I wake to a couple inches of snow on The City. Being from Minnesota, it looks like any other day, but out on the streets of New York, it's like a madhouse demolition derby. Traffic crawls down "The Expressway." Several cars are in the ditch and up on the median with their doors open with their former drivers kicking them and yelling. You can hear them from inside our car as we drive by... "Ya Bastud...! Ya stoopid piece a crap!"

I look over at Alex. He's got a white-knuckle death-grip on his blue suede steering wheel and a furrowed brow that goes down to his nose. "I... can't ...pick you up... tomorrow..." he squeezes out between clenched teeth, "dees car got no good tires... can't drive like diss... will call cab."

Just as I'm picturing what that cab will actually be looking like, we begin to skid to a stop, just missing the bumper of the car in front of us by inches, then turn and creep down Alex's street.
We sort of park and Alex deflates like a hissing balloon.

Inside the studio, we get through the day actually seeing some real prints off of the machine for the first time. The processor's running and needs some tweaks, but things are actually working, comparatively, anyway. 

Then Alex storms up to me with a sheet of mini-wallet photos hot off of the processor, thrusts it up to my nose and says, "You see this?! This print here (pointing at one of about sixteen images through the back of the paper that are so close to my face I haven't even been able to focus on them yet. Print ees too light..!!! I can't sell that! Not acceptable! I back up and scrutinize the paper. I look at it under a different light. It is BARELY, I mean, scientifically imperceptibly lighter than the surrounding images.

I measure it on his densitometer. It is off by the smallest of fractions from the surrounding images, all of which show the light-haired and light-complexioned sheepishly smiling Annette in front of a totally white backdrop. She still has her keyboard in her lap. 

I'm thinking, "Geez, the guy as densitometers for eyeballs."

"The difference is within the optical specifications of the printer," I tell him, quoting something I think I heard my boss say once. "The calibration department wouldn't have certified it if it wasn't. There's not much we can do. We can put a piece of filter material over all the other lenses and try to match them to that one... but that will slow down the printing speed. It's within our specifications, which you agreed to before the purchase. Besides that, the wallet prints are cut up individually by the time you give them to the customer, aren't they...? They won't notice something like that." I say, looking around for a print cutter to back me up and not finding one.

"Oy, I mortgage my house to buy thees thing and this is what I get...!" bemoans Alex, slathering an extra dab of guilt-seeking in his tone.
"Okay, okay... we done for today. I call cab to take you back to hotel" he sighs, back of his hand to his forehead for extra effect.

Some uncomfortable amount of time later, the Spanish-only speaking cab driver finally arrives to pick me up outside of Alex's front door, and after some creative hand-gesturing and head-nodding, drops me off at my semi-private dungeon back at the Lambada.

January 29th, 2011 - Escape From Plainview - Based on a True Story - Chapter One

Escape From Plainview - Based on a True Story - Chapter One
A few posts back I was ruminating about the personalities of large cities, and this brought back memories of a business trip I took to New York during the 1990's, which could unquestionably be filed under "Tales of Travelling Hell."
I suppose the time has come to purge it in writing and lay it to a proper rest. Presumably to avoid waking in a cold sweat some night and needing to drive a stake through it's heart after it again crawls back out of it's own coffin.

If I remember correctly, this all started sometime back in 1995. 
You tend to push these traumatic events so deeply into your subconscious as time goes on, you begin to wonder if they actually happened. It's just your brain's natural self-preservation reaction. The thing is, in this case I remember actually asking myself that question at the time.
During that period in my vocational life I was working for a Minneapolis company called "NORD", which was known to insiders as "NERD," and to one disgruntled client that suggested it was an acronym for
"Not Of Right Design." 

At the time, we manufactured a fleet of "High-Speed Multi-Image Photographic Printers," such as those used in the school-picture and wedding photo printing industries, and similar dog & pony shows. 

This was the period before the "true dawn of digital photography," before low-cost inkjet printing, before digital mini-labs, and before the phone-cam revolution,
back when "professional" pictures were shot on rolls of wide, light-sensitive, and expensive photographic film during an epoch when large rolls of photo paper were exposed with images ranging in size from a postage stamp to an 11 x 14 inch print by somehow projecting carefully balanced light through a film negative and then into a bazillion lenses which projected all those image sizes onto one sheet of paper in perfect alignment. Once exposed, this miracle 
was eventually pulled through large vats full of very stinky chemicals in scary machines resembling farm machinery by a myriad of conveyors, pulleys, and belts which ran ceaselessly in the basement of some dank photo lab. The "lab" part being a very subjunctive term.

This particular odyssey started off innocuously enough. A Romanian gentleman living in Plainview, NY, we'll call him "Alex," (short for Alexandreau) arranged to buy what was then known as the "NORD MIC-1000 Wedding Printer" as a demo model from one of our smarmy salespeople at some trade show earlier that year. 

Though perky-sounding, the "Wedding Printer" was in actuality a 600+ pound steel and aluminum behemoth, standing well over six feet high and four feet wide, driven by chains, gears, pneumatics, hydraulics, solenoids, whipped slaves, and a double-slot 5 & 1/4" floppy-disk controller.

The Wedding Printer had been around since the inception of the company, which was back when the sole owner of the business would pull into YOUR town on his own RAILROAD TRAIN, complete with monstrous printer and photo developing laboratory also aboard the train, and walk everyone in town though the train in an attempt to convince them they just couldn't live without a high-speed multi-image photographic printer, ala "The Music Man" gone horribly wrong. Evidently he was quite convincing, because the company took off like a rocket - but then failed to make a profit every year since he sold it to the clamoring throng grasping at his coattails.

The main body and design of this battleship printer hadn't changed much since the invention of cast iron, and our company just kept hanging more "accessories" on it in an attempt to justify the price increases, cobbling on a (then) State-Of-The-Art! 386 PC computer until it resembled a cross between the family truck in "Grapes of Wrath" and an extremely large refrigerator on wheels. 

Inside the machine were rows of precise optics (tediously aligned by us cursing technicians back at the factory) housed in thick metal racks and driven into place by a chain drive and huge pneumatic cylinders. Add a powerful air-driven rotating turntable which oriented the film over a light source that would fry your eyes if you looked at it a second too long (and was also handy for launching that can of nuts & bolts that you forgot you left next to it all over the room) and well, you get the idea.

One major FAULT, er, that is, "stipulation" of this device was that you IMPERATIVELY HAD to have a compressed air supply connected to it BEFORE you turned on the power switch, as the air cylinders required air pressure to return to them to their "home" or starting positions, and it you didn't, things would smash and crash together with lenses being driven into each other at the wrong times, air-cylinders not retracting before chain-drives engaged, along with general mechanical chaos and the ensuing clattering cacophony of cogs and camshafts.

So with that requirement, and the fact that the lab or studio owner purchasing the equipment needed an operating paper processor so that we could actually develop and see the images that we were getting off of the thing, we insisted that the customer sign a carefully-worded "pre-installation contract" to make sure these and other requirements were met before someone like me would show up to do the installation. 

Alex signed off on my document the same day it was sent out, faxed it back, phoned me minutes later and said, "Teem, ven you can come to install dis macheen?" Alex always sounded EXACTLY like Boris Badenov from the Rocky & Bullwinkle show, and this made it difficult to communicate with him: 1. with a straight face, and 2. without responding like Natasha Faltale. After the first call, I vowed to do my best.

After our team of manufacturing professionals finished the construction of his machine at our plant, (as each machine was built and set up with custom options chosen by the customer for their type of film and image sizes) we spent the minimum of a week completing the calibrations, finally doing the Happy Dance and blessing it with a recently slaughtered chicken as it shipped off to Alex's place in the heartwarmingly lovely borough of Plainview, NY, just outside Queens, about two weeks before Christmas 1995.

At this point, I should have begun to prepare an excuse as to why I couldn't go and do the installation, or have just skipped the country for Mexico or the like, but evidently I had failed to recognize the impending omens.

I called Alex and asked where the best hotel was to stay in around his place of business, and after he answered with, "You can stay in room upstairs - we have extra room, we make room up for you..." I should have just thrown down the phone and ran. But no, I had a job to do. 

However, there was no way in hell I was staying in the upstairs of some guy's shop whom I've never met, in the New York boroughs, which I had never seen, and more importantly which would leave me without an escape route from what he could then turn into 24 hour days at his installation site.

Next, he adds that I "probably wouldn't want to stay at a hotel in his neighborhood" (DING DING DING alarm bells failed to go off) but that I could stay at the Ramada by the airport, (JFK) and he would come by and pick me in his car up everyday, instead of paying for a cab. Hmmm. Okay. I guess. It was the customer's responsibility to pay for lodging and travel for the tech on these installation trips, so I thought, I'll take it easy on him. We didn't usually use rental cars in New York City anyway because parking was always such a pain, and it was difficult to get them back in one piece, if at all.

So Alex, are you ready to have me install this thing..? 
"I mean, yes." 
Have you read the manual so you have an idea as to how you want it programmed...? 
"Oh, yes."
Okay. So I naively hop on a plane for New York City with three days of clothes and my overlaiden toolbox.

As I fly out of Minneapolis, it's a bright, sunny, optimistic morning, but somehow as I approach NYC, it's the middle of the day, but now strangely beginning to get dark, foreboding, and grim. 

Even the Statue of Liberty has a scowl and is waving me away. Turn back... she whispers in French, but I don't understand. 

On the ground in NYC I get my bags and head for the cab line behind all the commuters from Connecticut in suits. When I get up to a Yellow Cab, I tell the cabbie where I want to go, and he says, "Unh unh. Yellow cab don't go there. Try another cab." And thumbs me down the line.
I'm thinking, "You're shitting me" as the next customer drives off with him. 
Finally I persuade some Off-Broadway Independent cab company to leave the airport with me, and he takes me to downtown Plainview without saying a word, possibly because he doesn't speak English. 
The street scene in Plainview is like something out of West Side Story gone 21st century. As we drive by the New York stoop-front apartments, people hang out on the steps, lean out of the windows, yelling at each other up and down the street. Horns honk and sirens wail as the dark clouds seem to thicken.
Standing in front of the "Photo Studio" at the address to which I am to go, (which also looks like any other storefront, having no sign) I feel like I have a target for muggers on my back, with my toolbox and garment bag sitting at my feet. 

I grab the doorknob and prepare to go in, but it's locked. Uh? It's 2 PM on a Wednesday afternoon, and the place is closed? 
I bang on the door and try to ring the bell that doesn't work, and just before my life begins flashing before my eyes, a short, stocky, hairy except for a bald spot guy comes and unlocks the door. He just about pulls me in along with my luggage, slams the door and double-locks it in one motion.

"I'm..." I was about to say.
"Teem! Teem! You are Teem here to build my machine! The NORD guy!"
"Um, yeah."
"You lock the door DURING the DAY?" I ask.
"Yes, yes, is bad neighborhood. Can't trust no one. They steal your stuff and want to use your phone." He snaps.
"Un hunh..." I say, as he is pulling me into the room.
"Dees ees Boupka, I mean Annetta, my daughter. She is home from school to learn how to use printer."
What? I'm thinking, as my eyes try to decipher the dark clutter of studio lighting, backdrops, cords, and bric-a-brac, stopping on an attractive teenage blond girl sitting on an extremely tacky couch, playing, or slowly trying to play, "The Theme from the Flintstones" on a synthesizer keyboard on her lap.
"Um, Hi Annetta," I say.
"Hullo," she says, glancing up and smiling, muffing a note on the keyboard, and focusing back in on it again.
Doot doooo, deeet doo doot dooooooo...
"I gave her Chreesmas presink early, since she had to stay home... er, sick. I show you lab," Alex says quickly. We put your stuff over here. Are you sure you don't want to stay upstairs...?"
"No, um thanks..." I say glancing around, expecting some other life form that I haven't noticed yet to materialize out of the piles of junk and clutter.
"There is your preenter!" Alex says proudly, pointing to our printer, still shrink-wrapped and standing in an alcove barely big enough to fit it. 
"Here is new paper pro-cessor."
I look at the paper processor, indeed brand new, built into the wall, and completely void of fluids and electrical power.
"There's no chemistry in it." I say.
"Yes." He says. "Yes. The UPS man is dropping it off today, you know about mixing chemistry, yes...?"
An audible deflationary sound comes out of my lungs. 
"No." I feign. "It was part of your pre-installation agreement to have the processor loaded and ready before I..." 
As I'm saying this, there is a banging at the door, and right on cue is the UPS man balancing a two-wheeler full of boxes while juggling his logging computer and glancing around disapprovingly.

I shake my head and move over to look at "my printer" while Alex deals with UPS and Annetta continues to struggle through the Flintstones.
As I begin to unwrap the printer, I notice there is no air hose, no air hose fitting, and no electrical outlet wired anywhere near the printer. I sag visibly. I should just call my boss, find a cab (yeah, right) and hightail it back to the airport at this point.
I'm definitely considering it. But, I'm here. I do not want to have to come back. And it will be me that has to come back. We can deal with a couple minor setbacks. Right? Ugh.

As I'm pondering my fate and wondering how long it's going to take to get this lab to the point of even developing a photo for us to begin testing the printer, Alex comes rushing up to me.

"Teem! Teem! How much money do you have with you..???!!!"
"What..?" I say ponderously.
"The UPS man says I need cash or cashier's check for $600 or he will take chemistry back on truck!... I no have cashier's check here!"
I laugh.
"Alex, I've been in the lab for twenty minutes and you are asking me to pay for your chemistry, mix it, and balance your processor..???!!!  Forget it!"
"Teem, you've got to help me!"
"No way."
Alex throws up his hands and races back to the UPS man who is trundling the boxes back onto the truck after having set them down in the studio, and is visibly irked.
Flint-stones, meet... the... Flint... stone... sss...
Alex slams the door and locks it harshly.
I stare.
"Boupka, we go to eat something. You don't open the door for nobody until we get back," Alex bellows.
"K, papa." The words sound off of Annetta's lips like a slight breeze over the mouth of a pop bottle. She stares transfixed at her fingers moving on the keyboard.

Alex leads me through the door and locks it from the outside as we amble down the busy sidewalk. Snow begins to fall through a cold wind. The city is taking on a monochromatic hue and the buildings seem to come together over the street like a gray jungle canopy closing in. 

We get into Alex's car, a  faded blue (mostly) 1980something Dodge Aries that is a bit rounded off on all the edges and slightly worse for wear. 

The next thing I know, we're parking near a diner and I am opening the creaking passenger door, staring down at what looks like an empty crack baggie lying in the gutter outside a decrepit mission-like restaurant in Queens.
"Crap", I think to myself.

Inside, I'm overpowered by smells of curry, garlic, clove cigarettes, human B.O. and cologne. Over a bowl of amazingly good hot matzo-ball soup, I confront Alex with my issues so far.

"So what's the deal with the chemistry, Alex?" I say, tentatively.
"Tomorrow I get cashiers check from bank, then they bring it back. I don't know why they say this cashiers check or cash only thing. Piss me off."
"I can't mix that chemistry for you. If something goes wrong, I don't want to be responsible. Doesn't the processor manufacturer have a rep that is supposed to do it when they install the machine...? It's brand new!" I plead.
"Yeah... he always busy, never wants to come. Prick. I call him when we get the chemistry." Alex says tersely.
"Well, I can unpack the printer and make sure it works, and program in your packages, I say. Where is your air compressor?"
"Ahh... Don't have air compressor yet... where I can get one? I don't know."
I roll my eyes and end up back on his. "Alex you know we can't even turn that machine ON until we get air supplied to it... it was all in the pre-installation contract. Did you even read it?" I ask, trying not to sound incredulous.
"My daughter helped me with it."
"Have you ever used a computer before, Alex...?"
"Um, no. Boupka will learn it. I'm no good with that."
"Oh god help me," I'm thinking to myself as I slurp my last bite.
"You look like John Lennon," he says as he gets up from the table.

January 28th, 2011 - Signage And The Lack Thereof

I swear Wisconsin has the highest per capita percentage of weird signs in the country, maybe even in North America. Well, that is when we actually HAVE signs, as many of our intersections here can be studied with a magnifying glass for any HINT of which road you are on or are crossing, and there is not a sign to be found. Not a local...? Tough noogies. You need a hospital...? Well, good luck, it's Friday and I'm going to fish fry.

Today I was driving home from Kenosha on some road I've never been on before, (not unusual owing to the lack of signs) and I see the stereotypical Wisconsin "Big Farm House In The Middle Of Nowhere"; in the yard, a tractor, a few junk cars up on blocks, snowmobile outside the front door, and a large sign in the front stating:

by appointment only

I wish I could have gotten a photo, but I was about to be rear-ended by the stereotypical Wisconsin bar traffic on a Friday night, so I drove on.

Using my keen sense of direction, and the setting sun, I turned onto another road of unknown origin and destination, and after a short drive I noticed a housing development with the sign:

"Welcome to Oak Clearing"

Hunh. I wasn't sure if this had to do with HAVING a lot of oaks surrounding the houses or NOT having ANY oaks. By the lack of wooded area, I assumed the latter.

Further down the same road I came across an interesting, yet bizarrely named school called:


Maybe the last survivor of the Dust Bowl Days teaching FFAers not to let that happen again? One can only shake one's head and guess.

Hey, it's Wisconsin. I don't have to write this stuff, it writes itself.


The one picture I do have to show you, really stabs at my heart. I have seen this same picture in Minnesota, and it really pisses me off. It's a tribute to the ludicrous assholes of the world.

January 23rd, 2011 - Milwaukee River. Merry Christmas, bastards. 

January 26th, 2011 - I've Got Questions, You've Got Answers

Today we are going to take a short walk through my brain. That's about the only option we have, really, it's not that long of a path. Consequently, some days I feel I know next to nothing. It seems like everyone in my field of work (no pun intended) knows more, and remembers more than I do. It's frustrating. On the other hand, I feel that if I have the courage to ask my questions, they are often "outside the box" and often do help to answer other peoples questions that may be related, but from a different perspective.
I don't know how much faith I put into Myers/Briggs tests, but I always seem to come out between an ISTJ and an INTJ. Lately, I have been thinking about the characteristics of an ISTJ, which go something like this: "With Introverted Intuition dominating their personality, INTJs focus their energy on observing the world, and generating ideas and possibilities. Their mind constantly gathers information and makes associations about it. They are tremendously insightful and usually are very quick to understand new ideas. However, their primary interest is not understanding a concept, but rather applying that concept in a useful way. INTJs are driven to come to conclusions about ideas. Their need for closure and organization usually requires that they take some action."
Maybe it's the constantly gathering information that leaves no room for the information that is already there, but this seems pretty true for me, and it just keeps coming. And I feel a need to "see it though" and get my questions answered or I can't move on. So I go in circles.
I recently read a quote from Albert Einstein. He said, "It's not that I'm so smart, it's that I stay with problems longer." Maybe I can aspire to this.
So I drive around the state for my job as a plant inspector, (Re: ISTJ - Inspector Personality) and lately I find myself just looking at things during all of the driving, the amount of which can be considerable. Just looking. No radio, no audiobooks, just looking, absorbing, and thinking. I like to think I absorb a lot of information like this, but then again there is an infinite amount to absorb. I see things I don't understand, and they stick in my head. Forever. Until finally something associates while I'm in a situation talking to someone who would know the answer, and I ask. If I don't get a full answer, the question lingers until I do.
Recently, I've gotten some answers to some nasty brain-itches from the past. Thank god. I might forget the answers tomorrow, but at least I have closure. 
Here are some of my questions resolved this week:

#1. I've been working on the microscope for the Department of Ag, trying to learn how to take good "stacked-mosaic" images (which result in sort of a pseudo three-dimensional picture, similar to a CT scan). It's amazing stuff, and an amazing tool.
One of my trial images was of the "Black-legged tick" (a.k.a. "Deer Tick") that was attached to me last fall. I kept it in hand sanitizer for months (works great, you should try it) until I got the chance to look at it under the scope, and it is an incredible world within a world.

Now since we're able to look at the tick so closely (about 100x), I noticed the two small holes at the base of the hypostome ("harpoon") and wondered what the heck they were for. 
First some interesting things about the tick. The ixodes scapularis ("deer tick") here has a few characteristics that other ticks don't have, such as the long hypostome, (for it's body size) which actually harpoons you, and then the animal secretes a "glue" that literally glues the tick onto your skin. They are much more difficult to remove, especially without breaking off the hypostome once they're attached. As opposed to, say a wood tick, which pretty much just sucks with it's mouth, can clings on with other handy appendages.
In speaking with Dr. Phillip Pellitteri, Chief Entomolgist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, at a worksop this week, I was able to get answers to a few of my questions. 
One was, "Is the hypostome hollow? Does it suck blood through it like a straw, and into it's gut?" Answer, "no." Along with the glue, the hypostome is for attachment, and the tick secretes saliva that keeps the wound open (as an anti-coagulant) so it can suck with it's mouthparts (under the bottom of the hypostome in this photo). It alternately sucks blood and secrets saliva into the wound to keep the process going. If it wasn't for the anti-coagulant saliva, the tick couldn't suck the blood, because it would coagulate, dry out and turn into goo, and it wouldn't flow. Unfortunately for us, this also seems to be the process that exchanges the tick's nasty gut-bacteria with our system and ultimately transmits the Lyme's disease to us in ticks that carry it. The tick also has anti-coagulant in it's gut, so that it doesn't turn into a gummy-tick. 
My photo is a bit unique in that because the organism was yanked out of me, the chericerae, and palps that usually protect the hypostome and retract during it's injection, are gone. If you look closely on the hypostome, you can see it has little "troughs" that help the blood flow, even though it is stuck into a very small hole in your skin. Some say that the shape of the barbs, officially known as "files" or "scales" on the hypostome actually help keep the wound open to a point, being not flat like a knife, but raised and triangular, much like a bayonet, a weapon designed to make an incision that is irregularly-shaped and slow to heal. Clever.
My final and ultimate question was, "What then are the two small holes for, Dr. Phil?  Salivary glands...?" Answer, "no."  He said we can see that they are glands of some sort by their sub-structure with an electron microscope, but that the saliva comes from the mouth and blood/gut tract. He wasn't sure what their ultimate purpose was. He said not all 34 subspecies of ixoides have them, and said that some of these types of ticks have sensing appendages near their heads also with unknown purposes, and that we can only guess what they are for. We don't even know if they are useful to the tick in it's form now, or perhaps only served a purpose at some other point during the tick's evolution. 
So bottom-line, they are glands of some sort, but I need a super tick-freak to tell me what they think they're for. 
File that part deep in the brain-void for future reference, and hope it remains accessible. 
I can see why people dedicate their lives to studying insects and microscopic creatures - when you can actually can look at them closely, there are an amazing amount of body parts and things that we never would otherwise see or think about.

#2. Driving down the interstate one day, I was behind a 4000 gallon pumper truck. I know this because it said, "Contents 4000 gal." on the back of the tank. It also had painted lettering which read: "Recycling in Action!"
This immediately got me thinking, "What the hell could be in a 4000 gallon pumper truck that would be recycled...?"  Feces? Please don't let it be feces. Um, waste water? I really had no idea.
So as I passed the cab of the truck, the door stated that it was from the "LaBore Grease-Trap Company."  Okay... what is going on, does Burger King sell their French-fry grease to McDonalds and then McDonalds sells it to Wendy's...? I couldn't put together the "recycling" part.
As it turns out, after talking to my counterpart in the Department; Lenny, formerly a  pesticide cop, fertilizer, and farm implement salesperson, that some of the grease from restaurant grease-traps, at least in Wisconsin, goes to... cattle feed producers. Cows and cattle need a balanced diet of fat, protein, carbos, and nutrients, and some if not all of the fat is provided by nice cheap grease from restaurants. Hunh. Kinda scares me that cattle are already eating fast-food before we slaughter them for fast food. Just another reason to add to the list of why I don't eat fast food.

#3. My third and final question (for now) is one that has been clattering around my head for some time. I think it started as I was sitting in a construction zone, staring bleakly at the heavy equipment trundling by.

I was noticing the bulldozers with the track system that has one idler wheel or "bogie wheel" sticking up in the back, sort of making the track into a trianglar shape, instead of the stereotypical stretched-oval or "D" shape one usually sees on dozers, cranes, army tanks, and the like. 
When I see some mechanical 'break from the herd" such as this, my immediate response is, "Why?"  (Which is usually my immediate response for everything, I guess.) And my first guess as to an answer is usually, of course, cost. And I am usually partly right.
Back to Lenny again. He told me the reason, but by the time came to write it down, I had already forgotten it, so I had to look it up again. Then I said to myself, "Oh. Yeah..."
The reason behind this design, which is exclusively owned by the Caterpillar Tractor Company of Peoria, Illinois, is manifold.
According to those in the know about heavy equipment, this configuration is called "elevated sprocket" or "high drive", and it goes a little like this:

"The high drive design is unique to Caterpillar bulldozers. It eliminates the final drive system, which tended to break frequently on conventional units. This elevated drive sprocket undercarriage is built in modular form. The tracks can be easily disassembled and the drive sprockets easily replaced. The transmission can be pulled out the back of the machine without much disassembly." You can imagine this is a major wear part on something that pushes maybe hundreds of thousands of pounds of rock and dirt all day... 

"The high-drive system eliminates the traditional final drive in favor of a planetary final drive, which is more effective at withstanding engine torque, since it spreads the forces over multiple gear teeth instead of a single tooth as in the traditional system." 
Very much like a bicycle, the smaller cogs tend to wear out before the larger ones due to less chain wrap, and less stress on the individual cog teeth.
So in a nutshell: easier to maintain, less wear on expensive parts = cheaper overall.
Always with the cheaper.

Well, we'll see how long this information sticks around. At least if I write it down it has a better chance of sinking in.
Until next time, keep absorbing, keep thinking, stay with the problems, and ask a lot of questions. And ask someone who knows.

January 24th, 2011 - Chic-a-go, Chic-a-go... you fill in the rest.

Holy Cripes, another post already. And the ink's barely dry on the last one. And it looks like I've given up not starting sentences with a conjunction. Or next I'll leave my participles dangling all over. Well just nevermind about grammar fer now. 
So yeah I was in downtown Chicago last week for a Trade Show, and I took a few pictures with my "little" camera. (That would be the Olympus Stylus 850-SW as opposed to the Nikon D80, which was too much baggage for this trip).
We were working the show down on Navy Pier, a large convention center and amusement park which overlooks the lake. Lenny and I were usually there very early in the morning and leaving about sunset, both great times to take photos.

I always come away with mixed feelings about the downtowns of most big cities.
I love nature and being out in the wilderness, but steel and glass and stone have a strange appeal too. Something about the massiveness, and the symmetry. You can say all you want about Ayn Rand being a capitalist prick, but she was very good at describing this sort of thing. Anyway, I'm not sure if Chicago is a toddlin' town, but it's alright. 
I think Chicago's redeeming values are that it's old and worn down enough not to take itself too seriously.
I come away from some cities feeling like they are trying to be more than they really are, and in doing that, they end up without a soul. 
Chicago has the lakefront (Lake Michigan) the river (the Chicago River, green at times, no one knows exactly why) and a lot of very cool Art Deco architecture. A nice mix of old and new.
New York has a soul, and I don't have anything personal against New York, but it seems to have something personal against me. 
Bob Seeger calls it a "friendly old ghost," but in my experience it's more of an evil-tempered poltergeist waiting to grab your legs from under the chair. I've had a few good experiences there, but mostly it just seems to be out to get me.
The last time I flew out of JFK I flipped it off from the window of the plane screaming, "Ugh! You couldn't pay me to go back there! Die monster, die!" And the like. But that's a
nother story. And I digress. There, I did it again. Twice.

Every morning at 7 AM as we drove past the Pier on the shuttle bus coming from the hotel, there would already be people sitting out on their plastic five-gallon buckets, fishing. We got there super early on the last day of the show and no one was out yet, albeit it was - 10 F with a hellacious windchill. It didn't stop the early morning joggers and the pedestrians though, so I assume it was fishin' business as usual after the sun came up.

I managed a couple shots of the harbor light, definitely a different scene on different days. It would be fun to go back in the summer and contrast these pics to summertime pics from the same spot. Looks like a crazybusy place during warmer weather.

On our walk into convention area every morning we passed through the "Stained Glass Museum," which was amazing, and was a great moral booster for starting the day.
At different times of the day the pieces looked very different. Some of them are lit by outside light, and some by totally interior artificial lighting.
There is some amazing glasswork there. Lots of single panes, but also complete doors, windows, and three-dimensional sculptures made from thousands and thousands of pieces of stained glass.

There were a lot of "Coney Island" type distractions at the pier as well, the ubiquitous "Maze of Mirrors", the souvenir shops, cruise ships and boat tours in the summer, greasy carny food, interspersed with lots of historical images and museum pieces from Chicago's past to adorn the walls.
But I was seriously surprised at the numbers and types of people that were drawn in and took the time to look closely at the stained glass exhibits.
Many of these people were busy show exhibitors like us, but the colors, textures, and intricacies of the glasswork tended to suck you right in.
It was a good place to practice photography skills as well. Some of the pieces were inside glass cases, and the lighting was very inconsistent. A good challenge for someone with no tripod and used to mostly shooting outdoors with natural light.

Incredible stuff.

As far as the show itself, it did not disappoint. It was busy most of the time, and as with most trade shows, was an eclectic mix of industry mishmash and hoohah.

If you needed some snake repellent, they had that. Though I'm not exactly sure why you'd want to repel snakes from your plants, as they are strict carnivores and actually eat a lot of the rodents that cause the most plant damage. Maybe they just make you feel too oogie to be worth the payoff. I had to look at the ingredients list to see where the magic came from, and was not surprised that the main active ingredient was "putrefied egg solids," a common denominator in many of these repellents.  I guess if you don't like snakes, you probably aren't going to want to putrefy your own egg solids, and would happy pay someone else to do it for you.

I was also entranced by this massive trippy cacti and succulent display. 
They seem to be the "more cacti per square inch cacti" so as to put more cacti in a small space for your best value-added return, for the more-cacti-per-capita slamma-jamma.
Anyway they are a texture-lover's wet dream. Looks like a nice place for some spiders and insects to have a hoe-down, or could maybe be used to remove those tough baked-on food messes left on last night's cookware.
That's my take on the whole shebang.
Next I need to go through the seven zillion images I took from multiple angles on the concourse and stitch together some panoramas of the entire auditorium show floor.
We'll see how good my stitching program really is. I've been using the one that came with my Canon setup (Canon PhotoStitch), but just downloaded the Microsoft ICE freeware version as well.
Maybe a side-by-side comparison is in order.
Till next time, happy snappin' -
And watch where you sit when you're in the cactus booth.