The Camel Has Left for the Chiropractor

As it was after any three-day weekend, the following week was just another big blur of Mondays… 

Americans are optimists so, when any previous Sunday showed the slightest promise of Spring, the would-be campers could emerge from their winter berths,  pull out the old camping gear, and take stock of what equipment still worked and hadn’t rotted or mildewed over the winter. 

Memorial Day was around the corner! The great outdoors was calling!

The first long camping weekend of the American vacation season had officially begun. Thankfully, a majority of campers experienced good weather.  Others were not too happy, never mind that they picked up the tent on the same cashier slip that listed the buns, canned beans, hotdogs and marshmallows!  As a manager of a call center, I could plot the calls coming in by areas of the country, depending upon where the sun has peeked from behind a cloud and whispered ‘Summer is coming”.  I could also plot the patterns of “just a little wind” or “a light rain” but that’s another chapter.

Some consumers using their break/lunch hour continually dial the same 800 numbers, hold for a short period of time, then forget about their initial mission of the week. Call centers are slammed for the first seven hours of an eight hour Monday; Tuesday is busy too, but calls tend to taper off by late afternoon.  By Wednesday’s “hump day”, people’s priorities have changed.  Work and family events take over, because the numbers drop to a predictable sum in the middle of most weeks.  Thursdays just slip by.  Whoa! It’s already Friday …time to pick up the phone and complete this honey-do before going home for the weekend! 

So began the call center race each week. The Caller’s Objective: to reach a real live representative in less than 5 minutes.  In the consumers’ minds, there were hundreds of phone representatives just waiting for someone to talk to. But more often than not, there were only a half-dozen –   COUNT THEM! – six workstations inside of time worn cubicles, the majority filled with unsuspecting individuals working the consumer service lines for the first time. Some of them wised up over the years, and became seasoned reps among the fold.  Others lasted only a season; my personal peeve was that some of the best and the worst were cut from the same cloth: all had previously sold cell phones; they had learned to use their gift of gab to “sell up” rather than fix any minor problem.  Cell phone types were never seriously regarded as keepers in my long-term, managerial perspective.

In a customer service scenario, the ability to problem-solve was imperative.  As a manufacturer, we provided both the human connection and the physical part(s) to make one and one’s product “whole” again. Hence,

Defective was the only word most callers voiced.  Comprised of more than four letters, defective was a surefire adjective meant to satisfy the reps’ ears and our data base criteria.   

This is covered under warranty, right? 

What do you mean you can send parts?

We depended on reading updated, accurately prepared specs… But even then, servicing our clients was an extremely Neanderthal process, failing to offer us a means from which we could click our mouse and “presto” make our caller happy…

Please hold for one moment, Sir. (He’s not happy, he’s asking questions… )

Any unusual scenario was considered on a case by case basis; the many repetitive descriptions that implied there could very well be some type of legitimate flaw jumped from the reps notes onto my spreadsheet!  There was little coincidence, but much that was considered anecdotal at best.   It promised to be another long summer.

Among the majority of seasonal temps, anyone who had an intelligent quotient of ten points above a tree could only stomach one season. If they managed to return again the next year, chances were good that they couldn’t get a preferred job elsewhere or had decided they could bluff their way through the eight hour day with little attention.  

Not so their illustrious leader – me – who retained a yearly optimism that our corporate systems would improve, as would not only the seasonal temps but also the callers’ expectations!  The optimism each season was infectious! We’d have a better run this season; of course we would! 

Nevertheless, I remained on the phone and on emails,  tracking down the last major parts orders, dealing with the wrong parts received,  and succumbing by the end of the season to a personal depression; was I really this trusting? (I hesitated to insert “stupid”, but with hind sight, one could substitute for the other).

Relatively few details escaped discovery in our service center.  Scripts, and many hours training to pursue the correct course of questioning normally satisfied a normal, run of the mill caller’s situation.    

·      Did you review the contents of the box to make sure everything was complete?

·        Did anyone practice pitching the tent before leaving?  

·        You sprayed it with what?

We customarily asked questions and in turn hoped that we were “educating” the consumer in a polite, albeit often too late, manner.  Didn’t anyone read Consumer Reports anymore? Or simple care instructions?

Yep, that all-in-one vacation package promised the outdoor experience of a lifetime; so much so, that when the unsuspecting purchaser read the bullet point sales pitch and assured his significant other of a fantastic week in the wild for her and the kids, she was game!  Now, which aisle has the hot dogs and the chips???

The next Monday, it was obviously OUR FAULT (as the manufacturer) that their dream weekend had become a nightmare. Never mind that two layers of cloth won’t protect campers from most freaks of nature;  nor that the weather warnings that had predicted thunderstorms were dismissed by the campers who had braved rains back in the day. Now, lesser issues were often involved, including a tent bag full of bad judgment calls that piled up like proverbial straws to finally break the camel’s back; enough so that Wednesday’s Hump Day smiles disappeared entirely from our summer season’s work week. 

Ultimately, educating the masses was downright idealistic, especially when hundreds of dollars spent on camping equipment didn’t guarantee a successful experience; the entire exercise had burned a distasteful hole in pocket books and taste buds.  “Teaching callers” via a taped greeting was optimistic at best. The Labor Day Holiday ended the season, but a closed Monday always overwhelmed a normal Tuesday’s call volume; lines overflowed and calls backed up; once again, optimists chose to hang up and redial…there was no end to explaining how they had lost their place in the main queue. 

On a brighter note, the next seven months would again include only one Monday per week…

THIS SOLDIER HAD A NAME; a Memorial Day Tribute

Dear Readers,

The month of May brings attention to our fallen; and additional families each year endure the Memorial Day Weekend in a new and solemn light, when a loved one has only recently joined the ranks of those honored at the end of this month.

It is because of the never-ending toll that strips away our country’s youth that I humbly submit this tribute.  While I wrote this piece for a specific young man, I hope that sharing it now will – in some small way – bring a sense of comfort to the many military families forever blanketed in sorrow each year on Memorial Day.

May God continue to Bless and Keep our Military Families in His care,

Annette Brochier Johnson

 

 

 

 

THIS SOLDIER HAD A NAME

“Another soldier fell this Friday” and the broadcast continued on;

This time the news became surreal, for the war had touched us, too.

This soldier had a name.

For those of us without a son, the past had met the present

Releasing a stream of déjà vu.

His son would be well cared for, as would his little girl.

Friends and family would come forward

To reassure each other as a generation had before.

“I’ll share my room with my

Cousin, Mommy. I’ll share my daddy, too.”

This soldier had a family.

Ever resilient, the ever constant family values

Were embedded on the hearts of all who shared this surname;

A covenant simply scribed in red, white, and blue.

Camping trips are a summer tradition;

This year will be no different, as summer will not hide.

The campfire will burn and crackle

When branches again entwine,

Sharing growing pains with Siblings,

Watching Cousins meet anew,

Recalling Grampa’s keyboard melodies,

And laughing at what campground antics bring!

This soldier had a voice.

Let each heart in its own tempo listen closely,

So that occasional off-keys and tears may soon transform

To joyous song and comfort all in reverie…

Save a chuckle for that chorus when you congregate and sing!

Peace within will bring forth smiles,

Finding solace now in small hands clasped

Tightly ‘round the photos of One of America’s Finest.

He is forever their very own soldier.

Remind them that there are others, too, who thank God for soldiers like their daddy

Whose service and sacrifices keep us safe in a world of war-torn strife.

This soldier had a mission.

And in serving, he shared The Word with whom he shared a common fellowship and duty.

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.   John 3:16 KJV

STANDING UP

I was reminded of Mom, who continued to stand for older people on the bus or in the doctor’s office; she was over seventy years old herself, and we would remind her that she no longer had to give up her seat; in fact, she’d earned it and could safely enjoy staying seated.  She didn’t really acquiesce until her ankles began to weaken and she became unsteady.

Such was the déjà vu moment that spoke to me as I watched the group of older men come forward, each in turn, as their names were called.  This was a moment for decorum…

I watched as the once young soldiers resumed their youthful, military stance; one could almost imagine each reporting for duty as they were called in alphabetical order.   Despite their fragile gaits, each had once again straightened up just enough to return to uniformed days when they had been warmly greeted by their loved ones.

This was a simple but touching ceremony.  Those who walked without a cane or walker stepped forward and stood at attention while the caring woman pinned the red carnation on their lapels and thanked them for their service.  Slightly exuberant but still possessing the shyness of their youth’s generation, each ambled to a nearby seat so as to allow the next Vet his very own moment of recognition.

A couple of them were strong enough to raise themselves up from the wheel chair seats that brought them to their place in line outside the room’s entrance, where they managed to stand ever so briefly but long enough to receive their carnations eye to eye.  They fell carefully back into their wheeled seats and worked their way back to the end of the line so that the next Vet could move forward.

I tried to imagine the individual yesterdays these men had known; some of us who watched the brief proceedings during our lunch were younger by at least thirty to forty years… from my brief encounter with WWII and Korean War history, I could only surmise the reels of memories still rolling inside each of these old soldiers.  I had had older cousins who had served at the same time as these gentlemen. But as in most families, ages tended to stay within ages, and reunions were more difficult to get to these days; I had to admit: I knew very little of my own cousins’ stories.

My membership in a service club had brought me to this senior living residence dining room this week, wherein tradition extolled these precious individuals at least one day each year.  Some of these men had once celebrated Armistice Day; and like my older cousins, they were at least a generation younger than my mother would have been, had she been sitting here at lunch with me.

Like Mom, they understood the simple courtesy of giving up a desired seat so that another older member could take in the brief but respectful place accorded him by the rest of his senior living comrades in arms

The Green Easter Egg

The year was 1979.  Thank God for my dear aunt by marriage; she invited me to make sugar eggs with her.  My childlike delight escaped from my normal responsible confines imposed upon myself; I agreed to join her in that Easter’s endeavor.

We were elbow deep in sugar and decorator frosting for several weeks, commandeering the dining room table, her cookie sheets and oven, and the back sun room for most of the Lenten season.  It was messy but absolutely wonderful!  She was as delighted to show me the hidden magic “tricks” as I was delighted to discover the mysteries of these small egg panoramas!

I’d be taking some of my sugar art down to the Bay Area for the family, so I began thinking of one for my mother. For Mom, I would have to keep it strictly traditional in its splendor.  That was easy enough, as we both appreciated the beauty of tradition and Easter in all its spring freshness.   I mentally ticked off all the eggs I would need to make for my loved ones.

Like Rome’s architects, my aunt and I began with good intentions.  Of course, my aunt’s hand was seasoned enough that she had little “wasted” frosting.  The eggs and the frosting tips I soon managed well enough. However, after weeks of working with the colored sugar molds and frosting tubes, we began to tire of this project; the newness was starting to wear off; we were fast becoming “Eastered-out”.  Our former disciplines gave way to creative, off the cuff, non-traditional panoramic works of sugar art.

We decided to personalize each person’s egg where at all possible. My aunt’s two little grandsons were playmates of My Only’s; we would use the three little plastic skunks and make a special trio of eggs for our “little stinkers”!!!  The possibilities were endless and we soon succumbed to fits of giggles as we playfully continued to craft each egg.  The more we tired during each day’s session, the more my Easter egg masterpieces evolved into original, silly subject centers, with only the leaves and flowers on the outside reminiscent of a traditional Easter palette.

It was time to create an egg for Daddy.  I had one miniature ceramic horse figurine set aside just for him.  With the addition of some small straw flowers, I placed a horseshoe shape of little red blossoms around the neck in a true winner’s circle fashion.  A bit of frosting glue and VOILA!  A Winner’s Circle Quarter Horse for all seasons!  I could hardly wait for the car trip down for Easter dinner.

We arrived home for Easter weekend and discovered my father had been placed into the French Hospital in San Francisco for observation.  I don’t even remember the actual medical concern. I was too upset to reasonably deal with the moment, and I sat in the kitchen on the Cosco Stool, crying and explaining to Mom that Easter just wasn’t going to seem like Easter without Daddy at the table.  True to form, Mom was the strong one.  She believed deeply that Daddy was receiving the best of care and that he would return home soon.  She reminded me that we could go visit him at any time.  As a young married mother of a three year old, I attempted to shape up somewhat so as not to alarm My Only.  We soon left for the hospital with magazines and his green Easter egg carefully wrapped in hand.

To my relief, Daddy looked good, was in high spirits, and content with his treatment thus far.  The French Hospital still had a good reputation at that time for keeping the older Frenchmen “happy”.  Times were changing, but the dietician still allowed a small glass of red wine as part of a dinner tray if the patient’s health permitted it.

I presented my sugar green egg to Daddy.  He donned his eyeglasses and peered inside…the little racehorse was obviously a pleasant surprise!

Boy, do you have my number!  Think you’re pretty smart, huh Annette?

Extremely pleased with his response, I sat it on the side table with the get well cards for him to enjoy.  While Daddy was filling Mom in on the details of his stay thus far, including his having “gone to confession” compliments of the resident French-speaking priest, the same priest appeared through the door, introducing himself to all of us, then began speaking to my mother who greeted him en francais.  Mom was enjoying the opportunity to converse in her native French (Mom’s command of the language was that of the old country, despite her having been born in Livermore) so she didn’t notice my father beckoning me to the side table, nor did she hear his frantic directions in Pig Latin:  Ix-nay the egg-ay! Ix-nay the egg-ay!

It took me a minute to understand…the egg was too fragile to nix per se, so I quickly turned the green egg around to face the wall.  Only the frosted leaves and iced trim of its backside were still in clear view.  The visit was no more than a few minutes at the most before the priest excused himself to continue making his rounds.  Once the priest left, Daddy explained what this was all about.  During confession, he’d told the priest

You can throw the book at me, Father

Daddy had taken communion for the first time in many years.  He wasn’t so sure if his thrown book confession completely covered all his human flaws, especially his love for horseracing and gambling.  The last thing he needed was for the priest to see that Easter egg.  Obediently, I wrapped it back up and carried it back to Rubberneck Avenue for safe keeping.  Daddy was going to be just fine…

THANKSGIVING DAY

May blessings big and small, large,

Little, thin and fat exceed

Your smallest expectations and help

See you through this season’s needs!

With brothers and sisters take

Comfort under His arms and wings

Until you hold in your own hands

A cornucopia of favored things!

Honest toil, good health, a smile,

Some crusty bread, a wedge of cheese

With heirs and friends, join

Loving hearts in gratitude for all of these!

Have a Safe, Blessed and Happy Thanksgiving!

 

 

That Blackest of Fridays

Seems like the American media never miss an opportunity to take a tragedy and embellish upon it for later publication. Obligatory markers are a priority, and sadly, JFK’s Assassination is no exception. 

This is the fiftieth anniversary; the media’s obsession and fascination with unanswered questions, conspiracy theories and the renewed cold war climate has again spun its web around our hearts, luring us into a personal time capsule to endure another painful return voyage. 

My journey always begins on the entrance steps of one junior high school in the Bay Area; we were seventh grade “scrubs”, so enjoying the sunny, mid-day lunchtime break was just another Friday with my friends at our usual spot. I remember no faces, just a mass of chatter spilling out of the cafeteria, spreading the news that President Kennedy had been assassinated.

The president would want us to go on…

How did my gym teacher know what JFK would want?  None of us sitting there in our gym clothes were able to fully comprehend, let alone focus, on the class requirements before us. The few minutes between the principal’s announcement in the cafeteria and the beginning of fourth period was certainly not long enough for any of this horror to sink in; we were still in disbelief and few details were known. Our president assassinated? In our own country? In Vice President Johnson’s Texas? How were we supposed to run laps and play a game as though nothing had happened?

Until that noon hour, we students were an innocent but idealistic bunch, having been inoculated two years before with the Ask Not serum: 

Ask not what your country can do for you;

Ask what you can do for your country.

 

JFK’s quote hung in our school’s front showcase. Many of us were planning to join the Peace Corps when we were eligible; or, at the very least, become teachers and serve the needs of children on our own soil.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy was 43, the youngest man and the first Catholic to take the oath of office; handsome and somewhat boyish charm aside, he was also a WWII Navy Veteran.  Put a man on the moon by the end of the decade?  It was within our grasp because this was America, where anything was possible if one believed and envisioned it so.  JFK’s youthful exuberance represented all that was historic and bold and fresh about the American Dream. 

Mom had the television on when I came home from school. The black and white screen repeated the same footage all evening:

There was the young President and First Lady walking along the airstrip fencing, shaking hands and greeting loving well wishers; the handsome couple smiling and waving in a motorcade; and then the distortion of confusion in a shaking, hand-held camera, capturing the indefinable moment. 

News reels would always follow with photos of people crying in the street, discarded roses lying on the floor of an abandoned limousine, and eventually, Walter Cronkite’s tearing up and wiping his glasses on camera as he completed the official pronouncement that President Kennedy had died.

In between the broadcasts, we reminisced: Mom remarked how JFK had “pardoned” the traditional White House Thanksgiving turkeys just a couple of days earlier; what had been a light-hearted presidential photo op now, in hindsight, seemed eerily foreboding; our president had received no such pardon.  

Grasping for some comfort, Mom and we girls took turns leafing through the magazines stacked on the fireplace wall shelves; midst the keepsake newsprint inserts from the weddings of Grace Kelly, Princess of Monaco, and Margaret Truman were some Family Circle, Good Housekeeping, and other periodicals with Jackie on the cover; color photos of a loving mother with her two darling little ones were rampant, as was the genteel coverage about her maternal fragility. Jackie had been plagued by difficult pregnancies; she had recently lost their third child.  Any woman’s magazine worth its salt had taken a turn extolling the virtues of this young, refined and well-educated thirty-something who had become our youngest First Lady.

Like many families, we had accepted all the hype and the story lines, including the media’s making of a pill box styled Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy.  This was the era when Washington as well as Hollywood deleted any scandals from the story lines that might implicate repetitive or rampant undignified behavior by our government leaders; the Kennedy Administration was no different. 

I remember the initial telecast of asides from grief-stricken public figures.  Ladybird Johnson mistakenly remarked that the most terrible travesty was that the assassination had occurred in her beloved Texas.  She later apologized for this faux pas, clarifying that the most terrible travesty was the loss of our beloved president.

The swearing in of Lyndon Johnson by necessity took place on Air Force One.  The new widow insisted on attending, so the ceremony was delayed until Jackie’s arrival. The historic snapshot conveyed a grief-stricken assembly of figures; the viewers’ eyes eventually focused on the blood-stained skirt in the foreground. Some reports suggested that aides had encouraged Jackie to change her clothes for the historic ceremony, but Jackie had refused.  She reportedly responded, “I want them to see what they did to Jack”. 

I had much admired Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy as First Lady, but her words struck me to the core.   I absorbed them completely. I waited for some type of explanation or retraction, but I never heard the First Lady apologize for that which in my sensitivity was a deeply punitive remark.  

We prepared ourselves for the weekend’s continual coverage; maybe new reports would offer some of the missing details.  We were glued to the screen the entire morning when we witnessed in real time Jack Ruby walking up to Lee Harvey Oswald and shooting him at close range. 

Dear God! What must we endure next?

We were all in a daze; even the solemnity of a four day weekend of national mourning didn’t close the door on the restlessness or fear inspired by these two indescribable acts. 

Images…the boots facing backward in the stirrups, the black bunting across the White House windows, the little guy saluting his father’s caisson… I had expected historic precedence to console… now, one man’s visions had been diminished to an eternal flame, extinguishing a fountain of youthful promise.

There was little consolation from the Warren Report.  I quickly caught the cynical virus from the adults.  I couldn’t then and still can’t break away from my initial skepticism that the historical summation by the Warren Commission was a political assessment rather than conclusive of either guilt or trajectory findings. The report at best rubbed salt in our intellectual wounds; few Americans accepted its findings as convincing; and the government’s decision to seal the documents for fifty years fed our doubts and fueled every conspiracy theory that later arose.

Some years I managed to set the painful memories of November on the back burner. But American journalism’s insistence on commemorating a Camelot that never really existed made forgetting the story’s tragic ending impossible.  They stirred the pot enough so to keep us somber and close to a  seems like just yesterday awareness.

Not that we needed any reminders. Poignant images presented themselves with or without the help of the media; they were permanently embedded in our common psyche. Each November 22nd , we who were old enough to remember that day recalled where we were… and when we heard… and how we as a country mourned. 

I do not exaggerate when I state that a part of my own emotional maturity was frozen in place on that blackest of Fridays; but I would be dishonest if I didn’t admit that JFK’s death was only partially to blame; my brother’s nervous breakdown in September had already altered some of the family dynamics.

Neither my brother’s vulnerability nor JFK’s death would fade away very quickly.  From my eleven year old eyes, I wasn’t sure of anything that autumn of ’63 except that my immediate future held more sorrowful weeks ahead.  I sought escape where I could, and burrowed even deeper into my school studies, managing to accomplish a fair amount of distance during waking hours before going to bed and shutting myself away from my family’s personal heartache.

Historic events come and go; unfortunately, the more dramatic ones languish much longer than we wish, lurking in the shadows like smears of glue that have yet to dry clear, leaving unwanted traces marring an otherwise precious entry in our life’s scrapbook…

 

Because We Are All One

For many of us born between 1946 and 1964, World War II was relegated to the history books; not because veterans didn’t live among us, but because too many who had served had experienced a private hell on earth.  They had seen too much, and could not speak of the horrors without reliving the moments; so they spoke seldom and far too little. War widows, like my youngest aunt, moved forward, raising her young son with help from family until she remarried; and my cousin once again had a father.

Apart from personal stories like this, much of World War Two’s history came to some of us baby boomers from the printed pages of encyclopedias and historical textbooks.  I emphasize some of us.  I didn’t know my grandparents because they had passed away years before I was born.  But my friend Elaine Karen – whose Hebrew name was Elka – never knew her grandparents because they had died in the Holocaust.

Thank God Eisenhower requested that Congressional members and Allied leaders visit the death camps.  As Commander of the Allied Forces, he desired no more than all of humanity be reminded: such atrocities were real and had occurred from the hands of men.  One quotation featured in the Hall of Remembrance of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, is from the man who was known affectionately as Ike:

 

 

The things I saw beggar description…The visual evidence and the verbal testimony of starvation, cruelty and bestiality were…overpowering…I made the visit deliberately in order to be in a position to give first-hand evidence of these things if ever, in the future, there develops a tendency to charge these allegations merely to ‘propaganda.’

Written by General Eisenhower after his visit to the Ohrdruf Concentration Camp, it is one of many quotations featured in the museum.  This year, from April 7th thru 14th, marks the 75th official Day of Remembrance, also signified by the motto, NEVER AGAIN.  Take a few minutes, in between checking emails and other daily routines, to peruse the United States National Holocaust Museum’s website .  

 

Because we are all one; and today we are all Jews…