Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Revenge of the Strong Back...

Den of the Beastly Bear

Hi Folks!

Once upon a time, many moons ago...I worked for a truly horrible boss.

I was driving tractor/trailers for Perry Drug Stores, a local business that was growing by leaps and bounds!

His name was Harold.

What made Harold a horrible boss you may ask?
Well, to start with Harold suffered from megalomania compounded by severe narcissistic tendencies! Add to that a general bad attitude and you have Harold. He was the kind of guy that you'd say "Good morning" to and just get a grunt in response, like you weren't worth the effort of forming words.

Now put a guy like that, in a job he really has no experience in and put him in charge of 27 drivers that have been doing this for years and you can see the potential for conflict.

You see Harold had no business being put in charge of drivers and transportation. He had only gotten his previous job as Warehouse Manager because he happened to live next door to the owner of the company. The owner having taken pity on Harold when he lost his job as the Menswear manager of a recently defunct department store.

Harold was in his late fifties or early sixties at the time. Bald and overweight, with a head shaped like a football. He wore glasses too big for his face which accentuated his overlarge eyes. His jowls and lack of neck lent him the aspect of a giant two legged toad. 

As a nickname, folks were rather evenly split between "Frogger"(from the old video game) to the less flattering Jabba the Hut!
But being a classic narcissistic megalomaniac Harold thought he knew EVERYTHING! There was no talking to him.

Things really came to a head for me personally when Harold was showing off some new routes he'd laid out to some other drivers and I. As he gave us his supremely confident thoughts on how wonderful his plans were, I happened to notice an error in timing and distance. 

I politely said "Excuse me Harold, but the way you have that route there set up." I pointed "I don't think it..."

"You don't get to think!" Harold rudely interrupted.
"You're nothing but a strong leave the thinking to the strong mind. You just do what you're told!"

I felt the heat starting to climb, both from anger and the embarrassment of being treated so in front of my friends and colleagues. I knew there was no winning so I clamped my mouth shut before starting something that would surely see me fired.

Now friends, I've been called many a thing in my time but stupid isn't one of them. The lowest I've ever scored on an IQ test is 137, and a couple over 140. So when I say that stung...even though I knew better, you'll understand.

So I bided my opportunities to best a fool come often in this world, and this one came sooner than I expected.

Within two weeks of my dressing down by Harold, I had a local run to downtown Detroit on West Jefferson Ave.

Now when I say downtown, I mean DOWNTOWN. The company had been experimenting with palletizing our loads and put lift-gates on the back of all our trailers, as a way of speeding up the unloading process. But not all our stores were set up for it yet, such a store was the first on my route.

I buzzed the rear door, and the assistant manager came out and we walked together to the back of the truck to break the seal. When we did and I rolled up the door I noticed we had a problem.

The truck was loaded to the very back, with four shrink wrapped pallets tall enough to brush the door overhead blocking our way.

"Are those for us?" the manager asked.

"I'll crawl up and see..." I replied.

They weren't.

In fact, they were not for any store on my route! You see Perry Drugs was expanding so quickly that they had outgrown their current truck loading bay capacity. We compensated by loading the routes in waves. We filled all the bays and loaded those trailers, then pulled them out and loaded a second route on another trailer, in the same door. These four pallets belonged on the first wave trailer.

Well, there was no working around them, and no room to move them to one side. The manager nixed the idea of unloading two on the ground outside the truck so I could get to his load, as downtown Detroit has a tendency to see things "walk away". If you know what I mean...

I asked to use their phone (WAY before cell phones) and called Harold. I explained the situation to him, suggested I drive back to the warehouse to pull these four pallets off, then return to my route.
This would put me no more than 2 hours behind.

"No, no, no..." Harold replied "You're just trying to screw me out of overtime on a local run!"

"Well I don't know what you expect me to do Harold..."

"Do you recognize the store number that they belong to?" he asked.


"Then this is what I want you to do. You take those four pallets and deliver them to the store they go to, then get your ass back and finish your it?"

*heavy sigh* "Got it, deliver them to the store they belong to then finish my sure?"

"Yes I'm sure do as you're told!" *CLICK*
I should also mention Harold's phone etiquette left something to be desired as well.

"What did he say?" asked the manager

"Deliver them to their correct store." I replied

"Where's that?" He asked

"Muskegon Heights..."

Geography lesson boys and girls! 

Hold your right hand up palm facing you. This gives a fairly accurate representation of the shape of Michigan's lower peninsula. Detroit sits about where the lower part of your thumb attaches to your palm. From there, draw a line diagonally across your palm to  the other side of your hand. About midway up...THAT'S where Muskegeon Heights is. 

In a truck about 4 hrs. and 200 miles!!!

So that's what I did!

When I returned to my original route and that first store...some 8 1/2 hours later, the manager was apoplectic!!! 

"Where the hell have you been? Your boss is furious, he said as soon as you showed up you were to call him at home!!!"

I shrugged, "OK"

I couldn't help but crack a grin as I dialed the number and waited for the connection.


"Hey Harold, you wanted me to call?"

"Where the fuck have you been?" 
In my minds eye I saw his red face, veins and eyes bulging as his Blood pressure soared. 
"They've been blowing my phone up all God damn day, they had to get drugs from other stores to fill orders cause you're so late!"

"I was doing what I was told..."


"Remember, 4 pallets on the end of the trailer...
Don't belong on this route...
I suggested bringing them back to the warehouse, but YOU said deliver them to the store where they go."

"Well Where the fuck did they go?!?"

"Now would think that would be the first question a strong mind might have asked..."


"Muskegeon Heights." I calmly replied.

"Well why the fuck didn't you tell me that???"

"You didn't ask me that, you asked me if I knew where they went...
I said 'yes' and you told me to deliver them where they go. I'm just a strong back doing what I was told!"

"You son of a bitch..."

"Look Harold, I gave you a reasonable solution. But you're so worried everybody's trying to screw you over, and that you know better than everybody. You just don't listen."

"You just get busy and finish that fucking route and I'll deal with you tomorrow..."

"Deal with me? How are you gonna deal with me?!?
 I was following a direct order from my immediate supervisor..."


Harold livid...check!
8 1/2 hours of overtime...check!
Smarter than the boss...double check!

That was not the last time I hoist Harold by his own petard!
Every time I came off clean...he just couldn't help himself and made it just too easy for me.

I made him eat those words so many times...he had to have regretted them...maybe not.

 But I sure enjoyed rubbing his nose in them.

 It was quite lucrative as well, because every time he told me to do something stupid it made me money!

I've had better bosses since, and certainly none worse...

And I hope none of you have one as bad!

Be Well Folks!

Beastly Bear

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Value of Friendship...

Den of the Beastly Bear

Hi Folks!

It's been another couple of Blustery snow filled days here in Michigan, typical January weather.
As I pass by the many lakes in my area, I see makeshift hockey rinks and ice shanties. (for those of you unfamiliar, these are little portable buildings put on the ice to shelter those "ice fishing", done through a hole augured through the ice.)

I see groups of kids sledding down hills, and having snowball fights. Groups of friends just enjoying spending time together. Then I spy perhaps the loneliest thing you'll ever see, a guy ice fishing all alone in the middle of the lake. No shanty, no cover, just a guy sitting on a bucket fishing through a hole in the ice!

These things take me back to my childhood...and the value of friends.

When my family first moved to Waterford, it was the summer before 6th. grade. While the move from what was then Auburn Heights was a mere 20-minute ride, to a kid that age I might as well have left my friends on the moon!

When school started up I found myself in the classroom of a fairly "hip" young teacher, Mr. Gesaman. Mutton chop sideburns and bell bottoms! Two of the very first friends I made there were Dave Porter and Ron Henesly. Because of them I met other friends, Ed Musiel and Jeff "Freff" Evans, and Mark Delph.

Ron moved away later that year, and a couple years later so did Mark. I guess I'd have to say that, at that time Dave was far and away my best friend, and I spent most of my time either at his house or off on some adventure with him.

During the summers, we rode our bikes endlessly...walked the woods and fields near our homes. We had games of capture the flag with friends in the storage area of a concrete tube manufacturer...who chased us out whenever they saw us! We explored abandoned houses and buildings armed with our trusty BB guns or "Wrist Rocket" sling shots... In fact, Dave was the sole witness to one of the most spectacular feats of marksmanship I ever pulled off. We were walking a two track behind the local grocery store heading towards the woods behind. I had my slingshot and Dave had his Crossman BB pistol (this was a time when this was a normal thing for two boys to be doing). As we walked I found a beautiful stone...just the right size and almost round, though a little light for it's size. I had it locked and loaded, ready for anything.

Suddenly just feet before us a rooster pheasant rose in a great cackling roar! As it raced away from us we were stunned for a second just watching it go. I realized I could never hit it, but man if I'd had a shotgun...

Being it was hunting season, and I did have a small game license I decided to try!
I took a step forward, drew the slingshot and let fly all in one motion. We watched in amazement as the rock flew like a guided missile and struck the pheasant right between the wings!!! We heard the hollow "thunk" as it hit, saw feathers fly...but he was already too far away! All that happened was that he cackled a protest as he redoubled his efforts to put distance between us.

We looked at each other and just busted out laughing...

Dave and I often made these sojourns into the woods. It was an interesting piece of property. At the far side ran the Clinton River which emptied into Woodhull Lake before meandering through other lakes and ponds on it's way South and out of the county heading for Lake St. Clair. There were fields and woods, a large swampy area that if you traveled deep enough into became high ground again before the Lake.

I believe it was in January of '77 that Dave and I took a long cold walk back into those woods, and I'm glad he was with me.

You see Dave and I fancied ourselves Mountain Men in training! We loved the outdoors and fully believed if left to our own devices we could survive just fine. So when it happened that we got a nice snow storm, and we'd finished shoveling our respective driveways. It was decided we'd go and see what the woods looked like with a fresh coat of snow.

It was always nice in the winter because the swamp froze solid. Whereas in the summer you had to pick your way from log, to dry spot, back across another log...and you always ended up at least once slipping off into some foul smelling black muck. Come winter you could just walk straight through!

The high ground by the lake was one of our favorite spots, we had constructed a makeshift lean-to there and someone else had added a small fire pit so if we got too cold we were set. As we made it to our lean-to and surveyed the area we noticed that the temperature was really dropping. While it had seemed pretty nice when we started our hike. A wicked wind had come up, the sky had darkened and it was bitingly cold.

We were both in jeans, for boots I had on the rubber buckle boots that you pull on over your they were not real warm. Dave was wearing his down-filled coat, and I had on my green Army Surplus rubberized parka (with the fake coyote fur around the hood!). We both had on flannel shirts, and while I wore a stocking cap Dave sported a navy headband that matched his jacket.

Deciding we should head back, it was also thought that if we followed the ice along the lake shore and then cut across, it would save us about 20 mins. Now we were well into January at this time, and the ice was thick enough to support cars. A favorite past time of the teenage set, drive onto the lake drink beer and do donuts! So we never gave walking across the ice a second thought.

Our plan was going along quite well, and as we walked along we kept our minds off the cold by discussing cars, and girls, and fishing, and girls, and pizza, and girls...well you get the idea.

Now why it was that we were walking with the heaviest of us going first (me of course, I've always been stouter than Dave's thin frame) I'll never know. But as we cut across the lake it never dawned on us that we were walking right towards the inlet of the river and thinner ice.

The ice was scoured clean of snow here as the wind howled across the lake unchecked, and we shuffled more than walked to avoid slipping. I was about 10 feet in front of Dave when I heard the first crack!  I stopped and put my hand up for Dave to stop as well and he did.

"What's up?" he asked.

"I thought I heard the ice crack..."

"You wanna turn back?" he said.

"Naw, we should be ok." And I took another step.

As I looked down I saw the ice starting to spiderweb crack around me...the lines racing away from me in all directions.

"Dave we better..."

That's all I got out as the ice disappeared from under my feet! I experienced that moment of panicked weightlessness before gravity reasserted itself. As I plummeted towards the icy water, survival instinct kicked in and I threw my arms out to my sides in an effort to keep from going under. I was partially successful as I only went under to my chin before bobbing back up. I tried in vain to pull myself out of the hole as I couldn't touch bottom, but as I tried the ice kept breaking making my hole ever larger. This was not good!

Then someone grabbed the hood of my parka and took me a second to remember in my flailing that I was not in fact alone.

"Joe, Joe...I got ya...try to float on your back with your shoulders on the ice and I'll pull you out, when the ice stops breaking you can use your hands to help me!"

I looked over my shoulder, and there was Dave. Laying flat on the ice on his belly to spread his weight over the maximum area, one hand on my hood the other on the ice. So I tried to relax and float on my back like in the pool, except the cold of the water felt like needles on my skin! Slowly Dave pulled, re-positioned and pulled again gradually easing me out of the water and onto the ice. I used my hands until I could get purchase with my feet then pushed with them as well.

My boots were full of water, and my wool gloves wanted to freeze to the ice so we made our way off the ice so I could empty my boots without my jeans freezing to the lake.

Then came the walk home...which was excruciating!!! I was so cold and so numb I barely remember the walk home, I do remember keeping my hands in my armpits while we walked so I didn't get frostbite on my fingers. My pants froze to my thighs, the bottoms were frozen tubes bending only at the knees. I was shaking uncontrollably, teeth chattering when we finally got back to my house.

My Mom actually had to get the hair dryer out to get my pants off my thighs....and my legs peeled like I had a bad sunburn in the days that followed. For years after my thighs would burn in the cold weather.

I shudder to think of what might have happened had I not struck up that friendship in 6th. grade, maybe I wouldn't have been out there at all...or maybe I never would have survived to pen this missive. To get a chance to thank my friend once again.

So Thank You Dave. For your friendship, and for your help that day.

Dave moved not long after and we lost touch though happily we found each other again through Facebook. He even reads this blog from time to time...poor guy!

Ed Musiel is still one of my closest friends, in fact, he brought me a mighty fine Micro Brew for my Birthday last month! Thanks again buddy!!!

Jeff Evans careered out of the Army and has settled in Virginia and when he's in town (and schedules permit) Ed and I will meet him for a beer or two and swap tales of days gone by.

To the rest of you, value your friends! Treat them well. You never know when they just might be there, when you REALLY need them.

Be Well Folks!

Beastly Bear

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Oh those Peculiar Pets!

Den of the Beastly Bear

Hi folks, hope the new year is treating you all well!

The other night Mama Bear and I were watching the Tonight show with Jimmy Fallon, when the ubiquitous "animal guy" came on...
I don't know about the rest of you, but as a cub I LIVED for those spots! Whether it was on Merv Griffon, Mike Douglas, Johnny Carson...I ate it up. Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom was standard Sunday night fare at my house as well.(If you're over forty you know what I'm talking about...if under, ask your Parents or Grandparents. Lol)

We are, and always have been an "animal" household. We've had, in no particular order dogs, cats, hamsters, guinea pigs, rabbits, chickens, a duck, a turtle, an alligator, a Garter snake, a crayfish, a parrot, parakeets, a cockatiel, and any number of tropical and non-tropical fish. Not all at once mind you...but over the course of years.

And yet, I was not satisfied...
While it was true that the more unusual (and non-fluffy) of those pets were mine, I longed for something more "exotic". Some shirttail relations of my parents had raccoons, which they fed KFC every night. But they got mean as they got older so the parents vetoed that idea as well.

In spite of the popularity of 60's TV show "Gentle Ben", starring Ron Howard's little brother... I was also told in no uncertain terms that I would NOT be having a bear as a pet either!
At various times, and depending on my mood...I had detailed plans, drawings, and flow charts describing how the perfect pet for me was a mountain lion cub, a wolf pup, a bobcat, or in deference to
my Grandfathers Audubon society leanings...a hawk, a raven, a falcon, or especially an eagle!!!

Finally, I knew my prayers could be answered when we found a pet store locally called "Peculiar Pets"!!!

Nirvana for a kid like me! Ferrets (before they were common), Albino skunks (De-scented), Monkeys, lizards, snakes, Rodentia ad nauseum, birds of every color and variety...and from the Amazon rain forest the Kinkajou!

This too was vetoed due to their nocturnal nature, their diet of only fresh fruit, and $200 price tag. Which, in the mid 70's would buy you a "beater" car!

Finally, I locked in on something I thought I could sell my Mother on...after all if you got Mom's approval it was a done deal!
From my earliest years, I had been a "bug hunter"...turning over rocks and boards and logs in search of new creepy crawlers. Wonder of wonders, Peculiar pets had an Insect and Arachnid area.
Madagascar hissing cockroaches...boring.
Black emperor scorpions? My past experience with crayfish caused me to shy away from pets with claws...
Though watching one spear a fly out of the air with its tail was something to behold.

Then I saw them, Tarantulas! They came in several colors and sizes, the most popular (cheapest) being the Mexican Red-legged.
Now I had done a little homework. Checked a book or two out of the school library, so I knew they looked far more frightening than they were. And while their fangs were certainly intimidating, their bite was no more dangerous than a bee sting.

I had the $10 in my pocket earned from mowing the neighbors lawn over the course of several to talk Mom into it!

My Mother, God bless her, was no chicken...she may not have liked "spiders and snakes" as Jim Stafford used to sing. But she encouraged me to be fearless when it came to animals.

So I dragged her over to show her the variety. She marveled at the colors and markings and admitted that in their own way they were, quite beautiful. This is where I got to show off my knowledge a little, tell her how little they really ate... A cricket or two twice a week would sustain them just fine, and a big brown grasshopper would be a rare treat when I could catch one. How it was a misconception that they were poisonous. How we already had a 5-gallon aquarium not in use, with a screen lid that would make a perfect tarantula habitat.
I was laying it on pretty thick...and the proprietor took notice.

An informed shopper...he smelled a sale in the air!

"So, I see you're looking at the Red-legs eh? Beautiful aren't they?"

"They certainly are...I just worry it may be too much for him" 
My mother replied nodding in my direction.

"Nonsense," the salesman tutted "he already knows more about them than most of the folks I sell them to. Would you like to hold one?" This last he directed to me.

Well, I couldn't say yes fast enough. But he looked to Mom for confirmation that it was "OK" before lifting one out and placing it in my outstretched palms.

"I get all mine from a breeder, so they have been handled since they were young and are well used to it." the man explained. "Anyone used to the handling of small animals like hamsters and such won't have any problems with them. Just respect them like any other of God's creatures and you'll never get bit."

The spider, for his part...sat perfectly still for a moment. Turned 90° to his left then a 180° right, surveying his new surroundings before starting a slow walk across my palm. I slowly put one hand in front of the other and he contentedly crawled onto that one, a process I kept repeating as my accomplice worked on my Mom.

"You see the hairs on his abdomen? How they lay down nice and smooth? That shows he's content and unafraid. Now if those hairs stand straight up like he's trying to make himself look bigger...well, then it's time to put him away because he's getting upset!" 

Mom nodded listening carefully, oh man I was going home with a tarantula!!! See if she wasn't really listening, there was no way I was getting one...But the fact she was paying attention boded well. 

"If you don't, the first thing he'll do is brush those hairs off his abdomen at you...that can cause a nasty but temporary rash. If that doesn't convince you to leave him be he will rear back and lift his front two legs and display his fangs. If you try to touch him then, he will strike." He explained.

"Is that really true?" Mom asked, "That their bite is no worse than a bee sting?"

At this point, the guy motioned for me to let him hold it and I reluctantly returned him.

"Yes and no," the man said, "their venom is no more poisonous than a bee sting unless you're allergic. But their fangs..."
At which point he produced a pencil and used it to pull forward gently on a fang to show us. "Can reach up to an inch long and can make quite a hole if they get ya good, but like I said if you respect them you'll never get bit."

This caused a little uncertainty in my Mom, and she asked.
"Have YOU ever been bit???"

"I have," He said, "But that was a wild caught spider...not one raised by hand. I won't kid ya, it hurt...but no lasting damage."

The spider had stopped walking after the indignity of having his fangs displayed. The salesman was gently stroking his carapace and abdomen.

"So, shall I ring him up?" He asked hopefully.

"P-L-E-A-S-E Mom? I promise I'll take care of him..." I pleaded.

"Well, you're going to have to. Because I'm not sticking my hand in there..."

"YES!!!" I screamed inside, finally I'd have a way cool pet!

Then it happened.

The salesman had the tarantula in his hand about waist level, facing my Mother and I. I was closer, but off to the side. He was facing my Mom and she was not getting too close, perhaps 5 ft. away.

It happened fast, but from my perspective time slowed to a crawl...

The spider leapt...there is no other term, leaving the salesman's hands...up and out!!! I saw the legs flare as if putting on air brakes as he came in for a perfect 8-point landing...right on my Mothers left breast!!!

She gasped and her whole body went perfectly still...well rigid really! Her eyes were the size of saucers. I saw in them the struggle to keep from sweeping it off onto the ground and stomping it into a hairy paste.

"Um....I guess I should have mentioned they can also jump about 6ft. horizontally and 4 ft. vertically." The salesman chuckled...
"Here let me get him from you..." 
In the time it took him to speak those words, my Mother had started to hyperventilate. Making little mewling sounds. As gently as possible so as not to disturb the spider, who seemed quite happy from his new vantage point.

Now the salesman was in a quandary. He was a bit perplexed how exactly to get the spider without appearing to be intentionally "copping a feel". He made several aborted attempts before my Mother said through clenched teeth:
"I don't care what you touch just as long as you get this damn thing off of me!!!"

Eventually, he laid the back of one hand on top of Mom's breast and nudged the aft end of the spider with the other. Who obligingly crawled into his hand.

As he put the spider back in his cage. And I think he knew...
I, on the other hand, was still hopeful. 

"We're still getting him, right???"

Without a word my Mother grabbed me by the upper arm with surprising strength, you know the one. The "Follow me NOW" grip and walked me "briskly" out of the store. My toes barely touching tile.

The drive home was pretty silent, I knew better than to whine or beg. She wasn't mad, she was scared...mad you can talk to. With that leap, that spider nixed any chances of me ever having a pet tarantula as long as I lived at home.

Years later, as a married man...king of my castle and all. I broached the subject with Mama Bear. She politely informed me that in THIS instance...the King's opinion didn't matter for squat!
I'm sure she envisioned something like this....

Once again, my dreams of owning a tarantula were dashed...

Hope 2015 sees all YOUR dreams fulfilled!

Be Well Folks!

Beastly Bear