Sunday, December 28, 2008

Resume - Part 1

I've had a lot of different jobs.
My last entry (see Eighteen below) got me thinking about all the different jobs I've had. Occasionally I'll run into someone at work who tells me the job they have now is the only job they've ever had. Wow! In my case, I've had a LOT of jobs, with a lot of different companies. I make that extra distinction because I've worked for the company where I work now (Siemens, and SMS before Siemens bought them) for thirty one years, but I've had many different jobs within this one company. So, let's start at the beginning.

I'm not going to count working in the library at Carol City Junior High and Miami Norland High School for years because there was no money, but it was still kind of a job. So as I mentioned in the previous blog entry, the first job I remember doing for money was lawn care as a kid, but I never had a paper route like my brother. Apparently, that 'every morning no matter what' deal teaches you responsibility. Dave has been held responsible for a lot of things ever since. I was able to skate around that, thank goodness.

When I was fifteen or so, I worked with some friends laying industrial tile. These were heavy metal tiles with the raised diamond-shaped extrusions you see in warehouses and shops where very heavy items are moved around. I can still remember the smell of the special adhesive and when you got it on your skin, it would take a week to wear off, but if it got on your clothes, it was there forever. This was one of the last steps in building construction so the places we worked were enclosed but without any air conditioning and the Miami sun just cooked us. Boy, what fun. I learned that taking breaks can really save your life.

Then there was the short order cook job I wrote about at Royal Castle where I learned how to cook and clean. But I also learned the special codes of the industry like when one of the countermen yelled '86', that meant there was a drunk in the house and we might have to move him gently out into the street. '87' meant that a nice looking young lady had come in and suddenly there were workers coming out of
the back that you didn't even know were there. They came down out of the shelves like the Alien did in Sigourney's escape pod at the end. You know, in my whole life, I've never run into another Sigourney, is it possible she's the only one?

When I started college at what was then Miami Dade Junior College, I couldn't work the 60 hour a week all-nighters anymore, so I took two part-time jobs that let me have the flexibility I needed, but it still worked out to over 40 hours a week with the first year college work on top of that. The first half of this twin set was at the college working in the audio-visual department.
Whenever one of the instructors was too hung over to remember their lesson plan, they'd call for us to show a movie or stage some other AV event. There was always a spike in requests on Monday.

The AV Department was in the center of the then brand new Library Building and one section was four large triangular shaped lecture halls and we ran a small room in the center where we could rear-project slides and movies onto the four screens. Everything was new and well made, it was a good job. And I got to have a key to the only elevator in the main classroom building, because of having to move the projectors around. The most important lesson I learned was near the end of shift one evening. We had all gathered in the AV room (there to the left) and the Manager, Bob Hilbert, said goodnight and left early. We all prepared to dive through the windows, even though we were required to stay on duty to the very last minute. But our lead man told us just to hold on for a minute and sure enough, Mr. Hilbert came back! His excuse was so transparent, it disappeared in the mist of the smell of machine oil, but I took home a critical lesson. Don't trust anyone, especially a Manager.

The second half of that job duality was working at Burger King.
They were very pleased to get an experienced Royal Castle veteran and they kept mumbling things about 'Assistant Manager' even while they had me taking the broiler apart to clean it. I thought I knew something about grease from The RC Steak House (i.e., Royal Castle), but I had NEVER seen grease like I saw at Burger King! Where'd you think that stuff went when the patties went through the broiler? It was like something out of an early Stephen King story, there were whole civilizations rising down there and I had to kill them off. The rest of the job was a snap compared to short order cooking. At least we didn't have anyone coming in for a hamburger tartar, "Just take the chill off it, would you, son?" The broiler was the broiler and flexibility and creativity were not on the Burger King menu.

So I was going to write about the jobs I've had but somehow I'm still eighteen years old. This is going to take more entries than I imagined. At least it doesn't cost anything. Yet.

Monday, December 22, 2008


Once, I was eighteen for three years.

English is a complex language. . . and there are all these WORDS to deal with. It's so complex, in fact, that anyone who wishes can make up a sentence that's never been written before. Like the one that opened this blog entry, or "Hitler, in his pink tutu, offered Borman a Cosmopolitan." That's a new sentence, probably never written by anyone before. Also probably untrue.

The opening sentence above, however is quite true. Come back with me to Miami in 1963. My older brother Dave was working at a fine restaurant chain there called Royal Castle.
I was sixteen and Dave, subtle as always, began intimating that I was a lazy bum for not working. This was not completely true, of course, I did occasional yard work for money and worked with a crew laying industrial tile on weekends, but neither was steady work. Dave 'suggested' I go to work at Royal Castle and I signed on. Of course, you had to be eighteen to work there, so I suddenly became eighteen. No one checked and no one cared. I was eighteen for all three years that I worked there.

Royal Castle was a burger joint chain fashioned after White Castle which you may have heard of. You only knew about Royal Castle if you lived in the deep southeast. But they were all over Miami, everyone knew them and everyone ate there. The menu was limited: 15 cent burgers, fries, birch beer served in a frosted mug, eggs, grits, doughnuts, soup, chili, orange juice and a few other items. I was a 'counterman' and was paid a dollar an hour. During school, I worked the weekends and a few evenings a week. In the summer, I worked ten hour days, six days a week and took home about $48 a week. That was 10th., 11th. and 12th. grade. I seem to remember being tired.

The burgers were greasy but excellent with the reconstituted onions we had to soak to bring back to life. We walked on boards behind the counter because there was so much grease, we would have fallen and broken our necks. It was actually hard to get the grease off of ourselves and our hair at the end of the day and our work shoes were actually heavy with it. The oranges were delivered whole and we would cut and squeeze them fresh every time. Hey, it was Florida, I imagine it was expected.

Somehow, I got tagged right away to work overnights. Remember, in the beginning I was sixteen, working alone overnight in these places, with the drunks coming in for their eggs at 4 AM when the bars closed. I was thirty-five years old before I could eat eggs again and even now, the melting butter smell sends me right back.

I worked the stores on Miami Beach and I had to get a Miami Beach ID card, that's where this photograph came from.

I got a reputation for cleaning. I would get traded around my district and even sometimes outside the district, because my place was clean when I left it. I guess I owe some of that to one of my managers, Mr. Martinez who was a little obsessive. He even had me wiping the black edge tile with motor oil to make it shine.

In the summers, I would work from 10 PM to 8 AM, drive to the beach and sleep on the beach. In the sun. To work on my tan. Of course, it worked really well, I was very dark, the leftover grease on my body cooking those areas where the sun didn't reach. Gosh, Rich, why have you had all those instances of skin cancer? Beats me. I'm stunned I'm still alive.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

One Step Beyond

When most people think of early science fiction and fantasy television they think of The Twilight Zone. I mean after all, it's an icon. The title and music "do! doo do do, do! doo do do" are common terms in our vocabulary to express an unusual or unexplainable event. And the show has been around for forty-nine years and everyone knows the plots of SOME of the episodes.

There's the guy who survives an atomic attack and has all the time in the world to read the books he loves and . . . OH! . . . breaks his glasses. Major bummer!

And then there's the woman who has her bandages removed after plastic surgery to reveal she's beautiful. But not to the eyes of the monsters who were serving as doctors and nurses. Wow, what a switcheroo!

When I was older, I loved the one about the old woman in the shack who had a tiny spacecraft crash into her roof. She got chased around by these tiny aliens, one of them cuts the heck out of her with her own butcher knife. At the end, we're surprised to discover . . . the little aliens are Americans! Double WOW! And like I said, I loved that episode when I was older, but boy, when I was younger, it scared the CRAP out of me.

And who can forget the moving slot machine chasing Franklin? FRANK-LIN! Very innovative stories and just look at Rod Serling! Look at him! Who could ever think of hosting a show like this?

Well, as it happens, there WAS a such a host before Rod on a show that came a year before The Twilight Zone. That show was One Step Beyond and it was brought to us by Alcoa who still makes the lion's share of aluminum around here. The host was John Newland and although his approach was different, he had many of the same subtle eerie-ness qualities. Deadly seriousness and the unmistakable impression of competence and believability.

The theme was a little lighter and the stories perhaps a shade gentler, but they could still be darn scary. Especially to a little kid who shouldn't have been watching them in the first place. The methodology was more a reenactment of actual events like something nowadays on the Discovery Channel or History Channel. But the music was haunting and used flawlessly to chill you just at the right moment. It really worked.

I find it interesting that this show debuted FIFTY years ago, a year before The Twilight Zone and then ran concurrently with it for another two years. But One Step Beyond never reached iconic status and no one knows what happened to John Newland. Well, I don't anyway.

So, what made the difference? Was
The Twilight Zone just a better show? It certainly had great writers. Some of the top science-fiction writers in the world contributed scripts. Maybe one show got more promotion than the other. But perhaps it just came down to Rod Serling himself. If you had the chance now, would you have dinner with John Newland or Rod Serling, presuming he would put the ever-present cigarette away? Who had the magic?

Sometimes the magic just happens. No matter how analytical you get, you can't parse out the sentences enough to see whether someone used better adjectives than the other. But when the magic happens, you recognize it right away. Still happens today.

Sunday, December 14, 2008


There are a lot of strange things out there and many of us don't necessarily like 'strange'. We like the things we're comfortable with, the things to which we have become accustomed. Familiarity provides a certain degree of comfort that allows us to relax. It has been my experience that I am most creative when I am relaxed, although I have heard from others that they are very productive when experiencing a high level of pressure.
Familiarity breeds comfort. We are very comfortable, for example, with the fruits and vegetables we know from when we were growing up. But there are many, MANY fruits and vegetables that are not commonly seen in the Western Hemisphere. Perhaps not better or worse, simply different. Maybe not to our taste because they are so. . . unfamiliar.

But imagine if you had never seen a horse and saw one for the first time. Would it be bizarre and ugly to your eye? What's with those long, skinny legs and that long face? What's that all about? Circumstances being what they are, we think they're quite handsome, even elegant.
But how much of that has been trained into us from childhood? Now imagine you are introduced to a creature you've never seen before, perhaps a creature like this drawing.

Boy, you wouldn't want to run into that while you were out there snorkeling, huh? Well, actually, it's not just a drawing. No, it's not fake at all, it's a frilled shark and I'd never seen one until the other day. Well, truthfully, I haven't SEEN one at all, I've seen a photograph of one and frankly, that was enough. But, why? What if you actually ran into this fellow in real life? How would you feel about that? Looks scary, like it could kill you, doesn't it?

Guess what? Horses are dangerous. They kill people all the time. People get thrown, trampled, crushed against a stall, bitten, kicked, you name it. Yes, our elegant, regal-appearing friends that we've grown up with and known all our lives can kill us too.

The most the frilled shark will do is scare you to death, and honestly that's enough. So, as hard as it might be to believe, the things that you find comfort in are not the same things that others are familiar with at all. The images we bring to mind in a word association may be completely wrong outside our neighborhood.

For example, when someone says 'octopus' you may conjure up the eight legged dude with the suction cups and the ink spray. And if they're small enough, some of us eat them. But did you know they are a cephalopod which is a kind of mollusk (you know, like a clam)? A cephalopod is a creature whose feet are attached to it's head. I've known some politicians who have that characteristic. They (the octopus, I mean, not the politicians) have no bones, but they do have a beak, excellent eyes and a VERY well developed brain. Can you change colors to match your background? A lot of women try to do that by buying sixty pairs of shoes. They also have three hearts and blue blood, and that proves they are not from Vulcan. When they put those suckers on you, they're tasting you and if you rip their arm off, they can grow it back. That would be a pretty handy trick where I grew up.

And they don't all look like the image you may have of an 'octopus'. This guy to the left here is a blanket octopus. Not necessarily something you grew up drawing in your coloring books, huh?

That doesn't make it weird or bizarre, it is merely unfamiliar - to us. They probably like they way they look to one another, after all, they're still around. So, what's the moral of this story? We can't be quick to decide the qualities of some entity based on the set of rules we had growing up. We must wait until they prove their own qualifications. Just as we must prove our own.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Dead Again

**Whine Alert - Caution, you are entering whine country**

I have a cold again. I just had a cold a month ago, what's up with that! Actually, I know where I got this one, one of the guys at work was in California and brought back a West Coast strain that was sufficiently different to mess me up. So, I'm being a good citizen and staying home today. But I'm still whiny, congested, nose is running, incompetent, tired, dull, lost my sense of smell. Geez.

That reminds me of a science fiction story I read as a kid about how science finally figured out how to kill off the rhinovirus that humans have had for so long. Unfortunately, it created another entry in the Journal of Unexpected Results because by it's permanent presence the virus was limiting the human sense of smell. Now that the virus was out of the way, human smell perception increased 10,000 percent. People were throwing up from perfumes, they couldn't eat most foods, anyone could tell where someone else had been for the last five days, who they were with and what they had done. Think about it. People became shut-ins and hermits until science figured out a way to re-infect everyone to get people back to 'normal' and enable the preservation of the race. Very creative, I wish I could remember the name of it. I got the story from the Science Fiction Book Club.

I was a pretty young kid when I became a member of the Science Fiction Book Club. They produced hardback books for only a dollar so that's where all my allowance went for a while. That's where I was introduced to Heinlein, Clarke, et. al. and consequently prompted me to go to the new library in North Miami to get more. For all I know, that was one of the triggers for my lifelong love and appreciation of libraries. Insignificant events can have powerful repercussions.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Lord Jim

I find it interesting to be tested. It is in-ter-est-ing to discover what you would do or how you would react when you don't have a lot of time to analyze a situation and mull various options over in your mind. Because when you don't have time to grab some paper and draw a line down the middle to write down the pros and cons of your possible outcomes, then you discover what is really there inside of you. And I find that interesting.

Joseph Conrad explored that idea in his novel Lord Jim. And yes, Joseph Conrad was also the man who brought us Heart of Darkness, the secret origin of Apocalypse Now. I had to read Lord Jim but I actually chose to read Heart of Darkness. Jim felt a positive sense of destiny about himself, he was going to do something and be someone. But when he was confronted with one of those immediate situations I spoke about, he failed himself, the people in his charge and everyone else who walks or crawls. And he had to spend the rest of his life making up for it, or trying to do so. I found out later, there was a movie made from this story, it was called Lord Jim and starred one of my favorite actors, Peter O'Toole.
I can't recommend the movie, I haven't seen it in thirty years but the book was very thought provoking and I'm sure the movie was a showcase for Peter O'Toole's talent. But the question remains, when tested. . . when a serious situation presents itself. . . what will you make of it?

And before you answer, "Well, I can make a hat or I can make a brooch" try to be serious for a minute. I recall once when I was riding with my brother-in-law Steve in his pretty souped up 1969 Chevy that we drove by an officer of the law. Steve wasn't speeding or anything, but the policeman pulled us over anyway. He leaned in the window and looked past Steve at me and said, "I saw ya eyeballing me when you went by, you got somethin' to say?" Well, without drawing up a list of possible replies or relying on the list that the computer chip in my head drew on the inside of my vision like the Terminator got to see, I got all aggressive and squinted at him and said, "What are you talking about!!!?? I was trying to see what that film was that was developing on the inside of his back window!! It had nothing to do with you!!!" You see, we were twenty-one years old, innocent of any crime and there was no way he was going to make us feel any differently.

I like to think that's what Peter O'Toole would have done except he probably would have been drunk at the time. Between Peter and Richard Burton and Richard Harris, I believe they drank more than the whole of England and Wales combined.

So I enjoy seeing how I'll react under pressing circumstances. Sometimes I'm pleased with the result and sometimes I'm not. There was a time when I was pressured like the pressure felt at the center of the sun to compromise my principles at work. And everyone around me, save one, was crushed by that pressure and gave in. I did not and I can always look back at that as a positive thing. Then there were other times when I folded like a cheap tent. That's the nature of human nature, I imagine.

So, keep the tests coming, each time I take one, I find out a little more about myself.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Secret Origins

The reference to Secret Origins has a secret origin of it's own. Back in the '60's, there was a comic book dedicated to telling the background stories of super heroes. It explained arcane things like why Green Lantern had a green lantern and what was he doing with that huge ring and other critical stuff. Where is Green Lantern today, when we really need him?

So, what's the secret origin of this blog? Why did I feel compelled to communicate in this manner? I'm willing to bet that your chances of guessing are very low. I started this blog record because of my Uncle Edwin.

Uncle Edwin comes to my mind frequently of late, it may be because I see his photographs as I do my genealogy work.

Edwin Anton Pawlak b.1916 d.1992.

And when people read my family file, that's pretty much all they'll see. Because Uncle Edwin had cerebral palsy and that limited him a bit.

He was born the youngest of four to a resource-poor farming family in central Minnesota and the special needs funding in Silver Lake was. . . limited. It probably didn't help to have the depression fall right when he was 13 either. Circumstances did not provide an easy road for him. The disease affected his speech and motor skills and facial expressions. Schooling was very limited, college was never an option, he was a farmer all his life. He never drove a car, he never rode a bicycle. He never walked a young girl home after a movie. He never won a ribbon in a track meet. He was never in the army or the navy. He never went out drinking with his buddies and he never raised havoc. He lived with his mom and dad on the farm until they died and he milked cows and he cut hay. So that means he never got called into the President's office to be told about his raise and critical new position. But he never got fired from anything, ever.

So, I started this blog to write down where anyone could read it that Uncle Edwin had lived. I don't want him to be forgotten. My kids never met him, so already it's all secondhand information. Photographs. Stories. Well, he was a very smart man trapped in a body he did nothing to deserve and whatever he had, he earned it personally. By the way, that body he was trapped in was immensely strong. You should have seen the way he could throw those cows around. OK, not exactly.

So, be aware, I had an uncle and his name was Edwin. And he was a sweet man brutalized by a condition I can't IMAGINE confronting. My Uncle Edwin was a real man.

Edwin Anton Pawlak b.1916 d.1992

Monday, December 1, 2008

What's in a Name?

The title of this blog is 'Past is Prologue'. The reference, of course, is from Act 2 of The Tempest by Shakespeare. As the story progresses, Antonio tells Sebastian ". . .what's past is prologue. . ."
. Essentially, he is saying that all that has gone before in our little play has merely been the preamble and now the real action begins. Now we take what we have learned by studying that prologue which is no longer changeable and apply that learning to what comes now. Perhaps we can possibly change the outcome for the better with that knowledge.


And what better quotation could there be for a genealogist? I may not have mentioned it before, but I am a genealogist. Not by vocation, but by passion. If I had my way, I would research genealogy until I turned blue. And I nearly have a couple of times. I can hardly take credit for the association of that quotation with genealogy, however, after all it is carved into the facade of the National Archives.

And, yes, the National Archives in Washington is one of my favorite places in the world. Back before put all the census data online, I would take trips to the Archives building and hunch over the microfilm viewers and scroll through endless images searching for a connection.

urrrrh, urrrrh,. . . whirrrrrrr. . . urrrrh, urrh, urrh
,. . . whirrrrrrrrrrr. . .

Then, when I was done with a reel, I'd have to stand up for leverage to rewind. Nowadays, people can sit in the comfort of their own home, in their jammies, with a cool drink and look things up in an INDEX! Wimps. If your arm isn't numb at the end of a research day, you weren't really working.

The past is our prologue. Everything that's happened to us and to our ancestors has laid the foundation for today. What motivated John Watkins to sail with John Smith to the New World? Where would I be if he hadn't? In my mind, I see genealogy as the perfect avocation using a combination of research skills, detective skills, knowledge of history, geography, etymology, human relations, handwriting analysis, documentation and prose.

But all that takes a back seat to the rush of discovery. I vividly remember sitting all alone in a dusty, rarely used records room in Montgomery County, Maryland searching through wills in books that hadn't been opened for twenty years. I had been at a standstill searching for proof that the father of Caleb Watkins was Nicholas as others had documented repeatedly, but without proof. When I found Caleb's will, included in the possessions he was bequeathing was a certain silver watch that "had been given me by my father Jeremiah". In the silence of that room, Caleb had spoken to me across the years and across the generations. I can't describe to you the thrill of that discovery, the surety, the ultimate
illumination. Caleb's voice clearly echoed through the dust particles floating in the air, "Nicholas was my uncle, you idiot, Jeremiah was my father, I have his watch."

The past is the past, and it is merely the prologue for what will come today. Use the knowledge you have gained by your hard-won experience and make today better.