The Angel Ensign on my Shoulder.

So, I’ve just received the second piece of art to be put permanently on my skin.

Uncle Josh with Lost Dutchman Tattoo put it there.  Wonderful artist, great guy, a delight to work with. Go buy his art, both on your skin, and on paper.

 

Behold, Wesley Crusher.  Let me explain

(also, its 12 hours old.  and a bad angle on my shoulder.  I’ll update the pic in a week or so)

 

 

Continue reading “The Angel Ensign on my Shoulder.”

Tech Support Super Hero, or, How I saved a life while working phones

Back at the turn of the decade, I was working for a company that did outsourced tech support for Logitech.  I helped out people with new gaming gear, got speakers installed and working, taught people about bluetooth, and helped lots of people with webcams.  Well, mostly grandparents and cam girls.  Lots of cam girls. Who often offered free credits to their next show as a tip.  But that’s another story.

You often hear things about tech support that shock and amaze and disgust.  Cup holders.  “Waxy” buildup on laptops.  Illegal exception, my gawd, what did I do, I’m going to jail! I have a story that has a hopefully happy ending, although I have to make it up myself, as I never did learn the end. I did get a piece of the denouement, which was great, but not the end.

I receive a call from a gentleman who has a problem with his speakers.  Now, he has bought the high end self contained speaker system, top of the line setup that Logitech made at the time.  The Z something or another.  Big old subwoofer, 9 speakers for surround, all the hookups, and more power than it needs.  No, really. We had a set in our test lab.  The windows at the front of the office, 100 feet away, would shake before you got it to top volume. I wanted one myself. And stupidly enabled someone at my office to steal almost a dozen sets. But again, that’s another story.

“So what issue are you having with your Z, sir?”

“Well, the sound is really great, but at a certain volume, the subwoofers start buzzing and get muddy.”

“Well, I do hope you’re keeping the volume to a safe level” (we had to say shit like that.  Lots of liability limiting language) “but we do want you to get the most quality and enjoyment possible out of your Logitech purchase.  Now, subwoofers move a lot of air, and if they get blocked, it can cause some problems.  I want to make sure that you have it on a hard surface, not carpet.  And that there is at least 6 inches of space on every side.”

“Well, I have them in my closet, but there is enough space around them.  And it’s wood floor.”

“Okay, well then lets…”  Penny drops.  Plural. Them.  “Sir, did you say them?  Do you have the other speakers stacked on top of the subwoofer?”

He laughs.  The, my god, did that idiot just tell me to reboot my computer? AGAIN? Laugh.  “Man, no, you can’t have the highs too close to the lows. I know that!  I’m not stupid.”  (In the history of all tech support, the customer saying, “I’m not stupid!” is invariably followed by them saying something that proves them stupid.  In 3… 2…)  “The regular speakers are all up on a shelf.  I’ve got the subwoofers all together though.”

I’m processing.  I’m confused. I’ve run out of coffee about half an hour before, and just had Marco, the pc Call of Duty gamer positive that we were hiding the magic formula to let him head shot with a game pad on his laptop. But again, thats another story.

“But the Z only comes with one subwoofer.”

1…

“Yeah, and a gorgeous set, loved the sound in the store. So I bought four of them.”

“Four… Z speaker sets.  Each with 9 speakers and a subwoofer.”

“That’s right.”

“Sir, I…”  (Choose your words with CARE my self.  Saying what you really want to say WILL get your ass fired. ) “So, you have the subwoofers stacked.  All four in a column?”

“Naw, two side by side, with two on top of them.”

“I see…  well, I’m…  glad you enjoy our product enough to buy four, but with the subwoofers together like that, they could definitely interfere with each other.  I would suggest maybe spacing them out around your room?”

(Abort mission, countdown restarts at 3..  2…)

“No, that can’t be it.  I’ve got four Sony ( similar type of set, I forget the name, comparable to the Z ) set up that way under my window, and they sound fine. ”

Stunned silence. Someone managed to say something that made me shut up and think without talking. Everyone who knows me just gasped.  Countdown however, continues.

“In the same room?”

“Yup.”

“You have eight subwoofers with the connected speakers in one room?”

 

1…

 

“Oh hell no, those are just the newest. I’ve got 22 subwoofers, 153 regular speakers, and 10 tweeters.  I’ve got a few different racks they all hook into to split the sound. Some are sets, some are individual, I even have have a dozen car speakers hanging on the wall. Scavenged them from a totaled car. Top end shit, (Insert brand name I dont recall here.) I paid pennies on the dollar for them. But man, when I get this going, sweetest sound you ever heard. Music just pushing in from all sides. Concerts are like cheap headphones in comparison.”

My mind is whirling. I’m concerned for the dude. Downright upset and afraid. “Sir…  hanging from the wall?”

 

“Yeah, thats the great thing about car speakers. put in a nail, hang the frame from it. ”

“So, not shielded or boxed in any way. all these speakers, all running at once, just out and about in your room? How big of a room?”

“Enh… 10 by 20?”

 

“Sir..  thats… thats not safe.”

 

“Not safe? I mean, sure, I might go deaf, but that’s life! (Had the phrase yet been invented, he would have probably said YOLO.  Thankfully, it had not yet been first uttered by man.)

“No, I mean…  have you ever heard of EMF radiation?”

“Yeah, that’s the shit they scan for on Ghost Hunters.”

“Yes!  But they scan for it for two reasons.  One, because some people believe that EMF activity can mean ghosts, but also B, because high amounts of EMF from other sources can… affect people. ”

 

He goes silent, then speaks again. All levity in his voice is gone. He is now SERIOUS caller. “affect them how?”

 

“Well, and I have to say, I am not a doctor, and please do not take this as medical advice, but…  Paranoia. The feeling of being watched.  It’s been known to cause visual hallucinations, which is why ghost hunters care, if someone is under intense emf, they could have just been seeing things in their brain. ”

“My wife put you up to this, didn’t she.”

 

WHOA! WHATTHEFUCKWHOA!

 

“Sir, you called me.  I didn’t even know you were married until just now.”

“Well, not for much longer.  I’ve been having… problems.  Lashing out. Seeing things. White flashes, mostly, but sometimes people. My doctor, he’s put me on a bunch of different medicines, and they all just make it worse. We’re separated right now, but.. I can’t hold a job, I keep getting more..  off, and she’s going to leave me soon.  All I have left is my room, and my music. ”

Now, I’ll admit that my first thought is, if you’ve lost your job and are being supported by your wife, whom you’re separated from, the FUCK are you doing dropping three hundred bucks times four for some damn speakers. My second was… shit.  I…  have to talk to this guy, but if this call is monitored, I’m giving medical advice, and I’m admitting that the company product may be harming him. I am SO FIRED.

 

I go into the Councillor voice. I’m good at it. Very soothing. Not deep, i don’t have a deep voice, but I can sound like your best friend.

“So, would you say you’re spending more and more time in your room, lately?”

 

“Yeah, the worse my symptoms get, the less I want to go anywhere, the more I sit here and listen to my music.”

“So… the more you stay in that room, speakers running, the worse it gets?”

 

“Do… do you really think my room is hurting me? My one joy in life… is what’s taking my life away?”

(Folks, I guarantee thinking about this later made me cry, but right now, I’m a fucking professional. not a quaver in my voice.)

“I… I can’t say, but it might be.  You said you’re seeing a doctor?”

 

“Yeah! Hey, cmon man, if this could be caused by EMF, why wouldn’t he tell me? ”

“Well, its not a common thing to run into, a room of a few hundred speakers.  Does he know about your room?”

 

“No. ”

“When’s your next appointment?”

“A couple days. You think, I should tell him?”

“Yeah, i think you should.  and maybe, turn off all but a couple of speakers? I dont mean turn them down, actually unplug them all from the wall.  See how it sounds with just one Z going. It’s still a pretty awesome speaker, right?”

 

“Yeah, okay.  Thanks. ”
Click.

Fast forward about a month. My supervisor pulls me into a conference room for a “comp call”.  YAY!  Those are great.

 

“Alex, I listened to the original call that the customer called to compliment you on.  I’m not filing this comp call, cause them Eric will listen. (Eric was the MANAGER of the center. My bosses boss.) And if he hears it, you’ll be fired. ”

 

…. “How can I get fired for a comp call?”

“Room full of speakers.”

 

My mouth clamps shut. I take a drink of water. “Yeah, okay. Thanks. I appreciate that. Um… what did he say?”

“He said his doctor said you’re right. Hes gotten rid of most of the speakers. Including all four Zs, he says the sony sounds better. ”

My sup and I both shrug at this.  We’ve both heard that before. It’s probably true.

“His hallucinations have gone away, he’s getting a lot better with other people, and his wife is talking about moving back into their house. He’s really grateful.”

I smile, I can’t help it.  You don’t often get to actually change a life doing tech support. I mean, helping grandparents see their newborn grandchild across the country is awesome.  Helping someone set up a headset to use their computer as a phone is cool.  Hell, even keeping the cam girls online and creating boners has a bit of satisfaction. But this?  Warm golden sunshine.

 

“Alex… look, you did good. Thats really awesome. DON’T DO IT AGAIN. You are not a doctor.”

I nod, and go back to the phones.

“Thank you for calling Logitech support, my name is Alex.  Can I have your name please?”

 

“Yeah man, its Marco.  I’ve tried the settings that the last guy set for me a couple of days ago, but its still laggy.  I get fragged every round man. You gotta help me get some headshots.”

I tap mute on my phone, and chant loudly.  “I GOT MARCO!”   A chorus of groans erupts from my fellow gaming techs.  “Better you than me, man!”

The creeping horror that infests my happy place

I must open with a confession.  On this All Hallows Eve, I must spill a dark secret that will earn me enmity, derision, and scorn.

 

I really really really HATE Nightmare Before Christmas. I didn’t always hate it, but I never liked it.  It was… okay.  The songs were generic, trying to be all gothy while still being sugary pop (An Elfman staple.  Sorry, his music is hit or miss for me. )  The story was…  blah. Jack as a character was… blah.  I rooted for Oogie Boogie, really.

 

All that changed one fateful October, after years away, visiting the Happiest Kingdom on Earth with my mom and brother.  I raced for the Haunted Mansion. Unaware of what waited. I saw the additions on the outside, and was all… well, okay. As long as they didn’t mess with the inside.  15 minutes later, exiting the Mansion, my rage slowly rising the entire time, I now HATED that movie with a passion. How DARE they.

 

Anyways, a couple weeks ago, a coworker announced they were going to Disneyland for Halloween weekend. I scoffed.  “I do not go to Disney in October. It’s too… painful”

 

Another co-worker, who has heard me rant before, rolled her eyes.  “Jesus Alex, you’re so dramatic about it.”

 

I… may have been temporarily possessed by the ghosts of Houdini, Vincent Price, and Ken Anderson. That is the only thing to explain the next few minutes.  Note, this is from memory, I MAY have tweaked a few lines below.

 

“Dramatic? Too dramatic?  NAY!  I say I am not dramatic enough about this… evil.”

 

I looked at the original coworker, the one who as you read is enjoying the Mouse. “You may be unaware. But my feet will not find themselves passing under the gates this month, or the next, no. Not even until after the Yule season has passed, and the three Kings have finished their annual pilgrimage to the manger, can my soul walk with ease upon the grounds of the so called, Happiest Place on Earth.”

 

I fluffed an imaginary cape behind me, and stood straight.  My voice was carrying, and carrying a mild unidentifiable accent, and I started drawing a crowd. The last three words, Happiest Place On Earth, were said with a sneer and slow sarcastic cadence that I hope would have made Price proud.

 

“You see, there is an unholy abomination this time of year.  There is a blight, a disturbing blasphemy that winds its tendrils through the Temple of Terror. A creeping evil that grows along the walls of that shrine of darkness, that plot of land where all may bask in true darkness.

Yes, within the sacred graveyard where I have buried my very heart, to forever thrill in horror and dream sweet in the concentrated nightmare of Glory, the seeds of disdain are planted, and growing vines of decay. My beloved Haunted Mansion, the Manse of Macabre where my true self can be free, is BOUND.  BOUND I SAY!

Bound in chains of crassness, bound with shackles of commercialism, bound by the gauche gaudy ungainly streamers hung by that… that villain.  That KNAVE of pumpkins, who would DARE attempt to claim the crown of Halloween and name himself King, the Man Jack. ”

 

At this point, my coworkers were evenly split between giggling and backing away slowly.  I may have spun a few times and gesticulated wildly with my hands.  I do that.

 

“But his profane influence wanes.  The Glorious Holy Imagineers who, caught in his spell as the summer fades, and fall begins, will soon find their minds clearing.  Yes, even they whose hands did the dirty work of the Pumpkin Knave will doubt, and the true Unholy Peace that is the spirit of the Mansion will cleanse their minds of his taint.  And LO, in the cleansing powers of the new year’s frost, they will put right that which they themselves have put wrong, and Jack and his Ilk will find themselves again in boxes, gathering dust through spring and summer, waiting for their time to again blaspheme. And then, once its halls are restored to their rightful sinful terror.  THEN, and not one moment before, will my feet once again walk the Main Street, and find happiness in the darkness as I wander the tombs of those who have gone before, and enter the Halls of the Haunted Mansion. ”

 

At this point, the crowd was a bit tense.  I figured, enh, cathartic end.

 

“And don’t even get me started on Space Mountain.”

On Hamilton, and the meanings of “Father” and “Son”

“Son”

 

“Don’t call me son.”

I’m listening to Hamilton: An American Musical this morning while driving to work. I often skip Meet Him Inside. I get… emotional. I’ve read that Lin-Manuel Miranda has a good relationship with his father.  He must know someone who doesn’t though, that he could channel.  He has a view of those words, father, son, that only comes from hate and fear.

 

Hamilton’s father was, from all accounts, abusive, controlling, and then absent, having “split, full of it”.  Father was not a concept that Hamilton liked.  Father was not a title to bestow on a man who you looked up to. It was a swear word.  And in the same token, so was son. I understand that concept well. Father was fear. Father was hate. Father was pain.  I understood why other people used the term, but whenever it was suggested that someone could be a “father figure” to me, I always winced.

Mr. Meacham, the second grade teacher that got me into gifted testing and blew my mind with his kindness, taught me how to allow myself to think and feel.

 

Jim, the man who’s name I took as my own middle name by choice when I had to change my name to hide from “Father”, who taught me to ACT and not stand still, and how to decide when you do or don’t NEED to act.

 

Jeffrey, my step-father in spirit, if not in law, whose last name I bear proudly, who taught me one of the most important things I feel a parent can teach a child. Responsibility for one’s own actions.

 

Ron, who wanted to be a father figure to many, and taught me a very valuable lesson without realizing it, by showing to me the exact kind of man I did NOT want to grow up to become, a warning of what happens when arrogance and religion mix.

People call them “father figures” I like role models. Father is a swear word to me. And the word son is very much a swear word to me as well. I can’t STAND being called son by anyone other than my mother.  And I still prefer Shorty or Bubba from her, if not my name.

“Son.”

“I’m not your son.”

I’m with Hamilton there. I’ve had it from teachers, from bosses, from older people in general. “Son” means wisdom about to be imparted, means a lesson, which to me means pain and fear and ….   Don’t call me son.  The word son means I’ve screwed up. It means I’m about to be hurt. Or worse, someone else is.

“Son.”

 

“CALL ME SON ONE MORE TIME!”

That line always catches my breath. When I’m singing alone in the car, I scream it, with a lot more emotion than Lin-Manuel, ragged, and harsh, and I can’t finish the song. I shut up until the next song starts. Son is not something I like being called. And… not something I ever thought I would call another person.

Until I had one. And then two. Strong willed, bright eyed, almost impossible to fool.  They see the world with a fascinating combination of the analytic styles of their mother and I, they feel the world with a heart unburdened, free of the pain that held mine prison, and yet with just as much empathic ability.  They cause problems, they get into trouble, they make things up, they make stories, drawings, sculptures, art, song, they compliment people randomly, they often try to make strangers happy.

“Pride is not the word I’m looking for.There is so much more inside me now.“

 

They call me daddy.  Not father, not often.  The oldest, Flint, he’s called me father a couple times, sarcastically.  But daddy does the trick. It catches me every time. It’s…  its a good word, for them. When they say their name for me, it’s not out of fear. It’s out of love and hope, and I just want to do everything it takes to make sure that connotation never changes for them. The words father and son mean something different to me now. And yet, I still very rarely call either of them son. They are Flint and James. They are “my boys”, and not my sons. Because the word is hard on my lips, and I can only say it when I think only of them, and can say it untinged with the hatred I have held so long for the word.

 

 

“Philip when you smile I am undone, my son.  Look at my son.”


And you can see Hamilton feeling the same, as he has his own son, then daughter.  Son is a title of pride. And yet, listen to the song.  He’s testing the word out. “My Son”, and there are echoes in his voice, “Don’t call me Son.” The second time is clearer, he’s putting aside his hate of the word, because it means something new now. And Father, Father is something to be, a goal to make the word itself better for his children than it was for him, to make sure Father means that guy that was always around. And that’s what it means, right?  To have kids?  “If we lay a strong enough foundation.” To make sure their childhood, their world, is better than ours was.


Even if it’s just making sure that the words, father and son, never feel dirty to their lips.