If we were having coffee today I’ll tell you that so much has been happening since our last meeting, I can’t tell it all. I’m actually going to leave a bunch of stuff for later, maybe next week, but probably the week after.
What I thought I’d talk about today though, is how much I enjoy these little chats over coffee. Weekend Coffee Share is such a great idea, I am totally shocked more people don’t do it.
In simple terms, it is a blog share. The only requirement is that one add a qualifier to the text … giving a personal introduction to your good blog friends, both new and old, as if we were sitting down and talking over coffee. Oh, and you need to add the hashtag #weekendcoffeeshare too it.
Some bloggers take this them quite literally, using this time to update us all on their lives and the happenings of that week. This is fine and informative. We all get to know each other. I join a few other bloggers in using the forum to blog about whatever strikes my fancy, but I still follow the protocol. It works for me because if you know me, I’ll tend to talk about *whatever* anyway, over coffee or calzone or cupcakes, coffee, tea, chocolate shakes … you name it.
It gets me blogging when I might otherwise just let it slide. Like today. I’m busting at the seams to tell you a whole lot of stuff, but there are reasons I want to let things percolate just a little longer. But I haven’t updated my blog in a while and here it is Saturday, and I’m drinking coffee and I figured, what the hell?
So, if you created that blog two weeks ago, or two years ago, or … whenever, and you haven’t updated it in a while and you feel all guilty about never updating it, here’s your chance. Just grab a cup, and sit down and start sharing. We are more interested than you think.
You need to know one more thing about it. The share is hosted by “eclecticali” at WordPress, who posts an intro and reminder every week along with the share link. It isn’t totally required to click that and add your blog, just the hashtag will generally suffice, but it definitely adds to the sense of community and fun. if you follow the blog you can also subscribe to email updates … this helps remind me to fire up my guilt-trip generator. Here is this week’s intro, blog, and linkup:
If we were having coffee today I’d again be waxing all nostalgic on you. I saw this picture in the Spring 2018 University of Houston Magazine. Wow, what a flash from the past. I see from the banner that this dates from the campaign days of 1976. I could so easily be in this picture as during those years I went up and down those stairs countless times. I was even grabbed by a Secret Service agent on the bottom of the stair case on the left when I attempted the go up the stairs while President Ford’s son was getting ready to speak on the upper landing during the 1976 campaign.
I got nostalgic seeing this picture because I have very deep roots to this building and most of my experiences there went way beyond just being a student. For over two years I was employed there with two different jobs. At that time the building comprised of two sections, the three story primary structure (well, basement and two upper levels) and an adjacent one story underground structure. Just behind and below those stairs is where the entrance tunnel to the underground section was. My first job was in an office down there and I was heading to class from work when the Secret Service grabbed me.
I worked for what was then called the “Campus Activities Department” and they provided support and advisors for all on-campus organizations like clubs, honor societies, student government, campus programming, fraternities, and sororities. This service center took up the major portion of the underground portion of the building. One of the services was called the Organization’s Bank, and it allowed qualified groups from all aspects of campus life to have an “account” for their treasuries, all managed through a central Campus Activites bank account. I first encountered this when I volunteered in the campus programming board, then called Program Council. The woman who ran this bank was very friendly and pleasant so I’d drop by and visit from time to time just to say “Hi.”
In early 1975 she needed a new assistant and offered me the part-time office job. It was convenient working on-campus and it helped draw me into the mainstream of virtually all of campus life. This was long before mass computerization so all the transactions were handled manually via an even-then ancient Burroughs automatic posting machine with individual ledger cards for each account. Young people are always amazed that we were able to use tools such as this in those pre-computer days but the machines and the procedures worked quite well. I worked there for over a year and quite enjoyed my time there. The office was down a back hallway and I was working once when a fire occurred in one of the maintenance closets on the far edge of the building. They evacuated both buildings as a precaution and that office was so out of the way, I was found happily working away by someone making a last pass through the building. It was news to me. Of course, they had suppressed the alarms. So much for fire drills, right?
I could have worked in that office for another year until graduation, but through contacts in the building I became aware of a job in the maintenance department of the same building, as a student assistant to the building mechanics. Office work was okay, but this job provided the opportunity for more hours and an even more flexible schedule. My hours were quite limited in the office job but in this role, I could work evenings and even weekends and pretty much set my own schedule. There was *always* something to do. Some weeks I could almost work full-time if the evening mechanic was sick. On a student economy, more hours was always a plus.
This job was great, and because of it I eventually came to know almost every inch of the building complex. I’m talking every office, every mechanical room, every deep dark cranny, even disgusting places you don’t want to know exist. Those steps in the picture? I painted those once, with a non-skid coating. I regularly had to go onto the roof of the building too. One of the main duties was to go on rounds and make sure there were no problems like squeaky belts or grinding motor bearings (remember that fire I mentioned). Once, while working over the holidays, I found a large amount of water pooling in the corridor between the main building and the underground offices and checked outside on the ground above that corridor. It was obviously a major water main leak. University repair crews had to be called in for an emergency repair even though it was Christmas Day.
The building was extensively renovated a few years ago and I’m sure when they were doing that, they found my scrawl on any of the older breaker boxes that had survived 35+ years in the building. Once, some electricians were working in the ceiling above a dining room of what was called the old Cougar Den on the bottom level. The workers found they needed to flip an unmarked breaker and this unfortunately cut power to the cash registers in the main dining area one floor above. This happened in the middle of the lunch rush. Nobody realized that during some past construction work power had been tapped below the floor to a circuit in the Cougar Den to facilitate installation of new outlets for a cash register station that had no other access to power. It took a frustratingly long time to locate the problem because no one thought to relate the work on the lower floor to this problem. After that, another student worker and I spent a weekend mapping all the breakers in the building.
That particular work came in handy too because not long afterwards, we had been called in to help the short-staffed custodial group to do a rather large banquet reset in the third level ballroom late one Saturday night. When we were almost done I was in the hallway outside the ballroom and detected a faint whiff of burned tar, which I knew was most likely the tell-tale odor of a fluorescent light ballast shorting out.
Sure enough, a quick survey discovered a nearby display case just beginning to fill with smoke. We immediately ran to shut off power at one of the recently audited breaker-boxes down the hall. My boss found a key to the case, which was thankfully almost empty and I removed the bulbs which rendered that fixture totally inoperative. I replaced the ballast the next Monday morning and found it had suffered primary short that had already burned a hole in the ballast case (sometimes they just get hot and stop working) — this would have definitely continued into a bad fire and would have caused a lot of damage. It was just pure luck we were there (hey, it was a chance to grab a couple of extra hours pay, right?) and we knew the smell and immediately went hunting for the source. A hot ballast can not be ignored.
Ah the anonymous life of the Unsung Heroes.
I checked every maintenance closet and machine room every day I worked, mostly for just that sort of thing. Problems were always cropping up on equipment that ran 24/7 (I return again to the fire, even though that pre-dated my maintenance work). I had other regular duties too, for instance I changed all the air filters in the building every month or so. I also changed uncounted numbers of light bulbs in every section of that building. To this day I still find myself instinctively scanning ceilings in big buildings and secretly noting the lights that are burned out. I worked on plumbing repairs, helped with repair work on the food service equipment, and was involved in really unusual stuff too.
Once, one of the sewage sump pumps (one of those disgusting areas I mentioned earlier) jammed and bent the long drive shaft. It needed to be machined but most machine shops around the area could not handle a shaft that long; it was at least ten feet. Somehow my boss heard about a super machine shop in the Physics Department, which even back in 1977 was an amazing facility. We both carried this disgusting, mumblemumble-encrusted hunk of metal by hand far across campus to that shop in one of the science buildings and they machined it. It barely fit in the service elevator, which opened directly into the machine shop floor.
The curious thing about working in that building was that, as it turned out, both jobs were unplanned extensions to my education. The office and bookkeeping skills I learned in the Organization’s Bank were a huge help in every job I held later. Note: computer business processes were all built on the models of the tried and true manual process. In he next job, by doing the varied maintenance work I gained invaluable on the job experience in electrical, plumbing, and carpentry repair. These are things I still use to this day.
The other great part about the maintenance job was that it was a blast most of the time. The two senior mechanics were WWII veterans, one was a marine in the pacific and the other one had been with the Flying Tigers and was later a B29 mechanic in India, working on the bombers that flew over the Himalayas, so the stories I heard were personal and insightful. Truly they were part of the greatest generation. Once that B29 mechanic and I had to make a long excursion across campus in the underground tunnels that snake under most campuses. (Maybe I’ll share that story another time.)
I had other duties too. I served as projectionist for campus-run movies and there were times I ran the sound and lights in the ballroom for dances and other events held there. As I previously said, there were also times we helped out the custodial staff for banquet setups.
Neither one of these jobs were college “work-study” positions, they were considered regular employment; part-time jobs that added to my seniority when I later held a position at another state institution. But just like any work-study job, it was a great convenience to work on campus.
Heck, I even had a master key to the building, something I needed to use while doing my general rounds. Even custodial staff with many years employment there didn’t have a master key. If I had to work on Saturday/Sunday mornings, I had to be on-time because I was the guy with the key!
Who knew what a flood of memories would come from that simple picture.
Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina. He’d like to say he was a product of the famed writing program at the University of Houston but sadly, that program came into existence the year after he graduated. Missed it by *that* much.
If we were having coffee today I’d tell you something of my experience with the toughest challenge about being an author. Writing a novel or any book is really hard and revision is even harder … but marketing kicks me in the proverbial rear end every time.
My philosophy … try anything.
For Father’s Day, I bought myself a promotion on a very popular twitter site hosted by someone named Lacey London. She tweets awesome and funny things every day and has over a hundred thousand followers. This is a one-time event. I’m just curious.
I’m not much on scientific controls, so I’ve piggy-backed a separate price promotion as well. I call it my Summer Reading eBook Sale. It runs all week on Amazon, starting Sunday, June 17. The thought is to entice responders to the tweet with a sale price, but I’ll also do a Twitter campaign of my own, pushing the special price on both my books for people who like to read on vacation. I guess this post qualifies as part of that promotion as well. But hey, it’s what I’m doing this week.
Yes, this is all on ebooks. While doing promotions, people often tell me they don’t like ebooks, they like physical books. I’ll tell you this, I have zillions of physical books but I also have zillions of ebooks. In one instance they are crushing the foundation of my house, in the other instance, I just have to manage electronic storage.
Another thing people tell me is they don’t want to have to buy a special device. Here’s the deal. I have a tablet. A lot of people have iPads. Almost everybody has a phone and most have larger screens these days. Just load the free Kindle app from Amazon or the free Nook app from Barnes & Noble (Kobo has one too and iBooks is built into iPads and iPhones) and you are ready to go. The “I like the feel of a book in my hands” comments are solved on tablets with a good cover. Amazon and B&N charge way too much for theirs, but I’ve found great aftermarket covers, you just have to look for them. Ever get stuck somewhere where you have to kill some time and you wish you’d brought a book? EBooks solve that problem. Anyway, my novels are available in paperback too, they just aren’t on sale. Available from the sale link.
On my sale page, I also mention my cookbook. It’s only 99 cents so it is always on sale. The best thing about pushing the cookbook is the fact that it has quite a number of dishes that would enhance anybody’s Fourth of July menu. Especially the “potato salad secret.” They are mostly my own recipes, centered around the theme of the Mossback Cafe; it is a central setting in both novels. Remember what I said earlier, about wishing I had brought a book? I love having it on the Kindle app on my phone when I am grocery shopping and get a hankering for one of those recipes; I just pull up the cookbook and I can review the recipes.
Oh, that secret thing? It’s something I stumbled upon about forty years ago. I don’t think people believe me. At first glance it seems counter-intuitive yet, ironically, it is also logically appropriate because it involves a simple ingredient. It was one of those happy accidents. I made a huge potato salad for an informal wedding with a potluck. I was at best a fledgling cook and didn’t much know what I was doing and I did this simple thing on a whim. At the wedding, I was almost embarrassed because I had little old ladies following me around asking for the recipe. Really, I just threw it together. People were practically cratering the bowl scraping every last remnant. It took me a while to realize that although the potato salad was pretty conventional, it was just that one ingredient that pushed it over the edge.
Nope, no hints here, but I will tell you that although the cookbook is 99 cents on Amazon, it is free at smashwords.com. There is also a recipe for a coffee cake in the cookbook that is so addictive two different readers have mentioned that fact in reviews on Amazon and Smashwords. Hey, coffee cake; I guess that brings us back to our coffee share here so I better wrap things up … have a wonderful Father’s Day! Please don’t make him buy dinner.
I’d love it if you would share my links and, of course, check out all three books. The sale price starts tomorrow (sale on UK Amazon too!) I’m @thefensk on twitter.
If we were having coffee today I guess it would be high time I told you about my experience with Squirrel Armageddon. That’s right. I’m talking about evil, vindictive squirrels.
I was reminded of this the other day when I saw some television commercial that featured a number of squirrels all gathered in a tree and they were ganging up on a guy and pelting him and his car with pine cones. It is amazing the horrors that can be dredged up from something so mundane.
Years ago in Austin, Texas I lived next to a park that stretched along a creek in a narrow band for about a mile or so. Most weekends I’d take a walk down the length of this park and back. My garage apartment was right at the edge of a wider area of the park that was nicely wooded and included tennis courts and a playground and at the end of my walk I’d usually saunter across this area back to my place.
One quiet Sunday I was finishing my rounds and as I entered the far edge of the playground I heard a loud noise over near my house. My next-door neighbor’s dog was chasing a squirrel in the yard. The squirrel managed to get away but not before it let off a loud frantic alarm screech. In seconds, in every tree in the park, every squirrel in the area descended and started chirping and flicking their tails, not at the miscreant dog mind you, but at me. The dog was long gone, show’s over for him. These guys were all focused on yours truly, the only other living thing in the park.
I don’t know if you’ve ever really heard a squirrel alarm, so I found one on YouTube that sounds pretty close to what I remember. https://youtu.be/i6IR0JmfkvQ … fast forward to about 43 seconds in. Close your eyes and let it sink in, then multiply it by hundreds and add in spooky echoing effects from all the trees on an otherwise still Sunday morning. Yeah, I think that would be pretty close.
Don’t forget, they were focusing all their attention on me, every last one of them, their tails flicking, their evil, dark squirrel eyes sizing me up, re-positioning themselves to continue focusing on me as I warily crept across the park, at this point uncertain if the intimidation might possibly turn into action. I have to admit I thought of that fearsome bunny in Monty Python And The Holy Grail.
This cacophony continued until well after I fumbled with my keys and entered the safety of my apartment. I’m sure great-great grandchildren squirrels in that park still recount tales of their ancestors fighting and winning the battle of Sunday morning. Brrrrrr.
If we were having coffee today I’d apologize and lament my several month’s absence. I’m not quite sure what happened. The WeekendCoffeeShare is sometimes a bit like a meandering river, changing course with little to no notice. Plus, I was fairly diverted through the second half of 2017. The major events were my dog dying in July and my mom passing away in October. At some point I expected I would do a post about the latter (I think I did in fact post about the former), but I never felt quite ready. I still don’t.
Then after a deep sip, I’d go into more recent events.
I had a nasty case of this awful flu that is going around. My lovely bride got it much much worse than me. I hardly ever get sick. I had the flu once in the early eighties. I remember that mostly because of my cat. At some point I had dragged my sorry carcass out of bed to let her in and she came in limping on three legs and bleeding. I remember taking her to the vet and the doctor asking which one was the patient. I must have looked awful. That’s the last time I remember catching the flu.
Oh, there have been other things. I had pertussis in 1999. That’s right. Whooping Cough. I’ll take a bad case of the flu over that. I have no idea where I got it. Luckily, somehow, nobody else in the house got it. It was not confirmed. I went to the doctor with a bad cough. No tests. Got a prescription. But at some point I read up on the symptoms and more than that, heard audio of the resulting coughing spells. THAT is what I had, I have no doubt. Drop to the floor, piss all over yourself, almost suffocate, making that gawd-awful whooping sound as you gag for air … yep.
Had a bout of pneumonia in 2013 too. No cough, no fever, I just couldn’t breath. I work in a 24/7 industry and was working with a team on a worldwide conference call. It was as scheduled software installation project at 2 AM one Sunday. We were behind schedule because a developer was uploading a last minute revised program for me to install on a series of servers. I had felt a little off that day, but with no real symptoms. I felt about the same when I joined the call. Then, while waiting, I simply could not catch my breath. I didn’t have chest pains but that was the first thing I thought of. I went downstairs from my home office and took a full-strength aspirin. I struggled to get back up the stairs and sent the project manager a quick note: “I have to leave.”
I quickly explained the situation. Protocol usually means I need to find my own replacement or call my supervisor. She would have none of that and said, “we’ll cancel and reschedule …. go wake up your wife right this minute and go to the hospital.”
When we got to the ER, they put me on a heart monitor but the ER doctor pretty quickly decided on a chest X-Ray. They were going to give me an aspirin too. I told them I already took one. “A baby aspirin isn’t going to do it, you need a full aspirin.”
“I took a full aspirin!”
The doctor was impressed. I remember thinking, “what, they think they’re playing with kids?”
The X-Ray showed a pretty significant chest blockage, confirming pneumonia. I responded pretty well to whatever antibiotics they gave me and went home the next day. After waiting all day to take a treadmill test (they just wouldn’t let up on the heart thing). That was the first time I had stayed overnight in the hospital since … well, I remember the premier of Bewitched was on TV the last time. Seriously.
Anyway, we are both on the mend … and I’m happy to be back.
There, I said it. I worked in publishing for over twenty-years, but not in marketing. Now I sort of wish I hadn’t generally ignored the marketing folks in my organizations. I sure could use their help these days.
I was in IT and I was awful to people sometimes. Oh, I did my job. I just evolved a bad bedside manner. I wasn’t alone in that. SNL had a series of skits about the bad IT guy. I was just like that character. “You need to hit tab, now enter, now up arrow … argggghhh, just get out of the way!” Before you think unkindly of me understand that it was an uphill climb most of the time. I mean, for example, I had a user who wrote correspondence in a spreadsheet. Letters, she wrote letters using a spreadsheet.
Anyway, I have been out of publishing for almost twenty years now, and now, I’m back in it. I’ve got two published books, several more in various stages of revision, and I’m bogged down trying to market my published books.
If you’ve ever been intimidated by the thought of actually writing a book, understand this: Writing an entire book is hard. Editing and revising that rough draft is harder. Marketing it? Well, forget about it. It continues to kick me in the ass every single day.
The heading of this post says “Missing the Obvious” … so here is a case in point. I noticed something while was working on a twitter post about my novel, THE FEVER.
A review quote I had added to my Amazon page suddenly hit my eye. It was there so I know I liked it enough in the past to include it on the page but the impact this time hit me like a ton of bricks. “You’ll feel like you’re LIVING IN THIS BOOK …”
I have a lot of enthusiastic reviews. It gratifies me as an author. And they’re not all friends and family either, I promise. But this statement, from an independent reviewer, well, that is the sort of thing that emboldens an author to continue on.
Then the old modesty gene kicks in. “Gee whiz, shucks, Y’all …”
It’s been a while since I shook things up a bit so I decided to change the title of the blog … I liked “A Smidgeon’s Toll” okay as a blog title but it never seemed to catch hold. So for the new year, I guess I’ll try a new one on for size. Scratching The Surface. It more fits what I’m doing with my blog, and with my writing.
This reflects back to a pivotal scene in my first novel:
“… he had what I call ‘the fever’… it gets in yer blood and you can’t do nothing about it once you got that.”
“The fever?” Sam was amazed that Loot had used the same term he sometimes used himself.
“Yeah. Gold fever,” Loot said. “Or could be silver fever or hell, I guess diamond fever. It’s whatever gets under your skin and makes you scratch the ground looking to git rich. I reckon it musta been eatin’ away at old Slim all them years even after he couldn’t do nothing about it.”
Loot leaned forward and stared Sam right in the eye. “You got it too, aintcha?”
I always liked that scene … it clarifies the title and begins to show how serious these characters are about the personality flaw they both have that is at the core of the story.
Writing is not unlike the struggle of the character in The Fever. It also gets under one’s skin … tapping the keyboard is akin to scratching the ground. And now I’ve barely scratched the surface.
What gets under YOUR skin making you willing to “scratch the ground”?