Archive for April, 2014

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Thanks to NBC for that tag line. Yes, today is a big deal for Roman Catholics. Two popes canonized, two popes presiding. Can it get any better? Yes. For starters, I could have been there (but on the other hand, happily not sharing the experience with a few hundred thousand of my newest BFFs).

I understand from the secular news media that there is some controversy. Some may be conflicted, but I am not. For me, Saint John Paul II is the one person that brought me back to the Church. My mother got me started, but JP2 took me by the lapels and shook some sense back into me. And, I had the divine blessing to have been close enough to Pope Emeritus Benedict to touch his sleeve (yeah, probably a bigger deal than Midnight Mass at St Peters – can I get back to you on that?).

So, this day, for me, is a day of great rejoicing. No controversy. Only peace. Only joy.

Having built my house on rock, and not sand, I am not afraid the opinions and comments of others. For those who are believers, we are one. For those who are not, for those who can’t relate, who don’t want to relate, who scoff, who criticize, who complain; for those who can’t hear Jesus knocking at the door, who hear and do nothing but complain; for the lukewarm, well, all I can do is pray.

Go ahead and throw stones. At 2,000 years old (give or take), over a billion current followers of every stripe (uncountable over those 20 centuries), incomprehensible number of pages written by and about, the Roman Catholic Church is an easy target. You are not doing yourselves any favors.

If you want to make this world a better place. If you want to improve the lot of the overwhelming percentage of the human race, you would do better to start building than tearing down. If you are about yourself, get a life.

For me, today is huge. It is truly a watershed year.

I had something else planned for my next post; but to borrow: the very stones cry out.

The Lonely Dragon

My father once said he’d often been alone, but he’d never been lonely. As a professional writer his entire adult life, he always chose his words with precision. But, I never learned his secret of how to not be lonely. Alone is easy: I have been alone on an aircraft carrier; alone on a crowded street (to borrow the cliché); in fact, I prefer alone – as I believe most writers do. And, as I grow older, I find I work harder to achieve a state of being alone. Lonely is another matter entirely.

Apparently our old friend, Billy Shakespeare, used it first when Coriolanus goes to a lonely dragon. Then, on this side of the pond, Thoreau says that we are more lonely when we are among men. More recently Pirsig reiterates the idea of being completely alone, even with others.

What is interesting is that my father volunteered that he had never been lonely; and he never volunteered much, especially about himself. Yes, that does beg the question.

For my part, being lonely was a constant companion. Whereas I seek solitude, and peace and quiet (during Eucharistic Adoration today, a couple sitting directly behind me – I learned as I left, an elderly couple (their whispering was meant for the stage) – kept up a constant conversation – great Penance for me), loneliness is like unwittingly stepping in dog shit and not being able to scrape it off: the stench is as persistent as it is pungent (I must admit that I have never knowingly stepped in it, so I guess “unwittingly” is redundant?). Do I need to mention unpleasant?

I don’t know why my father wrote; he had the uncharacteristic inconsideration to die before I learned to talk to him. He once said that the only thing he ever feared was the empty page. I write to feel less lonely, and I revel in the empty page (or rather, I revel in filling the empty page).

My spiritual growth blossomed early and then took a detour in the desert, and recently has, thank GOD, returned to an oasis where it has, once again, blossomed. Very much a version of, “there, but for the Grace of GOD, go I”; but that subject is for another day. And with this renewal, the lonely dragon has evidently been vanquished. But, Dad was not what I would call a “GOD fearing man”; respectful, yes; conscious, yes; but neither Mom (my Roman Catholic roots) nor Dad spent much time on religion outside of church. So, I find it hard to imagine that Dad found strength in his Faith – not impossible, mind you: I am sorry to say I never knew him well (which, fittingly, my daughter could easily say about me; if she cared, that is).

Whereas, I was jerked back into consciousness, out of the stupor of wanting to be part of the American dream, when Pope John Paul II died. Perhaps it was a miracle that I was found – I was most definitely a lost sheep (of Biblical proportions, I assure you), but I think not. And having discarded so much desire of wanting to be part of the rat race, I began to hear Christ knocking on the door. Yeah, still a lot of work before I get the door open (the hinges are rusted shut), but I find I am no longer lonely. Dad may have exiled the dragons with his command of the written word (and, bully for him, if true); I have found peace in the Word of GOD.

2014 has all the signs of being a watershed year for me, and I have known a few. After 29 years with “The Company”, the position I have had the past six months is moving south. In one way, it is literally moving from Puget Sound to Southern California. In another way, this “crown jewel” of the company (to use the words from some high muckety-muck), is going south, as in down the tubes. Which puts me in the position of trying to find another paycheck; or, letting them put me out to pasture and thanking GOD that I don’t drink their Kool-Aid (the company, very characteristically has promised the press that it will help everyone find employment, and since I long ago learned not to believe either the company or the press, I am not putting all my eggs in that handbasket).

I had planned on working for another five, or ten years, which makes this news something of a fiscal shock. The desire to retire from the rat race and the ability to retire from it could not be more stark; but, Dad financed the raising of five kids on his pen (Mom raised us, but Dad paid the bills); surely, with far fewer mouths to feed, I can do the same? Besides, I look forward to having the time to explore the spiritual side of life, instead of chasing the temporal side of life. However, the habit of pursuing a paycheck for the past 43 years will be hard to discard.

There be dragons?

Yes, there may be dragons; but maybe it is time I left a sinking ship.

Get out of Jail Free

Dunno why – tho I can certainly speculate – but the world has gotten to the point where it’s obsessed with “I want it all, and I want it now.” Of course, in this mad rush to accumulate toys, there is no time to consider the consequences, the cost. If there is any threat of accountability, then Flip Wilson’s classic “the devil made me do it” leaps to mind (if that is too, um, flip, then you can always go for John Belushi’s apology to Carrie Fisher in “The Blues Brothers,” as theatrical as it was insincere). A life of no payback and no pay-it-forward. A life of no stubbed-toes, skinned knees or bloody noses. The narcissists wouldn’t be so intolerable if they didn’t expect others to pay for their self-aggrandizement.

But, completely convinced that everything good is because of my efforts, and everything bad is the result of your screw-ups, we press on regardless. Until cut-down, or slowed-down, by some unfair quirk of fate, when we reach into our (or their) hip pocket and pull out the sacred “Get Out of Jail Free” card. And then life is not forever changed, and we go right back to the same hedonistic existence we have come to love, and expect. Infants are supposed to be all about themselves; aren’t adults supposed to be more than just large infants? What am I missing?

Nothing. Nothing at all.

Even if you don’t believe in Jesus the Nazorean as the Son of GOD, there is still the purely historical account of the purely human preacher who was no less than a member of a long line of rabble-rousers (aka prophets). And, as well documented as anything else was in those days, the Romans were not impressed, and summarily executed Him. And, within another generation, razed Jerusalem (as if to say, “We’ll show those pain-in-the-ass Jews”). Those penniless preachers who made the moneyed elite squirm paid for their beliefs with their lives (voluntarily, as opposed to someone like Julius Caesar who probably did not throw himself on Brutus’ sword).

So, is Jesus my “Get Out of Jail Free” card? If He saved me, “once for all,” then I can pretty much do anything I damn-well please, and Bob’s your uncle (or something else equally non-sensical), right? Some would say, yeahsureyoubetcha (no, that’s not Yiddish, it’s Yooper). There’s a whole mess of folks who point at the empty cross…and pray, “I’m saved, I can do no wrong; and the rest of you are going to Hell.”

Really? Jesus died for me so I could avoid all unpleasantness? His only possession was the cloak on his back, so that I could accumulate so much stuff that my three-car garage doesn’t have enough room in it for my cars? (see George Carlin’s treatise on “Stuff” – it’s on YouTube, like most everything else). Maybe so; but I don’t buy it. Call it my old-fashioned, middle class and mid-west upbringing. The alphabet I was taught began with the letter “a” which stood for accountability – not accounts.

To me, the empty cross is hope; but I can’t allow myself to skip the Crucifix. I can’t allow myself to expect that this world owes me “the car and the dream vacation.” I’ll never believe that He suffered so that I wouldn’t have to. His whole point rather, was choice; and He showed me that free will is a two-edged sword. Christ offered salvation to me, He did not guarantee it. He’s knocking on the door, but I have to open it. I have to pick up my pallet and walk. I have to do something.

There’s the story of the guy who gets down on his knees, day after day, to pray to GOD for help. “Dear Lord, please just let me win the lottery. Please Lord. Somebody’s gonna win, let it be me.” Finally, more out of exasperation than anything else, a voice comes out of the heavens, “For pity’s sake, man. Meet me half way: buy a ticket.”

Yes, Jesus is my “Get Out of Hell Free” card; but I’ll be damned if I’m going to get to the Pearly Gates and have Him wave the card in front of my face and ask, “What have you done for me?”

Toilet paper

I have been hearing the roar of the train for some time, at least a year. All indicators were that Boeing was moving its Customer Services out of the Tukwila office buildings that it had occupied since 1990 (my initial interview with the vice-president of field service happened that year – I can remember that meeting in vivid detail): taking “Customer Services” off the sign on the street corner, painting the interior, new carpet thru-out, refurbishing some of the rest rooms – all those things you do to ‘spruce up’ the joint prior to selling it.

The horn has been audible since the first of the year: other groups (Boeing’s Research and Technology having a “voluntary layoff buyout”), the supposed movement of customer services’ work to SoCal (mgt has been crowing about it, but it hasn’t really happened yet), oft told stories of the remodeling of a building in Seal Beach for an obvious Operations Center.

The light is now visible, with the multiple stories in the local news industry of jobs leaving Puget Sound under the guise of “geographic diversification.” The story in the Boeing News Now that the current Operations Center is definitely moving to Southern California, the latest nail in the coffin. My mgt has characteristically not had the moral courage to say anything to my face, let alone put any of this in writing. “Trial by public opinion” certainly fits; but that’s clearly the way they want it. A second level manager talking about his house hunting on a so-called business trip two weeks ago.

It is time to step off the tracks; this new phase of Boeing – a continuation of the movement started when corporate headquarters moved to Chicago, of all places – will continue w/o me. Forced out after 29 years.

I am nothing if not forewarned. Still, this slap in the face with a cold fish is not met with total joy. My own timetable before volunteering to be put out to pasture had me in the game for another five years, at least – maybe ten. I have been part of customer services, or customer support, since 1986 – I am believer. Not only have I felt that I have contributed, I have the personal thanks of customers who appreciate what I have done for them. A real feel good kind of thing. No adulation of thousands, no recognition from management, no dinners or gold watches; just the personal thanks from people I have reached out and touched. So, I will take that with me; the company does not own it, and the company clearly doesn’t care, anyway.

It is wonderfully ironic that the Old Boeing recruited me out of Purdue University and paid all my expenses to relocate my family and me to Puget Sound back in 1985. Now, the New Boeing is saying that if I want to remain employed after 29 years, I have to quit the job I have here, apply for a job in California and pay my own way to get there – for a smaller paycheck than what I have earned here. I love it that I had more value to the company then, than I do now.

But, as Groucho Marx said, “I would never join a club that would have me as a member,” I am quite sure I don’t want to get on that train, I am convinced I don’t want to be a part of the New Boeing. I am trying to look at this premature separation in a positive light.

No longer will I have to “take the ethics challenge” from a company that is famous for its lack of ethics. No longer will I have to apologize for being an employee of a company that takes $9 billion in tax incentives from the state, and then moves thousands of jobs out of state. No longer will I have to try to explain the debacle of the 787, and why Boeing persists with the same business model (calling it now, “geographical diversification”). No longer will I have to suck up to managers whose only purpose in life is sucking up to their managers – one can only wonder if any of the high muckity-mucks have any clothes on at all.

When I joined Boeing in 1985, I could not imagine a more wonderful event in my professional life. Then, Boeing called itself a “family.” Over the years, it stopped calling itself a family and started using “team.” Now, I know what it feels like to be a commodity: toilet paper.

Time to get busy living.

29

So, how do I react to the news that I have been surplused? It’s not like it’s a surprise: the rumors have been fast and furious for about six months now, all that the news in the local on-line newspapers did was confirm the rumors. Not, of course, that management had the moral courage (aka “balls”) to tell the employees before they read about it online (or, in my case, before my mother sent me the URL).

True, the loss of the paycheck, and therefore the lifestyle I had come to enjoy is a big deal. No doubt putting the house on the market and trying to find another paycheck came earlier than my plans; but, what are my plans when compared to those of the corporate club? Clearly, nothing. Nothing at all.

But, this is the endgame. 29 years ago, the company recruited me out of a university in the Midwest and paid all relocation expenses to move my family and me to the Pacific Northwest. Now, my job here in Puget Sound no longer exists, and if I choose, I can apply for the same job in Southern California – at far less pay, in a state with a much, much higher cost of living. Granted, at the company’s discretion, I am paid far more now than then (my federal income taxes now are greater than my gross salary then), but I am conceited enough to think that I have learned a thing or two along the way and have more value – bring more to the table – than I did. Silly me.

If you think about that fable of the ant and the grasshopper, I am the ant; but I didn’t expect to be put out to pasture this soon. At age 60, I was planning on another ten-to-fifteen years of useful contribution (I like my job, sorry). All these years of building relationships with customers that shell out millions of dollars to buy a product that lasts for twenty or more years? Down the drain. How important are those customers now? Hell, I have a family to feed and a mortgage to pay; the customers can go pound sand.

All that practical stuff aside, it is the subterfuge, the lying, the equivocation that gets my knickers in a knot. I have never subscribed to the philosophy that those in the club were my betters, despite their constant reminders. I know I did not need to sign an “ethics challenge” year after year because some corporate vice-president made promises to a Pentagon buyer (and by email no less – what a maroon!). Fast forward to “geographical diversification” and I know of a second level manager that took a “company business trip” to look for housing in Southern California – and this was weeks ago. If customer service is the “crown jewel” of the company, why move it? Evidently, whatever my co-workers and I have cobbled together despite corporate greed, it’s working by their admission. Hey, if it ain’t broken…you know the rest.

It is the stringing us along, so we don’t bolt – i.e., look after Number One as our supposed betters are doing – that sticks in my craw. “You’re valuable,” “you’re essential”, “you’re the crown jewel” – so let’s move! Wow! Whadda concept. Take the recent Superbowl Seattle Seahawks or whoever won the Stanley Cup or the World Series, and change everything! Release all the players, dismiss the coaches. Who would ever expect a strategy like that? Certainly not Airbus. No doubt they have been caught completely off-guard and will never recover.

History will not be kind.