Vocation, Vocation, Vocation

 

op·por·tu·ni·ty cost

NOUN

economics

“Opportunity cost refers to a benefit that a person could have received, but gave up, to take another course of action. Stated differently, an opportunity cost represents an alternative given up when a decision is made. This cost is, therefore, most relevant for two mutually exclusive events. In investing, it is the difference in return between a chosen investment and one that is necessarily passed up.” Opportunity Cost

 

Investors will consider opportunity costs when deciding on the best financial vehicle to place their money in. Once the money is placed in stocks, bonds, mutual funds, money market funds, CDs or saving accounts the money does not gain the returns of another opportunity. Investors will carefully weigh financial objectives on a scale of time. We must do the same with our life choices.

When we choose a path and wonder about the path we veered from, we are likely to wonder if we made the right choice. I see this as especially true when our heart wants to go in one direction and we must choose to go in another. We may feel that we have given up on a dream to pursue uninspired options. We may feel “the loss of potential gain from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen”.

Will our speculative investment bring returns that are greater than the investment that we didn’t make? If we choose a so-called “secular vocation” have we chosen a lesser return on investment instead of a greater one? These questions came to mind recently as I reviewed the opportunity cost value of my own full-time work. And that of my father before me.

Early in his career life my father was presented with life choice alternatives or “vocations” as it is called today. Around 1950 my dad and mom attended Moody Bible Institute as married students. (I was born before they graduated. I slept in a crib in their apartment which was located above a nearby Chinese Restaurant.)

My parents attended Moody so that they could go into ministry. After their graduation my dad accepted an offer to pastor a small church located in the frozen tundra of northern Minnesota. The congregation, being just a handful of low-income folks, could not support our family. So, my dad had to work another job to make ends meet. During that time mom gave birth to my brother. She kept us kids from going cabin crazy during the frigid days. She chipped the ice off of the milk bottles that the milk man had delivered to our porch that morning. And, she moved my crib around when the spring thaw delivered leaks through my bedroom ceiling.

I relate these things to show that our Lord has a way of turning us around and sending us in a new direction where unthought of opportunities lie outside of our ministry dreams. This happened to my dad and mom.

After serving in this church for a time my dad eventually brought our family back to Chicago. Economics played a roll in my dad’s vocation change. There were mouths to feed.

I wonder if some weighing of opportunity cost was on my father’s mind in those days. I don’t think it was easy for my dad to leave behind a ministry calling and choose to work full-time to support a family. My dad went on to work in what some have called a “secular vocation”. In doing so he provided for our growing family. He worked and worked hard, and sometimes at two jobs. And yet he maintained his ministry vocation.

My father was a Sunday School teacher. On Saturdays I would see him sitting at the dining room table with the Bible and concordances laid out before him. He was preparing his lesson.

My dad was our church’s chairman for many years. He oversaw the budget and the practical matters of the church. Both him and my mom were also on the mission’s board. They wanted the world to be reached with the Gospel. They invited many furloughed missionaries to our home for Sunday dinner. That is how I learned about the Congo, Ecuador, New Zealand, Japan and many other places

My dad’s opportunity “trade-off” benefitted many. What my dad “lost” in a specific ‘calling’ he gained in a much wider ‘calling’: he was able to support his family and to continue the work of the Lord he so desired to do.

Like my father I chose to go into full-time ministry at the start of my career life. And, like my father, I was influenced to do so by the church. My folks brought me to church every Sunday. I attended a Bible church most of my life. In this environment there were altar calls to “be saved”, to “rededicate your life’ and to “go into the missions” every Sunday. These impassioned appeals became so engrained in me that I attended Moody thinking that I would go into a Christian Education/Music ministry and perhaps the mission field. I ended up in a career as an electrical engineer.

During those early church days, I never gave a thought about going into “secular work”. By its absence from any message or challenge in church I never thought of such work as something to invest my time in.  And, how could anything ordinary measure up to the ‘glamor’ of ministry or the mission field? In my world, import, credence, and “value” were given to being in “ministry”. I heard, “ministry”, “ministry “, “ministry “. I feel now that I was shortchanged by the lack of talk about vocations other than “ministry”.

Looking back over sixty years of church life there is only one time when I heard a preacher say something good about a “secular vocation”. The preacher had learned that my father would run for a trustee post in our suburban village. I heard the preacher endorse my father’s running for that office, as my father and I sat in the pew.

My father won the trustee position. He would subsequently become the village’s mayor.

Where am I going with all this talk about opportunity cost and ministry and vocation?

In churches I generally see social professions blessed. Professions like teaching and missionary work are professions that deal directly with people. But what about someone like me who deals indirectly with people as an electrical engineer? I work in the power distribution industry. I help keep people’s lights on and their heat flowing. What about a geneticist who discovers a gene which triggers a disease? Or, a physicist who smashes atoms to find the beginning elements of life? What about the businessman who provides products that sustains us?

“Secular vocations” go unnoticed in the church. Why? I wonder if the lack of blessing on secular vocations has help create the Bible vs. science warfare? Or, the big business vs. the poor rhetoric? Or, the polarization of sacred and secular? Jesus came to reconcile the two forever.

Now, I do not like the term “secular vocation”. I see all work as a gift of God. In the Kingdom of God on earth, the works of our hands should be an offering to our Lord. 

The Veteran in a New Field 1865 by Winslow Homer

 

What I would like to see happen in the church:

1.       At least one Sunday where vocations are talked about, honored and then blessed. Perhaps the Sunday before Labor Day when everyone is still in town.

2.      I would like to hear STEM careers being promoted in messages and in teen gatherings as vocations that God can richly bless. (I have read the Bible through several times. I attended Moody Bible Institute. And, I am as excited by what God has revealed in nature as I am when reading the Scripture. The study of science has been an enormous blessing to me.)

3.      Perhaps a short bio of a member be put in the church bulletin every Sunday. The bio would provide info of the profession of that member, e,g., “John Doe is a CPA…”

By now I hope you can see where I am going with this. My father and I started in “ministry” vocations, then at a point considered the opportunity cost and switched to less “spiritual “vocations. And that has made all the difference, even for the church.

 

 

 

II. For Commerce and Industry

Almighty God, whose Son Jesus Christ in his earthly life
shared our toil and hallowed our labor: Be present with
thy people where they work; make those who carry on
the industries and commerce of this land responsive to thy
will; and give to us all a pride in what we do, and a just
return for our labor; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who
liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever. Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer

~~~

The world celebrates vocations. Why can’t the church?

February 11th is International Day of Women and Girls in Science. Here’s someone’s recent Tweet:

Unchocked

Unchocked

(…a short story)

The cabin reservation was made the year before when Heinz turned in his vacation notice to his boss. Another machinist would have to run the vertical mill for the week Heinz was gone. Now it was just a matter of gathering all of the supplies he needed for the week and then head north to Rice Lake, Wisconsin. He also had to make sure he left things in their proper order.

Heinz, a tool and die maker for a small CNC machine shop on the near west side of Chicago had worked as a machinist for over thirty years.  Apprenticed in Hamburg, Germany as a teenager he came to America at the age of twenty with his new wife Gertrude.  He hoped to start his own machine shop with her as office manager but Gertrude contracted Polio during their voyage to America. When Gertrude died Heinz went on alone.  His work became his closest partner. He accepted all the job orders given to him and often worked twelve to fourteen hours a day six days a week.  The precision of his craft was his sole interest.

Over time Heinz had become the shop’s top machinist. It was said that if Heinz couldn’t form the part, no one else could. He apprenticed the younger guys but in this he didn’t have much patience or pleasure. He didn’t appreciate their cavalier attitude toward working with precise tolerances.  If the drawing said + or – .001 mm then that is what was required. He didn’t accept anything less than the perfection of specific numbers measured with fine gauges. He frowned at sloppiness and shoddy workmanship.

Shaping a block of steel and the cinnamon smell of the Tap Magic lubricant were elemental to Heinz’s way of life as were exact order and a respect for the tools of his trade. So it was that every night before he locked his eight drawer wooden tool chest he wiped down each of his machinist’s tools. He carefully cleaned his micrometers, the digital veneer calipers, the inside calipers and the steel rules. He wire-brushed the metal files and zeroed the dial indicators and digital protractor.  He wiped and reset the mechanic’s square to a right angle and inspected the scribe and pick. He lined up the telescope gauges, precision level, thread gauges, surface gauges and reamers each into in their drawer, carefully placing each measuring instrument in its proper place on the green felt liner.

After cleaning and inspecting his tools Heinz would brush the metal filings off of his work bench.  He would then sweep up the curly cue metal shavings around his mill and beneath his work bench.  He dabbed up the gritty oil at the foot of his mill and would then throw Oil Dry over it to soak up the tooling oil over night. He did this routine every day and again today at 4:15.  At 4:30 pm he punched out and left for a week of vacation.

During the week prior to his vacation Heinz purchased cans of groceries enough to last him a week. He bought three bottles of Steinhäger and a bottle of Schnapps. He knew he could find some good German beer in Germantown, Wisconsin, a stop along the way.

Though he lived his life in solitude Heinz never partook of alcohol during the time he wasn’t on vacation. He never went to a tavern. Instead, he always sought to maintain the austerity and self-control he thought a man should have. Precision marked the beginning and end of each of his days.

Heinz packed his 1960 BMW 700 and left that Friday night for Rice Lake, Wisconsin. The drive north to Germantown took Heinz about two hours from his Chicago apartment. Once there he quickly found the store where he had purchased his beer last year.  He purchased four 12-packs of Warsteiner Premium Verum and a few cigars.  He placed six bottles of Warsteiner into a cooler along with the schnapps. The cigars were placed in the glove compartment.

Rice Lake was another six-hour drive north. Heinz didn’t stop for dinner at one of the many supper clubs advertised along the way. He chewed on some beef jerky purchased with the beer.  Driving at night was all the more difficult for Heinz because of Heinz’s night blindness. He gripped the wheel at ten and two and stared straight ahead.  The white lane lines were ever in his view like tolerances to be held.

He entered the city limits of Rice Lake and drove through the only intersection with a stop light. He proceeded past the town and turned onto a gravel road about four miles north. After winding along a deeply grooved dirt road through a dense opine forest he came to an opening revealed by the office’s front porch light. He pulled over and stopped the car. Virginia, the cottage owner, greeted Heinz from the enclosed porch. A remote TV weather report sounded a cold front coming out of Superior Wisconsin.

“Heinz, it’s good to see you again. I have your cabin ready.” She opened her guest register. “It’s gonna get chilly tonight. Down to 32 degrees.  You’d better get that fireplace going.  There’s some dry wood along…you know where it is.”

Heinz nodded with blood-shot eyes. He handed her a check for the week’s rent and looked around at the small office attached to the house. The same carved woodsman cuckoo clock hung on the wall over the same cluttered desk. Heinz looked at his digital watch. The wall clock was six minutes slow or stopped. He was too tired to care.

Above the office’s small whirring refrigerator hung the same 1975 Norman Rockwell calendar from Martin’s drugstore.  Nothing had changed. Nothing was out-of-place. He felt his jaw slacken and he let out a sigh of relief. The smell of cedar somewhere in the room replaced the Tap Magic smell of his hands.

“Are you still cooking, Virginia?” Heinz asked.

“Will sauerbraten, red cabbage and spaetzle do?

“Only if you join me for dinner tomorrow night. I will bring the beer”

“It’s been a year, Heinz.”

“Yes, it’s been a year to the day and …two hours. I better get going and get that fire started.”

Heinz drove his car around to the one room cabin a quarter of a mile from the office. It was too dark to see the lake but Heinz could feel the expanse before him. A patter of rain began to fall on the cabin roof. Pine boughs swooshed around him with each gust of wind coming off the lake. Heinz unloaded the cooler and some boxes from the trunk of his car.  He carried them into the cabin and set them on the floor.

Without turning a light on he found the bed where it had been the year before and lay down. The constant focus on the road and the oncoming strobes of light had given Heinz a fierce headache. His neck was stiff, his forearms were tight and his hands still seemed to be clutching the steering wheel. He closed his burning eyes.

The rain began to fall more evenly. The wind was howling plaintively outside the cabin windows as if nature was trying to get in the cabin.  But with his eyes closed the monotonous lane soon appeared again.  After a few minutes he let his hands release their hold on earth.

Through a part in the calico curtains, a ray of sun shot through the room, glinted off a copper spoon hanging on the wall and struck the corner of Heinz’s eye.  He jerked upright wondering if he had overslept.  He looked at his hands if they would tell him what he needed to do.  After a couple of minutes he stood up and set the coffeepot going. As he turned on the burner he wondered if Jason, his latest apprentice, had remembered to turn on the mill’s lube pump. He bit is lip and then released the thought. Heinz had trained him well.

While Heinz stood on the porch surveying the lake the percolating coffee pot boiled over, sputtering coffee and grounds out of the pot’s spout.  “Damn,” he thought. The red-hot burner below sizzled and hissed.  Heinz came in and set the coffee pot on another burner.  He dabbed up the watery coffee grounds with paper towels and then poured himself a cup of coffee. This action made him think of Gertrude. She would have fussed over the mess he’d made but only for a moment.  Then she’d take his hand and say “You’re not at work.  Go sit down. I’ll take care of it.”

He opened a can of deviled ham and spread it on a slice of pumpernickel bread.  From the cooler he took out a hard-boiled egg.  He ate thinking about work and the whir of the lathe.  His knee bounced up and down nervously until he heard footsteps on the porch. It was Virginia. She cracked the door open.

“Hi, just came to check on you. You find everything alright?”

“Yah, I’m good here.”

“I have row-boat if you are interested in some fishing.”

“I may go out this morning to look around. The fog is lifting.”

“You know where to find me.”

“Yah, I will be over soon.”

Virginia left and Heinz returned to his breakfast.  The size-on-size fit of everyday life was being replaced by nature’s uncontrolled bluntness.   When he had finished breakfast Heinz fell back into his chair and let his shoulders drop. He wasn’t going to roll up his sleeves this week. The memory of Gertrude and the presence of Virginia would see to that.

Stiff from sleeping most of the night with his feet off the side of the bed Heinz ambled up to the office.  He was hoping his back and legs would soon loosen up. When he got to the office Virginia handed him the key to unlock the row-boat. When she handed him the oars she joked, “OK, mate, here’s your gear.” She had packed him a lunch.

“I thank you ma’am. Have I been away a year?  Does time stand still here? You haven’t changed a bit.”

“Only that old cuckoo clock stands still. I have to keep moving so the wrinkles don’t catch up.”

“Hah, you’ve done that! I’ll be back after lunch.” He headed out the door and then turned back to poke his head inside the doorway.  “Virginia, tonight…?”

“Still on.  I’ll be cooking this afternoon.  Catch me a lake trout and I’ll cook it. You clean it and I’ll cook it.”

“It’s a deal except I already caught me a can of herring. It’s in my cabin already to go.”

“You know the way to a women’s heart ~ prepared food.  See you tonight.”

With that Heinz walked down to the reedy shoreline where the row-boat was beached.  He unchained the boat, grabbed the oars and his bag lunch and pushed off the shore.

Heinz rowed slowly measuring the strength in his arms against the return distance.  When he had reached the middle of the lake Heinz stopped rowing and took in the familiar surroundings:  a featureless grey sky domed the lake today. The water lapping around his boat rippled with each tickling of wind.  Along the shoreline shoulder to shoulder pines stood in a dense lattice-work of deep blue-green. It was to this spot that Heinz returned every year. There were no tools, no work orders – only time and space in the queue.  It was here that life came to him outside the defined tolerances he worked with every day. And it was here that he sat in nature’s unfinished place, a precious commodity not mined and milled into an end product.

Heinz opened his bag lunch and pulled out a slice of pumpernickel bread and some Edam cheese. He opened a beer. While he ate and drank the lake breeze blew across his unshaven face. Hah!

Late in the afternoon Heinz rowed back to the shore.  He grabbed his things and headed back to the cabin. Nearby a common bathroom offered a hot shower.  He decided not to shave giving his hands some freedom from their regular duties. He showered and dressed in a clean pair of slacks and pullover shirt. He grabbed the tin of herring from the box and a cold six-pack of beer and headed over to the office.

As he arrived Virginia was finishing up registering a couple for the night.  Heinz overheard them talking:  they were on their way home from a week canoe trip outside of Ely, Minnesota. They were hoping for a hot shower.  Heinz told them to wait a bit.  The hot water had been used up during his shower.  He offered them a couple of beers instead for their wait. They accepted and headed off to their cabin.

“Heinz, my dear, you know how to finesse the customers.”

“That hot shower finessed me.”

‘You didn’t shave.”

“A man has got to know his limits and mine is shaving while on vacation. When it gets to long I’ll mill it off.”

“Pour me a glass will you Heinz?”

Heinz poured Virginia a tall glass of beer and set it behind her on the kitchen table.

“Put on some music. I’ve got some old records next to the couch.”

Heinz sat on the edge of the couch and looked through the collection of LPs. He chose the Warsaw Concerto by Addisnsell. Rachmaninov would be for another night.

Heinz set two places at the kitchen table and lit the candle. The flame listed every time he came in and out of the room.

Virginia grabbed the plates and spooned on red cabbage and spätzle.  She added sauerbraten to the plates. Dinner was served.

Heinz sat directly across from Virginia. The familiar food, the halo of candle light and the rush of arpeggios weakened his knees.  He was glad to be sitting. Virginia’s face was radiant, awash with both red and gold. The hot stove had flushed Virginia’s cheeks and the candle light gilded her features. If angels cook then he must be in heaven.

Heinz and Virginia didn’t discuss Heinz’ work when they were together. Virginia understood Heinz’s passion for precision and his irritation with sloppy work.   Virginia’s husband had been a tool and die maker for many years before he died.  Like Heinz he had worked with tight tolerances each and every day.  Virginia knew that Heinz’s visit’s to Rice Lake became a reprieve of sorts from the exacting measures that so drove his personality.

Heinz and Virginia would dine the same way each night.  Heinz would spend the day alone and the night he spent with Virginia. There would share beer, schnapps, cigars, Rachmaninov, Dvorak, Chopin and Brahms.  They would play cards and near the end of the night dance to polka music. A time of remembering and a time of letting go met together each night.

After those evenings Heinz would fall into a deep sleep.  In the early morning hours vivid dreams would animate his sleep. He would see himself talking to him Gertrude about their new home in America. He saw his childhood home and the curs that came to their door for biscuits. He saw his father playing the violin while his mother cooked the family dinner.  He saw his childhood school and saw himself in his short pants.  He saw the shop in Hamburg where he apprenticed.  He saw the trolley that he brought him to school. And his dreams always included a machine shop. 

He dreamt of a 5 axis vertical mill, of fixtures and of metal shavings peeling off a turning steel bar.  He could smell the cinnamon scent of Tap Magic and see his hands chocking a 4140 steel bar into the spindle of the lathe. He saw himself aligning-centering-cutting-drilling-boring – sculpting steel into precision gears.  He saw himself being measured by a micrometer and a dial indicator checking spindle runout – Virginia holding the gauge! He saw himself checking hardness with a Rockwell tester and then falling off into deeper asleep again

As a strobe of morning sun came through the curtains laser-like onto his closed eyes half-asleep he would imagine the stamp of a time clock and bolt upright in bed. He would then sit rubbing the sun’s imprint from his eyes.  In those waking moments each night’s quickly vanishing dream passed through his mind.  What appeared to him in the night seemed to enact some absurdist play where memories – real people, times and objects – donned the surreal and came together on stage to wait for someone to come along and give meaning and direction to it all.

The days Heinz spent fishing he didn’t fish at all.  He never brought fishing tackle or a rod with him to Rice Lake.  Both he and Virginia knew that when Heinz said that he was going “fishing” he really meant that he needed to be alone. So it was that he would take the row-boat out to the middle of the lake and sit there letting time pass over him. Time could come and go as it pleased without the date time stamp his everyday life..

In the afternoons, before Heinz made the short walk up the hill to have dinner with Virginia he would settle into his cabin for nap. From a collection of LPs leaning next to the bureau Heinz would select an album of classical music.  He would choose Frederick Delius’ tone poems:  Song of Summer and A Walk to Paradise Garden or Dvorak’s New World Symphony or Debussy’s Clair de Lune and Reverie or Bach’s violin concertos. Bach had a way of resetting things for Heinz, of resolving any stress he felt in his neck and his hands.

After putting the needle down on the first track he would pull Virginia’s homemade afghan off of the high back chair and bring it with him over to the rug.  Lying on the floor eyes closed and covered with the afghan, just as he had done so many times before listening to his father play the violin, the music coursed through him and down into his hands where it was released.

Heinz’s father was concertmaster of the Philharmoniker Hamburg. His mother played the organ in their Lutheran church. Heinz was taught the piano and was made to practice rigorously until he began his apprenticeship. The metronome which had kept the strictest of time was exchanged for a time clock.

On the last night before Heinz returned to Chicago Virginia cooked sauerbraten. Heinz placed birch wood and kindling into the fireplace and began a fire. He lit the all candles and chose Chopin’s nocturnes for the dinner music.  He set the table.

Once again there was music and laughter and the shuffling of cards. And once again when the hour grew late they sat on the porch swing. Virginia would take his hands and hold them.  As if blind she would trace their outline with her fingers, her eyes reading some unseen message. His hands were calloused and leathery from use.  As she looked at them tonight she saw that they were etched with fine lines of dark grease like a charcoal drawing she had seen once.  These hands, like her husband’s, had held steel stock to be turned and milled and chamfered, steel to be transformed from block to bolt, from stock to shaft.  On this night friendship’s annealing process, a slow working stress relieving process that had both softened and solidified his soul over time brought tears to his eyes. And when she took his hands into hers he could sense the weight of what felt like a massive headstone of grief being taken from him. The night came to an end when he kissed her deeply and held her tightly under the chromatic gauze of the northern lights.

On Sunday morning Heinz packed his car and drove up to the office.  Virginia was waiting at the desk preparing checkout bills for the guests. Heinz asked for the bill and she handed it to him.  Heinz paid the bill and then looking at Virginia he said, “They broke the mold when they made you.” 

With a smile she replied, “Well, then you old machinist, you’ll just have to come back and take some more measurements.”

Heinz smiled, “I’ll be back next year if you can stand it.”

“I’ll be right here with this old cuckoo clock ~ me and time standing still.

“Bye, kiddo.”  Heinz kissed Virginia and headed out the door.

The Sunday trip driving back top Chicago took him most of the day because all the weekenders were heading home. When he finally reached his apartment he unloaded the car and put away his things.  He set the alarm clock for 5:30 am.

 The next morning he clocked in at 5:52 am.  At 8:30, his break time, he had handed the shop manager his vacation request for the next year ~ two weeks off the clock for recalibration.

© Sally Paradise, 2012, All Rights Reserved

***** 

I Have to Ask…

I have to ask you…

 I support myself and my family by working in the Free Market. I pay tons of taxes on money made in the Free Market. I pay all my bills including medical with money made in the Free Market.  I give to charities and to those in need weekly from monies made in the Free Market, I find work and opportunity in the Free Market apart from a union…Do you have a problem with the Free Market?

 Now here is something I have a problem with:  why am I subsidizing people sitting on their ass? And, why am I subsidizing kids camping in a park protesting the Free Market? Why are illegals being allowed into the US and allowed to live off of me? Why is it that the Democrat’s only answer to every fiscal problem is “higher taxes” and it’s never to cut entitlement spending? And why, why is work punished?

From the Zero Hedge article

When Work Is Punished: The Tragedy Of America’s Welfare State

  • For every 1.65 employed persons in the private sector, 1 person receives welfare assistance
  • For every 1.25 employed persons in the private sector, 1 person receives welfare assistance or works for the government.

The punchline: 110 million privately employed workers; 88 million welfare recipients and government workers and rising rapidly.

And since nothing has changed in the past two years, and in fact the situation has gotten progressively (pardon the pun) worse, here is our conclusion on this topic from two years ago:

We have been writing for over a year, how the very top of America’s social order steals from the middle class each and every day. Now we finally know that the very bottom of the entitlement food chain also makes out like a bandit compared to that idiot American who actually works and pays their taxes. One can only also hope that in addition to seeing their disposable income be eaten away by a kleptocratic entitlement state, that the disappearing middle class is also selling off its weaponry. Because if it isn’t, and if it finally decides it has had enough, the outcome will not be surprising at all: it will be the same old that has occurred in virtually every revolution in the history of the world to date.

 But for now, just stick head in sand, and pretend all is good. Self-deception is now the only thing left for the entire insolvent entitlement-addicted world.

I made my choice.  How about you?

*****

BTW:  Health Insurance is NOT the Same Thing as Health Care

Work

WORK

(a short story)

So last night I watch this movie, “Into The Wild”, about this young guy who leaves everything behind and heads to Alaska. I sit back in my chair and I cry. I was headed in that same direction in 1972.

In those days, I left my dorm room at Moody Bible Institute one night and walked home. I just kept walking. I walked fifteen miles. I walked from the Des Plaines EL station to Addison, fifteen miles. My mother cried that night. The school called my father. He called his friends. I show up at the house at 10:30 pm. I hugged my mother and I went to bed.

So the next day, my father makes me scrambled eggs and then he drives me back to Moody. I talk to twenty people. I talk to the men’s assistant dean of students and he tells me that men have cycles like women do. I listen but my head is in Alaska. He asks me if I want a new roommate. I say, “Yes. I don’t want to room with someone named Tim.” I tell him that my first year roommate was Tim from Indianapolis. My second year roommate was Tim from Pennsylvania. The school gives me a new roommate. His name is Steve. We become good friends, in fact, great friends. One Friday night, in my dorm room, I get a call from the men’s assistant dean of students. He tells me that Steve was killed in a car accident on the way to his wedding rehearsal. He fell asleep behind the wheel of his car driving in Kansas. I stay at school to finish the semester and then I leave and I don’t come back.

Three months later my dad comes in my room and wakes me up. He says, “You gotta get up. You can’t sleep anymore. You gotta work. You gotta find a job.” So I get dressed, eat scrambled eggs and I walk to the industrial section of Addison. In the industrial park I look for signs in the front yards of factories. “Help Wanted. Machine Operator” the sign says. I apply.

Inside the factory a man tells me my job. “Take the plastic pieces that come out of here and then grind them over here.” So I take the plastic pieces and I grind them but my head is in Alaska. I walk away from the job during my coffee break. The man calls my dad and he tells him that I walked away. I go look for another job.

At another factory a man hires me. He tells me that I will operate a plastic extruder on the second shift. I say “OK” and I show up that night. Someone shows me the end of the extruder. There are strands of hot plastic coming out of the extruder’s die. The strands are pulled under water to cool and then a blower dries them off. Then, the strands are chopped into pellets. The man tells me to keep my hands out of the pelletizer. I remember this. My job is to keep the extruder hopper full of regrind, keep the plastic strands in their path and empty the pellets into a box. I do this until the third shift guy appears. He is a tall, lanky black man in a jumpsuit. He is carrying a Yankee Doodle Dandy Hamburger in his hand.

I process plastic for the next six years. I also get married to someone I meet at church. We have two sons. I tell my bride-to-be that I want to live in Alaska. I tell her that I have collected maps and books about how to live in the wild. She tells her mother. Her mother tells her that I am crazy. Her mother wants her grandchildren to be close. We divorce after five years and two sons.  Alaska is on hold until the majority age of minor children.

So I work and I work and I work. I become a designer of plastic machines. I become director of engineering. I become a partner in a manufacturing company and I get married again. I tell my bride-to-be that I want to go to Alaska. She tells her mother. Her mother says that I am crazy. Her mother wants her grandchildren to be close. So, I work and I work and I work. I work night and day as a partner. I make a six figure income. I get a Suburban. I get a company credit card. I have twenty-five people working under me. I work so much that when my wife takes the Suburban on camping trips with the kids she says that she doesn’t know if she wants to come back. I went to work and I came home to an empty house. When she was home and I was home, my wife and I would fight. The way I figured it, she wanted more of what my well-paying job offered her but she wouldn’t stand me at the same time. I worked and worked and I worked until one day I told my partners that I wanted to quit.

So, I left the company I helped to start fourteen years before. I left the partnership and the perks behind. I came home and looked in the paper in the help wanted section. I looked and I looked and I looked but there was nothing. I refinanced our home to pay the bills. After three months my wife tells me, “I want a separation.” I cry.

So, we go to marriage counselors. First we go to a male counselor and then we go to a female counselor and then we go to a male counselor. My wife is convinced that I have something on my mind, that I don’t love her. I don’t mention Alaska. After some counseling, we agree to live to together again. My wife says, “I’ll see how you do.”

So I find a job and I go to work. This time I build electrical control panels. I work and I work and I work but the money is not the same as the partnership money. One day the manager takes me in his office and tells me, “Things are slow. We are downsizing. We are closing this branch. We don’t have any openings in our home office in Janesville, Wisconsin.” I say, “Oh.” I call my wife and we meet at a restaurant because I want to tell her in person what happened. I drink two gin and tonics while I am waiting for her to show up. I look out the window and see her pull up in our rusty family van. She comes in and sees me drinking and she wonders what’s up and I tell her. She asks me what I am going to do and I tell her, “I will look for work.”

So I look in the Help Wanted Ads in the newspaper. No jobs. I file for unemployment. Three months later my wife says she wants a separation. I say, “No.” She says, “Get out or I will force you out.” I leave. I go to a hotel. I get a room and call my kids.

So that night I watch this movie, “Into The Wild”, about this young guy who leaves behind everything and heads to Alaska. I sit back in my hotel chair and I cry. I was headed in that same direction in 1972.

© Sally Paradise, 2010, All Rights Reserved

*****

Hard Sun – Eddie Vedder

All in the Family Under Attack

The  Obama dream of a different America under his progressive mandates (picking winners and losers) comes with a heavy price tag and I am not just referring to economic burdens being placed on the shoulders of Americans. Obama’s demand for tax increases for corporations will further necessitate corporations passing the cost onto consumers. And, no one will be immune from Obama’s ‘class warfare’ tax plan. It is a shell game (hide the tax increases under the ‘rich/corporation/inheritance tax’ shell). Every tax affects every American.  Trickle down taxation is guaranteed.

It is the American family which will suffer the most under Obama’s progressive ideologies. Consider the American family right now.  The family is under attack.  Beyond the absurdity of homosexual marriage being legalized as on par with male-female marriage (Reason, of course, tells you otherwise) and the horrendous rate of divorce encouraged by state laws which allow No-Fault divorce coupled with the almost guaranteed child support (a ‘dead-beat’ parent penal system for fathers is created in the process) parental absenteeism is at an all time high.  This is due to the increased need to work more to pay for the increased cost of living (which includes inflation) created by corporations being taxed more. It should be noted that our country has the second highest corporate tax rate (39.3% (average combined federal and state).in the world, second only to Japan. (It is no wonder that Obama’s jobs czar Jeffrey Imelt, CEO of GE, has GE paying no corporate taxes here in the US.)

 I dare say increased taxation (via increased consumer costs) goes hand in hand with decreased family values. And, it is happening now. Time spent with your family, with your children, will be devoured trying to play catch up with your finances.  Parents want to provide for their children.  Parents want the best for their children and parents will sacrifice for their children.  Obama’s short-sighted plans will rob parents of the net pay that would allow parents to spend time with their children.

 You know this already:  when parents are not around children get in trouble. Children may cruise the cable TV channels and watch totally inappropriate programs, programs that are now on at all hours of the day.  Children  will cruise the internet seeing things that no child should ever see.  They may hang with friends who are no good or worse, they may hang around with gangs.  You will lose your children to the arbitrariness of a world not sharing your values. (Many parents have despaired of even trying to be a parent, believing that more money might make things better for the child.)

 Increased taxation and increased government dependence means a decreased share of net income for the family.  It means less ownership of your family values and  the American dream, as well. What good is the American Dream if is not shared tangibly with your children?

(Perhaps you are a progressive who disparages the American Dream. You may then pass along the inherent poverty of radicalism as a way of life.  So be it. Just don’t make me pay for it.)

 Fathers are the most likely to take a hit in Obama’s tax schemes.  They will have to spend more time working.  Many mothers will also have to work. 

 Single mothers will have to work harder.  They will also seek government assistance to provide for their family. Continually receiving this type of hand-out is demoralizing.  This demoralizing effect quickly becomes a poor self-image.  A parent’s poor self-image is easily passed on to their kids who ultimately learn that they must depend on government for their daily bread and that mom is the enabler and that dad is a loser.

A vote for Obama was a vote to build an Illinois Hope & Change casino in Washington D.C.  Like it or not you and your family are mandated to play through taxation.  You may break even, you may “Win the Future” but most likely, you will lose.  The odds (and the lobbyists) are stacked against you.  Over time you will lose everything.

Before Obama there were many Chicago hoods shaking down businesses for money.  Remember Al Capone.  The American family deserves better than the “fat-cat” Obama from Chicago – the guy who wants to “drill-baby-drill” down into your pocketbook.

Father’s Day 1985

Riyadh_Skyline_NewFather’s Day 1985. I have good reason to remember that day: I was in Saudi Arabia when I called my father to wish him “Happy Father’s Day!” It was 9:30 pm Jubail time and about 9:30am in Chicago on that Sunday when I placed the call to my father. I had traveled to Saudi Arabia as an engineer/tech to start up some equipment that our company had sold to a Texas pipeline company. This new equipment would help Saudi Arabia pipe Saudi oil to waiting oil tankers on the Persian Gulf. I happened to arrive during the Saudi Islamic spiritual observance known as Ramadan. It was time of fasting, intense heat and scorched ground. It was the beginning of June and I thought I would be home by Father’s Day.

My journey to this Middle Eastern country was a long passage of connecting airline flights starting from Chicago. First I flew to Kennedy airport in New York and lay over there for several hours. Then I flew to Amsterdam and lay over there for several hours. Then I flew to the Dhaharan International Airport on the eastern coast of Saudi Arabia. I arrived about 12:30 am. Our plane was greeted by short (they all seemed short to me) khaki uniformed Saudi soldiers who searched each passenger’s luggage for social and spiritual contraband, things like glamour magazines, Bibles, etc. (I had already learned that Christians were persecuted in Saudi Arabia). After going into customs, being questioned about where I was staying (I didn’t know) and where I was working (I gave them a business card that said, “BREDERO PRICE MIDDLE EAST LTD”. They understood immediately.), then finally having my passport stamped, it was 2:00 in the morning. I walked towards the front door of the airport with my small suitcase and saw a placard being waved with my name written on it. I was relieved and scared at the same time since I understood no Arabic and I couldn’t read any of the airport signs.  I could only read my name bouncing up and down. The man waving the card greeted me in his language, said something else I didn’t understand and then waved me over to his car, a 1980 Mercedes Benz 380SL, parked at the curb.

I loaded my small suitcase into the trunk of his car and then he had me sit in the back seat. He proceeded to drive almost sightlessly through the desert at 140km/hr (about 86 mph). The two headlights hardly made an impact on the night. Blowing sand and dust filled our vision on the road before us. I saw other cars when they passed beside us and sometimes I saw camel legs. I prayed to arrive safely to wherever we might be going. A hotel, soon, I hoped. I didn’t know what the driver was told to do with me.

We finally arrived at a hotel, a Sheraton Hotel, in Jubail, Saudi Arabia. Jubail is an industrialized city on the east coast of Saudi Arabia near the Persian Gulf. During the day, one could see petrochemical plants rising out of the floating desert heat. At night, one could see the glowing gold light of the petrochemical plants and black spouts with fire shooting upwards, fires that burned off excess oil. The rising smoke created carbon black pillars in the Saudi twilight.

Inside the hotel there was more lack of communication between me and the driver and me and the hotel keeper. I was given a key to a room. I felt slightly better. I found my way upstairs and then found my room. The room looked at lot like other western hotel rooms except for the bidet in the bathroom. I turned on the TV. On several channels people were shown praying in Mecca and others making their pilgrimage to Mecca. I learned, later that day, that it was Ramadan. Another channel had a British news service. I found an American channel that played Andy of Mayberry and I Dream of Jeannie reruns 24/7. It was a TV oasis of back home sitcoms. I set the alarm for six o’clock in the morning. Two hours of sleep is all I that I would get that night.

In the morning I found the hotel restaurant near the lobby downstairs. Because of Ramadan, the Muslims were fasting during the daylight hours, from dawn to sunset, so the restaurant was empty except for me. I ordered black coffee and Swiss muesli. This was my daily breakfast the entire time I spent in Saudi Arabia. As I was reading the menu, someone approached me, a foreigner, and said in English, “When you are done with your breakfast I will drive you to the work site.” The English words were comforting. I had pointed out my food selections to the waiter and he hurried back with the coffee. I felt dog tired with only two hours of sleep. I was still on my Chicago time clock. I should be getting ready for dinner and then for bed. I finished breakfast and signed the check over to my room number. Someone was paying the bill but I didn’t know who.

I met my driver outside the hotel and he scurried me off to the work site several miles away. I was informed of the ‘rules’ of Saudi life and was basically told to stay in the car, stay in my hotel and stay at the work site. I had decided to dress and to appear as a male so that I wouldn’t receive many looks along the way, except, I believed, for my Swedish light skin and my short reddish-blond hair. I wore a baseball cap. As we drove, I saw Bedouin shepherds moving their sheep across the highways, highways populated with tall palm trees. We arrived at the work site, a collection of construction trailers and low open buildings, many with corrugated roofs and no walls, out in the barren sand field. The only shade was beneath the wavy silver roofs which deflected the sun.

I met with the site foreman and the rest of the crew. The foreman’s name was Rusty. He was from Ireland. The crew made up of all males, were from various parts of the world. There were several Australians, some Danes, one Austrian, some Germans, some Filipinos, some Brazilians and several Brits. They had come to Saudi Arabia to earn a lifetime of money in just a few short years of work. The oil company paid a high wage for foreign workers with good pipefitting/mechanical experience. I was added to their group during my time in Saudi. I was teased because of my appearance: I did look foreign (I’m Swedish and Dutch) just like them but I also looked somewhat male and somewhat female and I easily sunburned. I had to wear tee shirts because of the extreme heat. Every day I would become soaked with sweat. I just teased them back and we got along fine. Many members of this crew had been working at this site for several years. Several were getting ready to go home and retire – at 35 years of age! They had their “nest egg” as they called it. They would finally get to see their wives and their families. They weren’t being held hostage by the company or the Saudi people. It was just that the money they made working everyday, overtime and weekends was incredible. It sounded tempting to me except for the extreme heat and the fact that I was a woman in Saudi Arabia. I would only be working and going to my hotel and doing it under cover, at that. I would become a dried up fig, I imagined.

That first morning on the site I saw the new equipment which my company had shipped to the Bredero Price site. The equipment, a plastic extruder for oil pipe coating, had been installed by the crew under a corrugated roof out on a field of sand. The equipment, they said, was ready to start up. I spent the entire day reviewing the installation and getting my bearings in the scorching June heat. Noon came around and I was invited to the canteen for lunch. The food, basically variations of American food that I knew, was prepared on site. I enjoyed the taste of the hometown food and the camaraderie of the crew. It was during lunch that I learned about each of them and their families. I saw wallet tattered pictures of their wives and kids. After lunch we each grabbed two one liter bottles of water and headed back to work. The bottled water was necessary because the local water was undrinkable and each of us would sweat at least two liters a day through our clothes. The mid day Saudi temperature was 42 degrees C (108 degrees F). I also worked on the heated plastic extruder, so I was doubly parched. I couldn’t drink water fast enough.

The work itself was challenging. I was working alone on the equipment. I had come there to just push buttons but there were problems and parts that needed fixing. I couldn’t directly contact my office because of the difference in time. I had to fax my requests and wait for a reply over night. Someone had to deliver the faxes back and forth to me. All of this interposing communication delayed the commissioning of the equipment. The owners, Bredero Price and the Saudi government, were getting anxious. I didn’t have my passport. It was conscripted at the hotel by Bredero Price. As I learned, they controlled things via the Saudi government. I was more than a little concerned about my situation. I was the one who felt like a hostage. Luckily, as the days passed, I was able to bring the equipment up to working order and only after removing a key component that had failed at start up. I turned that problem over to our company’s sales department and I continued down my start-up path. After two weeks, I was able to create a four foot wide sheet of HDPE plastic, one quarter inch thick. The sheet of plastic exiting the die of the extruder coated a twelve foot diameter oil pipe as the pipe revolved and moved perpendicularly away from the extruder. I was delighted that things had come together. The customer was beginning to see results, too.

My nights in town were spent primarily in front of the TV reruns in my hotel room and in the hotel restaurant trying Middle Eastern food. I liked the lamb shish-kabob with minted yogurt sauce. I finally did venture out into the city in the cool of the evening. I was tired of sitting in my room at night listening to two Saudis making love in the next room. Apparently, it was nightly ritual not related to Ramadan. I dressed in a dark blue linen shirt, blue jeans and a black White Sox baseball hat. I had seen other Americans walking around during my car trips back and forth to the hotel and the work site. I decided to see what was going on outside. I left the hotel and walked down the palm-lined sidewalks.

The first thing I noticed were clusters of Saudi men sitting on the ground smoking water pipes. I watched them from the corner of my eyes as I just kept walking. I went to the market area and walked down the narrow market streets. The crowded little shops were open to the street with pull down shutter doors. These doors were shut during the daily prayer times. I could see the minarets poking above the city skyline. I could hear the loud speaker voice calling the faithful to their prayers. I could see the shop doors being pulled down and locked for half an hour. I would continue to walk and wait till prayer time was over.

The shops were a curious assortment of everyday goods which were sold one shop next to the other. There was a row of watch stores. Then a row of camera stores, a row of women’s clothes stores, a row of men’s clothes stores, rows of food stores, etc. There were little open air cafes along the way. I didn’t try any café food. There were too many flies buzzing around. I took in the smell of mint tea, of shawarma (lamb), grilled chicken and the deep-fried chickpea dish called falafel. I took in the aromas of things I never had smelled before. The heavy enticing smell of Arabic tobacco coming from the water pipes was especially exotic, floating along with other strange scents. I returned to my room for a good nights sleep. I began to feel comfortable being in Saudi Arabia. I would visit the market places again after that, with more courage and more casual curiosity.

Halfway through my stay in Saudi Arabia Father’s Day came up. I knew that I wouldn’t be home to wish my father my love so I decided to call him from the hotel that night. It would be Sunday morning in Chicago. I placed the call on what sounded like very thin wires. My mother answered the phone. I said “Hi” and she knew it was me. She was totally surprised to hear my voice. She asked about how I was doing and other mother questions. She was getting ready to go to church. She gave the phone to my dad. He sounded extremely surprised and very happy that I would call from such a distant place. I wished him “Happy Father’s Day” and told him that I wished that I was at home in Chicago to see him on this day. He was glad that I had called. So was I.

After several weeks of work in the oven of the desert my mission at the job site was completed. The plastic extruder was operating and coating oil pipes 24/7. I finally received my passport back from Bredero Price. I scheduled a flight home via the fax machine. When the day arrived to leave I said goodbye to my new friends. I wished them well. I gathered up my tee shirts and my few belongings, packed my suitcase and headed for the Mercedes waiting for me. I enjoyed the day light ride back to the airport. I could see all that I missed traveling on that first night in the desert. There were men riding camels, sheep and shepherds and goats. There were women in black abayas with their faces half hidden with boshiyas, and hundreds of pilgrims returning from Mecca. I was glad to get to the airport to be going home.

I boarded the direct flight to New York. It would be at least fourteen hours of flying. I found my seat and let my shoulders relax for the first time in weeks. When the plane taxied the runway and then lifted off I was even more relieved. I began to see that the Saudi women were more relieved than I. When the “FASTEN SEAT BELT” light went off most of the Saudi women, mother and daughters, all of them covered from head to toe with their black burqas, headed for the bathrooms. When they came out they were each wearing jeans and typical tops worn by western women. The western transformation took off when the plane no longer touched Saudi soil. I was amazed and happy for them. I felt liberated, too. Father’s Day had past and Mother’s Day was just beginning, for some.

© Sally Paradise, 2010, All Rights Reserved

(Author’s note: This is a true story. Just ask my dad.)