Old house renovation expert and HGTV star Nicole Curtis generally doesn’t pull punches on her social media posts. She seems “genuine” and I appreciate that. She doesn’t post often, which I also appreciate, and when she does it’s usually worth reading. What follows is the first part of a recent post of hers in which she reflects on herself and her innate need to fix things. When I read this (and re-read it) it very much resonated with me. I seem to thrive on crisis. I certainly don’t go looking for it, but when it comes I handle it. I just…handle it. I don’t buckle. I don’t break. I just seem to figure it out. I fix it. I take it in, I assess, I analyze, I resolve. Consider this an in-depth version of my personal motto: “I understand the compounding awesomeness of continually fixing small broken things.” (Shamelessly co-opted from Michael “Rands” Lopp)
[Only slightly edited for style.]
“I’m someone who therapists say is in constant survival mode —one will track my childhood & try to pinpoint it, one will track my genetics, one will track my adult choices. I don’t know what it is, but it’s definitely true. I gravitate towards these houses that have lost their fight because I fix things— my life makes sense when I can fix things. Some mistake this never-ending fixing as a need to be [in] control. It’s actually the opposite — I do it so I can let go. Most things are beyond my control, but a house? I got that. I’ve somehow found a group of like-minded friends — the survivors. We run on adrenaline, we get it done -we look rock solid from the outside, but if you really get to see the inside, we’re those people that hurt for everyone and everything, that search for greater meaning, that pray, that are intensely loyal, take everything to heart and simply keep turning the other cheek.”
[I’m publishing this almost 10 months after I started the new position for which I had applied at the time I wrote this (early May, 2020). It was the Right Thing for me to do, and I’d do it again. But doing it still sucked.]
It’s been 23 years since I applied for a job. I remember some of the emotions I experienced back then: angst, trepidation, fear, anticipation, hope, guilt.
Fear? Yes, fear. Fear I wouldn’t get the job and be able to leave my current employer on my own terms. Also, ironically, fear I would get the job, which would mean relocating to Potsdam.
Angst. Is this the right thing to do?
Trepidation. Am I good enough to even be considered for the position, let alone get it? (I have a self-diagnosis of Imposter Syndrome. It tends to flare up at times like that.)
Anticipation and Hope. In those moments when I can get past the angst, I allow myself to daydream about the possibilities this change would bring and make plans.
Guilt. This is the worst. And it’s almost crippling. The guilt is over leaving whatever you’re currently doing (in this case, the job I had at the time) for a new job. I tend to be a loyal person. And I care about the work I do, no matter what it is or who it’s for. Walking away from a body of work is a hard thing to do when you care about it.
It’s been 23 years since I applied for a job. This job. The one I have, and the one I have the good fortune and privilege to actually love. I have been working full-time for SUNY Potsdam for, as I write this, almost 23 and a half years. If I count my time as a student here, I’ve spent over half of my life on and around this campus. When you work for a place for that long, you become a part of it, just as it becomes a part of you.
It’s been 23 years since I left a job. And for me that’s hard. The pit in the stomach, the faint aftertaste of bile as your gut literally wrenches. You’re doing the right thing for yourself, but you didn’t plan this with your current employer and so to them it’s a surprise, and you feel badly doing that. No one is indispensable. You know that. People leave jobs all the time for all sorts of reasons. And the employer figures it out and moves on.
I will always be a part of the SUNY Potsdam Family. But it’s time to move out of the house.
Last week I heard a news story about road signs in Virginia and how it’s hard to find your way without a GPS because deferred maintenance has resulted in road signs not being replaced in a timely fashion. Many are missing. I remarked to my wife, “that’s municipal thinking for you—don’t save up for anything and just kick that can down the road again until its someone else’s problem.”
”Down the road again…” That stuck in my head. A few hours later I had penned new lyrics, with apologies to Willie Nelson.
Down the road again Why do it now when we can do it then? Our problems grow and yet we simply will not spend So we’ll just kick them down the road again.
Down the road again Don’t do your job instead let’s just pretend Why we don’t save for things, I’ll never comprehend So send our troubles down the road again.
Down the road again Roads and bridges ‘cross this country are a-crumblin’ And yet we won’t attend Officials with our budgets they keep crumblin’ Our tires keep rumblin’
Down the road again Why do it now when we can do it then? Our problems grow and yet we simply will not spend So we’ll just kick them down the road again.
In June my hemoglobin A1C was 5.8, in the low end of that’s considered diabetic. I knew why—it was a rough winter and I had other things on my mind, not the least of which were my Dad’s health issues. My blood sugar was not my focus.
Fortunately, the good habits I had formed in 2019 served me well and my lack of focus didn’t take me too far into the red zone. It’s not like I was chugging 2-liter bottles of Mountain Dew and binging on half-pound bags of peanut M&Ms. You know, like I used to…
And so I was only up 2 tenths of a point from my previous A1C. I had work to do and so I buckled down. Well, mostly in the last three months. And today was the payoff. I had my blood drawn this morning and checked my hospital app after lunch. 5.3!! Down 5 tenths and SOLIDLY outside of the diabetic zone. All with NO medication.
Now…on to blood pressure, which is still hovering higher than it ought to be.
The cowboy sits at his table in the saloon. He pulls a bullet from his pocket. He pulls his six-shooter from it’s holster. He loads the bullet into the barrel. He spins the barrel. He points the gun at his head. He pulls the trigger.
No harm done.
“Russian Roulette” as portrayed in the movies.
But even if it had been <bang> and the cowboy died, no physical harm would have come to anyone else.
Watching social media as the coronavirus pandemic unfolds I have seen some people indignant at the suggestion that they can be told what to do in any situation. Stay home. Not congregate. Not “have fun.” Not see their friends. Get a haircut. Indignant that anyone, especially “the government,” tell them anything like that. They exhibit their indignation under the banner of “personal liberty.”
Now imagine the same cowboy. He pulls out his bullet and his gun, he loads the gun, he spins the barrel, and this time he stands up and starts waving the gun around at the other patrons of the saloon and pulls the trigger.
No harm done?
Wrong. Plenty of harm done. Nobody got hurt or died. But they could have. There was a 1 in 6 chance that the gun would fire. A 1 in 6 chance that someone could have died.
As a society we consider that unacceptable. It is unacceptable that someone brandish a loaded weapon in public, even if it is likely that it will not fire. We prosecute people who do so and we (sometimes) remove them from society by sending them to jail. Your personal liberty ends when your choices harm or have the potential to harm others.
In a pandemic we are all cowboys, and our hands are guns. But the bullets are invisible and undetectable. There may be a bullet. There may be 6. There may be none. We have no way of knowing. If someone waves a gun around in public they are punished for it. We are asking people to minimize activity that will turn their hands into loaded guns.
When Amanda’s parents divorced, her dad, Kevin Haney, moved to Los Angeles to practice his craft as a makeup artist. Amanda and her sister would visit him and get to see the projects he was working on. Amanda loves to tell the story of how she once met Jonathan Frakes, the actor who played Commander William Riker on Star Trek: The Next Generation TV series. Here she is telling the story in her own words at Great Camp Sagamore‘s Mountain Music and Dance weekend in October of 2017:
In that moment, all she could muster up was, “You’re pretty!!”
I only have vague recollection of a late evening in my den in the November following Amanda’s telling of her story. But I wrote a handwritten letter to Jonathan Frakes. I told him who I am, who Amanda is, who her father is; and I told him of the day Amanda met him on the set of TNG. I suggested that, if he’s the autograph signing type, that it would be neat for Amanda to have an 8×10 glossy photo of him as Commander Riker. I boldly suggested that he might include, “Amanda–You are pretty too!” I Googled for his agent’s address, picked one that seemed most likely (several addresses came up), addressed the envelope and put it in the mail.
Nothing came of it and I eventually forgot all about it. Fast forward to Thanksgiving weekend, 2018. We had just returned from spending the weekend in Rochester with Amanda’s mom and step-dad. We did the usual schlepping of our bags, grabbing the mail, and tending to the cats. I hung up my coat and grabbed the mail from the box and sat at the dining room table to inspect it while Amanda paid attention to the cats and started putting her things away. There was one large envelope and there were two things very odd about it: 1) It was from some place in California I had never heard of, and 2) it was addressed to me in my own handwriting. I mumbled and grumbled loudly about this as I sliced open the end of the envelope. I peeked inside and pulled out the contents about 2 inches before I realized what it was. I gasped. Audibly. Loudly. “What is it??” Amanda called from the other room. As I quickly shoved it back into its envelope, I stuttered, “I…can’t…TELL YOU!!”
“I’m just going to assume it has something to do with Christmas,” she said. Yes. Absolutely! Perfect. That’s exactly what it was! Inside was an 8×10 glossy photograph of Jonathan Frakes as Commander William Riker with writing in marker: “Amanda–You are Pretty Too” with his signature. The envelope was addressed in my handwriting because whomever did so simply cut the address out of the letter I had written.
I bought a frame and wrapped it up. On Christmas morning we opened all of our gifts to each other, with Amanda’s mom and step-dad there. When we were “done,” I told Kyle that it looked like there was one more left, a la “A Christmas Story” when Ralphie gets his BB gun. I took video to capture the moment:
So there you go. The story of the Prettiest Christmas present ever! The photo sits in a place of honor in our living room.
In a discussion with a colleague yesterday I decried the inefficiency of improper tool use. I don’t mean using a tool improperly, I mean not using the proper tool for a given task. We were talking about software, but this analogy popped into my head:
“You can use a hammer to pound in a screw,” I said. “It may take a few extra whacks, but a hammer will drive a screw just fine.”
True enough! It will work. But it’s not the best tool for the job. Many people use the wrong tool out of basic ignorance. They simply don’t know any better. What they have works and they have no incentive to wonder if there’s a better way. But I frequently encounter people who, when faced with a screw gun, view it not with wonder and gratitude, but with fear and indignation regardless of its potential to ultimately make things easier for them.
And then I remembered the sign that used to hang in a former Facilities Director’s office:
People Would Rather Live With A Problem They Cannot Solve Than Accept A Solution They Cannot Understand
GiGi’s On The River is a new restaurant in a location in my home town of Keeseville, NY that has been several restaurants over the years. With new owners and quite a facelift, inside and out, it re-opened last week. My parents and I went there for dinner this evening to see what it was like.
We made reservations for 6:00 because it’s new, it’s Saturday, everyone’s talking about it, and we didn’t want a long wait for a table. We arrived at 5:55 and were promptly seated in the dining room area (there is a separate wing that has a bar and other seating). The place was nearly full and there were people leaving because of the anticipated wait for a table. I’m sure no restaurant likes to see this, but I guess it’s a nice problem to have!
It was almost 20 minutes before we received the attention of our waitress. Not that she was doing nothing, mind you. She was very busy. Since we had had plenty of time to decide what we wanted, she took our complete order–drinks, appetizer, and entrees. Much to my pleasant surprise, the drinks came in about 2 minutes. The appetizer took half an hour, however. We had ordered stuffed mushrooms, which were very delicious. (Though it was odd that our bread plates were teacup saucers.)
By 7:00 I had finished my beer and wondered how long it would take before that was noticed. (My parents were sharing a bottle of wine and would not have this problem.) I had only 5 minutes to wait, because that’s when our dinner was served. All three plates came at the same time (something I no longer take for granted when eating out). I ordered the Steak Delmonico, medium-rare. It was closer to medium, but still a very nice steak. My mother enjoyed her salmon, and my father’s scallops were amazing. He was served *9* scallops, each about the size of a half dollar! The waitress asked if we needed anything else, and I held up my empty glass. “Sam Adams, right?” she asked. She had remembered my drink! (Something else I no longer take for granted.) I was impressed.
We were finished and had our check by 7:30.
We didn’t get any water, though I’m sure we could have had some had we asked for it. On reflection, I think this is actually a good thing. Why give water by default to people who might not even want it, only to pour it down the drain later and then have to USE more water to wash the glass?
The Server’s station is in a poor location just outside the kitchen exit. Moreover, the placement of one of the dining room tables means that servers exiting the kitchen frequently must walk through the dining room just to get to the bar area instead of taking a direct route. It wasn’t exactly distracting…I just notice things like this and wonder if they’ll change it.
There was NO MUSIC! Yay! Not anything coming from any speakers, and thankfully nothing live. And the acoustics of the dining room were fabulous. We could actually hear each other without having to shout. We could hear that there were other people there, but not what they were saying. This is what a dining atmosphere should be!
I had a direct view of the Server’s station and noted that they were tallying up checks manually with notepads and calculators. I understand that they’re just getting started, but hope that they’ll invest in a menu/point-of-sale system that will automate that task for them. It will likely save them money by minimizing human error.
All in all, we enjoyed the atmosphere and the food very much. I am eager to return and try more of the menu. It is great to see this place alive again! The recent closure of the North Country Club left a void in the Keeseville Dining Scene (if such a thing exists). I just hope that the people who are coming to see what all the fuss is about continue to come. I think this place deserves it.
Amanda and I have been watching “Bewitched”. Today we watched season 4, episode 12; that season’s Thanksgiving episode. Thanks to Aunt Clara’s bumbling; Samantha, Darrin, Tabitha, Aunt Clara, and Gladys Kravitz are all transported to 1600s New England where, ironically, Darrin is accused of being a witch. What follows is Samantha’s plea to the court in support of his innocence. Strip away the “thou”s and the “thy”s and you may see, as do I, that we haven’t changed very much in the 50 years since this aired.
“First, I wouldst congratulate Master Phineas. He hath shown us a way out of difficulties that all can follow.
Art thou clumsy? ‘Tis not thine own fault. Cry “witch!”
Art thou forgetful? Blame not thyself. Cry “witch!”
Whatever thy failings, take not the fault upon thyself. ‘Tis more a comfort to place it on another. And how do we decide who is the witch? ‘Tis simple. Again, Master Phineas hath shown us the way.
Doth someone speak differently from thee? A sign of witchery.
Doth he show different mannerisms? Witchery, of course.
And should we not find differences in speech and manner to support a charge of witchery, be of good cheer: there are other differences.
What of he who looketh different? What of she whose name hath a different sound? If one examineth one’s neighbours closely he will find differences enough so that no one is safe from the charge of witchery. But is that what we seek in this New World? Methinks not.
The hope of this world lieth in our acceptance of all differences and a recognition of our common humanity.”
On Monday, September 24th, 2018; the day following our first attempt at acquiring the piano; I went online and used the U-Haul web site to reserve a 15’ truck for the following Sunday, September 30th. Nothing about the process indicated there would be a problem. Good! But now I had to have help. There were 8 steps from the porch to the sidewalk. I had no idea how much the piano weighed, but I’d say I’m a little stronger than average and I could barely lift one end an inch or two by myself and hold it for more than a second or two. Two of me wouldn’t be enough. I wasn’t sure 4 of me would be! I put out a call on Facebook for help in the Ithaca area. I got a lot of good suggestions. One place wouldn’t touch pianos at all. Another doesn’t work on Sunday. I contemplated trying to hire some college students. It soon became apparent that even more than the cost of the truck, our “free” piano was not going to be free! Amanda discovered a web site called hireahelper.com. It’s like a cross between Uber and Rocket Mortgage, but for moving things. You plug in what you want done, answer a few questions like how many rooms there are, how many staircases, etc. (there was a looming, separate check box for “Piano”), and then the site produces quotes from people willing to do the job. Neat! I picked one, and shortly received a confirmation from Hire A Helper. They would charge my credit card the day before the job, but would not pay the contracted workers/company until I texted Hire A Helper that the job was done and that I was satisfied. That was Thursday afternoon.
On Friday afternoon, two things happened. First, I realized I hadn’t heard from the company I had allegedly hired through Hire A Helper. No worries—Hire A Helper had sent me their phone number and urged me to contact them directly. So I did. I got voice mail. I did not worry, because if you’re successful movers (but not so successful you can afford office staff), you’re out moving things, right? I left a message. Then U-Haul called me. I did not recognize the number and let it go to voice mail. It was their Traffic department. I received both a voice mail and a text message informing me that there was no 15’ truck to be had on Sunday and that my reservation had been moved to Monday, Oct. 1 in Cortland. Um…no. I called them back and talked to a very nice lady who assured me that there were absolutely NO 15’ or 20’ trucks to be had that weekend in the entirety of New York State. There I sat, incredulous, with their web page listing about 300 different NYS locations listening to this woman tell me there were no trucks: “You have to be kidding me! I will be in Rochester, driving to Ithaca, and willing to go 50 miles out of my way in either direction to pick up a truck anywhere between those two places. There HAS to be one somewhere!” Nope. I was assured not.
<*click*> I hung up.
I wrote hate mail to U-Haul, which netted me a $25 credit toward my next rental (they optimistically assume there will be one).
Then I took a deep breath and called up U-Haul locations in Rochester. I picked Henrietta at random (that’s a place, not a person) and called the number. And got another very nice lady in…Phoenix, Arizona. Seriously? Oh well. I gave her my phone number and she looked me up. I need to say here that U-Haul’s information tracking seems to be top-notch. With just my phone number, every single agent I spoke with knew everything about me and my history with them in SECONDS. And I could tell the agents make notes to themselves in the system. I was asked to wait while she reviewed them, and she did not put me on hold as she did so. Very polite, very professional. She then assured me there most certainly ARE trucks available—several right there in Rochester, actually. I asked her three times to confirm what she was telling me, explaining the experience I had just had with Traffic. She said they were wrong and that there was a truck. She couldn’t tell me exactly where, because one-way rentals could originate anywhere, but that someone from a Rochester location would call me with a confirmation. Oh, and did I want to pick it up on Saturday instead of Sunday, since it’s a 2-day rental anyway? Hell yes! That way if it went wrong, I’d have time to figure out another solution. We hung up and within 20 minutes, Michaela at one of the Irondequoit locations (Rochester) called me and confirmed I had a truck and a pickup time. Sweet! Rob and I did indeed pick up the truck on Saturday at Noon.
Friday evening, and I still hadn’t heard from the movers. I called their number again—voice mail box FULL. No way to leave another message. That tells me there’s no one checking the voice mail. I have to assume that they aren’t checking their e-mail or any other communication and don’t even know they’re committed to my job. I send e-mail to Hire A Helper explaining the situation and go to bed. Saturday morning Hire A Helper calls back. Bad news: they couldn’t reach the contractor either. Good news: they gave the job to another company who updated their bid and came in a little cheaper! And THEY called me within 20 minutes to confirm the job. In the you-snooze,-you-lose category, the first company called me back while I was on the phone with Hire A Helper to confirm the job. I called them back and left a message in their now-empty voice mail box telling them to check their Hire A Helper system—the job has been cancelled.
On Sunday we left Rochester around Noon. Amanda took the car home, and I made for Ithaca—a beautiful, non-interstate drive across the middle of New York State! I arrived in Ithaca and finally met the owner of the piano. I was early and told her I was going to go find some lunch. The diner around the corner from her was closed and there was no parking anywhere near the State Diner (AppleFest, I guess), and so I went to Wegmans and took some to-go food. Then the moving guys called and said they were running behind and would be about 45 minutes late. Great! I didn’t have to rush back to the house. I ate my lunch and returned, at which point the piano’s owner and her mother invited me in for tea. We chatted a bit about our families and then the movers showed up. Three guys.
OK, so I guess I’ll be helping out on this. They had a wimpy little dolly with pneumatic tires that seemed way too small to me. One of them suggested I bring the truck around—maybe we could get the ramp on the 3rd or 4th step and make the job a little easier. I think it was a ploy to get me out of the way, because by the time I pulled around the block, they had already scooted the piano down to the sidewalk! Frontways. The steps were wide, so one of them put the dolly on the back of the piano and held on as the other two pull/pushed it down the steps. How those little tires didn’t pop I still don’t know!
I pulled the ramp out of the truck. They wrapped the piano with blankets (rented) and then two of them, one on each end, lifted it six inches while the third guy slid a trolley underneath. They strapped it to the trolley and pushed it up the ramp, removed it from the trolley, and strapped it into the truck. WELL. I stopped and checked twice between Ithaca and Cortland, and it hadn’t budged a bit! I continued on to Potsdam in confidence.
Monday morning, friends and co-workers Dan and Garnet came by on their way to work to help load the piano into the house. I was able to position the truck so that the ramp came right in the side door! We scooted it down and in without too much difficulty. Garnet followed me and picked me up at the local U-Haul place. During the week I had found a home for the now “old” piano. It had been bought for my Mom, so I called her to confirm that she didn’t consider it an “heirloom.” Her only concern was that it not go to a landfill—that it go to a good home. I found one! My friend and Rotary Club president Sam lit right up when I asked her if she knew anyone who wanted it. SHE and her boyfriend did! I write this on Tuesday, October 9th. She and Mike and one of her co-workers came by to help me move the new piano up two steps into the main part of the house and the old piano down the same steps and out the door into the trailer they brought. I went with them to get it unloaded and into their home where it will make them very happy!
In talking to the owner, I believe we may be only the second family to own this piano. [UPDATE: We ARE, in fact, the second family to own this piano! It was originally won by the former owner’s grandmother in a music contest.] For us it is an “instant heirloom,” if that’s not an oxymoron. Our next steps: clean and treat the cabinet, which is in phenomenal shape; and get it tuned!