Getting There.

Yesterday was a typical, routine summer day for me.

I woke up when the kids did, I made breakfast for them and coffee for me, we watched a few cartoons, and then we loaded up the wagon and went over to the park.

I brought a bag of sand toys and the little portable potty.

Oh yes, Daughter Number Two is toilet training.  In this regard, and in many others, she is not like her sister – she has her own unique way of doing things, she’s incredibly stubborn, and she has a fiery temper.

And no, before you ask, I’m not entirely sure where she might have picked up that particular combination of characteristics.

But it’s made toilet training a bit more challenging than the first time around, and there’s not much one can do about that sort of thing.

She’s getting there.

I’ll just have to keep being patient, keep doing some extra loads of laundry, and keep preparing for the inevitable.

For the record, I’m pretty good at one of those things – and I’m still trying to learn how to do the others as well as I should.

Was there a digression there?

Shocking.

Anyway, I wheeled the girls over the park, and we were greeted by some familiar faces – one of Daughter Number One’s classmates, his little sister, his Oma, and her dog. You might remember me writing about them before.

The kids played in the sand.  They built and destroyed sand castles.  They played on the swings, slides, and climbers.  They had a great time.

I sat off to the side talking to the Oma, listening to her observations about aging and taking care of her grandchildren, and trying to absorb as much of her incredible positivity as I could.

She told me about the sort of things that her friends constantly ask her.

Aren’t you exhausted at the end of the day?

Taking care of your grandkids for weeks at a time must be hard, how do you do it?

And she said she doesn’t find it tiring at all.

That blew me away.

I’m pretty bagged by the end of most days, but I must admit that I’ve heard this from a lot of grandparents.

Granted, the Oma doesn’t have to make dinner for the kids, she doesn’t have to clean up after them, and bath and bedtime duties are up to the parents – so it’s a smaller load than the normal, daily parental tasks, but only slightly smaller.

And, of course, she’s much older.

So there’s that too.

I got to wondering about how I could train myself to be more like her and these other grandparents.

I know it’s all about having a different mindset.

It’s not a secret, I know that’s what it is.

It’s just getting there . . .

When it was time for lunch, we parted ways.  Daughters One and Two took turns pulling the wagon home all by themselves – I may or may not have helped them by pushing on the canopy roof – and the Oma, her dog, and her grandkids wandered across to her house on the other side of the park.

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Steam.

Well, I think I’m back.

At least for now, anyway.

You’ll notice I parenthetically modified the title on the site (again).

Here’s hoping I don’t run out of steam too soon.

The last few days have gone by pretty quickly, and there’s not been much to report, but that’s probably a good thing.

When you work every day – and when you spend large chunks of time away from work doing work – you look forward to every weekend, but there’s something altogether different about a weekend that doesn’t end with going back to work.

The past weekend was a busy one – there was a fun end of school party for the kids on Friday, there was a birthday party to take Daughter Number One to on Saturday, there was the typical mandatory weekend grocery outing, there was a trip to Hamilton to visit the great-grandparents on Sunday, combined with the standard household chores – and I was plenty tired by the end of all of it, but when I went to bed on Sunday night and remembered I didn’t have to work on Monday, I felt that not-so-familiar feeling creeping in.

Calm.

Or as close to calm as I get, anyway.

On Sunday I spent some time at my parents’ place – they were up North for the weekend – and Daughters One and Two napped while my wife went to visit her mom.

I cleaned up the branches and debris on the lawn that had come down from the massive trees in the front yard during the previous night’s storm, and then I sat out on the porch with Mr. Alexander Keith.

That brown bottle (not can) of beer tasted pretty damn good at the end of all that, and it isn’t even a brand I typically enjoy.  I sat there drinking it with my feet up on the railing, looking around the old neighbourhood, and bathing in the warm nostalgia of the times I’d sat there doing reasonable facsimiles of the same thing.

I’m confident the neighbours could see the steam coming off of – and out of – my head.

Or at least that’s the way it felt to me.

It seemed more like the middle of October than the end of June on Sunday – thirteen degrees with steady, unrelenting rain, a grey foreboding sky, and I’d just raked up leaves and branches – but I enjoyed the quiet labour and the much-needed mental break from the madness of the last few weeks at work.

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Retired.

Hey there.

Remember me?

Yeah, it’s been a long time.

I didn’t mean to stop writing – not officially anyway – it just happened.  I wrote my last entry, and then didn’t feel like doing it anymore.  I wasn’t tired of writing, I wasn’t bored with it, I just didn’t want to do it.  And I knew if I didn’t want to do it, it wouldn’t be worth reading – if anything I do is ever worth reading.

So I stopped.

About the same time, two of the other blogs – this one and this one – I read whenever they were published were shutting down.

I thought about starting up again, but every time I was going to sit down and write, I did something else.  I watched hockey, I went for walks, I tried to read, I drank and played darts, but mostly I slept whenever I could.

Heading into the spring, I got sick of reading articles in the paper about my profession, and about how my colleagues and I were lazy, overpaid, greedy, irresponsible people hell-bent on bankrupting the province with our ludicrous demands.

Of course, I see things a slightly different way.

But whenever I sat in front of the screen, I found myself drifting to news sites smearing us with half-truths and outright lies.

And then I went on strike for three and a half weeks.

The strike was fine.  People bound together, the comradery was good, and we walked the line – usually in the baking sun, and thankfully only a few times in the spring rain – determined to improve our working conditions and the learning conditions of our students.

The school boards had other ideas, however, and they took us to the Ontario Labour Relations Board.  The OLRB decided our strike was unlawful – not illegal, but unlawful – and sent us back to work for two weeks so that we could ensure that our strike met the conditions they decided it needed to meet in order for us to continue.

Farcical.

In the meantime, the government decided enough was enough and legislated us back to work.  They declared that “the school year was in jeopardy”, which proved to be a complete fabrication because in the weeks that followed, the school boards cancelled exams, cancelled major projects, and determined that there was to be very little learning – and hardly any meaningful assessment of anything substantial – in the remaining weeks of the semester.

This was hardly surprising, to be truthful – nothing in education is anymore – but it was hard to accept.  I didn’t have a lot of drive for most of the rest of the school year, and I could feel morale plummeting in many corners of the building.

I’ve never lacked work ethic, but I found it incredibly hard to summon during the last four weeks.

In what I’m sure isn’t a completely unrelated coincidence, six of my colleagues retired at the end of this year.  I’ve worked with five of them for thirteen years. I liked all of them for different reasons.  I was close to most of them, and three are friends.

One is also a neighbour – a very good thing in a case like this – but I’m still troubled by the thought of him not being in the building next year.

Yesterday was the last day of work, and at the end of the day – after the luncheon, the retirement festivities, the speeches, the cake eating, the have a good summers, the drinks – I felt an emptiness I haven’t felt for a long time.

Like a zombie, or a husk, or a shell – pick any simile you want, I won’t find the right one anyway – and, despite the help of several carefully selected fine beers, and good company, I didn’t feel any better as the night went on.

I tried, but it just wasn’t happening.

I wasn’t physically tired.

I was completely emotionally drained.

In addition to the six retirees leaving the profession, two of the people in my office were unable to secure work with us for the fall, and another one chose to pursue a different job at a different school – and I’ll miss them too.

Two of my friends at work are extending their extended leaves for another year, and I’m not sure if they’re ever coming back – but I don’t blame them.  They’re onto other things now, and they’re able to do them now.  Good for them.

I’m trying not to dwell on the eleven people I won’t see at work next year, and I’m also trying not to think about the two or three others that will leave next year.

So here I am.

600 words in and half a glass – half-empty – of just-purchased single malt Highland Scotch later.

I’m hoping if I put this all down that there’ll be some sort of cathartic effect, and maybe there will be.

Who knows?

The school year will start up again in September as it always does, but this time there’ll be more job actions, another strike, and/or a shitty legislated contract – all of those things are weighing on my mind too.

It’s one thing to end a year that way, but it’s an entirely different thing to begin one with bile and blame and bitterness.

So what to do?

I work with great people.  I’m lucky.  I like most of them.  There are fewer of them now, and I’m trying to convince myself to focus on the bright side.  I do something I still enjoy a great deal – somehow, despite all of the increasingly nonsensical enraging bullshit that comes with the territory – and I usually have fun doing it.

Or at least I try to.

But there’s something about the old guard leaving that really bothers me.

I’ve written about this before.

This year definitely hit harder than most.  The retirements of so many excellent people, the unpreventable departures of a few more, and the unsettling unrest created by the government and the school boards – all of these things have taken a lot out of me.

I’m trying not to complain.  I know I do a lot of that around here.  I’m just staring it all in the face.

There’s two months of summer in front of me.

I know there’ll be a lot of good things to enjoy in the coming weeks.

I’m looking forward to spending time with my family and friends doing fun things.

I’m looking forward to reading, and I hope I’ll look forward to writing.

There’s a medicinal quality in all of that.

As for the future of one page (almost) every day, I think it too may be retired.

I don’t think I’ll be writing one page (almost) every day, and I’ll feel like a fraud for trying to maintain that falsehood, so I’ve been thinking about starting up something new.

But nothing’s certain at this point.

Thanks for reading and listening.

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Loyalty.

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Regular readers may remember that I wrote about the unscrupulous people at Crown Holdings earlier this year.  I’ve been keeping up with this story and the situation continues to get worse and worse.

United Steelworkers Union 9176 has been on strike for 18 months now.  Their employers have negotiated in bad faith from the start, and they have continued to make things difficult for these workers – the same workers that were recognized as being the most productive in North America only a year before the strike began.

How’s that for loyalty?

Disgusting.

Most of you know that I love good beer.  I drink plenty of it.  I’ve stopped buying anything sold in Crown cans.

How do you know if a can is a Crown can?

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As of right now, there are many breweries and soft-drink manufacturers in Canada that use Crown cans for their products.  I could list them all, but I’d rather list the ones who don’t and give them the advertising.  Muskoka, Lake of Bays, Mill Street, and Side Launch make a variety of beers – one for every possible taste – and they’ve been getting a lot of my business.

And anything in bottles is fair game.

It’s not a lot to ask, and I hope you’ll consider participating in this boycott for an important cause.

On Saturday, I went to the Crown plant in Toronto to participate in a solidarity picket that was organized by the Peel branch of ETFO.  A number of people from three different unions came out, and I was happy and proud to participate in a good cause.  Working people need to stick together.

As many of you know, my father was a steelworker, my uncle was a steelworker, and I was a steelworker, so my loyalty to this particular cause runs fairly deep.

My mother was a member of UFCW.

It’s fortunate that both of my parents were union members.

They’re retired now, living on decent pensions, and they were able to provide an excellent quality of life for my brother and I because, in large part, their unions enabled them to.  We’re all thankful for this, and I’d badly repay the labour movement if I didn’t take these fights seriously.

The world is heading down a dangerous path.  Corporations and governments seem to have more control than they ever have.  Labour unions are the only thing standing between them and the middle class.

So it’s not surprising that as union membership has declined, so has the middle class.

The folks at USW 9176 have been through a lot, and there are sad tales to tell.  These workers walk the picket line for over twenty hours a week and many of them work other jobs in order to support their families while they’re waiting for a new collective agreement.  This has been incredibly difficult for all of them.  As you can imagine, morale isn’t skyrocketing, and there’s very little hope for a new fair deal.

Yet still they walk in the cold and wait and pray for something to change.

And, as if things weren’t bad enough for these workers, this also happened to one of them.

You can read more about that tragic tale here, but you might not want to.  If you’re like me, it’s just too horrible to imagine.

In any case, I was out there with the USW workers for two hours on Saturday – dressed as warmly as I could, and on a comparatively warm day by this winter’s standards – and let me tell you, pulling consecutive eight hour shifts out there is not something anyone would enjoy.

But that’s what these guys do.

They were happy to have the support of other unions on Saturday, and I was definitely happy to be there with them.

When it comes to this strike, there isn’t much else to be happy about.

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The Sound of a Hockey Game.

It’s pretty much a guarantee that if I miss more than a day around here – weekends excepted – it’s because my daughters have been sick.

Alas, both of them were this week.

You’ve heard it all before – doctor visits, pharmacy trips, medicines, sleepless nights, coughs, sniffles, sneezes, snot, vomit – and I’ll spare you the grisly details.

I’m also hesitant to write about the current state of things on the home front because I’m hoping for a certain outcome and I’m just superstitious enough to believe that if I throw anything up on here, that . . . well . . . the same sort of thing might happen at home.

That being said, it’s on to something else for the time being.

When I was a kid, I had an old 14″ black and white television in my room.

My father originally bought it for us as a camping backup plan.  In other words, it would stay in our tent trailer, switched off, unless it poured down rain.  Then, and only then, would we be allowed to watch whatever we could find on the four channels we could tune into.

When it wasn’t being used as a camping backup plan, it was housed in my room.  This was a real treat for me.  My room didn’t get cable until many years later, but the old black and white had two antennas on it, and I could get anywhere from five to seven channels – depending on the weather and the season – and it was a handy little device.

I mostly used it to watch hockey games.  The CBC came in crystal clear, and I rarely missed Hockey Night in Canada.

Back then, the CBC prominently featured mid-week games as well, as did some of the other networks I was able to get.  The Leafs and Oilers were on a lot.  The Buffalo channel featured nearly all of the Sabres games, and I could usually get a Habs game on the French station.  When the Habs games came on, I’d listen to them in English on the radio and mute the television.

I can remember my father being surprised and proud of my ingenuity in that regard.

I’ve always loved the sound of a hockey game.

Bob Cole and Harry Neale did most of the games back then, and it’s still their voices I hear whenever there’s a game on – regardless of who’s doing it.

When the late games were on, I’d listen to them in bed on my Sony Walkman – knowing full well that my parents would make me turn the television off if they’d seen its glow through the cracks around the door – and I’d rarely make it to the end of those games.

But by the morning, something miraculous would always happen.

The sounds of a hockey game – the commentators, the crowd, the shots, the tape to tape passes, the puck bouncing off the boards, the players shouting at each other – there’s just something about that sound.

It hasn’t changed all that much over the years.

I’ve always loved listening to it.

If I’m just puttering around the house, or if I’m at my desk working, or if I’m outside doing a project – if there’s a game on, I want to hear it.  I might not pay attention to the score, and I won’t care who wins a lot of the time, but I’ll listen anyway.

And all the places I’ve ever listened to a hockey game wash over me in a steady stream of nostalgic reminiscences.

It’s comforting.

I think about the things I was doing then, I remember the people I was with, and I wonder what they’re doing now.

My mind wanders.

And sometimes I don’t care if it ever comes back.

Many times it doesn’t.

I’ll fall asleep thinking about something – hearing the sounds of the game only peripherally in the background as I have so many times before – and on those nights I always sleep well.

Dreaming.

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Even, Part Two.

After I finished breakfast, I jammed into the big Ford van along with everybody else.  We were driven out to a desolate section of railroad tracks by the waterfront.  It was in bad shape.  The switch needed adjusting and several broken down ties needed to be replaced.

Unfortunately, this was the sort of job that machinery wouldn’t help all that much with.

I worked with half the gang – the others were sent to another, easier job – but I didn’t complain.  The work was hard, but the pay was good, and I needed to save for tuition.

We worked out in the midsummer sun.

The rails and ties soaked it in and radiated heat.

By lunch, we’d made substantial, sweaty progress.  The switch was working again and we’d replaced most of the bad ties.

When we drove back out, we made quick work of finishing the rest of the job, drove to another part of the plant to replace a broken rail – a comparatively quick and easy job – and called it a day.

I managed to hitch a ride with a co-worker to the city bus hub at Gore Park, which meant cutting two busses out of my return trip.  The 35 College bus came right on time, and I arrived home only slightly later than I normally would have.

My father was waiting on the front porch.  He was sitting in his chair with his feet up on the railing.

I waved when I walked up the driveway – I wasn’t trying to be smug – and he nodded.

Up early this morning, huh?

Yeah.  Three busses to catch.

Right.  You make it in on time?

Yeah.  Caught a ride to the punch clock at the canteen.

Good.

I went around to the back door, took my shoes off, went downstairs, unpacked my stuff, then came back up to put my lunch containers in the dishwasher.

Mom was already making dinner.

Your father was going to drive you to work this morning, you know.

Yeah, I thought he might.

He was pretty upset when he found out you left.

Well, he told me I wasn’t using the car.

You’re right.

Yeah.  It doesn’t feel like it though.

I’m sure he feels worse.

You’re probably right.

I went out on the front porch with a Coke and sat down in another chair, leaving an empty one between us.

We didn’t say anything for a while.

It was starting to cool down.  A breeze went through the small leaves of the big locust tree on the front lawn.  The red maple across the street shivered.

Hard day?

Not an easy one, but not too bad.  Hot down there by the water where we worked today.

Yeah.  Taking the car out tonight?

Probably not.  I’ll be hitting the sack pretty early.

I bet.

My mother came out.

Dinner’s ready.

We went inside.

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Even, Part One.

At one time or another we all think about getting even for something.

When I was nineteen, I’d brought my parents’ car home late for the second time in the same week.  I can’t remember the details of where I was or what I was doing, but I was nineteen, so I was probably over at a friend’s place, or watching a band play – nothing too sinister or stupid, just fairly typical nineteen year-old stuff.

My mother didn’t seem too bothered by this, and since it was her car, I apologized and didn’t think much about it.  For some reason – and it could have been anything at all, really, but I still don’t know what it was – bringing the car home late for the second time that week was a heinous act of carelessness in the eyes of my father.

The all-too-often violent shouting match ensued.

I’ll spare you the details.

It wasn’t pleasant, and I can’t remember exactly what I said anyway, but it wasn’t very considerate or thoughtful.  It was, after all, a car he owned and paid for.

At the end of this heated exchange, I walked away mumbling something while he told me – shouting down the stairs – that I wouldn’t be using the car to go to work the next day.

This was a problem.

I had to be at the inner yard of Stelco – the steel mill I was working at that summer – to punch in at 6:00 in the morning.

I knew he was doing this to teach me a lesson about the importance of punctuality and courteousness, but I also suspected – correctly, as it turns out – that he was going to wake me up and drive me to work after he’d had some time to simmer down.

Situated on the shore of Hamilton Harbour, the steel mill was pretty much the farthest geographical point – within the city limits – from my parents’ home on the West Mountain.

I’d need to take three busses to get there, but I’d show him.

I tied my heavy leather steel-toed work boots to my knapsack, put my lunch for the next day in the bar fridge in the room beside my bedroom in the basement, and hit the sack early.

Since I’d stared at the ceiling for most of the night, I easily shut the alarm off before 4:00 when it was supposed to go off. I got dressed silently, skipped my shower, crawled up the back stairs, opened the deadbolt lock while I held my jacket over it, and slowly pulled the door behind me – using only the flimsy, much quieter lock on the doorknob to secure it.

Five minutes later I was at the bus stop.

I caught the first bus shortly after I got there, and made my way downtown.  It took about twenty minutes, and I knew I’d have to run across the park to make my transfer, but I did, and twenty-five minutes later I made my second transfer.

By 5:15, I’d arrived at the gate with a substantial walk still ahead of me.  I had to get across the huge exterior parking lot, cut through most of the plant, and make it all the way to the inner yard where my particular punch clock was.

Halfway through my walk, I made a stop at the canteen to grab a big breakfast – three greasy sunny side up eggs, four hunks of dark rye toast smothered in butter, and a massive side order of home fries all jammed into a large Styrofoam takeout container – and I managed to fortuitously hitch a ride with a co-worker to the punch clock.

I clocked in with plenty of time to spare, walked over to the tool house, and ate my breakfast at the small wooden table.

To be continued . . .

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