Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Part 3 ~ Fake Outrage


In Part 3 of my "new country" screed, let's discuss fake outrage and grasping for relevancy.

Part 1 was an excruciating listen and on-the-spot review of July's top ten tracks.

Part 2 discussed the sad cookie cutter state of today's music.

This installment returns me to artists I'm at least a bit familiar with, albeit they've changed, by God! Just watch! They're woke!

The Dixie Chicks are back after a fourteen year recording drought. There was a time, okay a really brief time, when the group formerly known as The Dixie Chicks were hot. That time was 1998 to 1999 and comprised two albums, Wide Open Spaces and Fly. They also released Home in 2002, but the album produced no hits, nor did Taking The Long Way, which dropped in 2006.

Thus, two hit LP's.

2006 was approximately the time that Natalie Maines shot off her mouth about the president, which is neither here nor there (and seems quaint in retrospect). The group milked the ensuing publicity, but the fact was, by that time they were already living off seven-year-old hits and no one really cared.

Fourteen years later, the Dixie Chicks are back with a shortened name; and no offense, but they're really no longer "chicks". The word Dixie obviously is now forbidden. Always adept at garnering press, they've been bestowed with a glowing New York Times article. And they're still nursing grievances, new and ancient.

Let's face it; other artists from their era aren't getting written up in The Times. I haven't caught a feature about Diamond Rio or Lee Ann Womack. No, The Dixie Chicks are news because they're "sassy". Or at least Natalie is. We don't really hear much from Martie and Emily.

Natalie is what we benevolently call a drama queen. It seems she's recently divorced and has some scores to settle. And this is what the single "Gaslighter" is apparently about. I surfed on over to YouTube to check out the track. It's not terrible. Not great, but it doesn't reek, either. The harmonies by the unspoken other members of the group help...a lot.

Unfortunately, what stands out for me is Natalie's severe butch haircut. I'm sure that's another statement, but all it states for me is Angela Kinsey from The Office. And here's a clue, New York Times and Dixie Chicks: women have other emotions beside "defiant". It must be draining to live one's life in a perpetual state of fury.

In other "woke" news, Lady Antebellum has changed their name to "Lady A". Firstly, I don't know how the two guys in the band feel about being referred to as ladies, but I guess they must be okay with it after all these years. Second, they might have wanted to conduct a Google search to find out if anyone else was using the moniker "Lady A". Sure enough there was, and she wants ten million dollars in compensation (a Google search, by the way, costs zero dollars). Now the band Lady Antebellum A is suing the original Lady A (Anita White, who, by the way, is African-American) because the band trademarked the name in 2011 but never used it. Good job, woke musicians! You've endeared yourselves to countless downtrodden minorities!

All I know about Lady Antebellum A is that their biggest, and basically only,  hit was a rip-off of an Alan Parsons Project single, Eye In The Sky.

At least Lady Antebellum A ripped off a white artist that time.

Oh, what a tangled web we weave....

So, essentially Lady Antebellum A are neither ladies nor original. And they hate African-Americans. Great job! Now if Hillary Scott dons a severe hairdo, she'll have completed the trifecta.

Thanks for your wokeness, ladies (and token males).

I prefer not to thrust my finger to the winds.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Part II ~ Generic Country

My recent dive into Today's Country Hits was at once enlightening and depressing. Discounting the revelation that the songs are bad (bad!), the singers are utterly forgetful.

Music (and artists) are machine-molded. Some cigar-chomping industrial mogul is getting richer by the day churning out these plastic widgets. "Son, it's not about perpetuity; it's all disposable, boy; and the rubes'll keep coming back for more! Hardy-har-har! (cough)"

Granted, I haven't listened to today's country enough to be able to distinguish one bland artist from another, but even if I did, could I? Two days ago I sampled the current top ten tracks and today I would disgracefully bomb the pop quiz. 

I'm a crafter, which means I follow a pattern; but even I switch things up now and then. I like to put my own stamp on my creations. Today's acts, however, seem content following the dots ~ fake southern twang in just the right places, pickup trucks in verse one; one, count 'em, one fiddle riff heavily enveloped by EDM beats.

These guys are not artists; they're products.

I like listening to Willie's Roadhouse on SiriusXM. I'm not completely on board with all the tracks. Some are even before my ancient times; but I certainly know the artists when I hear them; like 'em or loathe 'em. Few of the singers featured on the channel can be confused with someone else. The instant I hear Tanya, Hank, Faron, Webb, Paycheck, Price, Buck, MERLE, even Jack Greene and Bill Anderson, I know who's singing. And each of them had their individual niche. One can't compare a Haggard song to a Ray Price track.  I can even distinguish a Nashville Sound (Atkins) recording from a Bakersfield production (Nelson).

Singers were who they were and each was his own man (or woman).

The lure of country was discovering a new artist who was different or an intriguing sound. Even in the eighties, individualism reigned: Strait, Travis, Yoakam, The Judds, Black. Today's goal seems to be "sound like everybody else". This is not a prescription for legend status. But maybe that's not the goal. "Who wants to be a legend? I want my money now!"

You want a song you can dance to, even in a roadside honky tonk that you ducked inside to get out of the rain?

Good luck, millennial hipsters. Nobody's ever gonna punch your songs up on the juke box.

Friday, July 10, 2020

The Country Codger Samples Today's Hits

If you know me, you know that I am completely unfamiliar with today's country music. I have one music website that I scour every week or so for intriguing articles, but I honestly don't know anyone being written about. Thus I don't know if the columns are spot-on or sour grapes. I do know that some of the gushing albums reviews leave me flummoxed.

So, as one swallows nauseating medicine that is nevertheless necessary, I felt it was my duty to sample a bit of today's country music, if for no other reason than to affirm or nullify my preconceived judgments.

Naturally, not having a clue as to what exactly is popular, I searched out the recent country charts and found a top forty list. Starting with number one, I set out to find YouTube videos of the songs.

Here, forthwith, are my unvarnished critiques of the top singles, as I hear them for the first time:

1. One Margarita - Luke Bryan

A mediocre singer with a generic voice. The melody is really difficult to latch onto, perhaps because of the erratic beat. I actually find this song very annoying, but I guess I could see kids dancing to it. (1 out of 10 stars)

2. Hard To Forget - Sam Hunt

What's with the beats on these songs? It started out well with a sample of Webb Pierce's "There Stands The Glass", but degenerated rapidly. Does this Sam Hunt perform onstage with only a drum machine? (2 out of 10 stars, only because it actually has a chorus of sorts, unlike the first song.)

3. Bluebird - Miranda Lambert

She does this thing that all current female artists do -- utters lyrics in short bursts, ostensibly because she can't hold a note for longer than one second. This is an utterly forgettable track. I would never buy it, because listening more than once would make my temples throb. (2 out of 10 stars)

4.  Be A Light - Thomas Rhett and Friends

I guess this is one of those pandering, anthemic "woke" songs. I hate those. The singer is very nasally; the only good singer I know who can pull off "nasal" is Dwight. Lots of la-la-la's in this song. Not hearing the "friends", but I'm sure they're there, low in the mix. I wouldn't care if I never heard this track again. (2 out of 10 stars)

5. Die From A Broken Heart - Maddie and Tae

Reminiscent of older tracks by female groups, this duo can sing, although the video only features one of them singing (I'm guessing Maddie because she has first billing). It's good as a soap opera vignette, but doesn't exactly evoke any emotions in me. (5 out of 10 stars, due to actual singing ability)

6. I Love My Country - Florida Georgia Line

I don't know what to make of this track. It's probably the countriest of the so-called country songs. That doesn't mean it's good. I have a feeling the duo was trying to emulate "Chattahoochee", only with a far inferior product. I've read very negative reviews of this group, but considering the competition (and that's a low bar), they're not the devil's handiwork. (5 out of 10 stars)

7. Done - Chris Janson

On the plus side, this track is structured like an actual song. I don't, however, understand the tendency of all these artists to affect an exaggerated southern accent. This song is what we used to refer to as pop, as in "Yacht Rock Radio", only not memorable in any way. (4 out of 10 stars)

8. Nobody But You - Blake Shelton with Gwen Stefani

 I don't know what this is. Blake can sing, but this? It's noisy and irritating. (2 out of 10 stars)

9. Got What I Got - Jason Aldean

Not a good singer, but he does have a presence. The song would benefit from a decent beat. As for the track itself, sorry; boring (2 out of 10 stars)

10. Stick That In Your Country Song - Eric Church

To be honest, I'm exhausted by this point, but I wanted to get through ten tracks. This actually hit the top ten? This might be the worst of all I've heard, and it's hardly country. (.01 of 10 stars)

By accident, I caught part of a video by someone named Luke Combs, and it actually sounded country. This guy could have a future.

Painful as this experiment was, I'm glad I suffered through it. Now I know. My guess is that in ten years or so, somebody will lead the exodus out of pukedom and return country to actual music. Maybe it'll be this Luke Combs guy.

Now when I read Saving Country, I'll be in the know.

But honestly, this was excruciatingly painful.

Monday, July 6, 2020

Charlie Daniels

I confess, in 1980 I had no idea who the Charlie Daniels Band was. I visited the movie theater with my mom to see "Urban Cowboy" because we both liked country music and John Travolta. I also didn't know who Joe Walsh was and barely knew Jimmy Buffet. I unfortunately was familiar with Kenny Rogers and fortunately with Boz Scaggs. The movie itself was kind of a dud -- I mostly remember that Scott Glenn was good as a bad guy. And that the new song featured in the flick, "Lookin' For Love", pretty much reeked.

The high point, musically, was this:

My older sister was enamored with this song. I essentially appreciated the nimble fiddling. I've never been a fan of southern country rock, but once Charlie Daniels was on my radar, I began to pay attention. For a time, this song was a favorite:

I liked this one, too:

For a long while I had a wrong perception of Charlie Daniels. I wasn't sure what to make of him -- his music was kind of ragged; his band certainly was. I preferred my country acts to dress in Nudie suits. I thought he was one of those radicals with kooky views. Charlie began as a session player, featured on recordings by Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, even Ringo. For sure, Charlie held divergent views in his eighty-three years on earth, but I really got to know him through his tweets. Politically, he and I, it turned out, were simpatico.

I didn't know much about Charlie, but what I knew, I liked. Charlie Daniels was a decent, country (as in USA) loving man. I'm gonna miss his voice.

Good job, Charlie Daniels. For a southern rock (country) dude, you proved yourself proud.

My Latest Masterpieces

My crafting obsession continues. Sure, I'm retired, but that doesn't mean I'm idle. Few hours go by without finding me with a needle in my hand.

Why? Why not? TV is so much more tolerable when one is occupied with something that actually lasts. 

My first project back, after a twenty-year layoff, was large -- too large. I'm now into miniatures. I want something that is petite and doesn't take three months to bear fruit. Plus, where am I going to display all this stuff? That's always the conundrum. Counted cross-stitch is enjoyable for the doing; not so much for the inevitable framing and finding an appropriate hanging spot. And frankly, frames are expensive. And why do all of these kits come in odd sizes? Per chance the designers have a side deal with picture frame manufacturers. I'm on a fixed income now; I'm going to go with pics that come complete with their own frames (hoops) and stick the finished products somewhere in a bare corner. 

However, my second project was nine by twelve inches, and I'm rather enamored with it:

This is my third:

This one sits upon a shelf, because it's tiny.

Stay tuned. More teeny tiny pictures to come.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Why I Am A Country Fan

Like all children of the sixties, I lapped up all the music on top forty radio. I was in love with The Beatles and oh so many other pop acts ~ The Beach Boys, The Righteous Brothers, The Dave Clark Five, to name but a few. Had my parents not uprooted me when I was eleven, I may have continued on my merry pop ways, although music was changing by 1966-1967; becoming less fun and more angry. 

As the new kid in a new town and an excruciatingly shy kid to boot, transitioning to my new life was agonizing. I had no friends and I didn't even know who the best friends to cultivate were. I rode the city bus every school day from home to a worn hotel, then hoofed it the remaining three blocks to my turn-of-the-century schoolhouse. Everything in my new town smelled old. We'd moved in the middle of December, so my panorama was dirty snowbanks.and grey gloom.

Back home I was a cool kid. I was a leader; I could be counted on to play a major role in any and every school pageant . I'd had the same school friends since first or second grade. Here I was nobody. I kept my head down and dreaded walking through my sixth grade classroom door, sure everyone was staring at me. I could only remember three or four classmates' names, though it rarely mattered. At recess. I hugged the brick wall until the bell rang. I tried to scheme a way to move back home, but all my plans had kinks. We'd sold our house. Who would I live with? Would my best friend Cathy's mom let me move in? Would my parents allow it? Of course not. I hated my parents for putting me through this. And they were so nonchalant about it all.

I inhabited a teeny-tiny bedroom that I shared with my little brother and sister ~ they cocooned in the bottom bunk while I claimed the top. The narrow torture chamber had recessed shelves behind a walnut door, and I kept my battery-powered turntable on one of them, along with my paltry collection of 45's. When the little kids were out and about, I played records or listened to AM radio while scribbling my homework. Perhaps the worst part of my new existence was the suffocation. On the farm, I'd inhabited a capacious pink bedroom on the second floor. The breeze wafting through the chiffon curtains was exhilarating. My world was vast. Here five people hunkered, piled atop each other in near-windowless rooms.

It may have been January or February when I exchanged a smirk in Miss Haas' classroom with a girl whose name I didn't know. One of the boys had uttered a ridiculous response to a question. That smirk commenced a six-year best friendship. It's funny how friendships happen. I think you just know. Her name was Alice and she turned out to be a kind, down-to-earth person with a wicked sense of humor.

Suddenly my torturous existence transformed into a new-friend lifeline.

Inevitably our talks turned to music. "I like country music", she said. "I'm in a band with my brother and my uncle."

I wracked my brain for country music references. Country wasn't alien to me ~ it was my parents' music of choice and I'd spent most of fourth grade living one closed door away from a country bar with a country jukebox. I knew who Buck Owens and Ray Price were, and Roger Miller. I'd heard a twangy girl named Loretta on the Wurlitzer. I also knew Bobby Bare.

Turns out a true country fan was required to have a much more in-depth acquaintance with hillbilly. I was ready to take the leap. "Snoopy Versus The Red Baron" wasn't cutting it for me anyway. Frankly, some of the artists my new friend introduced me to were too cheesy, even for me. At twelve I could appreciate George Jones' music, but not venerate him. In Alice's defense, she had to rely on her parents' albums, which were from a bygone era ~ Carl Butler and Pearl, Grandpa Jones, Porter Wagoner. I gleaned as much knowledge as i could from those LP's, and Alice and I discovered a new girl singer together ~ Porter's new duet partner; a tiny bee-hived blonde named Dolly Parton.

I went home and tuned my FM dial to the country station. Alas, it only played deep tracks by Willie Nelson and Glen Campbell. In 1967 I hated them both. This was not the country music I was supposed to be learning!

In short order, Alice and I heard some new singers on AM radio ~ Waylon Jennings, Charley Pride...and Merle Haggard. Once I heard Merle, I was a goner. Suddenly everything fit. All the corny tracks I'd sat through, cross-legged in front of Alice's parents' hi-fi made sense. I was no old-time music girl. I was a soon-to-be teen and my music needed to match my surging hormones.

It took no time at all for me to purchase that twenty-five-dollar red acoustic guitar hanging in Dahmer Music's window. I wanted ~ needed ~ to play along with Merle Haggard songs.

Alice came over every Saturday for a few weeks to teach me how to chord. I learned how to change broken strings and how to tune. Eventually I stopped dropping my pick inside the soundhole and having to turn my guitar upside down and shake it out.  I immediately learned about burning fingers. My thirst for guitar-playing knowledge stretched as far as learning the chords I needed in order to strum along with my favorite hits of the day -- primarily A, E, D, G, C, B flat, and the sevenths.I stumbled into some minor chords -- but country songs didn't use minors.

The first country LP's I bought were:

Yes, I knew Waylon Jennings before he was Waylon Jennings.

Once I adopted country music, I embraced it with my whole heart. The truth is, it wasn't just peer, or best friend, pressure. I am able to go along...for a while...if going along assuages someone else's feelings; but eventually I'm going to alight on what I like and stay there.No, there was something about country that felt comfortable; something that was lacking in sixties pop hits. Soul; truth. A weeping steel guitar riff pierced my gut; twin fiddles made me cry with joy. The thumping bass guitar was a pulsing heartbeat. Even in sadness, country had so much joy...the joy of pouring out one's guts.

I met country at an opportune time. The mid-to-late sixties was rife with promise. Merle, Waylon, Tammy Wynette, Lynn Anderson, Faron Young, Connie Smith, David Houston, even Buck Owens and Ray Price. Had country and I been introduced a mere ten years later, I would have laughed disdainfully and quickly abandoned it. As it was, I became a country snob. I knew what was good and what was pap, and I took great offense at the pap. I resented interlopers. Fifties country artists weren't my cup of tea, but I shared their appall when someone like John Denver came along and started winning country awards. This pipsqueak folk singer? I was so adamant in my principles I refused to acknowledge I actually liked "Let Me Be There" by Olivia Newton-John. Sure, there were country elements to the tune, but a pop singer? Sorry.

My all-time favorite moment from the CMA Awards:

Like many things I've obsessed over in my life, in my teens I became rabid. I stayed up late just to tune into clear channel, real country stations like WHO in Des Moines, with overnight DJ Mike Hoyer, who actually, around 2 a.m., played complete new albums. It was a rare night when WSM in Nashville pierced the static, but sometimes I actually had the opportunity to listen to Ralph Emery, who'd have artists like Marty Robbins perform live in the studio. More often I got to listen to Bill Mack on WBAP in Fort Worth, whose preferences were stone country, a revelation for me.The seminal country disc jockeys were Mike Hoyer, Ralph Emery, and Bill Mack ~ when DJ's actually mattered.

Though Alice and I were essentially conjoined twins, I had my own musical preferences and she had hers. We agreed most of the time. Rarely did one of us fall in love with a song when the other didn't like it. True country has a genetic code that those who share it feel in their bones.

I don't think she was ever crazy for Faron Young, but I was. Some voices resonate, and his did with me. I usually cringe when I watch his live performances ~ Faron was a recording artist foremost; his live shtick was too hammy for me. This one is pretty good, though:

For years and years when someone asked me who my favorite country singer was, the answer was Faron Young. I remember traveling with my family somewhere when I was sixteen. We decamped in a motel and I knew that Faron was going to appear on Hee Haw that night.. My ultimate quest was to get that black and white rabbit-eared TV tuned to CBS in time to watch him.

Flipping through my LP's from those years (alas, some of them have been lost), my tastes ran from lots and lots of Connie Smith and Lynn Anderson, practically every album Merle Haggard released, Faron (of course), The Statlers, reams of Porter and Dolly, Tanya Tucker, Johnny Rodriguez, Mel Street, David Houston, Tammy Wynette, Conway and Loretta, Mel Tillis, Barbara Mandrell. Buck Owens and Susan Raye, Bobby Bare, Johnny Paycheck. Even one-offs like Kenny Price, LaWanda Lindsey, and Tom T. Hall.

By the time Alice and I graduated from high school, along with the predetermined rock songs that blasted out of her car radio, we sang along with:

I wasn't always wedded to the classic country sound, but that's what stirred my soul. 

Finding it, however, became more difficult for me as country began to change.

It wasn't as if country went to hell just like that as the seventies rolled around. Some classic acts emerged mid-decade:  Ronnie Milsap, Gary Stewart, The Oak Ridge Boys, Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers, Eddie Rabbitt,  GENE WATSON. And a girl singer who tipped country on its ass. Her name was Emmylou.

I still purchased mainly singles, and there were some classics scattered here and there: "Rose Colored Glasses" by John Conlee; "Heaven's Just A Sin Away" by The Kendalls; "Party Time" from TG Sheppard; most any Johnny Rodriguez release.

The trouble with the seventies was that so much bad country dominated the airwaves. Producers chased the latest fad and created monsters like Sylvia and Billy "Crash" Craddock. 

Ronnie Milsap and Gary Stewart knew what country was about, but their battle was ultimately lost in the record companies' drive to get "acceptable" artists on The Midnight Special.

It hurt my heart to abandon country, but I was driven to it. I'd lost Alice as a friend sometime in the mid-seventies. We mutually, albeit unspokenly realized our life paths had diverged. We simply stopped pretending. I don't know what her life became, but mine morphed into a a hard-fought adult; and most importantly, a mom. Music never lost its sheen for me, but it assumed a lesser importance. I was supremely poor and could only afford an occasional LP. Had it not been for a hand-me-down console stereo, music would have only streamed from a battery-powered radio or my car. 

Thanks to network television, I still knew what was going on in country and it wasn't pretty. Urban Cowboy wasn't even that good of a movie, much less the fad it spawned. It was soon after that Kenny Rogers appeared and dominated country with his Lionel Ritchie-penned tunes. I did not regret my decision to turn away. 

I've recounted this tale before, but it bears repeating. Visiting my parents on a Friday night, I found that instead of their usual Friday fare of JR Ewing, they'd popped in a VCR tape of some white-hatted cowboy singer. "Who's this?" I asked derisively. Mom answered George somebody. I was less than impressed. Granted, this guy had all the right instruments in his band, but I didn't know any of the songs. What George Whoever did, however, was pique my interest in checking out this "new" country. It didn't happen immediately. On a lazy Saturday I stopped in at Musicland and picked up a couple of cassettes. As I ritually circled my house with a dust rag, I listened.

This was the first tape I bought:

This was the second:

I didn't even know why I'd picked these two. I knew nothing about current country. But I played those tapes over and over.

My conversion was gradual. As I waited outside the elementary school for classes to dismiss, instead of Y93, I took the leap and twirled the dial to the local country station. I knew none of the names of the artists. So I just listened.

There was this one guy with a nasally voice and a kick-ass band ~ I didn't know who he was, but I liked his songs. Some sisters, Forrester, I think the DJ said. And some other family group; Judds maybe? That George guy kept popping up, too. The local station played him a lot.

This new country was like the old country, except the instruments were upfront and the bass thumped louder. And damn, the songs actually said something! I was suddenly hooked. I wasn't giving up my MTV, but I was suddenly home.

I discovered new artists named Randy, Dwight, Steve, Wynonna and Naomi, Clint, Alan, Patty, Rodney, Earl Thomas, Highway 101. My musical existence became a cornucopia of revelations. I chastised myself for giving up so easily. But somehow I knew that had I not surrendered I wouldn't have unearthed this wonder. While I was gorging on Huey Lewis and The News, country had sprouted and bloomed.

And this guy (the one with the nasally voice) stands alone:

As a country fan since the nineteen sixties; as someone who'd simply given up, I was now granted my due. I'd waited the requisite amount of years and my award at last arrived. It was as if I had to give up in order for country to catch a clue. 

And that George guy? I now possess twenty-three albums and a boxed set. Mom and Dad were onto something.

As the eighties rolled into the nineties, the delicacies continued to slam the airwaves. Patty, Vince, Joe Diffie, Kathy Mattea, Pam Tillis, Mary Chapin, Marty Stuart, Tracy Lawrence, Diamond Rio, Brooks and Dunn, Travis Tritt, MARK CHESNUTT, Restless Heart. 

Before even the halfway mark, however, country began to slide downhill. The songwriting became less crisp. Established stars were calling it in. I hung on until 1999; then I stopped listening forever, never to return. This time I meant it. 

I don't know what "country" is like now, but from the bits I've heard, it's no longer country. That's okay. I had forty years, with some stops in between. I don't need new music; I've got more old music than I could listen to for the rest of my life. 

(And that's after filtering out the ones I will never again listen to.)

It's a funny thing about music: I've held onto my albums from the sixties, even though I'll probably never play them again, but when I pick one up, I'm holding my history in my hands. Seeing my maiden name scribbled on the back reminds me of the person I was then and the emotions I experienced lo those eons ago. Music is so impersonal now. Even my CD's don't evince the raw emotion that an LP does. 

It's impossible to sum up my life with country. So much of it is tied to where I was, who I was, where I was going.

A glimpse of my musical heart (draw your own conclusions) can be found here:

The two songs I remember hearing for the very first time on the radio and swooning over:

It's been a great run. I'm not sorry for any of it.

Friday, June 19, 2020


My first real job was around age 15 or 16. I was not a very ambitious teen. Sure, I'd worked before that, but only fitfully -- running the cash register, answering the switchboard, and checking in guests at my parents' motel when circumstances demanded, if one can call that work. I didn't get paid to do that, but again, my parents did feed me, so I guess it was a fair trade-off. 

By the time it sunk in that I really, really needed money of my own, my mom reluctantly hired me as a motel maid, for seventy-five cents an hour in the summers and in March during the state basketball tournament. Shamefully, I didn't actually know how to clean. The maids worked in teams, and an older woman named Martha had the sad task of training me in. Training in the boss's daughter, a girl she had no option of firing, was no doubt a delight. Truth be told, she could have told my mom I was hopeless and Mom would have fired me. Mom was a no-nonsense woman. The first time Martha and I made up a bed together, she scornfully came around from her side and showed me how to form a hospital corner. I was mortified, and have never, ever forgotten how to do it.

Cleaning rooms was hard physical labor, and I was a teenager! At Martha's age, I would have quit after scrubbing my first room. The motel had 52 rooms. What that grubby job taught me was to dig in and just do it. I can't numerate the number of toilets I swished or the multitude of beds I stripped and neatly remade. Nor the countless steps I climbed with a heavy Kirby vacuum in hand. Once all 52 rooms were done, it was time to wash, dry and fold towels, inside a suffocating garage when the outside temperature was 88 degrees and the inside was about 99. But eventually I earned enough money to buy school clothes and record albums, and at last a decent stereo. Like all jobs, what seemed impossible at first ultimately became old hat. Martha even told my mom I was a good worker; the ultimate compliment.

I was enrolled in the clerical program in high school, after a doomed attempt at "college prep". Math and science were my downfall. If I'd cared enough, I could have squeaked by in algebra and physics, but I rarely cared about any of my classes, even the easy ones. Typing was something I was good at, and shorthand was simple to master. My goal was to secure a state job as a clerk-typist. State government jobs were plentiful and I lived right across the river from the capitol building. Thus my first non-parental job was working for the State Health Department, Division of Vital Statistics. I basically filed and sometimes typed up facsimiles of birth certificates for my director to emboss with her official stamp. Apparently I was a proficient filer, because I was approached to become part of a new project -- committing all the birth, death, and divorce records to a newfangled thing called microfilm.Scintillating work! All in all, my government employment lasted about a year, before personal conflicts convinced me to crawl back to my parents and guilt them into giving me a job, this time in the motel office - early mornings.

In late 1976 I became a full-time mom, which lasted for three years, until my dwindling bank account informed me that I needed to find a job. A new catalog store was being erected a couple blocks from my home, and as I would drive past, I'd mutter, "I'm going to work there". And I did. I'd never worked in retail, but I did know how to run a cash register, which cinched the deal. I liked the job, but I almost always found something to like in any job I held. Retail paid only a pittance, yet we employees still had to endure yearly evaluations. During mine, my supervisor chastised me for not creating an advertising campaign -- I hadn't even known that was an  expectation! So I trundled down to a travel agent's kiosk and convinced them to hand over a travel poster, from which I devised a placard to place in the luggage section. I think it read, "for your flights of fancy". My boss argued that it should be "flights of fantasy", at which point I realized she was an idiot.

Scouring the want ads in the local newspaper, I found an opening for a "communications clerk" at the local hospital. I definitely knew about clerking. The RN manager who interviewed me, Laurel Sullivan, was kind and not an imbecile and she offered me the job. I stayed at St. A's for eight years. I loved it. I can't exactly pinpoint why, but it may have been because I learned so much that I'd never in my life known. I worked on Third Floor - Medical -  with the RN's and LPN's. I was the communications center of the floor -- scheduling surgeries and ordering labs and special meals. I became certified in CPR and I had to call a Code Blue once, which scared me to death. Code Grey meant tornado watch; Code Black was a tornado warning, when we'd have to wheel all the patients out into the hallways in their beds. I worked second shift, so in the summers greys and blacks were prevalent. I would have stayed at St. A's forever, but a hectic night's dust-up bruised my feelings and it was time to move on.

I transferred downstairs to the Admissions Department, but it was so dank and quiet, I couldn't endure it. I lasted a couple weeks and realized this was all wrong. The only job I could locate in the Tribune was a receptionist position at the Teachers' Retirement Fund. This turned out to be almost the most boring job I ever had.I daily worked the four longest hours of my life, distributing mail in the mornings and occasionally typing a letter on my IBM Selectric. Nobody actually spoke to me; I was the invisible front desk automaton. When I finally found a replacement position and announced my resignation, the woman who'd hired me said she was so satisfied with my performance she was about to offer me a full-time job. Kind of the wrong time to finally let me know.

The job I traded that in for was surreal. Mrs. Fortman ran a medical transcriptionist concern -- her most reliable customer was most likely her husband, Doctor Fortman, a grizzled octogenarian whom we'd all hated when he showed up at St. A's, stumbling around, slurring dictation into one of the nurse station telephones. All the eighty-year-old patients worshiped him.

Mrs. Fortman had promised me a transcriptionist job, but that dang machine just didn't show up in shipping. She had no idea why it didn't show up, but didn't seem concerned. She already had two transcriptionists ensconced in separate bare one-window rooms, huddled behind giant boxy green screens. I was to become the third. A couple months went by and still "the machine" wasn't delivered. Meantime I came into work each day and filed envelopes into mail slots and hovered about until lunch time; drove to McDonald's drive-thru and got a hamburger and fries and returned to hover about until quitting time.

Though I'd only been employed for two months, the big corporate blowout in Kansas City was imminent, and I and my two cohorts, the ones with "machines" were invited.I'd spoken a bit with each of them, and they couldn't have been more different. One was a brassy blonde who had an overflowing list of grievances; the other was meek, plain; a go-along-to-get-along prairie maid. The three of us boarded the plane and two of us proceeded to get sloppily sloshed. The blonde planned to corner the CEO of the company at the party and spill her guts. I was frustrated and had nothing to lose, so I agreed to ride shotgun. All went as planned -- we consumed sirloins and fat baked potatoes and more liquor and I found myself in a quiet room nodding along as Brassy vomited out her complaints. I remember the man nodding, but nothing else. Then the three of us, Brassy, Prissy, and me; convened to the hotel bar and poured down more booze. 

Returning to work the following Monday, each of us got a personal audience with Mrs. Fortman. I remember piping, you promised me a machine! and Mrs. Fortman replying, "We're still waiting for the shipping!" Then she asked me if I wanted to continue my employment and I said, "No, I guess not." And that was that.

Thus continued the slog of awful jobs. 

I went home and scoured the newspaper once again. I eventually zeroed in on an ad for a farm records secretary. I should clarify that the clerical ads at any given time in my small town never exceeded three.The job was located essentially in the country, several winding miles down the interstate highway, near an isolated inn and sagebrush. Nevertheless, I meandered out for an interview, which turned out to be awkward, as the hiring manager, Nancy, was supremely self-conscious and insular. That was supposed to be my role! The two of us, naturally, did not make a connection; yet, she called later that day and offered me the job. 

The girl who trained me in, Linda, was unnecessarily snotty. I asked what felt like pertinent questions and she haughtily flicked me off. Linda wasn't going anywhere; she'd been promoted, so I'd have to work with her every day; sense her peering over my shoulder throughout my eight hours, quick to chastise me for rookie mistakes. I hated her. The job wasn't an algebraic equation -- I filed a bit and typed letters and tried to interpret Nancy's Oklahoma accent on dictation tapes, rewinding and replaying; sometimes giving up and simply typing ellipses so she would have to fill in the blanks. And copies; hours and hours of making copies at the burbling IBM copy machine; copies of tax returns, three of each: one for the client, one for the file, one for the Federal government. Hole punching, dot matrix printouts -- baffles of printouts. 

The records department was situated in the basement of a three-story structure. We had our own bottom-level entrance, so I rarely tiptoed upstairs except to nuke an occasional lunch. Mostly I left the building like lightning as the big hand hit twelve; drove into Mandan and procured a dollar-eighty-nine-cent lunch at A&B Pizza. Nancy had a completely unnecessary rule that the entire department (about 4 people total; sometimes five) had to sit in the reception alcove every day at 10:00 and 2:00 and "enjoy" break together. I learned Nancy was a nerd who spent her evenings reading Stephen King novels. Conversely the highlight of my workday was listening to gags and song parodies on Y93, emanating from a portable radio perched on my desk-side table. 

It wasn't until Nancy took a two-week vacation to visit her kin in Oklahoma that Linda and I got to really know one another. We bonded over a mutual disdain for our boss. Linda eventually became one of my very best friends. Sadly for me, but happily for her, I helped Linda find a way out of the farm records tangle. I spied an ad in the newspaper for a ranch manager in a far-off town, which Linda's husband was scouring for; and soon my friend Linda was gone. I stayed at Farm Credit Services for about a year and a half, eventually making friends. Linda had always known how to mollify Nancy; I never did. My inward nature didn't gel with hers. I became frantic to get out.

I've written ad nauseum about US Healthcare, but suffice it to say when the opportunity to escape presented itself, I pursued it relentlessly. I had to scratch and claw to get that job, but somehow serendipitously I grabbed it. What US Healthcare taught me was that I'd undervalued my talents. At last I had something other than a "job". I had to dodge dynamite and seize the opportunity to get Evil Connie fired, and I have no regrets to this day. People in power should never run roughshod over subordinates. Vile tyrants should never threaten to fire someone for simply doing an exemplary job. Evil Connie eventually found employment as a receptionist -- welcome, Evil Connie, to the me of ten years before. At least I worked my way up, instead of tumbling down.


I was a high school graduate, too lackadaisical to pursue a college education, though I could have had one. What my previous thirty-odd years of sometimes treacherous living had taught me, however, was that everybody blossoms from a kind word. Everyone wants to feel valued. Everyone has worth. One's employment position doesn't dictate that.

In 1999 I moved on. I started over, albeit with a satchel of collected wisdom. My aim was to glide through my last twenty years of employment. I'd paid my dues, wrestled my battles. It was my time to breathe.

It took three years of drudgery to reveal that I just couldn't do it. When an opportunity for promotion arose, I warily pursued it. The position was still a demotion from the old me, but it presented an opportunity to use my dormant talents. I somehow secured the position and eventually put my stamp on it. 

From 2003 to the year 2020 I served as my department's trainer and de facto substitute supervisor. I reveled in the diversity of challenges. I left my mark.

Work life is a cornucopia of ups and downs and ups. Every single work experience I ever had taught me something important, though I might not have recognized it at the time.

That's sort of how life works. One doesn't recognize or absorb sometimes painful, sometimes glorious lessons. But one's mind doesn't allow them to evaporate.

On June 12 my work life officially ended. 

I have few regrets. I think I probably did exactly what I was meant to do.


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