Saturday, June 27, 2015

Remodeling, Reflecting, Avoiding Real Jobs

It's not that I've been avoiding jobs.  There have been two really appropriate project management jobs but of course that involves putting on good clothes and showing up five days per week.  A third position is a CIO job at Gander Mountain.  My friends suggest I'm a perfect fit providing that I show up for the interview in camo.  It's really been a scheduling issue.

The last eight weeks are history, three at my daughter's new house and five at her old house.  It's a long story without explanation.

During the remodeling I ceremonially used a tool of my father (circa 1954), my uncle (circa 1965) and my paternal grandfather (circa 1940).  The folding Lufkin wooden rule with brass ends caused me to think of my grandfather who also used to stress keeping your fingers out of the power saw.

A childhood friend from Columbus Avenue posted a recent photo of the flooded street on Facebook. Back in the day that simply meant playing in the water. She also commented about my grandfather 'Pop' Leeper. It was a pleasant memory. He had many stories that he shared with the neighborhood kids. It's probably appropriate to share. Father's day has recently come and gone and he was a special person for many people.

Columbus Avenue in the 1950’s was comprised of working class and retired households. All of the homes were small. No one had air conditioning and having a fan was sort of special. In the evenings people would bring out their lawn chairs and sit outside until the mosquitoes drove them back inside. “Pop” (Addison C. Leeper) and Ollie (Olive Blanche Leeper, Addison’s daughter) would sit outside and neighbors and especially children would stop and chat. Pop always had a story. I’ll do my best to share a Pop story.

"We haven’t had water the street like this since the war years. Do you remember that Ollie? Yes, perhaps I should look for an elephant to see what I could do about this. My family lived in Neenah, Nebraska. I was young and wanted to see what the world was about. Neenah was the winter home of the Archibald Animal Circus. One winter I started to go to their camp ground to talk with some of the men. Well the elephant trainer drank a bit too much and just didn’t take care of the elephants. Their trumpeting woke me up every morning. You can hear an elephant trumpet five miles away. When I heard that I went to the place where the elephants were staked out and started feeding them hay. One day the boss came walking by and told me he’d pay me five cents a day to feed the elephants and clean up after them since the trainer was worthless. I don’t think I would have agreed to that if I’d known how much clean up is needed for a family of elephants.

When you make a commitment it’s important to keep it, to keep your word. None of those elephants were very friendly and I noticed that one of them was limping. Finally I got up the nerve to walk up to the limping one and touch it’s leg. He turned his head around and put that great big trunk right up to my face. He smelled me and then lifted up his leg. Right in the middle of his foot was a big nail...all the way in. My dad had a pliers at home and I knew where he kept it. It’s important to take care of your tools and put them where they belong. I walked home, put the pliers in my pocket walked back and then went right up to the elephant. He lifted up his foot without smelling me. It was hard to get a hold of that rusty nail but I pulled it right out. Doing the right thing sometimes hurts. That elephant knew that. They’re just as smart as people and have great memories.

My grandfather had lived with the Iroquois Indians in New York and they taught him all about plants that you could eat and use to make you feel better. My grandfather passed on what he knew to my father and I learned from him. All of you have something to learn from your fathers and mothers, too. I knew that foot would be sore so I gathered some plants and some special berries and mixed it with some bacon grease from the circus cook. You should really use fat from beaver tails but there weren't any beavers in Nebraska. Every day I rubbed that salve into the elephants foot and in short order the infection was gone. It was pretty good stuff. I called it Pachyderm Salve. Don’t we still have some around here Ollie?

That was in 1912. Shortly after that my father, who worked for the railroad was transferred to Fairmont, MN. That was the end of my circus days. In Fairmont I went to school but got a job at the power plant when I was sixteen. It’s important for all you children to finish school. After we adopted Ollie we moved to Albert Lea. During the war years all the boys were off fighting. Two of my boys were in the Army. The only men around town were too old to work or they were just worthless.

It was June of 1943 and we had water in the street just like this, maybe higher. There were some pretty big fish going up and down the street. Didn’t we go fishing right next to the driveway Ollie? There wasn’t much to do during those years and there were shortages of everything. I called the city and asked if they could come grade the street but the grader was broken and all the replacement parts were going to fix graders in the War. I did know that there was a small circus traveling through town. During the night I heard the circus train pass by the back yard and I knew they had a couple of elephants.

We’d used all our gas ration coupons so I walked down to the train yard. It was not much of a circus. Everything needed paint and the animals were pretty skinny. I don’t think the lions had enough energy to eat me. The elephants were staked out in a field. There were posts driven into the ground with chains on them and then a metal collar around the elephant’s leg. They’d been there a few hours and had eaten everything they could reach. The name of the circus was hard to read on the rail cars since they needed paint. I think it was Clyde’s New Century Circus & Exhibition. As I walked toward the elephants they became all upset, one of them in particular. That elephant looked familiar and as I approached it smelled me and lifted the same foot I’d healed thirty one years earlier. I said they had great memories. All of the elephants had sores on their legs from those steel collars. They just weren’t being treated right. All of you children know it’s important to take care of your dogs and elephants are even smarter. I walked back home and went into the garage. There on the wall was my father’s pliers. Putting it in my pocket I headed back down to the rail yard. I brought some bacon grease and along the Rock Island tracks I picked a few berries and a couple of plants as best as I could remember. When I got to the elephants I told the one that recognized me that he had to be quiet. Just like that he turned to the other elephants, made a few elephant words...I know a few elephant words, and the others all became quiet. One by one I used my father’s pliers to remove the steel collars. My friend the elephant nudged the others into a straight line and there they stood. That Pachyderm Salve was just as good in 1943 as it was in 1912 and the pain from those sores went away just like that.

It was still night so we walked down the Rock Island tracks back toward Columbus. Halfway back the Rock Island Rocket came through and we stood just off the tracks. I always wonder if anyone noticed me and six elephants standing there. We came right up through the back yard between these two houses. The water was even higher in the street. The first thing those elephants did was take a big drink of water. They can drink fifty gallons. That was three hundred gallons gone right there. Then I had the elephants walk up and down the street. I remembered the elephant word for “elephant shuffle” from my days in the circus and I had those pachyderms go up and down the street for an hour and we filled in all the potholes and cleared the debris from the storm sewer grates and even dragged a big tree limb down the road to smooth it out. Before dawn our work was done. The water was gone.

This was my friend and you help friends when they need it. Elephants have a good sense of time. The measure it in days. I told that elephant to walk to the southwest for twenty days, only at night. I had a subscription to the Neenah Gazette and in the fall of 1943 there was a front page article that said the War was going well and everyone had a good time because six elephants showed up in town and everyone got to ride one.

If you kids want to go swimming in the street you should go today because tonight I’m going to look for elephants.”

That was as close to the story Pop told us on one of many hot summer evenings as I can recall, now sixty years later. If I were an elephant I'd probably remember it word for word. This reminds me that I need to tell my children how to make Pachyderm Salve. 

Copyright 2015 John F. Leeper

Sunday, June 7, 2015

99 & Counting

Today started early with a few tasks on 'the house project' followed by a 100 mile drive for lunch.  My remaining aunt, Vi, turns 99 tomorrow.  Her father and two of his sisters lived to 100.  As a child I thought everyone lived to 100.  Vi's sisters left at 98, 98 and 93 respectively.  She's still pretty independent and complains that her hearing, sight and teeth are all rotten.

We ate with my cousin and her husband.  I suggested the local Asian buffet.  For years that was "China Wok."  WalMart recently moved and a new buffet came to town, located near the new WalMart and the China Wok became history.  The new buffet, "Wok & Roll" is not as good, the workers are surly and the bathrooms met the minimal mainland China hygiene standard.

The drive was down 35W south from the Twin Cities.   A long time ago I worked for the MN Department of Public Safety which worked hand in hand with the Department of Transportation which worked with the federal people.  It's clear that  more federal money has come down the road that has in a long time.  Certainly it has something to do with a Presidential election in the future.  Republicans and Democrats alike are going to beat the drums of putting people to work, improving roads, etc.

Minnesota consists of two seasons: 1) snow and ice and 2) road construction.  That's in a good year.

This farm belonged to my mother's cousin, Norval Nelsen.  He and his wife, Helen, moved there in the 1930's, first living in the settler's log cabin.  Along with raising two children it was a traditional farm with a few milk cows, hogs, chickens and enough field crops to sell and feed the livestock.  When my mother was small they'd visit be sent out in the fields to flip cow pies which were used for fuel.  Even in the 1980's Norval resisted propane and continued to burn wood.  As a kid I was overwhelmed by the animals, the annoying chickens and the smells but loved playing in the hayloft of the barn.  Now it's like many farms, a house, the barn is gone, the machine shed empty or storing someone else's boat or RV and a few leftover buildings not really re-purposed and surrounded by field corn and soybeans.

This past week I read about the new University of Minnesota Bee Research Lab.  The most eminnent of the people there, Marla Spivak, has done remarkable work in defense of the Varroa mite infestations in bee colonies.  Of particular note is the development of the Minnesota Hygenic Queen which provides a non-drug approach.  We all know that pesticides result in pesticide-resistent insect.

Dr. Spivak now is focused on colony collapse.  I've been losing colonies in the summer since 2008 which coincides with the release of neonicotinoid pesticides.  I don't have a PhD but from a practical perspective I know that bee colonies next to corn fields doesn't work any more.  The newspaper article said that the vast majority of Minnesota crops require honeybees for pollination.  Corn and soy beans don't need bees.  The farm that Norval and Helen had needed honeybees.  Minnesota agriculture is really an agri-business monoculture (actually corn, soy beans, potatoes and sugar beets). Honeybees are, of course, not native to the United States, and as such are an invasive species and have in many areas been a player in the depletion of native pollinators of which there are thousands.  Native plants tend to lose out to those which thrive under honeybee pollination.  I'm not sure how to argue this.  Moving forward I'll focus on organizations and information technology.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

End of May...Start of June

B.B. King
Far in the past, probably the late 1970's it was my fortune to attend a B. B. King concert at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis.  My favorite music podcast site The Best Radio You Have Never Heard pays due tribute in the June 1st, Volume 259 issue.

The House Project

  • My carpet guy has been married twice, the second time happily for twelve years.  He and his brother have been working together for 35 years and they still have their knees.
  • The flooring salesman has been our carpet and vinyl guy for over twenty years.  His wife has MS and one of his kids has epilepsy.
  • My carpenter has a degree from the Carlson School of Management.  Curt Carlson, the founder of the infamous "Green Stamps" which evolved into the Carlson Companies a broad player in the hospitality market was an unpleasant guy.  My carpenter is great.
  • The guy who repairs windows won't call me back.
  • The Euro style fridge is lost somewhere because of the west coast longshoreman's strike.
  • The stove and microwave were delivered today by a tattoo-ridden guy who was working very hard for a tip.  I never get tips.
  • Two people at Menard's commented to me the other day "you've been here a lot.
  • My new truck is now as full of tools, samples, leftovers and extra "things" as the old truck (which has not sold).
  • The neighbors still have not talked to me even though I no longer have the old appliances sitting outside on the patio.
  • About two weeks to "listing time."
  • Thirty-six inch cabinets in a 35 13/16" space requires craftsmanship.  Who wants "simple?"

  • The LHH consultant has taken a leave of absence to start his own business.  I had taken a bit of a leave of absence from their services to finish a couple of projects with the intention of using a few components of their online resources in the project management skills area.  I think I'm now in limbo and off their plate.  My former employer paid quite a bit for this service.  It's difficult to put a value on their service, much is valuable.  It does however provide a gentle let down for the employer.  They pay a little bit more in service to their employee.  I guess that makes it all feel better to someone.
  • I find myself a bit in the wrong direction:
Small Business
One of our vendors founders died.  She was not the typical executive and would never been hired as such or an innovator and incubator of business.  Growing the product from the ground up meant that she knew it all, sourcing raw materials, regulations, H/R, production, marketing, distribution, sales, customer relationships, etc.  Now that she's gone a real "executive" has been hired.  It's like Wall Street.  He's offloading many of the tasks, shutting done production that is not mainstream and changing out people.  Not everyone can grow a business, but even fewer can come in off the street and be an effective Chief Operating Officer.  New executives often want to look only to the future.  Unfortunately they often stumble from  not knowing the past.  We were a major customer under the founder's leadership.  As they narrow their product list we're a smaller customer.  That's unfortunate.  We're part of who they are today but we don't matter now.  It's the same with employees.  "Legacy" is important.