September Swan Song of Sorts

September means big changes.

When you’re a kid, or parenting kids, the hazy lazy days are gone in favor of new folders and new clothes and new routines. When you’re old like me and living in sweltering southern Texas, it means that for the first time since April, you can look forward to the weather improving! We’ve broken 100 degrees 40+ times this summer and we’ll continue to (according to Channel 4) for another week or so, but the 90’s are beckoning and there’s even a distant promise of 80’s in the long-range forecast.

September also means other changes here at Fork. When I began writing 3 years ago, I felt as if I’d traveled through some weird worm hole and landed on an entirely different planet. I knew nothing about Texas, nothing about the oil field, and not as much about myself as I’d thought. Every day was well … weird, so I had a lot to write about.

We worked with a lot of Cajun speakin’ Louisiana boys for the first year and a half and I couldn’t understand about half of what they said in the beginning. When I did get it right, it didn’t really matter because I didn’t know anything about the oil business so I had no idea what they were talking about anyway.

I didn’t like getting dirty. I hated hot weather and I was jumpy about things like spiders and javelinas and coyotes and scorpions and rattlesnakes and wild hogs.

Three years later, I’m not at all surprised when someone wants to show me their pot-bellied pig or pet tarantula.

I’m not even surprised when, like yesterday, I wake up to find a rattlesnake adorning our gate.

It’s just another day in the oil field.

I can not only talk the talk. I can even code it with a flash light…

to our derrikman through the tiny kitchen window!

We follow a rig so apart from an occasional ornamental snake and Coyote Catering, one day is very much like another. That doesn’t leave me replete with fascinating material (clearly, as I’ve now written about tearing my meniscus 3 times).

I’ve made multiple mistakes as a blogger.

I didn’t know anything about blogging so I let other bloggers tell me how to write:

  • If it isn’t 1000 words long, it isn’t worth writing about. Now that was BAD advice. I read a fair number of blogs, and unless the writer is a professional blogger or exceptionally gifted, when I see 1000 words, I move on down the road. That’s just way to long for me.
  • Never write about politics or religion (or anything controversial). I’ve followed that principle for all this time. Things are changing. My blog – my topics.
  • Stay true to your readers. People started reading Fork because it was about Gate Guarding so you have to stick with that. Well, as a general rule, that’s probably true. You build a readership that’s content based so if you change your content, you alter your readership.

However, here’s my problem. I set out to write about my experiences but after 3 years (and the NDA) it’s become more of a blog about me than a blog by me. As a result, I rarely write because I’ve lost interest in it and I can’t imagine it’s interesting to anyone else either. Some of you are just in too deep to quit I guess!

It’s September and it’s time for a change. I love my job – weird, I know, but I do love it – however I’m tired of reading and writing about it.

You know that Yogi Berra quote:

When you come to a fork in the road, take it.

I’m at a fork. I’m not sure where this Fork will lead but I have to either put the blog to bed or take a different path. So I plan on trying another path for a while. If it leads us somewhere, I’ll keep going and if not, then it’s been a fun ride!

If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Texas

If it’s Tuesday, this must be Belgium Texas. If you’re not old enough to remember the movie, never-mind. It was pretty forgettable. Just like the day of the week or the month of the year is forgettable when you’re a Top Secret Agent in Texas.

Life as a TSA is jam-packed with redundancy.

We work every day  – all day and all night. Heidi and I are year-rounders so we work every day and every holiday and every birthday, which makes every day pretty much the same.

That’s a fact, not a complaint. We’re extremely grateful that we’ve almost never been without a job since we started gate guarding. It’s just funny to hear someone say on the news: Have a great weekend! That’s something you never hear in the oil field because we just have days – not week days and weekend days and holiday – just days.

I’m writing this on Saturday but it might as well be a Tuesday in Texas. I may not know what day of the week it is or sometimes even the month or season but I always know I’m in Texas. It’s the unforgettable part of life as a TSA.

Texas won’t let you forget you’re in Texas.

The Texas flag flies high and proud everywhere. It’s often accompanied by the Confederate flag which seems like a little bit of a contradiction to the US flag to me, but there it is.

Michener sums it up for us Yankees.

What you northerners never appreciate…is that Texas is so big that you can live your life within its limits and never give a (darn) about what anyone in Boston or San Francisco thinks. ~ James Michener

I can’t count how many Texans I’ve met who’ve never been outside of Texas. Seriously. Not ever. Grown-up people who’ve never once been out of this state. We worked for a rancher (a retired postmaster) who had never been out of his county. Hmm…

We’re well into our 3rd year now as Top Secret Agents. People are always asking us how/why we’re here working as TSAs in TX.

It’s a great question. If I had a bucket list, which I don’t, Texas might not fit in it because I’m a:

  • Water lover
  • Forest lover
  • Bug hater (spider fear-er)
  • Cool temperature lover
  • Nature (involving things that don’t want to bite or sting me) lover
  • And an avid walking on the beach type of bum

You can find things like water in Texas but you’re not likely to find a TSA job nearby.

I lived most of my life in the Midwest of Grant Wood. It was lovely. I don’t miss the freezing winters but I do miss having 4 real seasons.

For the three years prior moving to Texas, we lived on the southern Oregon coast. Growing up in Indiana, my family spent almost every Spring Break in Florida, where I fell in love with the ocean.

But Oh! the ocean in Oregon with the mountains and forests falling off into the sea; the whales spouting; the fog horns; the crab boats; the lighthouses; the agate and jasper covered beaches. It seemed like a place people made up in books.

Walks in Oregon were in the beautiful old growth forests or, if Henry got to vote, on the beach.

Henry enjoying a romp and stomp with the seagulls
Henry’s favorite thing was a wild romp and stomp with the seagulls, no leash, ever. Those were his halcyon days – and ours!

Heidi and I both worked as managers at a beautiful ocean front resort. The location was idyllic but the chest pains that Heidi started having from the stress became alarming. At the end of a particularly hard week, I made a just catching up phone call to Joanie who used to work for me at the resort. She and her husband were full-time RVers, gate guarding in Texas.

To tell you the truth, the job didn’t really appeal to me but it was clear we needed to make a change. Heidi already owned a motorhome which was sitting empty in a lot since we had a 2 bedroom apartment at the resort.

Acting on impulse and with no idea what to expect, we talked it over, took the Level II Security tests and headed to Texas with the assurance from a gate guard company that they’d find us something eventually after we got in state.

We started working the day we called to say we’d crossed the border. And oh gosh, it hasn’t been anything like anything either of us have experienced before. Not Texas, and not gate guarding.

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A Very Un-Shakespearean Comedy of Errors

What is the course and drift of your compact?
~William Shakespeare, The Comedy of Errors

It seems our course has run somewhat adrift of late. Picking up where I left off last time, I’m still on the rebound from the fluke of a non-flu bug. I think that I might have been nearly well yesterday, if not for another unfortunate chain of events.

I broke my toe once. I was on a beach in California looking for sea glass. I ran away from a wave right into a rock. I broke my 2nd toe which took the brunt of the hit because it’s longer, if not bigger, than my big toe. I share this only to preface what’s about to follow. Stubbing a toe which sticks out anyway, particularly underwater, seems understandable. What’s happened here, maybe a little less so.

By the way, it was a beautiful beach and I did find tons of sea/beach glass. If you’re terribly bored and are inclined to hunt, there are 15 obvious pieces of sea glass in this photo (green, brown, clear and blue).


The first time Heidi broke her toe, her little toe (this was years ago) she was at my house helping in the kitchen and she ran into my foot. At her request, I took her to the E.R. where the Dr pushed in back in place and taped it up. As it turns out, there’s not much else to be done with broken toes.

The next time she broke her toe – the same one – she was coming up her basement steps and somehow caught her little toe that doesn’t stick out at all on the step and broke it. She called me. I went over and, in an attempt to help, I accidentally set it by grabbing her foot too hard. She hollered and then I taped it up.

Every why hath a wherefore. ~ William Shakespeare, The Comedy of Errors

Although I’m not questioning the words of the bard, night before last when Heidi broke her toe – same one again – going up the steps (inside), I began to wonder about the why and wherefore. Somehow, she snagged it on the step, even though her little toe still doesn’t stick out at all, or didn’t until then. Not appreciating my last effort, she decided to set it herself. She hollered (only a little) this time and I taped it up.

She went to bed with her toes taped and wrapped in an icepack. Yesterday, predictably, business was booming which meant quite a bit of foot time for Heidi. I got up early to help. I worked while she kept her foot up and cold-packed.

All in all, things were going pretty well until I decided to fix dinner. I’ve done a lot of cooking in my time but this is the first time I’ve had a convection oven. The problem with the convection oven is that it looks just like the microwave oven because it is the microwave oven.

There should have been nothing to it since I was just baking fish.

I’m not sure what happened. I think I forgot that I’d pushed the magic button that transforms the microwave into convection. The timer beeped. The fish was ready and I brushed my hand against the side of the convected-micro and fried it.

Heidi had discarded the icepack by then, so after some cold water and burn spray, I stuffed it with little baggies of frozen Ragu because cold-pack was warm.

I’m pretty stoic when it comes to pain so I was surprised by just how much the burn hurt. I was even more surprised when, a little while later, I looked down to see blood trickling down my arm. It hurt, but I didn’t think it hurt that much.

The thing about baggies of frozen Ragu is that they thaw pretty quickly when your hand is on fire. I was in such a rush to cram something in the ice-pack wrap before Heidi hopped up and hurt another toe that I didn’t notice they weren’t in a freezer bags.

Upon closer examination, I realized that it was Ragu, not blood, trickling in a sticky sweet line down my arm. While I was washing up, Heidi ended up hobbling over after all and found a bag of peas which worked much better.

For some reason all this excitement reignited my diminishing flu systems which left me in the bathroom and Heidi with no choice but to tromp in and out with her taped up toes and sandals (even though everyone else is wearing parkas again).

By 8:30, she was sleeping, the wind was roaring and the newly promoted SA Henry VIII had taken the helm. He’s unflappable under pressure and has yet to break a dewclaw or burn a whisker.

Yet this my comfort: when your words are done,
My woes end likewise with the evening sun.
― William Shakespeare, The Comedy of Errors

Postscript:

I wrote this early this a.m.  Because some of you are given to worrying I wanted to wait to publish until I could add a health update:

Heidi’s toe is healing nicely and it barely hurts at all.

After a night of burn spray and peas and a day of sleep, my hand is healing nicely and it barely hurts at all.

The entire misadventure has worn Henry out. He’s sleeping in front of the fake fireplace, relieved of all Secret Agent responsibilities, and he barely remembers any of it at all. 😉

Mirror Mirror On the Wall

I’ve returned from a grand vacation with a new perspective on a variety of things: work, crowds, cabbage, tea, humor, Dylan, bisque, Crocks, gratitude, mirrors …

On this trip, I found mirrors to be as invasive as Spanish moss. I don’t think I’d ever noticed how there are mirrors stuck around just about everywhere. I live in a nearly mirror-free environment. There are two in the RV. They’re both in the bathroom. Well, technically, the closet doors in the bedroom are mirrored, but since I’ve plastered the windows with blackout paper to make it easier to sleep during the day, it’s always dark, which renders those mirrors pretty useless.

I see mirrors as having two primary purposes.

1 – I look in the mirror when I get up to remind myself that I’m me and not the entirely other person I was in my dream moments earlier. (Is it just me, or do you also sometimes dream you’re someone else altogether?)

2 – As an occasional fleeting reminder that a hairbrush might help.

I particularly like this mirror because I can mostly just see myself from my top chin up (unless I step back and then I can’t see much at all). Straight on, from the chin up – that I’m used to.  It may be a transposed reflection, but it’s a familiar one. There’s a second mirror on the medicine cabinet over the toilet. Odd placement. I never look at that one because I always have my back turned.

But while traveling, I found not just high medicine cabinet mirrors, but whole bathrooms full of mirrors, providing surround vision mirrors for that complete 3-D look.

There were rooms with entire walls of mirrors; mirrors inside the closet doors; mirrors behind the bed; mirrors beside the TV; mirrors over the desk; mirrors all over the lobbies and lounges and restaurants. Why is that, I wonder? I find all those mirrors to be disconcerting and distracting.

For example, during dinner, right in the middle of a great conversation, I would look up and see myself listening, which of course would cause me to stop listening, and lead me to ponder the fact that my face is a little lopsided or try to subtly see if I had food in my teeth.

When the Wicked Stepmother said: Mirror, mirror on the wall, she had just one mirror in mind. And in my mind, one is enough (although I’m glad mine is mute). Unlike Narcissus, I’m not enchanted by the beauty of my reflection. The more left to the imagination, the better! For example, I imagine myself with nice straight posture, an unbent nose, youthful skin, only one chin and much smaller thighs.

I’ve given up the looking glass; quicksilver has no sense of tact. ~ James Goldman

In addition to mirrors, the vacationing cousin in crime is the camera. I hate to have my picture taken. For generations, the women in my family have hated picture opps. We’ve found a work around for this problem by being the one who holds the camera whenever possible. We do the picture-taking instead of being shot. And when I say being shot, that’s just how we look when we pose for a picture. We all paste on that awkward frozen smile that makes us look like someone dropped an ice-cube down our backs and then said Say Cheese!

Mirrors and photos leave so little to the imagination, but more than that, they make me self-conscious and self-focused. Part of my challenge on this trip came from a quote I read by G. K. Chesterton:

The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see.

I found that it wasn’t the weather or the people or the itinerary that, at times, kept me from being a traveler and moved me into the realm of tourist. It was all those mirrors. It was my literal and the figurative focus on me that occasionally kept me from seeing the wonder of the moment.

And there was plenty of wonder all around me, every day. There still is, it just takes a little keener eye. Coming home, being back in my familiar environment in my top-secret job, there’s so much to see when my eyes aren’t on me.

If you have a good friend, you don’t need a mirror. ~Bente Borsum

Tumbling Tumblebugs

It’s oddly not hot here in southeastern Texas. It’s even odder that I would say it’s not hot. The temperature is running mid to upper 90’s every day. But in contrast to most of the country, that’s practically chilly.

We slid about 20 feet and started a second hole last week. We’ve been in the same spot for so long, home construction is beginning to take place on our front lawn. In all of the time I’ve been in Texas, I still haven’t seen a Tumbling Tumbleweed but we do have quite a number of Tumbling Tumblebugs.

They tumble on our pretend grass carpet. The above photo and the following facts are taken from an article by Howard Garret, The Dirt Doctor.

Tumblebugs roll manure into balls as large or larger than themselves. Female adults lay eggs in the balls and bury them to supply food for the larvae. Some adults dig burrows below the dung piles. Most dung beetles roll the dung in balls some distance from the piles.

It took this Tumblebug a little while to find its target to tumble.

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A single egg is laid in each dung ball. The larvae hatch and feed on the manure. The male helps in preparing the nest for the larvae. This is the only known case among insects where the male aids in providing for the young.

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You know, fathers just have a way of putting everything together. ~ Erika Cosby

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The dung beetles aren’t burying the poop as a favor to us and the cows. They are storing it for food and to provide a place for their eggs to hatch to be food for their larvae.

This completely dismantles the widely held theory of altruistic beetles. Ours got off to such a promising start and then got side tracked.

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The ancient Egyptians worshiped them. The “sacred scarab” can still be found in Egypt and surrounding countries. To the Egyptians, ball rolling symbolized the daily movement of the sun. The tomb of King (Tutankhamen) contained a pendant depicting the sun-god Ra as a scarab beetle rolling the sun across the sky. We don’t need to worship these lowly poop rollers, but they are magnificent creatures deserving of our respect.

Well, alrighty then…

Back to our Tumblebugs. This one came back but just couldn’t seem to quite hit it’s stride.

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I have a little garden That I’m cultivating lard in, As the things I eat are rather tough and dry: For I live on toasted lizards, Prickly pears, and parrot gizzards, And I’m really very fond of beetle-pie. ~ Charles Edward Carryl

Mr Carryl’s Robinson Crusoe would find no shortage of lizards and prickly pears here. He might have to substitute buzzards for parrots. As for the beetle pie, he’d do well to remember Minny and The Terrible Awful!

The Day a Star Danced

Happy 4th of July!

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If you work on an oil rig, or any night job, or just don’t like loud noises, you likely won’t be seeing fireworks tonight so I’m including some. This is a lovely version of The Star Spangled Banner performed by Sandi Patti and The Boston Pops (click on bottom right corner after starting for full screen).

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Today there are celebrations going on all over the country and for a very, very  l o n g  time, Heidi thought they were all celebrating her! Talk about a kid with great self-esteem! If you know Heidi at all, you know how appropriate it is that she was born on the 4th of July!

There was a star danced, and under that was I born.                  ~ William Shakespeare

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Happy Birthday, Heidi!

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It takes a long time to grow young. ~ Pablo Picasso

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You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream. ~ C S Lewis

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God gave us the gift of life; it is up to us to give ourselves the gift of living well. ~ Voltaire

Be Prepared

This gate guarding business isn’t a complicated job. The environment is our primary challenge.

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Given that, it pays to be prepared. I’ve already gone through all of the weapons in our attack and conquer closet but there are also practical, everyday ways to be prepared – or so I’m told (by Heidi).

I was in Brownies. I liked it quite a lot. (I’m the one on the left w/o glasses.) This picture was taken in 1966 as you could probably guess from the car across the street. It was the summer before I turned 10. I think we were marching in the 4th of July parade (there were more than 2 of us – the rest of the troop must have been somewhere else). 😀

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I can’t remember why I only was in Girl Scouts for 1 year but I apparently it wasn’t in long enough to fully absorb the always Be Prepared Scout motto.

Heidi, who dropped out of Girl Scouts after 1 week because they wouldn’t let her light her own Bunsen Burner, was born with Be Prepared tattooed on her brain. She was the kind who would start her term paper the day the assignment was announced and have it done weeks ahead. She used to be an English teacher so you get the picture.

Heidi has a system for everything. She asked the Safety guy to redesign the log sheet, despite the fact this oil company has a standard form that everyone uses. He did! I guess her constant supplies of baked goods are persuasive. 😀

She Velcroed a pen and a clock to the clipboard. It couldn’t be easier.

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And in case of rain, she has a separate, waterproof  container to keep the log sheet and pen in.

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Rain has been a new thing this year. We didn’t have any last year. As y’all know, the drought in Texas was terrible.

It’s been raining lately. A lot in the sense that it’s rained a lot of times, not a lot at a time (with a couple of exceptions). One minute the sun is shining and the next minute the sun is shining (it refuses to give up down here) but it’s also pouring.

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Anyway, when we’re anticipating a weather event, which is what locals call rain, Heidi get’s everything ready. She bungees down the lights. She has a dozen boulders anchoring down the fake grass carpet to keep it in place. She keeps her rain coat in the closet, right inside the door, and an extra set of dry clothes and shoes ready to change into.

All day long, even during weather events, she works while I sleep and things go seamlessly.

Heidi goes to bed early – 7-ish.

Then I have a weather event, like yesterday. I’d forgotten to get dry clothes. I have a jacket but I didn’t take the time to put it on. I forget about the special blue case. All the ink ran and the page was so wet the pen ripped right through it.

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I have no explanation, really.

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I blame it on being a Girl Scout drop out.

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This is the last portion of the English translation of  Robert Burns’ poem To a Mouse which could also be rightly be retitled ‘Ode to an English Teacher’:

But little Mouse, you are not alone,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes of mice and men
Go often awry,
And leave us nothing but grief and pain,
For promised joy!

Still you are blest, compared with me!
The present only touches you:
But oh! I backward cast my eye,
On prospects dreary!
And forward, though I cannot see,
I guess and fear!