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Enough time has passed that I can finally write about my father's death. He was far too young at 72 and died unnecessarily after brushing off the consequences of a fall in February. I was a complete wreck for a while.  I went through all the stages of grief and am finally at the last one; acceptance.
And I want to share something I learned.

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Pole climbing class was the final step in the process of getting hired to be a phoneman and it was clearly designed as a test of one’s willpower, a “weeder” class as we used to say in college.   My class started out with twenty-one people and ended with thirteen.  Everyone who left did so by their own choice.

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Maybe you're a cop or a firefighter or, like me, a utility worker.
Maybe you're working a cash register at a gas station.
Or selling concessions or parking cars at a sporting event.
Or driving an ambulance. Or working the emergency room in a hospital where that ambulance will show up.

Maybe you're guarding our borders or patrolling our coasts.
Maybe you're answering the phone at a suicide prevention hotline.

Or you might be the concierge at a fancy hotel.  Or a maid at that same hotel.  Or a dishwasher.
Whatever it is that you do that causes you to be working on a holiday, you have been deemed "essential".  The wheels of our economy simply cannot turn if you don't forego quality time with your family and show up for work.

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Sat Oct 26, 2013 at 06:01 PM PDT

My cat (and best friend) has passed

by DuzT

Little Mister, the cat who was my best little friend in the world, died in my arms the other day. One minute he was fine; running around, meowing and just generally being a cat, happy to see his “human” come home from work.  The next minute he was keeled over on his side, eyes and tongue bulging out, making a strangled kind of gurgling sound, obviously in pain and distress.  I yelled for my wife to call the emergency vet’s office, which is just a few minutes away from our house.  
But by the time she had finished placing the call, Little Mister was dead.

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A while back I wrote about being attacked by a customer's dog while on the job as a utility worker, and how my company then proceeded to blame me for the whole incident.
The following is a story about a situation that occurred a few years earlier, involving another dog attack.
This time though I saw it coming. I defended myself and probably killed the dog in the process.

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As a utility worker I encounter animals, wild and domestic, on a daily basis.  Sometimes these encounters are beautiful, more often they're annoying and sometimes they're seriously dangerous.
Below is a story about one of the dangerous encounters.

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Sun Jan 20, 2013 at 07:04 AM PST

My Love Of Disc Golf

by DuzT

I've been playing disc golf since the mid '70s when me and my friends, the other neighborhood kids, would go through the cul-de-sac streets of suburbia throwing our discs at mailboxes and street signs. We didn't call it disc golf, we called it frisbee golf. We thought we invented it.
Turns out we didn't invent it but we did come up with the idea on our own at the same time thousands of other kids across the country were doing the same thing.
Now, in my late forties I've become somewhat of a disc golf junkie and the sport has taken off all across the country in a huge way.

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Winter, the season of death.  Waiting for rebirth. There will be a Springtime rebirth to be sure, but in January life seems at an ebb; all is cold and gray and lifeless.

Working outdoors the long, cold and dark days turn my mind unbidden to thoughts of mortality; my own and that of others.  People I've known and encountered, sometimes very briefly, in my life as the Phoneman.
I try to think about hot summer days with friends, about kayaking and playing disc golf. I wish I could conjure up memories of campfires and grill parties and fresh tomatoes and swimming pools.  And being warm again.  
But the deeper we get into winter the foggier those happy images become, until it almost feels like they never happened at all.  Like they're someone else's memories and I'm just borrowing them.

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Sat Dec 29, 2012 at 05:56 PM PST

More Adventures Of The Phoneman

by DuzT

I stopped working for a moment, lit a cigarette and thought to myself, “How did I get here?" How did I come to be standing in a muddy ditch, chin deep in thorn bushes wiping mouse piss off my hands?  
On Christmas day?

I was trying to repair a telephone line for a customer who had already flat out told me he that didn’t want me at his house on that day.  Specifically, he said “It’s Christmas fucking day for Christ sake, I can wait until tomorrow!  You guys were supposed to be here two days ago.”
And he was right.  It was another missed appointment.  We weren't keeping up with the workload.
It was a cold day.  Raw and blustery.  My nose was running but I wasn't about to wipe it, (being that my hands were covered in mouse piss).  I was being forced to work through the holidays because I was low on the seniority list.  
I wasn’t always so close to the bottom.  There was a time when I had twenty-seven people behind me in seniority.  Today I have two, and one of those guys is about to get fired.  So, really there's only one guy behind me.  One guy between me and the next layoff.  One guy. And I’ve been with the company close to fifteen years now.  The time I had 27 behind me? That was one month after I hired in.
I had recently been promoted.  Unexpectedly and certainly unasked-for.  I had a new set of responsibilities which required learning, quickly, about stuff I had never had to concern myself with before.  After twelve years of working Monday through Friday, 8AM to 5PM I was suddenly on a rotating schedule; late shifts, weekends, holidays, all the while trying to figure out my new responsibilities, much of the time in the dark (like actually in the dark, like with a flashlight in my teeth).  In retrospect, it was trial by fire
My promotion got me a raise, a substantial one, which was nice.

I’ve worked a lot of shitty jobs.  In fact before now I’ve only earned "decent money" a few times in my life.  Before this gig came along, I had sort of resigned myself to a life of occupational mediocrity.  
Mostly I bumped along at minimum wage looking for the next gig.  One can go a long way on minimum wage with a sufficient amount of guile and charm and luck.  And low expectations.  
I’m a quick study but I get distracted quickly and bored even more quickly.  This though, this was a real job and I was at a point in my life, older, nesting, where I needed to settle into something.  A person can only bump along for so long.

So I put up with it.  I hated it and I cursed my company’s name daily, but I did it because I needed the money. Actually, it’s more accurate to say I liked the money. What I needed was the insurance; optical, medical and dental for me and my wife.  I live in suburban Detroit, Michigan and the economy here sucks.  The economy in Michigan had been slow dancing with recession for close to ten years by December 2011 and I was not really in a position to walk away from what I had.  So I stayed.  I sucked it up and stayed.
And everyone else stayed too.  We bitched but we stayed.

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Sun Oct 28, 2012 at 04:40 AM PDT

I Go Into Peoples' Homes For A Living

by DuzT

I go into people’s homes for a living, from suburban McMansions to dumpy apartments.   I see their family photos on the mantel; I smell what they’re cooking in their kitchens, and what they’ve let rot there.  I wriggle through their crawlspaces and behind their furnaces.  I go behind their couches, dressers and beds and see what they’ve let accumulate.  I see who has FOX news on TV or Limbaugh on the radio.  I see the guns; locked up safely or lying around. I see who cleans up after their pets and who doesn’t, who let’s their dirty laundry pile up in great mounds and who leaves old dirty dishes in the sink to grow fuzzy.  
I also smell the lingering pot aroma they though was long gone and I finally understand how my parents always knew.  I find their hidden porn stashes.  I see how many meds they’re taking, and what kind.
I hear the ways in which families speak to each other; with obvious respect and love or barely concealed antagonism.  I can tell which kids will grow up just as ignorant as their parents, and which parents are clueless about their kids.
I see the things that accumulate in people’s homes, the forgotten things in the forgotten corners.  Puzzles, books, guitars with missing strings, toys, Christmas decorations, crutches from some long ago injury, photo albums, picture frames.  Some of these things make me sad sometimes, especially the toys.  And the guitars, of course.  
I’ve gotten to know these people more than I would have ever imagined and I think I can tell some pretty interesting stories about them, about their lives.  There are people in suburbia trying desperately to keep up the pretense of prosperity but who are obviously in financial trouble.  Neighbors who for some, probably forgotten, reason hate each other.  So much so that they’re willing use the phone man as a pawn in their feuds.  That’s what they call me when I show up at their door; the Phone Man.  They don’t know, nor care probably, that my actual job title is Customer Service Specialist, Cable Repair and Maintenance Technician.  “The phone man is here.”, “You gonna fix my phone?”, “Are you here to cut on my internet?”  Yup, that’s me and that’s why I’m here and in some ways I know you better than you know yourselves.

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That's what my manager told me recently when I tried to call in sick.  I was suffering from one my occasional migraines and, if you've never had one, you just can't begin to understand what it's like.  Excruciating pain, nausea, dizziness, confusion-all par for the course.  Light is painful, sound is painful, movement is painful; you know you're in for a 12-14 hour hell on Earth.
Not exactly conducive to driving a utility truck and climbing utility poles.
But we've been busy lately.  In fact, we've been on forced overtime for months.  That's what happens when a company lays off 49% of its field work force. They have to find a way to cover all the job commitments.  And what better way to do that than to further squeeze the workers "lucky" enough to still have a job?
"Oh, you were hoping to go up north camping this weekend?  Sorry, too much work."  "Your son has a baseball game you were planning to go to?  Forget it, customers come first."
"You're sick?  No time for that.  Suck it up and get to work."
Get to work and work harder.  Work faster.  Work longer hours.

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I used to really love my job.  So did my co-workers.  I don't know too many people who could make that claim with a straight face but when we said it, we meant it.  Not anymore.
I work for a communications company; a huge one which some years ago swallowed up the company I used to work for.  I'm doing basically the same things, in the same territory as before but under entirely new, completely unreasonable "employee expectations".
Expectations regarding work output, euphemistically referred to as "efficiency", which essentially means how fast we work.  If we aren't working as fast as the "experts" think we should, we get into disciplinary trouble.
I put "experts" in quotes because the people who came up with this employee evaluation system have never actually done the work themselves.  They have no idea what it's like to climb a utility pole in sub-zero temperatures, or pull wires through a muddy crawlspace full of spiders and rats.  Or climb a fence loaded down with tools wondering if a dog will come charging out from behind the garage. Or suddenly realizing you're standing in poison ivy.  Or opening a terminal and finding it full of agitated yellowjackets. They only know that we should be doing it faster and with less mistakes. The only thing they are expert at is figuring out ways to squeeze more out of the workforce, thus enabling more layoffs despite an increase in the workload.

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