I work two very different jobs. In one job, I generally see one person a day, for about five minutes- either the person I'm relieving or the person that's relieving me. Maybe I'll talk to a tug boat on the radio ("… Okay, roger that. Have a nice day! Be careful out there. Talk to you tomorrow?") but that's about it.
But my other job is the complete opposite. I get to meet people from all over the country and all over the world who are on vacation in a beautiful and fun city, and are about to experience it in a WWII amphibious vehicle.
Today I got to meet Bob, a 94 year-old veteran. I know I'll never have to live that long, but if I did, I could never be as cool as Bob. He and his hot young 75 year-old trophy wife were on their way to an Alaskan cruise and had time for a duck tour.
We spent a whole half hour going over everything from German U-boats off the Atlantic coast to Operation Fortitude-
And this guy was THERE! He saw first hand all the propaganda (Loose Lips Sink Ships was a campaign to make civilians keep their mouths shut if they knew about all the U-boats totally controlling our Eastern seaboard) and he saw first-hand the fake invasion force that completely faked out Hitler and won the war. I could have talked to him for days. There is nothing better about this job than meeting people like Bob.
You know all those Keep Calm and Carry On posters you see? That was part of a British campaign that never happened. The idea was that if the Nazis actually occupied England, everybody was to be cool and not get themselves killed. Just wait it out. It never happened, of course, so the hundreds of thousands of posters never got used and were only discovered many years later.
They're called the Greatest Generation for a reason. If not for them and what they did, we simply would not be here right now. All of them- the young boys on the front lines, the women in the factories, the businessmen who retooled and produced hundreds of thousands of vehicles, the people on the Homefront who sacrificed so our soldiers could eat, and the countless people who did whatever they could to support the young men who were thrust into a whole new Hell.
Whenever I get to meet somebody in their nineties they know full well how much I appreciate them. I've had a great life and have been able to pretty much do whatever I've wanted to do. Because of them.
One of the most annoying things about being bipolar are the occasional Delusions of Grandeur. You don't really notice it when it's happening, of course, but looking back on it you sure do feel like an idiot.
Mental hospitals are chock full of people who will tell you they are Chosen By God to do something Big. It's a physical feeling that you can't deny. You really believe that you are Blessed. It's like cocaine times ten.
But what about people like me who feel the same feelings but don't believe in some Supreme Being? It's easy when whatever you're feeling is just some kind of dictate from God Himself, but what happens when you have to figure it all out on your own?
I didn't make it down to the Highland Games today, which was kind of a shame 'cause I had a couple new bagpipes to show Aaron, of the Wicked Tinkers. One was made from PVC pipe and nylon tube, as detailed in the new book. The other was the Pictish War Pipes, which may very well never be seen by anybody.
It's been four or five years since I've been down there and I wasn't sure if I was ready to check in with the Craig Clan yet, anyway.
About four or five years ago, I had a bit of a manic episode and decided that the president of the local Clan Craig chapter had to go. He was a nice enough guy, but Clan Craig was a joke. I did a little research and found that the Craig Clan as a whole hasn't had a proper Chieftain in, like, two hundred years! So I found the body that was in charge of all the Scottish Clans and made my pitch. I contacted every person named Craig I could find on the internet and tried to convince them that it was high time the Craigs were taken seriously and that I would be proud to lead that effort.
I was sure that I was about to be on the same level as the Pope, but without all that stupid Christianity. I had big plans. And then I got with my current psychiatrist, Katie, who got me on lithium.
But what of all the other mentally ill people who have the same feelings but don't believe in a god?
That's pure crazy.
I went to my first Pacific Northwest Highland Games almost twenty years ago with my buddy Dave. We each found our clans, caught some caber tossing, and got a full dose of bagpipes and drums. When we got some food, he bought me some haggis because he knew I’d never had it.
All I knew about haggis is that it’s disgusting. You stuff a sheep’s bladder with all the parts you would otherwise throw out (including the lungs), bury it in the backyard for six months and then boil it.
I tried a little bit and it was so bad I wanted to wretch. I expected him to finish it off and call me a pussy, but when I offered him the rest he said he was full on onion rings. That’s when I learned the Secret of the Haggis- you talk it up like it’s a national treasure and if somebody demurs when you offer it to them, you get offended. When they take a bite and wonder why you’re not eating some you tell them you’re not hungry.
Dave died a couple years later. I hired a bagpiper to play at the memorial we had at his shop. I didn’t tell anybody it was gonna happen so when people started to hear the piper approaching, somebody opened the big shop door to see a piper walking toward us playing a somber piece. Then he played Amazing Grace and the dozens of us tried to keep it in. But then the piper burst out a jig, turned around and faded off behind the block.
That’s when I decided to make bagpipes. Crazy, funky bagpipes that would have made Dave proud.
It took a few years before I figured out how to do it. The first one was the Guinness Pipes. They came out great. They were beautiful and they sounded as good as a tradition Great Highland bagpipe made of wood. I was so sure this was a winner I closed down my boat business and set up a bagpipe shop in the Fenpro building in Ballard.
I took the Guinness Pipes down to the Highland Games to show them off and get some orders for more. I made an order form and contact list and guessed, based on how many pipers would be present, to get orders for between 20-30 custom-made bagpipes.
I walked them around and made sure every piper got to see and hear them. I ended up in the beer garden and while nobody ordered a single set of pipes, I drank free all day.
I had lots of help from a couple pipers, first Tyrone and then Don. Without them I probably never would have figured it out. I also met Aaron, of the Wicked Tinkers who seemed to get a kick out of them and enthusiastically encouraged me to keep going. I made him a set of blue and white pipes that looked like they were swept back (based on a drawing their drummer Warren made) and a set of Percussion Pipes, which was basically a two man bagpipe.
The last year I was there I had six or seven sets of wild looking pipes, all fully functional. Instead of just laying them out on the picnic table for display, I thought it would be cool to have them sitting on a stand. That was one thing that surprised me about going to these games- pipers would be walking around with their pipes and when they’d stop for a beer or a to take a piss they would just lay their $3,000 pipes on the ground!
So I made a few bagpipes stands. They were really cool and not easy at all to figure out. They displayed a full set of pipes beautifully.
When I set up shop in the beer garden people kept coming over to check out my pipes but kept asking how much I wanted for the stands. I’d tell them buy a set of pipes and you can have the fucking stand for free.
I came home from those games with orders for about thirty bagpipe stands and still not a single order for a custom-made bagpipe.
I filled the orders for the stands but was so put off I stopped making pipes and have since given them all away. Except the Green Marble bagpipes, those should be in a museum or something. And the Pictish War Pipes, which I plan to spring on Aaron in two weeks at the first Highland Games that I’ll have been to in four years.
It’s been too long.
A couple years ago I quit my job with a certain bus company that ran a certain trolley operation. It's not that they sucked, but more that they didn't not suck enough. After a couple days off I walked into a senior living facility one day to see if they might like my services once a week or something as a tour guide.
I sat down with Gale, the Director of Vitality, and even though I had no experience working with seniors, she hired me on the spot. And I loved it. The pay was shit but there was insurance and a free meal every day. The place is run by a corporation with four or five other facilities, but I never had to deal them. I was free to take residents out for Mystery Tours and field trips and host Short Story Night and Saturday morning WWII discussion groups and dinners out and all kinds of fun things.
Gale was the best boss ever. In my case, she took a chance on somebody and gave me the trust to get out there and try new things. And just being around her never-ending energy made me want to step up to her level. She is the kind of boss who would never ask anybody to do anything she wouldn't do herself.
They fired her a couple days ago because she was not a "team player". I'm not gonna form a conjecture as to why they would do something so stupid and handle it in such a ham handed way, but I will say that it's a total disservice to the residents who live there. Gale is a Force of Nature and I can't imagine anybody who lives there is happy about this.
But, whatever. I'll be fired or will quit in the next week, probably, and then I'll have to meet residents off-site for coffees or drinks. Or maybe I'll stay on as an occasional volunteer, coming in to do Short Story Nights or doing history class.
It's just a shame that corporate has no idea what they're getting rid of.