I suck at math. I have always sucked at math. If I have to multiply, say, 8 x 7, it takes me a few seconds. I know 7 x 7 is 49. It’s one of those benchmarks, like 6 x 6 is 36. Everybody knows that. But to get to 8 x 7 I start with 49 and add either a 7 or an 8. 49 plus 7- add 1 to make 50 and 6 left over makes 56. That sounds right. To double check I add 49 plus 8- add 1 to make 50 and that’s 57 which I immediately know is wrong.
With 8 x 8 I have to work backwards. I 8 x 9 is 72 because 8x10 is 80 and if you take away 8 it’s 72. Subtract 8 (-2 to get to 70 which leaves 6. Subtract that 6 from 70 and you get 54.
That’s me. I suck at math. I know that 12 x 12 is 144, but 13 x 13 is gonna require a piece of paper or a calculator.
On the bridges we use military time to record when the boats go through. Back in April, when I started, I set my phone to the 2400 setting thinking that in a couple of weeks I’d have it down. Wrong. I’m still not getting it. Tonight I looked at my phone and it said 2157. It might as well have said 5172. Still not getting it.
I’m even worse with double negatives. At one of my jobs I have to do these monthly training courses that ends with an exam full of questions like, “Joyce says tells the nurse she has not seen neither of her children.” What the fuck is that?!?!? I could spend an hour trying parse that out and still not get it. I’m also bad at women.
But letters I like. I’ve done the Jumble just about every day of my life and I’m always amazed at how many five and six letters words there are that, if you re-arrange the letters, don’t form another word. Like-
GRIOIN can only be one word- ORIGIN.
LEEDU can only be ELUDE.
I’m sure they’ve had to repeat a clue here and there, but I have never not see one that neither repeated nor did not fail to not not repeat.
In the past ten years I’ve gone from owning a boat business to building bagpipes nobody wanted to running a kilt factory to writing trivia questions to working in a machine shop to driving a Duck to driving a city bus to driving a trolley to driving city tours to working in a senior living facility to being a drawbridge operator and to end up with three jobs- I am Captain Braveliver, Assistant Director of Vitality and Bridge Operator.
A year ago I had one job, at the senior home. It’s great and I love being there, but it’s not a good paying industry. After my first year it was obvious, even with the health insurances and meals, I couldn’t afford to just work there. So I got a job with the City to be a bridge operator and went back to driving a duck.
I’ve never had even two jobs at the same time before, but now I have three. And somehow it works. Right now I’m full-time at the facility. I do Doctor Runs and Grocery Runs and Mystery Tours and Short Story Night and WWII Discussion and whatever I can think of. It’s a great atmosphere and it gives me Purpose. And I get to hang out with some pretty incredible people.
The City job lets me operate three hundred-year-old bridges, the biggest concrete swing bridge in the world, and a spanking new bridge in South Park that’s right next to Lorretta’s, which, according to Thrillist, has the fourth best cheeseburger in the country.
The Ballard bridge is my favorite, of course, but next is the Fremont Bridge which is the busiest drawbridge in the country.
Once I’m able to go full-time, I’ll have a pension, should I live long enough to need it. There’s also some down time that gives me a little time to do some writing.
And the Ducks are fun. Driving the WWII-designed amphibious through city traffic and out on Lake Union is a blast. I get to meet people from all over the world who are experiencing this great city for the first time, and I’m working with fun people.
Purpose, Security and Fun. Which is pretty much the Three Pillars of Scottish Buddhism- Be Nice, Take Care of Yourself, and Have Fun.
Ten years ago I met Kenny. I was a little nervous at the prospect of having another mouth to feed since I was barely able to take care of myself, but I also felt like I needed something life-changing. And quick.
My friend Valerie drove me down to Kent to pick him up, where he was staying with a nice couple who rescued cairn terriers. He was a pretty aloof and didn’t seem to care one way or the other when I put a collar on him and walked him out to the car.
When someone first found him, he was about eleven pounds. The couple that took him in got him up to fourteen pounds. A full-grown cairn should be about twenty. Nobody knew how old he was, but he was certainly no puppy. He was house trained and knew how to sit, so, who knows?
On our first day together, I filled his new bowl with chow and he wolfed it down immediately and a couple hours later he threw it up. When I started to clean it up he growled and came at me, like I was taking his food.
I filled his bowl again hoping that if I kept a full bowl of food out at all times he would realize that he didn’t have to worry about food anymore. He got up to twenty pounds in a couple months and lost all of his food insecurities. Now, if you offer him a treat, he may or may not even eat it.
Turns out he’s a great little guy. I had him for ten years but when I took on three jobs last April, it wouldn’t have been fair to Kenny to keep him. My sister came out to Seattle for a conference about mental health (Suzi rocks) and offered to bring Kenny back with her to bring to our parents.
I dropped Suzi and Kenny off at her downtown hotel on her last day here. She flew him back to Connecticut and he wasn’t uptight at all. I kind of knew that he wouldn’t have any problem, he’d already hung out with my parents and I was sure that he would attach himself to them pretty much immediately.
I named him Kenny for my dad and his father and his father and on and on. It’s our middle name- James Kenneth Craig. My Mom wanted to name me Damien but they agreed to name me James Kenneth Craig Jr on the condition that my nickname would be Jay, my Mom’s second choice.
If I had ever had a son, I would have probably named him Kenneth. It’s a noble name. It’s the name of the king that brought the Scots and the Picts together. And to ken means to know.
Kenny took to his new home immediately. The thought of Kenny following my Dad, Ken, around like a shadow always makes me smile. As does the thought of my Mom taking him out for a grooming and giving him a blueberry facial. They even take him out for ice cream!
People always ask me if I miss him, and I don’t. Not even a little. We had our time together but I honestly don't miss him. I sure am looking forward to see him in his new home, though.
I’m going back to New England in a couple weeks. I’m going back on the condition that there will be no Christmas and certainly NO GIFTS! This is the first time I’ve seen my family in about three years and I don’t want anybody thinking they have to get me something and I certainly don’t want that stress of trying to think of something to buy for everybody. I just want to go back and enjoy my family for a couple weeks, no expectations and no gifts. I hate gifts. I don’t like gifts and I don’t like Christmas.
As a Scottish Buddhist, I don’t feel any spirituality at all. I’m religious, just not spiritual. I think everybody is entitled to their own beliefs, but, Jesus...
Tinsel your trees, eat your matzo ball soup and pray five times a day but keep that shit away from me. And don’t expect me not to blog about it.
But anyway, I have the best family you could imagine. My parents are genuinely good people and raised my sister and me with morals, manners and empathy. My Dad spent years in the insurance business. Looking back, I see a guy in his thirties with a wife, a mortgage and two kids. When the Hartford downsized, my Dad my dad went into social work. Now he works Habitat for Humanity.
All growing up, my Dad never hit me, no matter what I did. My friend’s dads would give ‘em a quick beating after some of the stupid shit we did, but my Dad always wanted to talk it out. My friend Ray would get a beating but it only lasted five minutes. My Dad would take me out for a hot dog and my punishment would last all afternoon! I remember thinking once, ‘Just hit me and let me go!’ Instead, he reasoned with me, and for all my flaws, at least I’m not a dick.
And then there’s my Mom. She has always worked with kids, whether in schools, day cares or what she still does today, Head Start. She encouraged me and my sister to draw and read and ask and explore and play and pet strange dogs.
We had a bit of a rough stretch when I was 14 to 17, but it was all me. Looking back, I realize she was in her thirties and dealing with somebody who would later be diagnosed bipolar. She remembers me complaining that our life was too boring. I used to complain that my friend’s families always had something going on- divorce, conflict, arrests, and I had nothing. My parents loved me and Suzi and sacrificed and provided for us, and somehow, I felt cheated. I wasn’t horrible to my Mom, but I sure wasn’t easy.
I also get to see my sister and her family. We never fought about anything and she will always be my best friend. She used to be my kid sister but now she seems to be the older sibling. In my darkest hours, she demanded that I swear I would never commit suicide, no matter what.
So here I am, alive and well, and going back to Connecticut for two weeks. And I’m looking forward to it. Thanks, man.