Saturday, March 12, 2011

Saskatchewan’s Never Ending Winter

I’m inebriated, but desire a new blog entry… starting all the way back to the end of January, when we came back from Melissa’s wedding.  Patty and Chad stayed with us in Regina for a couple days before going back, which gave us more opportunities to corrupt Chad.  We got him casually calling Patty by her name “Patty” and not by the nickname she wants… Terran or something.  Her retaliation was swift and brutal against his slips, making it all the more amusing.

One morning the poor, naive Victoria-raised boy looked at our driveway with a child-like innocence.  “What is all this snow?” he seemed to ask himself, the same way we would ask ourselves: “What’s up with all this ocean?” for which every job in his life involved.  With his optimism burning and his damsel in distress Patty standing by, he courageously or foolishly proclaimed: “Let me shovel that driveway!” 

Perhaps seemingly speechless at his chivalry, Patty and I didn’t hesitate looking a gift horse in the mouth.  “Let me show you where those shovels are” I volunteered.  High in pride and spirit, off he marched into that white, packed mess of snow, and started shoveling the “wrong way” should there be one.

“Should we give him pointers on how to do it right?” Patty suggested to me.  As far as I was concerned, he was in God’s hands now.  Instead I suggested we simply stay inside where it was warm while he got his fill of Saskatchewan’s freezing love.  Sure enough when he came in later he was cold, tired, and was perfectly fine with never having to shovel a driveway again.  He’s a smart lad; catches on quick.

Luckily for me, they are also board game enthusiasts. I was able to play the game of “Life” with them that I stole from my Grandma a month earlier like a terrible grandchild (see the Christmas post, it was legal and not done in malice).

I picked a pink car and drove around with my husband.  Together we had atleast 4 sons, quickly filling the car with flamboyant men.  Later we had a daughter, and speculated on how her upbringing would be noteworthy to say the least.  Chad and I had great jobs, while Patty lost thousands on new businesses and whatever.  Chad ending up winning, and it was a lot of fun.

Later we played Settlers of Catan.  This game is all awesome to say the least.  Unquestionably, I got the two of them hooked, and can’t wait to see them again to play some more.  I think everyone was able to win a game each, and I finally was able to talk my mom into joining a round, her first since her obsessive addiction while visiting in Japan the year prior.  I guess she was afraid of playing again for so long lest she risk reigniting that previous passion.

Later we all shared a belated Christmas together.  We gathered at the tree and exchanged gifts.  Originally due to the (somewhat pricey) destination wedding, it was decided to not buy gifts for each other.  Things happened of course, maybe it started with my trip to Vegas and the procurement of gifts there, or perhaps it was Patty flying blatantly against the uneasy agreement.  Regardless of what started it, it left others, John in particular, scrambling to buy gifts for family members once again.  It’s good to buy that stuff after Christmas day anyways, so atleast we had that going for us.

It’s unnecessary to proclaim the enjoyment experienced.  I’m just happy the presents made of clothing, for which I try to never buy, were received so well.  More importantly, they were the correct sizes.  Even the shirts I bought for my dad were a good fit.

Lots ‘o food, lots ‘o fun.

With my Christmas money and gift certificate, I waited for a sale.  I knew what camera I wanted, (curse my lost old camera!  Wherever it may be…) A Canon Powershot SX210IS.  It was almost $100 off, and I got an open boxed item; a common occurrence around Christmas as people may not be gifted their colour of choosing.  This 15% off (or 5 maybe) was the deciding factor in getting a black model instead of purple; a less than desirable colour sure, but one fit to carry on the spirit of my previous pink models that have served me well.

The first 100 photos or so are of my cat, Elvis, and myself mostly screwing around with the many features.  It zooms up to 14x, and has features/modes that large expensive cameras need multi-hundred dollar lenses to achieve.  For example the earlier pic, where it focuses on one item while blurring its surroundings.  I was particularly impressed with its long exposure for those night shots I love so much, and a mini tripod to help capture them.

I think it was the next day when I went to the university.  You know how it is when you’re super duper extra special careful with something right?  It was a cold day, I took my new camera out of its special protective case and made sure its strap was secure around my one wrist.  My eyes not leaving it, I carefully put my glove on my left hand again.  I needed my right hand to take a shot, so I took my glove off.  One move, one thought, slow and steady.  Be careful and you’ll be ok, right?

The strap was around that glove and not my wrist, so as my glove came off, so too, did that new expensive fancy camera, down onto that nicely plowed sidewalk of cold, hard, concrete.

My stomach dropped and hit that concrete just as hard as the camera did.  I was positively Ill.  The case got scratched and bent, but I tried really hard to look at the positive side to it all.  Now that it was damaged, I won’t worry too much more about damaging it again, and the bottom line was it still works great.  I took a lot of photos of the university that day, and was surprised to see that ball of trash/art was still there taking up space.

I was there that day to pay for Ann’s ESL down payment.  Giving up on visiting and acquiring a job in Thailand (I’m still done with teaching), we’re trying to get her an Education Visa now.  ESL is the English as a Second Language program at the university.  They assured me it would be difficult to reject an invitation like this from an educational institution, but regardless, her interview is next Wednesday.  So from January, it's been another struggle with the Embassy for this piece of paper or that, to try and apply again.  It’s good we started so soon; classes start in May, and I’ve had to buy her plane tickets already as well.

Best-case scenario: Ann will come to Canada to study English at the end of April.  Worst-case scenario: Ann will be rejected, yet again… then who knows.  I would rather not think about it.  I haven’t seen her since June of last year.  I remember in the past I would think back to my years-ago relationship with Crystal when I lived in China; long distance is simply not worth it.  Alas, Ann is worth it, but if my government won’t let her come here, I’m at a loss for what to do short of marriage: an expensive and lengthy piece of paperwork itself.

Maybe more happened in January, maybe not.  My photos ran out.  As I opened up my February folder, my heart sank a bit to see a mere 49 photos in total.  I have vague memories of this time, but do know most of it wasn’t pretty.  Days came and went.  I tried to keep a ‘regular’ sleep schedule… but what was the point?  I had no reason to go to bed, and at the same that I had no reason to wake up in the morning.

Before I knew it I was watching cartoons at 3 in the morning on TV again, and sleeping past noon.  One weekend I played an awesome video game, Silent Storm, nonstop.  The next, I downloaded and started watching Star Trek: The Original Series just for something to do.  One time my mom walked in on me watching it, and it was probably worse than her catching me watching something naughty: “Why are you watching that?!? It’s so old!”  Steve explained it to me as my nerd reflex coming out.

Anyways the only thing different from my weeknights and my Saturday night was: I told myself “Hey it’s Saturday, I should drink” and poured myself a little alcohol I got in the Dominican.  That’s it.

I thought of the times I spent happily with my grandparents. I thought of the conversations I had with people I hadn’t seen in over 3 years.  I thought of all the family members I finally got to see and laugh with again over Christmas.  I thought of the friends that seemed just out of reach; most importantly I didn’t feel like I had money to spare to put gas in the truck that wasn’t even mine to see them again.

Sure sometimes I’d rarely see some friends (and order the cheapest thing on the menu) and tried to go to the gym with my brother as often as possible, but it’s still a depressing existence, that.  Nothing to do but sleep, waste time, and apply for jobs.  Oh did I apply for jobs.  I went to several places around the city in person.  I called many of them on the phone.  There was a job fair at the university in February.  There was a job fair at the Conexus Art Center last week.  I showed up, and tried to give my resume to anyone that would take it.

Many at the University fair would tell me to check out their website, which clearly wasn’t working for me.  Our local newspaper, The Leader Post, recently heavily advertised “Engineering Week” for Saskatchewan, boasting the need to hire 1000 engineers in mining alone.  I went to websites of many of the firms advertised, and was disappointed to read: “No opportunities currently available.”  My mom suggested writing the newspaper directly to vent my frustrations.  It got to the point where I would look at those ‘job openings’ and ‘lies’ was all I could think as I dismissed the propaganda.

I told my mom previously, should March come and I still don’t have work, I’ll join the army.  Not a particularly desirable option, but atleast I’ll be an Engineer again.  The closer the time came and the more I looked into it, the less viable it became.  Eventually, I was forced to consider less desirable markets.  One day my mom and I went out and applied to every local business in the area; Best Buy, Subway, Costco, Canadian Tire and more.  Since I had not even had an interview in 7 months, in that time I rebuilt my resume from top to bottom 3 times.

One of those places we drove by had a “Help Wanted” sign on the window.  This humble place is called “Smokin’ Okies” BBQ.  I walked in, handed in my resume, and almost immediately the owner Eric came to me and talked with me personally.  A quick look at my resume, and he told me I was “a bit over qualified to work at a restaurant.”  Unfortunately, that is probably the same thing everyone was thinking when my resume was tossed from consideration.

For the first time in years, I heard back from an employer.  Eric called me almost a week later, checked to see how my job hunt was going, and asked me to start in a couple hours.  I was more than happy to oblige.  Earlier, I briefly wondered if service industry work was “beneath me” but then thought that a man in my position doesn’t have much of a right to be asking that.  I also remember a quote from long ago: “If you are hired as a broom sweeper, then be the best damn broom sweeper they have ever had and go from there.”  So finally, at long last, after 7 months of despair, I had work again.

The first week was rather hard.  Hell, in the first 5 minutes I screwed up and broke something.  Regardless I did my best to stick to it, and be the best whatever-was-needed-at-the-moment kind of guy.  I was only 2 days in when I ran into someone I knew.

Until then I was half hoping to keep this a somewhat secret in my life, which would explain my deer-in-the-headlights moment when I saw my Aunt Wendy wave me down.  I didn’t know what else to say, but the truth never hurts:

It felt damn good to have a job again.

I had an income again. I was making new friends.  My time once again had a value.  But most importantly, I had a reason to wake up in the morning. 

I kept these positive thoughts in mind constantly.  For example on my first or second day a dude asked me what I wanted to do with my life.  There I was, me with my meat apron on while leaning on my mop stick, talking about the robots I wanted to build, the new technology I wanted to develop, the space agencies I was applying at, and how I wanted to dedicate my life to a purpose greater than my ego, for all of mankind.

If I didn’t already have an expensive 5-year university education, I probably would have looked like an optimistic but naive youngster, reaching for stars far out of reach…  Perhaps I still am. 

How close can I realistically come to my childhood dreams?  As the powerful quote goes: “Dreams don’t die, we kill them.”  There doesn’t seem to be much commercial interest in space, atleast not nearly as much as there is in the exploitation of our planet's finite resources.  That unfortunately seem to be the limited options I can apply my talents to, but at this point it's probably clear I'm open to many options, especially if it's a way to see Ann again.

Let’s take a quick break and talk about my birthday on March 1st. John, Melissa, Chris and his wife Fiona and I went to Sake on Albert St. for some all-you-can-eat sushi.  It was $22 or so, and was well worth it.  We ate, talked, and laughed until our stomachs hurt.  I used my birthday money/gifts to re-buy a game I lost in Japan: the New Super Mario Bros Wii, easily the best party game I’ve ever owned.

I also got my first paycheck in over 7 months!  Sure I only had worked 2 shifts, but I almost wanted to hang it in a picture frame more than cash it in.

That was Tuesday, and mom’s birthday was Friday.  She didn't do much either, but Melissa and I went out with her for some food.  It’s been a good March so far I guess, one week it was nice and spring-like, but the next week it snowed nonstop.   The only thing my breath is held for at the moment is Ann’s interview next week with the embassy. 

I remember (almost a year ago?) how I mentioned that another job in Japan would be a step backwards for me, while a job in Regina would be 2 steps back.  My how things have changed, unemployment does strange things to a person.  Whenever a young person I work with shows envy with my situation, I tell them “The first 3 months are fun, but 7 is just too much.”

It’s interesting to note how I’ve hit a noticeable generation gap.  Many of my co-workers are 10 years younger than me, rather than me being the youngest person at the company.  The first question asked to me by many of my coworkers is “how old are you?” followed by “how tall are you?”  One girl even asked me how many kids I have.  Today some of the highschoolers were bugging each other about crushes, making me feel old.  World perspectives seem to have changed in my time as well.

But here I am today.  I work hard at my job, and strive to be a valuable employee.  To my surprise, a number of people have connections to different Engineering establishments, so there is hope to draw from that as well.  In the end, it always comes down to whom you know rather than your own personal merits unfortunately.  As a social species, I suppose it makes alot of sense.  Regardless I’ll take any help I can get at this point; I even have my learner’s 1A license should I want to try and drive a Semi around the country for a while.

Until then the job is getting better all the time as I get more proficient and become more acquainted with the staff.  After work tonight I stayed for a drink or two with Jeff and Erik, which lead to my current sloshed state at 2 in the morning.  We chatted about several different things, and I think I’ve made new friends.

I’m beginning to believe this new job is my “turning point.”

"When you feel like giving up, remember why you held on for so long in the first place." -Author Unknown 


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