Thursday, August 04, 2005

1985 and a Swedish story

Listening to local radio. There is a group they say comes from Vegas, but on Amazon they have 8 Cds listed. Group is Bowling for Soup, and the song on now is 1985 – it’s a story about a woman with her mind in the past – ‘her two teenagers in high school say she’s living in the past – back in 1985’. And it goes on to discuss the plans she had, things she wanted to do with her life and now all she has is a family, and a yellow SUV, and just remembers what she wanted as opposed to what she has.

Guess I’m getting old – starting to look at things like that myself. Look around at where I am and thinking of the things I wanted to do, but just realizing that there really isn’t much I wanted – guess I didn’t dream big.

I majored in Photographic Illustration in college – I really liked taking pictures. Went to college at Rochester Institute of Technology, in upstate New York. Didn’t like school, went in the navy for four years then back to the same place but with a different attitude. Photo majors back then had one of two dreams to make it big, either work for Life magazine as a staff photographer, roaming the world taking pretty pictures of pretty places, or work for Playboy inside a studio taking pretty pictures or pretty girls. OK, make it three, National Geographic was pretty good also. But reality was a little different – Life and NG only hired replacements, about one photog every five years. Playboy was even worse, using their same old men for the centerfold shoots. And hundreds of RIT photo graduates usually ended up in malls at the ‘shoot your kids’ centers, or in Kmart photo departments. Not much reality there, or probably too much.

In the Navy I worked on electronics and computers. Had a summer job after the first year in college teaching repair of computerized systems. I wondered what those programmers were doing, and back in school took some classes, and really liked it. It’s like doing puzzles and finding clues, but with some creativity. Not being a computer science major I had to take the business oriented classes, starting with an intro to Basic. I did well in several classes, and then took some more advanced ones in night school – RIT’s ‘continuing education’ – open to about anyone. Did well in those and was allowed to take the ‘real’ classes after getting permission from regular instructors. Was hired on to Xerox because I knew Basic – Comp Sci majors didn’t take that ‘beginner’ language, so I was unusual in having it, and I also knew Fortran. That moved me into a programming job, and I’ve been at it for almost thirty years (wow, do sound old).

Trying to remember back to school, except for the magazine job (OK, it wasn’t Life or NG) I guess there weren’t any really big dreams or goals. I’ve got the big house (well, big for me) and family and good job. Now our expenses are so used to the salary it’s probably impossible to change careers. I’m getting a little tired of the same stuff over and over (see last post, what prompts this) but looks like I’ll have to work forever. Social Security doesn’t offer enough, if it even is still there. Maybe when I start collecting I can become a WalMart greeter. But I hate WalMart and refuse to shop there, so perhaps Home Depot – I can wander the aisles answering questions. Seem to be younger women at the checkouts, grey haired men in the plumbing and screw areas. With stock options some of the older workers have quite a nest egg built up. But now even Home Depot is going cheap, with minimum wage checkers, a row of do-it-yourself checkout stands (which I refuse to use) so there is only one live checker on duty, and fewer people manning the aisles to answer questions. Guess I’ll have to move to India and become a tech support phone person.

It must be a lot more difficult for a woman, maybe staying home and raising the kids, needing the main income to keep things going. As in the song, what can she do? I am impressed with women (or anyone) that goes back to school to grow and become different. I talk about hitting the local junior college – pretty close to my house – and starting on a degree in something else. I can get an MBA and a starting salary of $150,000 (some publication said that) and in a few years make up for what I’ve been missing. Or maybe pay for the educational loans.

Wow, deep stuff. Better lighten up Joe.

With the typical summer temperatures I was thinking of our friend in Sweden. I think I’ve talked about Ulf before. When we lived in Temecula – small town on I-15 about 60 miles north of San Diego – about 25 years ago we started taking in foreign exchange students. These weren’t kids here to spend time in school, but students that were coming to the US for a month or so. I don’t remember what group we hooked up with, but over the years we had kids from Sweden and France and Australia and Japan. I still periodically write some of the girls from France, but for some reason Ulf really loved California and has kept in touch.

He came after his last year of high school. He was accepted into college, wanting to become a doctor. He really liked California and somehow managed to come back and stay with us for several summers. Eventually he became the youngest cardiologist in Sweden, and now is famous for some of his research, speaking at conferences all over the world. He wanted to marry a tall blond California girl, and move to where it was warm. Guess he watched too much Baywatch, but never was able to hook up with Pammy (she’s short, anyway). He spent a year at Stanford for postgraduate classes, and became engaged to a San Diego girl (yes, tall blond). Fortunately he took her back home one winter. She saw what Sweden was like in January and decided on staying in SD. Eventually he married a tall blond airline stewardess (Swedish) and now has three kids. We went to Sweden for his wedding a few years ago, and really liked the place. Of course it was in May and not in January.

We used to talk about our visit to Boston, and seeing the old houses back East. About how Paul Revere’s house was 100 years old when he lived in it. Ulf would laugh, and tell us how the dorm building at his college was 450 years old. The church he was married in was over 600 years old. Can’t match that over here. Especially since we’ve moved to Vegas – nothing here is very old, and they keep blowing up and replacing even the relatively new places.

To save money he had the wedding reception/dinner at a large hall near his house, and relatives made the food. I think there were around 150 people there. He is a really friendly guy, and his wife had a lot of friends too. We showed up in Sweden a week before the event, and his parents drove us around the country for a few days, and then Ulf took us up to Stockholm. We had a hard time finding something made in the US to bring as a wedding gift, but eventually picked up some Nambe stuff – made in New Mexico. Before the wedding I hit a local mall there and bought a dozen Kodak disposable cameras, then passed them around at the reception and asked everyone to take pictures. This way he would have a lot of different perspectives of the event. Most people there had never seen a disposable camera, but despite a few misunderstandings the cameras were all used.

As Americans we were popular people there. Everyone wanted to talk to the Americans, and practice their English. OK, it’s not really English, but close. In Sweden most of the TV shows were American, and most of the movies on TV were also American. Instead of dubbing into Swedish they left the shows as made and put in Swedish subtitles. This made it relatively easy for people to learn English – they could read the Swedish and hear the English. They dubbed everything in France, and it was strange to hear some of the voices chosen for familiar characters. I remember being amused at the voice chosen for Arnie Schwarzenegger in one of the movies. And in Sweden everyone watched Baywatch. MTV was from London, and most of the radio stations were from Britain, and a lot of people would go to London for vacation. So most of the people spoke English with a British accent. They would kid Ulf because he ended up with a California accent instead of a British one like everyone else.

At the reception we sat across from two girls from England, one had been a stewardess with the bride. We were the only Americans, they the only British, but at least we had somebody to talk to during the evening that could understand most of what we said. One of the traditions at the reception was for everybody to stand up and tell a little story about an experience with the bride or groom. Of course, the stories were all told in Swedish, but periodically after a story was told and everybody laughed the speaker would look at us and try to translate a little of it into English so that we would understand. It seemed that the idea was to tell something amusing, I guess kind of like an American ‘Roast’, but without being vicious. As each person stood up I tried to think of something I could say. When my turn came I settled on a short tale of when we first met Ulf.

He came during the summer, and the weather in Temecula was similar to that in Palm Springs, not quite Vegas, but over 100f every day. Ulf thought it was warm, but did not realize how hot. Some of the kids took him to a fast food place for his first Mexican food, and had him use the ‘hot’ hot sauce. Sweden is not very big on spices, white sauces being popular, so he had no familiarity with jalapenos or hot sauce. They all laughed at how he burned his mouth on the hot sauce, (I thought it rather cruel) but it did not turn him off on Mexican food. It did take a little convincing to get him to come along to another Mexican place, but there we did get the mild stuff and since then he can’t get enough of it. We still mail him Mexican spices and other items.

But one day we took him to another town nearby. Temecula at that time had a population of around 1000, so we had to drive a little way to go to a supermarket, or when shopping for about anything. We were in the town of Hemet, had the windows down, and drove past a bank. The bank had one of those signs that displays the time and temperature, and eventually the temperature was displayed, first in Fahrenheit, then in Centigrade. He did not understand the first display, it was around 105f, but then it showed 41C. That he understood. He looked at the sign, said ‘wow!’, and immediately started sweating like crazy. Sweat stared dripping off of his forehead. We looked at him, and he said that it didn’t feel that hot until he saw what it was and understood it.

The story got a laugh – but we knew that except for Ulf probably nobody in the room had ever been in 41C weather. I hope they were laughing at the story, and not just making the American feel welcome. But most people did seem to understand.

No comments: