4549…Broccoli, It’s Just A Number

I could see he was fumbling for it, so I blurted out, “4549”!

“You know this stuff, eh”, he acknowledged with a grin.

“I should, I get broccoli every week. Yams, 4817, cauliflower 4079. Every week, they’re on her list. Grapes, 4023. Every week, same thing. And I don’t deviate. It’s one of the benefits of coming here, brain training”.

With a smile of approval and freshly printed price sticker, he steered his small cart to bananas, 4011, but not before professing his status as a neophyte in this grocery shopping game. Professing wasn’t necessary, not knowing the broccoli code was a dead giveaway.

It’s true, though, grocery shopping is a game, a numbers game and a theatre game: codes, weights and measurements, BOGOs, coupons, increases and decreases, mostly the former as inflation becomes an even bigger number. Know the numbers and you’ll save time.

A theatre game, too, almost a contact sport, with participants panning out around the partitioned layout like pawns on a puzzle board. Step back, yourself, and watch.

Some shoppers attack the store with, seemingly, no semblance of order, helter-skelter, snaring items off the shelf and into the cart, sometimes without even looking. Always in a hurry.

“Out of my way, where’s the Guiness”, I imagine them saying.

At $10.99/6 pack, 72 ounces, that’s a much higher number than gas at $4.07/g, 128 ounces. Oddly, no one complains. It’s beer!

Others shoppers, like me, take their time. I’m deliberate because I’m a gabber, I’ll talk to anyone who might slow down or be idling nearby. The speeders detest my type, we interfere with their plan, ‘get in, grab it and get out’. My MO is ‘stroll in, search for stuff and socialize’. That’s why I save frozen to the end.

Then, there’s the checkout. I have favorite cashiers, they know my act.

“Paper, please, and every space is a new bag”, as I empty my cart.

The smart cashiers like my system, it’s one less thing they have to think about, the bags weigh less, and I can transfer items into the fridge and cabinets faster at home because I organized it on the belt. I might pay a couple of extra nickels for bags, but that, too, is part of the numbers game, time management.

Shoppers behind me often change lines. Probably the speeders.

Last stop, the Service Desk to pick the winning numbers.

“Two lottery tickets, please. looks like a big number for tonight’s drawing”,

“Sure is, but you know the odds for winning don’t favor you”.

I didn’t have to be reminded, of course I know the odds, I’m a numbers guy. But you don’t win if you don’t play. And, if I do win, well…..

…that’ll be the biggest number.

Steve

April 2022

To fellow shoppers who enjoy the game and know your numbers. If you see me at Wegmans, stop and chat.

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“So, Then, You’re The Screw Man…”: A Manufacturing Story

The ‘welcome to the neighborhood’ cocktail party may not have been the best place to discuss one’s occupation, but she asked. I answered, diplomatically and technically, at first. However, in my work, the description eventually gets down to the basics and then things can go ‘off the rails’. “I sell screws’”

“So, then, you’re the screw man”, she replied with a wink and a snicker.

“Yes, I guess you could say that, I am the screw man!”

That brief exchange about sums up my ‘not so formal’ introduction to our new neighbors. Thirty years old at the time and with an immature sense of humor, I thought it was funny. My wife, not so much.

Let me backup a bit. I worked for a fastener (screw) manufacturer in a northern Illinois city, Rockford, known as the ‘screw capital of the world’. No, not that, I learned later. It actually earned its moniker from the bevy of fastener (screw) manufacturers operating there, many that sprung from the original, the ‘granddaddy’ screw man, so to speak.

These manufacturing companies thrived for years, providing fasteners and other special metal parts to industries across the US for their cars and big trucks, compressors and air conditioners, aircraft and appliances, even toys. Just about everything that is held together used a threaded metal fastener, a screw, to do it.

Walking the factory floor of a compressor manufacturer, a vacuum cleaner company or an automotive parts supplier of air bags, fuel systems, frames and other components was an education in the magnitude of our US consumer driven economy. All these companies used our screws, by the millions, and the competition was fierce. It always is in sales.

As fastener manufacturer sales reps, I and a cadre of salespeople and engineers, spent countless hours in factories helping customers meet assembly challenges with a potpourri of specialty screw products, problem solvers.

Over years, I witnessed manufacturing and assembly go from manual to automation to robotic ‘pick & place’, from dirty assembly areas to clean room environments, from Made in America to made around the world. Manufacturing is a fascinating environment driven by costs and whims of customer wants and needs.

But ‘change is the only constant in life’*. The number of fastener plants has declined either through attrition or consolidation. Technology has lessened the demand for sales personnel with the advent of the e-commerce and even the reliable company brochure has moved online. Business can be done via phone calls, Zoom meetings snd webinars.

I’m out of the business, now. And while I might be considered a ‘dinosaur’, I can still look back at my manufacturing experience with satisfaction, knowing that at one time, I was ‘the screw man’.

Steve B

To sales reps everywhere who ‘walk the floor’ …

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* Heraclitus, Greek philosopher…Wikipedia

Reading For a Straw: A ‘Eureka’ Moment

Sometimes, the simplest reward can motivate kids. Take the 1 cent Pixy Stix…

A Chrysler assembly plant and Green Giant packing plant were the chief employers in the small northern Illinois town where I began my working career fresh out of college, an elementary school teacher for five years before transitioning into a life long sales position.

I had 32 students at a time when classroom size was not a high priority, especially in this rural blue collar town. The work was hard, fun and challenging. It’s teaching!

In elementary school, you teach the gamut of subjects: math, social studies, language, handwriting and reading. Specialists visited weekly to teach art and music. There were no computers in the class, nor the school, nor anywhere except big, temperature controlled rooms in office buildings.

Lesson plans were followed, accordingly, as we covered ‘new’ math, old history and the wonders of science. But reading, and reading for pleasure, piqued the kids’ attention the most.

A time was set aside daily for reading aloud, students rested or doodled while listening to Tom Sawyer, Treasure Island, Charlottes Web, The Old Man and The Sea and others. The daily read was a hit, for the students and me.

But how could I motivate the kids to read more themselves and even stand up to talk about it? I found one answer by noticing the kids enjoying one of their favorite snacks, Pixy Stix, the sugary treat in a straw.

Pixy Stix* had been around for years. I loved them as a kid, myself. Not only popular but these treats were cool looking with their varied colors. And, they were cheap, a penny a straw. I bought a hundred to get started.

The plan, read a book and get a Pixy Stix. It was an instant hit. Yes, gimmicky, but there was more to it. And the results were profound. Every student read a book, two books, three books and more. Sure, the reading tapered as the year progressed, but the drop off was insignificant. And most surprising was the level of enthusiasm from some students who were lower achievers in the general subjects. I was ecstatic having this ‘Eureka’ moment.

Here’s how the project worked:

  • Select a book and show me
  • Fill out a book marker with title, author and student name
  • Report back to me upon completion and tell me a few things about the book
  • Give an oral report to the class (voluntarily)***
  • Staple the bookmark to the bulletin board display and select a Pixy Stix

I remember one student, in particular, who never raised his hand in class but gave the best oral reports of all students. Made my day!

My books are my ‘trophies’

Steve

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*From Your Dictionary: ‘Pixy Stix: A confectionery item in the form of a (non-edible) straw filled with sweet-and-sour powdered candy .

The Crossing Guard Chronicles: Extra Credit & Life’s Little Rewards

“Extra credit! I got extra credit!”

The red-tail hawk perched on the overhead traffic signal at my school crossing post had my rapt(or) attention, so I didn’t hear the initial shouts. And the glare of a low afternoon sun made it difficult to see her, at first. But when I did, it was plain to hear and see a very happy high schooler, eager to deliver some good news.

During the morning crossing, at the Curbside Classroom, in the minute the kids and I have together, I announced that today was Pearl Harbor Day. Now, for most middle schoolers, that drew blank stares. Some high schoolers had heard about it. So, how much ‘ancient history’ can you discuss in 60 seconds? Honestly, I’ve learned that it doesn’t have to be much.

Franklin Roosevelt, infamy, war…a minute, to get access to their memory bank and make a small deposit. Apparently, it worked with this student, hence, the happy announcement at the end of the day, this Pearl Harbor Day.

When called upon in class to offer today’s date, my Curbside Classroom ‘pupil’ gave more than just the date, December 7th. She confidently reminded her teacher and class the historical significance of this date.

I wasn’t in the class but learned that her teacher was ‘blown away’ and awarded her extra credit.

As a school crossing guard, or just as an adult tossing out bits of Life’s good ‘stuff’ to young folks, knowing that you’ve made a positive experience for them is a big personal reward. I couldn’t be happier for this student and it made me think a bit more about the importance of passing tidbits along to kids.

Sarah Caldwell was an American Opera conductor, who said, “Learn everything you can, anytime you can. There will always come a time when you will be grateful you did”.

And, William James, an American philosopher and psychologist, encouraged others to “act as if what you do makes a difference, it does”.

In my blog, “S’amusing”, I write about a myriad of Life stories. And within the blog, I have a series titled, ‘The Crossing Guard Chronicles’, which describes my experiences as a school crossing guard and my interaction with kids. We talk and talk and talk as I engage them with a potpourri of topics in our minute, or so, together. Questions, facts, brain teasers, poetry, music (yes, I’ll sing a tune), it’s a veritable salad bowl of topics to kickstart their day (and mine), generate some smiles and help create a positive frame of mind before they enter their ‘brick ‘n mortar’ buildings. And it works.

What a great way to start the day.

One more thing, that same week we talked about trees. I stumped them on ‘shoe trees’. I have to win, occasionally…

Steve Bottcher January 2021

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The Bar Chronicles: #22, UFOs (and you thought we only came for the beer)

Bar Night 2

The forecast called for rain, freezing rain and a quick blast of snow. Our plans called for beer, a cold beer and a heavy dose of camaraderie.

We would not be denied!

However, as veterans of western New York weather (a.k.a. ‘old guys’) with familiarity of the dreaded ‘black ice’, we walked cautiously from car to bar, looking out for each other as friends are wont to do, ready to reach out at the first slip.

A good thing, too, because tonight, at Caverly’s Irish Pub in the Southwedge neighborhood, our first Bar Night of 2019, we had a potpourri of topics on our agenda. In truth, we don’t have an agenda, we just get our beers, sit down and talk, ‘unplugged’!

First things first, goodbyes were in order for one of our dear friends in the group. Oh, Heavens no, not that kind of goodbye. he’s only going to Florida for a couple of months. Will be back here in March when he hopes winter will be just a fading memory. We all know, of course, that winter along the southern shores of the Great Lake, Ontario, lingers well beyond March, often with big surges deep into April.

We lifted our mugs high, or as best we could with sore elbows, bum shoulders and oil can joints, and wished our friend safe travels, warm weather and a speedy return because next time, he buys.

Do you believe in UFOs, other planets that sustain life? Do we occupy this vast system of universes just ourselves, we earthlings? It’s easy to be a skeptic, isn’t it. If you haven’t seen something, then it probably doesn’t exist. Or, have we seen it?

Got your attention? And you thought we only came for the beer. Not at all, but it helps. As we age and become more erudite (remember, the beer helps) we begin to address Life’s lingering questions, such as, ‘is anyone out there’?

What did the Navy pilots aboard the USS Nimitz actually see when they encountered … what shall we call it, a spaceship… off the California coast in 2004? The US government has records of the incident, an incredible story that involved well trained, experienced and credible personnel.

I know, you have your doubts. Read about it, yourself. Look up ‘USS Nimitz & UFO incident’ for a full version. Don’t take a writer’s word, I’m just trying to get and keep your attention. Maybe this Wikipedia article will turn you a little…

The USS Nimitz UFO incident refers to a 2004 radar-visual encounter of an unidentified flying object by US fighter pilots of the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group. In December 2017, infrared footage of the encounter was released to the public.

This Bar Nighters were getting into some serious topics, tonight, eh. And it wasn’t the beer talking, heck, we only drank one. No, this was deep thinking material, esoterica, one might say.

I looked at our clear skies differently on the drive home tonight and paused in my driveway after dropping off the last rider; stars as far as I could see, a limitless vista. I couldn’t help but wonder, ‘is anything looking back at me’, as I lowered the garage door and scooted inside.

Here’s a link for more basic data about our skies and those beyond…

https://nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov/news-display.cfm?News_ID=573

And you thought we went out just for the beer.

Steve

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Snowball Fights Make Good Friends

snowballs

“Wop! Wop! Wop!”

One, then another, and yet another, ‘wop , wop, wop’, from different fronts, rock-hard snowballs, spheres of packed snow that when thrown expertly, leave red blotches on the skin or wet splatter marks on clothing. Mostly, they leave bruised egos! In the shoulder, the backside, the legs and the head, if you’re not watching.

“Run! Run for your life!”

War whoops from the neighborhood bullies who gathered to harass my friends and me on a cold, snowy nor’easter day, the kind of days school kids loved. School was closed, traffic slowed and monster trucks rumbled thru neighborhoods, pushing snow into huge piles for more outdoor games, a perfect atmosphere for snowball fights. These ruffians had lots of opportunities for ‘assaults’ on us during the long, cold New England winters.

Slam!

The kitchen door closed behind me.

“Just in time for dinner”!

“Why are you so wet?”  

“Why are you panting?”

My mother didn’t get it, had no idea of the peril I faced in the dilapidated barn behind my house where the ‘bad guys’ had us trapped, on the second floor, the ‘good guys’, trapped and running out of ‘ammo’. Snow fell through the leaky roof of the old building, but nary enough to ward off the lot of ogres, older by two or three years, ungloved and open jackets, impervious to the elements. Tough guys, the toughest, and outside the barn, with an endless supply of ammo, falling snow.

I had been called once for dinner…

“Steeeeeeeeephen!”

“Suuuuuupper!”

She didn’t, and wouldn’t, call more than once.

… but the bullies wouldn’t allow our plea for a truce, a ‘temporary suspension of hostilities’. Only a ‘brave’ jump from the hayloft door into a pile of snow and mad dash to my house saved me from…well, you can just imagine!

Yes, ‘imagine’, and I do. Such a beautiful word. I find that, as I get older, a little bit at a time, ‘imagining’ becomes a key part of what I remember and makes my childhood experiences even more vivid than they probably were.

Oh, the barn was there, leaning, and snowball fights were common. And there were older kids, lots of them in a working class neighborhood of large families, but they weren’t really bullies, ruffians, or ogres. Often, we were on the same side in other activities played outside on the streets, surrounded by fresh air.

However, winter was the season of the toughest games. ‘King of the hill’ saw friends tossed about while vieing for the top spot of a snow mound. Sledding was fast and furious, weaving around cars, trees or each other. Just knocking someone into a snow bank was a game. All of it, the rough and tumble, pushing and shoving, bonded our friendships more.

We wore ourselves out…outside, where we created games all day and came home to the loud yell of, ‘suuuuupper!’

I can still pack a good snowball and hit a target…and imagine…and remember.

Yes, snowball fights made good friends!

Steve

January 2019

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To all kids who played in the streets, created fun games with friends and still remember it all.