Storytime: A Razor's Edge Away

Despite what you may think, I don’t generally whine on the blog that much.

I bitch. There’s a difference. 🙂

Whining is complaining about crap ineffectually and self-pityingly, being passive and expecting someone else to come along and fix your life and problems for you.

When I bitch about stuff, it’s meant to be with a sense of humor, a feeling of sharing to pass the time, and the sure and certain knowledge that even if I’m angry, I ain’t expecting anybody to do a DAMN thing for me, I can fix whatever’s bugging me all by myself (which means with the help and support of Cassie of course), and thank you very much.

The only time I tend to talk about stress and crap is waaaay after the situation is resolved, or when I know that it is resolved. When there is a solution.

Bitching is just part of the after action report. 🙂

Last week was one hell of a hard, stressful time for Cassie and I, and thankfully, for us, the worst is past. For those few people that dumped extra stress on us with needless drama, and you know who you are… thank you oh so very much.

I didn’t talk about it at the time, because it was still ongoing. There wasn’t a resolution yet. Now, for us at least, things are looking much better. So now I can be cheery and start bitching about being all stressed out last week.

It’s not just me that does this, it’s a trend on my side of the family. When stuff is going wrong, when bad times have come, you go dark and run silent. The rest of the family doesn’t hear from you again, not until you’ve got positive news to report.

I KNOW we’re not the only ones that do this.

I knew my mom was going through a bad time when I didn’t hear from her, and she didn’t return phone calls, for well over a year.

When I finally DID get through to her, she regaled me with tales of job loss, impounded and busted cars she couldn’t afford to have fixed, suspended licenses, skirting the edge of jail time (for driving ON a suspended license while speeding, naturally) and problems with my little brother and sister… neither of whom are little anymore.

But those were tales of the past… because by the time she actually started answering her phone again, she had a new job, her car was working, her license was back, the house was in good shape, and my brother and sister were, if not doing well, at least not ACTUALLY in jail. At the moment, anyway.

That’s just the way it works.

Now, I am going to share with you a tale of woe. A tale from the dark side, of depression and struggle, when I was down about as far as I’ve ever been. And there IS a point to it, a reason why this is on my mind at the moment, and when we get to the end I hope it’ll become clear.

I had a stretch back many years ago, before I met my lovely wife, just after I had quit my job of cross country truck driving with the hopes of settling down and making a few friends, where I found myself a hair’s breadth from being homeless and living on the street. 

I hadn’t been totally crazy, you know. I try and make reasoned decisions. When I quit truck driving, it was to walk into a high paying Engineering job that was just waiting for me, making test stations for jet engines, test stations that the major airlines use to do their serious periodic engine maintenance.

I walked into the job, snagged a room nearby that you paid for by the week (at stupid prices, and due to my ignorance of the area, in a horrible crack house neighborhood), I didn’t have a car yet because the truck had BEEN my car, but I started saving immediately to get these things taken care of. 

I figured I needed about 3 months, max, and my foundations would be form underfeet.

The company lost their contract, and I was let go with, literally, zero warning on a Friday afternoon at the last second of the work day. I had spent all of two weeks there.

Desperation set in, and my savings vanished paying the stupidly high weekly room rent as I looked for a new job. I finally grabbed the first job I could find to get some money going, working on equipment that cut, shaped and sealed foam products.

Once I had a job, I still had no savings at all, and no car or anything else. Anything other than cheap clothing vanished as my room got repeatedly broken into while I was away at work. Crack house, remember?

I was bussing and walking, and saving every dime in the bank to fund a future job search. The job paid poorly, but just well enough I could make it work. Theoretically.

But once the room was paid, there were very few dimes left over for savings, let alone food or a car or a security deposit. Every week after rent was paid, I had just about enough left over to buy some cans of vegetables, some ramen, and a single 99 cent Whopper a day for food.

Damn, that Whopper felt like such an unnecessary luxury item. I mean, you could get three cans of corn, or two cans of tunafish, or a loaf of bread for what that one Whopper cost. It’s funny what I remember now, how guilty I felt for not saving that dollar each day for my future.

Christmas rolled around fast, and I was right on the edge… I didn’t have enough money saved to do anything yet, and some of it got spent at the Army/Navy surplus store getting cold weather gear.

Note to others… there is no finer item for cold weather comfort, than what we in the Marines in 1994 called the “poncho liner”, a soft, smooth, silky, insanely warm and comfy blanket in camouflage pattern that could be crushed and rolled up to fit in the cargo pocket of your trousers. Sucker washed and lasted forever, too. A more perfect item I have never encountered, and the procurement officer responsible for buying them for us Jarheads should be blessed. Note to self… try to find one online. I miss my poncho liner.

Anyway, Christmas was coming… and then the word came down. They were cutting back on positions because of a slow fourth quarter. People were going to be cut. And I was one of the newest employees. Everybody I worked with was sure my ass was out the door. 

I was truly looking at being homeless and unemployed on Christmas in Minnesota, and spending some time in a shelter, IF I was lucky enough to find space.

I wasn’t really worried, you understand. I was single, and a former Marine, and I knew I wouldn’t starve to death so long as a single place needed a dishwasher somewhere within a bus ride’s distance. It’s being responsible for providing a safe, secure life for the rest of your family that makes things… terribly stressful when you lose your job. So much more to lose. 

That whole period of time, not a single family member heard a peep from me. Not word one. I dropped off the planet.

Now, I did NOT get let go. It was close, but I and the rest of third shift was kept, and they let first shift people go instead.

Staying employed, I eventually saved those dimes.

Far more importantly, I found a much cheaper place to live which made a HUGE difference.

It was in a co-worker/friends’ house, where a bunch of his buddies all lived in different rooms, and while it was still a bad neighborhood, it was a far, far better situation to be in, and let me save a lot more money. I wrote about the housing arrangement in a previous storytime, I believe it was called “Look out he’s got a knife” or something like that.

Amazing how these storytime things all tie in together at some point, isn’t it?

Anyway, once I had what could be called a reasonable living situation, I was finally able to save some damn money. I invested in a computer that I put together, putting that in front of a car because my priority was finding a GOOD job.

Once I got online, I could spend my every waking hour job searching.

Searching for employment that matched my knowledge and experience, and writing my own resume, I eventually applied for a job for which I was actually qualified, and on the strength of my resume, my experience, and my interview, they turned around and offered me a better position than the one which I applied for… at a vastly bloated salary.

Seriously, we never discussed salary or compensation during any of the interviews. I met the hiring manager that I would be working for, he had me meet his shift leads and get interviewed by them, and then he had the entire team sit in and interview me as a group. Not once was salary or compensation mentioned. I had to figure that the responsibilities would translate into better pay than cutting foam, but at the very least I’d be doing what I enjoyed again.

When he did call me in to offer me the job (in person), he apologized for only being able to offer me such and such hourly pay… which was, as I remember, about $9 an hour more than what I HAD been making.

I tried very hard not to cheer. “Just stay calm, don’t let them think that their new employee is a nutter before the ink is dry on the paperwork.”

You might think this was the start of good things.

You’d be right.

It was also during that period of time, just after getting that new job but before I moved into a new apartment, that I met Cassie, the wonderful lady that would one day become my wife… and I met her online. Yes, internet, true love romances between people who meet online DO come true!

How did we meet?

Well, I had the new job, and was making a lot of money. But I was still paying tiny rent and living with the guys in their house. So, on top of being able to save up for an apartment and a car… I could afford a gym membership.

I’d been doing pushups and stuff all along and moving huge foam blocks around, but I wanted to get back in proper shape.

My first week of seriously getting back into working out, I overdid it and ripped both of my shoulder muscles out. Couldn’t even lift my arms.

The Doctor gave me these wonderful, yummy drugs that knocked me out for… oh, about 4 days. I’d wake up, go to the bathroom, drink some water, take another pill and go back to sleep for another day.

The last few days while I recovered, I was able to go online and look around, and met Cassie there. Where, amusingly enough, SHE was recovering from carpal tunnel surgery, and was bored and browsing online herself.

Obviously, there was a lot more to it. But that is how we met. We were both wounded and recovering at home, and browsing the internet when we would normally be at work.

Everything turned around, seemingly overnight. It took a few months of savings, but I was so used to living on a shoestring, the money built up quicker than you could imagine after being destitute for so damn long.

I could afford a nice apartment, in a nice neighborhood. I could get a car that was certified used and within a few years of manufacture rather than somethin on it’s very last legs. And I could buy some furniture for my new flat. 

On top of it all, I was involved in an incredible relationship with a stunning, wonderful, brilliant woman that seemed to find me not totally reprehensible.

I was able to go, within a year, from a razor’s edge distance of living homeless on the street, to becoming a productive, responsible member of society.

Well, of imitating one, anyway.

I can’t help but think of how easily it could have gone the other way. 

I could have been let go that Christmas, but I wasn’t. They let someone else go instead.

Without the kindness of the strangers that I befriended at work that invited me to come hang out at their house, finding a place to stay would have been so much harder. It would have happened, sure, but far slower. And barring any other unforeseen problems.

I might not have been nearly so fortunate in finding employment with a manager that felt that he could better use my skills at a more important, and consequently higher paying, position. Yes, I had saved up and was dedicated to a serious job search for positions I was qualified for and that I enjoyed, but without his deciding to put me in a different position, whatever I did would not have paid nearly so well for at least a year. 

And it was only because of that bump in pay that I felt I could afford a gym membership at the time.

If at any point in this incredible chain of coincidence and happenstance anything had happened differently, I never would have had a place to keep a computer without it being stolen, a computer I could use to get online and find a job, a job that paid well enough to get a gym membership, and a gym membership that encouraged my supid butt to injure myself by going overboard on the fitness thing.

All leaving me RIGHT in the right time and place, and with the free time available, to meet Cassie, the most wonderful woman in the entire universe. 

That’s how tenuous, how fragile our entire wonderful “lived happily ever after” life got it’s start. 

It’s funny, looking back on it all. How can you ever pretend to know what life has in store for you? The person I was then could never have imagined being where I am now, with a wonderful wife and amazing son that can happily come up with “the fart song” and sing it for hours.

Sure, there are always ups, there are always downs. Life is a pattern of unpredictable changes. The only thing you CAN predict is that something unexpected will happen. Maybe it will be good, maybe it will be bad, but change happens.

The best anyone can hope to do is try and plan for and prepare for the worst, hope for the best, and when changes come, ride them out as best you can. Maybe the change will be a gentle wave you can surf with ease, and maybe the change will be the leading edge of the hurricane, leaving you feeling lost and adrift and bound for the bottom when the next wave hits.

All you can do when that happens is paddle your happy ass for shore as hard as you can, do your best to control what you can, and pray. 

I said there was a reason why all this crap, all these beginnings were on my mind today.

This post is dedicated to my sister-in-law Jolene, who lost her job in a layoff yesterday, and to her family, whom we love. Our thoughts and prayers are with them, and our worries too. 

I hope you will all spare just a moment today to think of the craziness that is your life, to try and recognize the good as well as the bad, and to spare a thought for all the people that are still struggling like hell to keep their families safe and to make ends meet.

God bless you all, and good luck.

May you all surf the curl and never wipe out.


22 thoughts on “Storytime: A Razor's Edge Away

  1. Great story BBB!

    All I can say is, Pursuit of Happiness. Well, more or less.

    I think you should try and get a movie made out of this story, it would be great!


  2. Wonderful post. Yeah, i’m kinda low myself. My contract is up June 30. My boss may extend me if he likes what I produce in the near future. Or not. I dont know. I’ve been looking around for a while to find a good *career* and not just a job. I’ve been in academia so long that I dont really have much in the way of non-academic skills. My wife is bringing home the bacon and just got board certified; her life is going so swimmingly and mine isn’t. Well, that’s the way it goes. We lean on each other. Thank god I have her, i’d be homeless and unemployed soon without her.


  3. I’ve hit many lows also, just recently my wife was in a car crash (last Sunday to be precise) and in 2004 at the age of 19 I found my father dead. I am still here now fighting with what life throws at me. Lovely message in your post, keep it up.


  4. Hey 3B.

    I’m feeling in a storm myself. I’ve changed cities twice in a year trying to find a stable place and all. I spent six months in my extend family’s hometown unemployed without a prospect and depressed out of my mind for moving there. I moved again to try my luck where I am now.

    Things are a bit iffy but I think I’m finally starting to see shore.

    It’s good to know for sure it’s there.


    – Eb


  5. Thanks for the Poncho Liner tip, BBB and Wek. I’m buying one for my wife for her b-day. She’s a hunter and sitting in a tree stand at 4 AM in November is a chilly prospect. Although, she will be 9 months pregnant this year, so maybe I’ll re-consider. 🙂

    Great post, too. I approve of stories that show that life can suck, but it’s how you deal with it that shows your worth.


  6. ZOMG, the family! Lets get together on beer and swap family tales. The sister who met all 3 of her husbands at the bowling alley. The other one with 6 kids by 4 different men. I won’t even mention Mother until after the 4th beer. I feel your pain, but a good wife makes it bearable, pun intended.


  7. I’ve been in your shoes, and while they don’t fit in the same manner, I know all too well getting close to that “razor’s edge” of life and almost loosing the things you love/need in life.

    And yeah, I met my boyfriend online. XD Playing WoW.


  8. I think the amazing series of coincidences it what makes some first meetings feel so… destined?

    3 years ago, I was a guild officer & acting GM of a casual guild trying to get its raiding feet. I went for a roadtrip over the week before Memorial Day, got back on WoW only to find that the other officers wanted to merge guilds with some guild I’d never heard of. I did a /who of their guild, looked for someone online whose name gave me a good vibe, and poked them. Little did I know that I’d chosen a full-t2 lock who had quit his “hardcore raiding guild” the day before and only hours earlier had joined this little small-time guild out of boredom. Three years later and we’re still addicted to the game, obviously.

    Good luck to your sister-in-law. Seems you need luck just as much as anything else to get a stable job nowadays.


  9. This was an incredible post. Thank you so much. Seriously, it touched my heart and I really appreciate the message. Thanks again!


  10. Well thank you for the post. We, my family and I, are in one of those low times. Everyone is on there toes around here. My husband and my mother (who lives with us) may lose there jobs soon. THat would not be an issue but I can’t work due to medical issue that the doctors can’t figure out so I can get back to work.

    Yes everything happens for a reason. We have always hit low times and as long as we stick together we make it out just fine. My children are happy and healthy. My husband is getting back in shape (if he loses this job he is going back to the military).

    I wish you sister-in-law and her family the best. It is a hard road but as long as you have family around who loves you nothing can stop ya.


  11. I feel very fortunate that I’ve always managed to land on my feet when difficult times come. Our family is quite the opposite of Bears. I have 6 siblings and my 3 sisters are very close to me. We are fairly aware of each other’s situation and who has issues going on. I don’t think I could have your strength Bear without their support. Perhaps because I’m a social beast and need that closeness, especially when times are difficult.

    That being said, I know some people prefer the battle on their own and find satisfaction that they made it through.

    As for job loses, I don’t think we have been hit as hard with our economy in Canada as in the US and I hope things look better in the future.


  12. We always assumed the poncho liner was true evidence that the US government had captured aliens at Area 51. I mean how else could they come up with something that kept you cool in the summer and warm in the winter? My woobie was truly my favorite piece of military gear (second to my Gore-Tex boots). I still have mine, it usually produces a wrinkled nose from the spousal unit (“Eww, you’re dragging that thing out?”).

    On the main topic of the post, it is amazing how life takes you in different directions. My sympathies to your sister in law.


  13. Takes me back…

    I remember for a couple of years living out of my car. ’79 Caddy sedan deVille. Huge thing, had room for everything but a shower! Luckily I got a job at a buffet pizza place so I had endless food after that.

    Thank you for sharing BBB!


  14. What a wonderful and inspiring post. Best wishes to your sister-in-law and family. It’s always fun to look back and figure out the little “coincidences” that led to the big blessings in our lives. For me, I suffered a freak accident at age 9 that eventually necessitated the fusion of my right ankle. I’m now 29 and looking back I can see how the accident shifted my competitive nature from sports to music and school, which allowed me to get a scholarship for my undergrad, which led me to working at a bank while in school, which is how I met my wife of 6 years this October 🙂 I’m now an attorney and father of three kids and couldn’t be happier. I once heard and I’m a firm believer that a coincidence is a miracle that God wants to keep anonymous.


  15. Nothing like finding the right person at the right moment 🙂

    I also met my husband on the Internet, 19 years ago in my case. Proving you *can* find just about anything on the ‘net.

    Thoughts and prayers for your sister-in-law and family…

    (And I think I need one of those poncho liners….)


  16. Wonderful post man. You brought tears to my eyes… and my wife’s. I’m ridiculously blessed by comparison, and occasionally need reminding of just how good we have it, when the worst we have to worry about is that we can’t buy a house right now because no one is giving loans unless you can come up with 1/3 of the price as a down. Thank you for the reminder… and the wisdom.

    Good wishes to your family, Sir…


  17. Wonderful story! I always enjoy your writing.

    Isn’t life funny? The choices we make seem so trivial sometimes, but can have such long lasting effects.

    I’m really glad everything worked out so well for you. 🙂


  18. Great post, BBB. You even went through your own layoff and managed to find something better. My husband and I are also an internet couple, married now over 10 years, with our adorable 7 year old daughter to show for it. Money has never been abundant, but we’ve been blessed in that we have a place to live and family that has helped us when we needed it. I know well there are people a lot worse off than we are, and I’m grateful for what we do have.

    Sending good wishes to Jolene and her family, that she too will come out of this with something better.


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