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… I’ve ever known — even though I dreaded facing it almost as much as anything in recent memory.

Fittingly, Kiddle woke me up at 4:11 a.m. wanting to play fetch.

I thought I’d snooze until at least 5 a.m., get up, shower, get dressed and go de-ice my car, which was still parked next door at my insurance agent’s office. I spent about 15 minutes on the car before I realized it was probably going to take at least an hour to get the windows cleared — and even if I accomplished that task, I still didn’t like the looks of Ruth Street. My next thoughts: What if I get stuck in that ice-snow muck? Who’s going to push me out at 6:15 a.m.?

I looked around and sort of savored the moment: The snow was coming down steadily, but unlike the last couple of days and nights, during which we received sleet or freezing rain, practically non-stop, this precipitation was virtually silent. The whole town was quiet, in fact, and the streetlights illuminated the snow as it fell.

The sign at McCollum’s said 15 degrees, but honestly, I felt warm. I did, after all, have on my Timberlands, longjohns, jeans and sweatpants, two T-shirts, my RLC Tennis hoodie, stocking cap, scarf, gloves and coat.

“I’m walkin’!” I said (to no one there).

I turned off the car, went inside, stuffed my camera and some extra clothes and shoes into my backpack, and headed out.

I started in darkness, but by the time I reached the news office about 30 minutes later (OK, it’s only 10 blocks, but I was slowed by the snow and I did stop to take a picture of a man walking his doggies), it was daylight. The snow had stopped falling and the sun was coming out.

Unfortunately, within a span of about 10 minutes, I realized that I just might be the only person who was able to make it in to work. No biggie — except I had no idea how to do the composition part of sending the newspaper pages to the press plant! Luckily, a few minutes later, in walked my lone reporter, Mona, who also had hoofed it (she had a longer walk than I did, even!), followed shortly by Kim, Junior and Billy from the mailroom, and Sheila, our circulation manager.

Thanks to Michelle’s assistance via telephone, I was able to get the pages PDF’d and sent. In the meantime, my buddy Lea came by in her Trail Blazer, went to pick up lunch and then stuck around until we were finished with the paper to give Mona and me a ride home — she even made a detour so I could drop off some Cokes for The Currently Snowbound Diane!

Once I returned home, I immediately took some pictures of snow-covered stuff in my yard. After that, I resumed the process of  de-icing my car — made somewhat easier by the bright sun.

While I was scraping the windshield, a man pulled up in a car and parked in the space next to mine. I gave him a quick smile, but he basically ignored me as he carried a piece of paper inside. What a grump! I thought as I merrily went about removing huge chunks of ice.

The man came out a few minutes later and, once again, pretty much ignored me. Then he opened his car door and said, flatly, “I can see you’ve never lived in the northern part of Illinois.” As he spoke, he reached in and grabbed an ice scraper that basically made my scraper look like a tiny toy!

I couldn’t help thinking: Ooh, thanks for pointing out that I am woefully unequipped for this daunting task! (Or something like that; I’m pretty sure I didn’t think of those exact words until I started typing away on this post!)

Next thing I knew, though, he was scraping away at the windshield, scraping away at the back window, all the while telling me about a dandy way to use a soda bottle filled with tap water (“Nothing too warm,” he said, “or you’ll crack the glass in your windows!”) to help melt the ice.

A few minutes later, the windows were almost completely clear … or at least as clear as I cared about getting them, considering I wasn’t actually going to be going anywhere for another 15 hours!

I walked home, went inside, removed my wet clothes and put on some dry ones, and then sat down. Finally.

Kiddle immediately brought me one of her toy mice. Obviously, it was time for more fetch!

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OK, I’ll be honest: I woke up Saturday morning, March 1, and after being up and down for approximately an hour, I suddenly realized, OH MY GOD, I didn’t make a bloggie post on the 29th day of February … which was kinda my whole point of blogging EVERY DAY for the entire month of February!

(Further honesty: I meant to blog early in the day but kept getting busy doing other things — including taking an hour-long nap, which basically served to make me even tireder [more tired?], so that when I finally got home for the day/night, all I could think about was hitting the couch and watching House … which, most excellently enough, happened to be a new one!)

So: So what? I edited the timestamp. And, besides, this picture was taken on Leap Day, so what’s the big deal? I almost made it!

BEN Group

From left: Michelle, Kathy Martin (her final day at The BEN), Phil, Gayla, Sandy, Sheila, Other Diana, Jane, Traci and Di (a.k.a. Yours Truly)

Today we have had a mix of what I like to call “sneet” (snow + sleet) and a new one I just coined, “f’rain” (freezing + rain … or, perhaps I could call it “f’f’rain,” with a certain unmentionable F-word taking the place of that first “f” … depending, of course, on your perspective).

Snow days are fun if you teach or have a job that can be pre-empted or postponed until tomorrow, not so much fun if you happen to work for a newspaper. Although, generally and oddly enough, the combination of hazardous icy roads and the potential to be “snowed-in” together tends to put people in surprisingly good moods.

Go figure.

A couple of women, Kathy and Other Diana (a.k.a. Dirty D) at work whipped up a salad and some BLT’s for lunch. Afterwards, Sheila suggested that perhaps we should have “rationed” our food … y’know, just in case we really did find ourselves snowed-in together, without any electricity or food.

“We’re not exactly the kind of people who ration food,” I declared, chomping on the third-from-last Do-Si-Do Girl Scout cookie from the pack Alice had given me.

The roads are slick. I hope I do not have to get out again today/tonight.

And why is it that every time I’m snowed-in, I get a craving for spaghetti — and never seem to have all the fixin’s I need?!

I haven’t ranted about this yet, but the computers at work are on the brink of complete destruction.

Our e-mail has been hit-and-miss (at best) over the past two weeks (or longer) and our AP wire machine officially crashed in the middle of last week. We have a server that goes down (and definitely not in a good way!) every other week, for no apparent reason, and my own computer? Well, it has officially been designated as “the worst computer in the building.”

(I think I posted a picture of my new set-up a few months ago. There’s a very small part of me that takes pride in being able to put out a newspaper, day after day, on such crappy equipment … and then, there’s a huge part of me that wonders how much better our paper would be if we were ever allowed to use actual state-of-the-art equipment.)

Then, in today’s mail, I received a “blast from the past” DVD from a former co-worker. Kay and I worked together at the news office during the late 1980s; since that time, she has moved on to greener pastures (Vegas!) while I am still toiling away at the news office — probably on some of the same machines that were in use when Kay was there!

Anyhoo, I tried to play the DVD — which apparently contains some “too funny” commentary by me and my then-news editor, Kurt — on my DVD player, and of course it didn’t work. Nor did it work in my computer. I’m going to give it a whirl in a few other DVD players/computers; hopefully, it will work on something.

I could use a good laugh. You know?

Heh.

BEN Group Photo

It was a dark and stormy night.

Actually, it wasn’t night; matter of fact, it was morning, around about 10:26 a.m., according to the computer clock, which was always approximately six minutes slow, according to my cell phone and the clock on the wall above Sandy’s desk. However, the sky was dark, and the clouds looked like they could become stormy, with just a little encouragement.

All I could think about was Sheila’s jacket. All Sheila could think about was murdering three co-workers and making it look like an accident.

All anyone else could think about was lunch.

Sheila's Jacket

Sheila got the jacket for $3 from the Lost Luggage Place in some town in Alabama. She read about it on the Internet and made Robin take her down there.

“Do they just let you go through the luggage?” Sandy asked, blonde and innocently.

“Oh, no, honey, it’s set up like an actual store,” Sheila replied.

I had pretty much decided not to take and/or post a photo of my work computer ’cause … well, first of all, when I realized exactly how OLD my “new” computer happens to be, I found myself highly annoyed by the fact that we’re still using such ANCIENT technology, and secondly: Who wants to be reminded of work, outside of the workplace?

Then Sandy got to work today, and she had brought me daffodils to go with my not-so-new but definitely improved monitor! (Sandy ROCKS!)

Computer Frontview

I tried to do an outline thingie in PhotoShop, so I could number different what-nots and knickknacks on my desk, but then I realized there’s nothing all that mysterious. Still, see how many of the following items you can spot: reporter’s notebook (more than one), breakfast Coca-Cola, mouse, Library Badge (created for me by Lea), various sticky notes, photo of Lt. Joshua D. Lyons, USMC; beef/cheese snack stick, plastic soldiers wearing customized faces featuring local historian, coffee cup, daffodils, miniature Luke Skywalker and tiny piece of Adam’s grille from when he hit a deer.

Perhaps some of the items will be more recognizable from the side.

Computer Sideview

Sometimes, it makes me really, really happy that stuff like this amuses me so much!

Daffodils

I call them daffodils. I think they’re all pretty much the same. Donald and Virginia have three or four different varieties growing in their yard this spring, every spring, and the ones in that top picture are my favorites.

Group of Daffodils

Today was a good day.

I barely put a dent in the five remaining sections of the special edition we’re putting out, despite the fact that I was at the office until after 5, but hopefully I can accomplish miracles this weekend when my co-workers are gone and the phones are silent — meaning I won’t have to deal with callers like the ones I wrote about in a recent post, or the one who bent my ear for at least 10 minutes this morning, complaining about her water bill and how she’d paid it at the bank (as the water department allows you to do) but had been charged a late fee, still. It wasn’t even 8 o’clock yet and I was already trying to do about 15 things at once, and as she ranted, her voice got higher and louder — to the point that I told her, “Hey, don’t be yelling at me about it!” and she said she wasn’t, but I let her know that her voice was getting rather loud (I was holding the phone a good foot or so from my left ear* — thinking, all the while, that my head might actually explode if I didn’t hang up soon).

Later in the day, Adam rigged up a “new” monitor for my iMac at work. The blue “snowmobile,” as I like to think of it, has certainly seen better days, and the screen seems to keep getting darker and darker, so I casually mentioned that I need a new computer — knowing that the likelihood of that happening is about as great as the possibility of monkeys flying out of my butt (honestly, I’d bet on the butt-monkeys way before I’d put any money on a new computer, considering I’ve had exactly four in the umpteen years I’ve worked there — and two of those weren’t actually new but were new to me, so they seemed [somewhat] new). Mr. Fix-It went to the supply room, came back with a monitor and figured out that you can, indeed, hook up a different monitor to the iMac. He connected it to my computer, and voila! A new computer!

(Shortly thereafter, I realized this monitor was the same one from my previous computer; however, the screen is brighter and stuff looks bigger and I can see what the photos actually look like, so, what the heck?)

The old computer/power source is sitting on the desk next to the new monitor, facing west, and Michelle pointed out that anything on the new monitor could also be seen on the old computer. I fixed that potential security issue by taping a full-color Sesame Street Live! promotional folder that I’d received in the mail a few days ago to the old monitor.

It’s perfect, really: Grover features prominently amongst the Sesame Street gang, and there’s also a picture of Oscar the Grouch saying, “SCRAM!” (Sounds like a good photo op to me; I’ll try to remember to shoot one tomorrow.)

This evening I ventured over to The Lovely’s to watch the Salukis play Kansas in the Sweet 16. On The Lovely’s 48-incher. On which we had SIU-Kansas and All My Children going, thanks to split-screen technology and the fact that we both can, indeed, operate the remote. We had Big ‘n’ Tasty Value Meals, Cokes and Chips Ahoy cookies while we watched the game. Again: Perfect, really, except for the final score: Kansas 61, SIU 58.

I can’t dwell on it, though. I’m so tired, my eyes burn.

* — I’m mostly left-eared when it comes to talking on the phone; I believe it’s at least partly because I take notes with my right hand. How ’bout you?

When my home phone rings, or my cell phone, the caller I.D. forewarns me who’s on the other end. I admit: Sometimes I don’t answer! (Oh, relax: I always answer if it’s you calling … especially if it’s on my cell phone; after all, only a select few have that number [read: anyone who’s ever asked for it].)

At work, though, there’s no screening of calls, so pretty much anyone who feels the need to call me, can. And does. Sometimes it’s over something I’ve written — like the time the old woman called me to complain about a column in which I’d used the term “old fart.” She wasn’t upset about me referring to senior citizens as “old farts,” however: She was pissed that I’d dared to use the word “fart” in the newspaper!

She ranted for a while, so I offered the closest thing I could think of to an actual apology: “Well, I’m sorry this upset you so much.”

“Huh!” she scoffed. “You don’t sound like you’re all that sorry about what you wrote!”

“Oh, I’m not sorry about that,” I admitted, “but I do wish I hadn’t upset you by writing it.”

(And that I wouldn’t have had to listen to you complain about it for the last 10 minutes!)

I had a similar phone call from a guy who owns a liquor store across town and the car wash on an adjacent lot. A few days earlier, when I’d walked over to the drive-up window to get change for the car wash (because the change machine was broken, and I was trying to wash my car! [said in Pee-Wee Herman, “I’m trying to use the phone!” tone o’ voice!] ), the girl working in the liquor store refused to give me any change … so I wrote a column about it. The owner, too, was unimpressed by my quasi-apology, but I couldn’t exactly say I was sorry I’d written something when I wasn’t. And: I wasn’t! The girl should’ve given me change!

Then there was the guy who called simply to gripe about my sports coverage — or lack thereof, as he saw it. Nevermind that the coach of the team had not once bothered to provide any statistics from the games; I suppose he assumed I could invent the results, utilizing my mad, magical skills?

“Your sports coverage is horrible!” the man yelled. “In a word: It sucks!”

Complete silence on my end; after all, “It sucks!” was, in fact, two words.

“That was two words, wasn’t it?” the man asked.

“Yeah, it really was.”

Conversation over. No way in h-e-double-toothpick was I going to apologize to him!

Yesterday, an elderly woman called regarding some kind of mix-up regarding payment for an obituary. For once, this wasn’t about something I’d written; matter of fact, it basically had nothing to do with me, aside from me being the person who had taken the obit information in the first place. Nevertheless, I got to listen to her gripe for about 10 minutes.

I had her laughing by the end of our chat, though, by which time the conversation had turned toward her own funeral plans. She said she’d considered cremation, then had decided against it, then thought she might go ahead and do it; either way, she’d have to let Bruce the Funeral Director know what her plans were because she’d already pre-paid for her funeral.

“Ah, it’s OK, you’ll never know what he does one way or the other. You’ll be long gone by then!” I told her.

“Oh, yes, I will,” she assured me.

She went on to tell me how she plans to stick around for such matters — and also how she’d planned to take matters into her own hands (literally) had she been the one to die before her husband did.

“I told him to make sure if I died and he remarried, he bought a new bed,” she told me, “because if he didn’t, every time he got an erection, I was going to put my cold hands around his penis!”

How do you respond to a statement like that?! (I think I told her I had a call on Line 2 [which I didn’t] or that I had to go take a picture [which I did, but not for another 15 minutes or so] or something.)

Jenn's Darkroom

So, last Friday, Jenn and Brandee dropped by to see me at the news office. And to pick up some supplies from Jenn’s Darkroom.

Now, it’s not officially Jenn’s Darkroom, but Jenn was the last person to serve as our darkroom technician/photo assistant before we went completely digital, so I figure she might as well get the dubious honor of having the darkroom named after her.

The place is a mess and smells kinda bad, mostly thanks to various toxic chemicals spilled on the floor and washed down the drain, but there are memories in that room, too. The first time I laid eyes on Jenn, she was standing in the darkroom. She’d started working there while I was on vacation or something, so she’d had a chance to meet everyone else but me by then … and I was the one who had the reputation of being a little, uhm, demanding when it came to my pictures.

(Perhaps my own demandingness in certain areas is one reason that I tend to adore that quality in others. Particularly women. Go figure.)

We were instant friends, though.

“You taught me everything I know about developing film,” she told me the other day, and I had to smile because I didn’t remember teaching her anything, other than following the time chart when it came to using different developers (Acufine for the film I pushed to 1600, D-76 for the 400).

Long before Jenn came to work at the news office, way before we even had a photo assistant, I spent hours in that darkroom. Back then, our paper came out late afternoons, Monday through Friday, and midday on Saturday; I’d come in after the football and basketball games on Friday nights and stay until about 2 a.m., developing film and printing pictures, just so I’d have everything ready for when I came in four hours later to put together Saturday’s sports pages.

I was a lot younger then.

I kept finding things I wanted Jenn to take with her, including some negatives of pictures she and Brett and I had shot of me and her and Brett, a few years ago, on some random Friday night.

Looking at Negatives

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