Facebunk by Chuck Thurston

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The job market is tough for young people these days. A lot of the entry-level jobs have gone overseas. The country is just now beginning to climb out of a bad recession. Many of our young folks will be graduating from high school this spring. This column is for them.

Listen up kids. This is Grandpa. Put down that cell phone for a minute or two and read some advice. Yeah, I know. What can you learn from some old geezer who doesn’t even know how to tweet? Tweet, schmeet. Let me explain. I spent 40 plus years in the business world. I have hired people, and fired people. Trust me on this one, gang.

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Technology has made it easier than ever to find and keep a job suitable to your talents. It has also made it a whole lot easier to blow a good job chance, or lose the one you have.

First things first. The interview is important. Spend a little time beforehand learning something about the company and the job you are interviewing for. They probably have a certain way they want people to dress, behave, and perform on their jobs.

Google them. You can really impress the dude or dudette giving the interview if you know something about what they do and how they do it.

Be clean and neat and on time for the interview. Smile and make eye contact. Sure, you might be a little nervous – that’s to be expected. No big deal. I will tell you a little secret. A lot of times the interviewer is a little nervous too!

Turn off your cell phone and stick it in your purse or pocket. I said OFF, kids – not on vibrate. If I’m interviewing you and I notice you glancing down periodically to scope out your buds…you are cooked. My theory is that if you can’t stay untexted for the length of a half-hour interview, I am not going to trust you to give your undivided attention to the position I am looking to fill. Do you want a job, or do you want to spend most of your time playing thumb-doodle? If your answer is “IDK..”, you should seriously reexamine your life.

After the interview, be patient. They probably won’t make a decision right away, but will let you know in a few days. What do you think they are doing in the meantime? Fixing up a nice office for you? OMG, no, kid. They might have other people they want to talk to about this job – and they are probably doing a little checking on your references. WTF? Yes, kids. They might want to have a chat with any bosses you worked for before: how you did on the job, why you left, etc. I’ve had many an enlightening chat with the former employers of folks who wanted a job with me.

A new little wrinkle that might concern you: a lot of them are now looking you up on Facebook, just for the fun of it. This can be a real showstopper for you. Let me explain:

Does your Facebook profile list some of your favorite interests as: “Bud Lite, Miller Lite, Coors Lite, ha ha ha!” This is Facebunk. If I were a prospective employer looking at this, I’d be saying, “Not on MY time clock, dawg!” Don’t list all of your bad habits, no matter how sexy, tough, macho, clever or hilarious you think they are. If those really ARE your primary interests, your new boss will find out about them soon enough. Then you can try to explain why a high flyin’, loveable goofball cut-up like you deserves to be working for him or her.

Oh yeah, and kids – while you’re at it – apply the granny test to the pics on our Facebook page. If you’d be embarrassed to show them to grandma, grandpa, your pastor or other responsible, respectable folks – dump them. I would delete such pics as: high times with stoner friends, clothing optional parties, various hormonal and testosterone driven activities, mistreatment of animals, small children and other hijinks. More Facebunk. Keep these in your scrapbook. Perhaps when your own grandchildren come along many years from now, they will be enlightened enough to chuckle over them. Perhaps. Assuming you survived them.

Never announce your job interview plans, or preferred job choice to the world. Just like the forward pass in football, three things can happen – and two of them are bad.

A: Best case scenario – you get the job you want, your new employer checks your Facebook and is impressed by your high opinion of them.

B and C suck.

B: Ok, you get the job you want and thumb your Facebook nose at the other employers you interviewed with.   These others see your FB entry, and start to wonder, “Hey, why is this guy/gal dissing us? On Facebook, no less!” You can guess where this puts you if you go looking for another job in the future. Computers have long memories. Data is forever.

C: Your announced favorite doesn’t hire you and the others start to wonder, “Hmmm…wonder why they didn’t hire that guy/gal…maybe we should take a closer peek at those references…”

But let’s say you’re now on the job and you resisted the temptation to exercise options B and C above. Here’s some advice on how to keep it.

Never, EVER, diss your place of employment or supervisor on Facebook.   Jeez, grow up kids. Nobody really cares if you don’t get along with the Chief of the Burger Crew — except the Chief. If he or she finds out that you’ve made nasty comments on Facebook, OMG! – you are so busted, kid.

And in that same vein – never diss a job you left! “WHAT!” you say? “But that was a lousy job and they treated me like crap!” Maybe. (…or maybe you did a less than super-duper job…just sayin’). Why should you care if these yamheads see your insults? Listen, kid. Companies change, bosses change — YOU change. Maybe a year from now you will be looking for another job – with THEM! Remember that computer memory? Never burn your bridges behind you!

It’s a jungle out there, gang.

Fixing the Election by Chuck Thurston

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coffee party cartoon
At no time does television viewing become more tedious than in the months leading up to election. Millions are spent on campaign ads that tell us nothing. The most obnoxious are the negative ads that criticize the opponent instead of listing the virtues of the sponsoring candidate. Even pro-candidate ads, though, are typically dull, vacuous and ridden with clichés. Everyone with a hat in the ring will create jobs, lower taxes, decrease spending, etc., etc.

There is never any detail on just how all of these wonderful things will be achieved; no specific plan, no solid goals, no data, numbers or calendar for achievement is ever given.

I once worked in a large facility of a large corporation when a new general manager was brought in to help right a ship that was, frankly, foundering. He held a lot of staff meetings and listened to a lot of ideas. He had to move quickly and insisted that presentations given to him cut to the chase as soon as possible.

As it happens, his wife was into cross-stitch and he had her make him a sampler that he framed and put on his office wall.

This was in the pre-PowerPoint days, and overhead projectors with transparencies were the presentation weapon of choice. They were popularly called foils, and the presenter often entered a conference room with a pile of them under his arm to “toil and foil” before those he or she wished to convince or impress. And impress is an appropriate term; a lot of the transparencies, were designed primarily to showcase the standup skills of the presenter.

It didn’t take the new GM long to conclude that any given pitch made to him was going to contain a lot of upfront fluff, and he had a low tolerance for it. As the pitchman began his spiel and foil after foil began to light up the screen, the GM would raise his hand for a halt and point to his wife’s sampler on the wall:

“Let me know when you get to the part where you tell us how to fix it!”

 

It was remarkable how quickly the presenter would lift off the top of his stack and speak to the few foils on the bottom.

That’s what I’d like candidates to do. It’s ridiculously easy for incumbents to mouth platitudes – and even easier for challengers to criticize programs they see as flawed, but have no idea of how to make it better. Let’s put them to the test! Make them get to the part where they tell us how to fix it!

Halloween 2014 by Chuck Thurston

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spooky halloween image

My wife and I got a big bowl of candy and sat it on the little table in the foyer to wait for the trick-or-treaters. A cold front with accompanying showers was predicted for later in the evening, so we weren’t sure how many to expect. We have had two or three costumed children on some Halloweens and dozens on others. We put The Fog in the DVD player to watch on this spookiest of nights. It was getting colder and the wind was picking up.

As cars pulled up in front of our modest little ranch, we could see small figures in the glow of headlights and taillights, shuffling through leaves falling in the gloomy mist and heading down our driveway. Larger figures lurked in the background as sentinels.

The Fog

We had about nine or ten such visitors by 7:30. We waited for another half hour, when it appeared that we had seen the last of the ghosts, witches, devils and vampires. We pulled the shades, turned off the outside lights, and queued up our movie.

We had only two small lamps on in our otherwise darkened living room. We were watching The Fog. We could hear the wind outside. The movie itself is characterized by fog and wind and crashing waves, and at some point my wife said, “Do you hear thunder outside?”

“Can’t be,” I said, but went to the front door to check.

Sure enough. A cold rain was falling steadily and lightning flashed in the distance. The wind was whipping the leaves from our front yard maples and the temperature drop was noticeable. I reported this phenomenon to my wife. “We had better get a couple of flashlights,” she said. “We might lose power.”

I got the flashlights – and lit a couple of candles.

The movie was sufficiently scary for our Hallow’s Evening and the weather was right on cue for it. I told my wife that if we got another knock on the door, I probably wouldn’t answer it. We bundled up under comforters, finished the movie, finished our wine, blew out the candles and went to bed.

The Twelve Days Of Turkey by Heidi Thurston

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We are well into October and you know what that means: Thanksgiving is just around the corner. So here are some thoughts before you go out and buy that big Tom Turkey:

Everyone knows about The Twelve Days of Christmas, but how many of you have ever considered “The Twelve Days of Turkey?” Turkey is uniquely American and to most citizens it would not be Thanksgiving without a meal with a big bird complimented by all the trimmings. But unless you are part of a family consisting of at least a dozen people, a large turkey can create a big problem – namely, leftovers.
Most women, having spent a small fortune on a turkey, will look forward to spending a little less on meat for the week following Turkey Day and, heaven knows, we budget conscious household-runners enjoy that! The rest of the family, however, does not always see it that way and a pattern, at least in my family, is set:

On Thanksgiving Day my family says to me, “Oh, what a delicious big turkey!”

On the day after Thanksgiving my family says to me, “Boy; those cold turkey sandwiches sure taste good!”

On the third day of turkey my family says to me, “Hot turkey sandwiches are a real treat!”

On Sunday afternoon, while they all watch football games, my family says to me, “Turkey hash goes good with a game!”

Coming home Monday, from school and work, my family says to me, “Do we indeed smell turkey soup?”

On the sixth day of turkey my family is impressed, and say, “Hmmm…soup to chowder; that’s a clever transformation…”

On the seventh day of turkey my family is resigned and says, “Well, this is different. We did not know you could fill crepes with turkey!”

On Thursday after Thanksgiving the turkey, served with leftover trimmings, receive just a, “Not again.”

By Friday they all yell, “Oh, No!”

picked over turkey

By the 10th day my family says absolutely nothing at all. On the 11th day, while looking at what’s left of the hated bird, they tell me they are not hungry.And on the very last day – the 12th – as I sit alone (they all called and said they were sorry but they could not make it home for dinner), I take what’s left, dump it in the garbage and settle down with a peanut butter sandwich and a glass of milk.

Needless to say, we do not have turkey for Christmas.

Golf Rumination by Chuck Thurston

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I don’t necessarily – and I will qualify necessarily in a bit – view golf as a spiritual exercise, although Robert Redford did once. Check out his scrumptiously filmed “The Legend of Bagger Vance”. It is formed within the framework of the Bhagavad Gita – a part of Hindu scripture. I have claimed that golf is one of the most redemptive games in the world; no matter how bad you screw up, there is always another club in the bag, another shot, another hole, another course, another day. I suppose that you can assign some spiritual qualities to that.

The lesson behind the redemption, though, is a lesson that every pro – at one time or another in his or her career – has offered to an interviewer holding a mike: put that last bad shot or hole or round behind you. The next shot, the next hole, the next round needn’t be like the last one. It simply isn’t good enough to know that you have another chance – You have to shrug off your misfortune and take advantage of the next opportunity. It may be simplistic to say so, but I think the key to that is (oh no, not THAT old sermon) focus!

I went to meet a buddy for a round of golf this morning. He had a doctor’s appointment, and would arrive later; I could be there early and get in a few holes before he arrived!

Charlotte skyline through trees

It is a great little urban course within sight of the Charlotte city skyline, and I knew that the morning rush hour traffic would be brutal. It was – and I barely made my tee time – 8:28. It was Ladies Day, and they would start at 8:30. I would have to hustle to keep from being pushed. The course was wet from two or three days of drizzle and fog. Balls hitting the ground threw up rooster tails of water before rolling to a sodden stop. My buddy called me around the third hole and told me he couldn’t make it. My wife called to tell me the heating and air guys had to order a part to fix the heat pump. My game – sucked.

All of the morning’s irritations were working their way into my game. The nerve! I grumbled along, and then along about the fifth hole, I woke up. I knew what was wrong with me and I knew how to fix it. We almost always know this. I am convinced of it. I know how a shot is supposed to be lined up. I know what my grip should be. I make pretty good club selections. I have played this course many times and know what drive placement works best if you want a shot at par – or bogey – a result that mollifies, if not completely satisfies, me. I knew all this stuff, but I wasn’t doing it. I wasn’t doing it because I was focused on the other baloney of the day. I would like to say I creamed the last four holes, but I rarely cream anything on a golf course. But – my last four holes were three strokes better than my first four.

I don’t offer this as the wisdom of the ages, but pick that ball up from the cup, soldier on to the next hole, select the club you want and take a good long look at that flag waving enticingly at the far end of that beautiful fairway. An old Jesuit priest gave me this wisdom once: “Yesterday was history, tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift – that’s why we call it the present.”

Overheard by Chuck Thurston

hamburger and fries
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As I walked back to my McDonald’s booth with two cups of coffee this morning, I passed by a table where four men – all probably within the 20 to 40 age range – were sitting. I heard this snatch of conversation from one of them; “All of my family are dying and we don’t have a Pastor.”

I did not hear any of the conversation leading up to this expression and I didn’t hear a response after. There was no laughter or unusual reaction around the table. The statement was delivered in a matter-of-fact tone, with no particular word inflection that I could detect.

I told my wife of my experience as I delivered our coffees, and we both speculated on its possible meaning. We realized there could be several, depending on the context of the dialogue that preceded the sentence, and the emphasis placed on various words within the sentence itself.

Consider these two variations:
All of my family are dying and we don’t have a Pastor!”
“All of my family are dying and we don’t have a Pastor.

The first could be construed as a cynical slap against faith as a comfort to the dying; the second might be a rueful acknowledgement that the speaker and his family have no source of religious solace at this sad time. My wife pointed out that we don’t even know whether we are hearing the speaker’s own viewpoint, or he is speculating on that of the dying. Who, exactly, is the cynic or the aggrieved, as the case may be? And, of course, this simple sentence can have many other meanings than the two given above. We talked about how this brief experience might have the makings of a short story – perhaps a key element in a novel.

Writers are often asked where they get their ideas. The earth’s atmosphere is composed of 78% Nitrogen, 21% Oxygen, 2% of a lot of other gases – and 100% full of ideas. They are in the air. They are all around you – in a supermarket checkout line, at a garage mechanic’s desk, in the seat next to you in a passenger jet – in a fast-food restaurant. Keep your ear to the breezes.

Vermont Idyll by Chuck Thurston

The town square in Newfane, Vermont
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When I went to graduate school, I threw my wife into the breech at home. I had gotten my undergrad degree the hard way – night classes for six years. Would she keep the home fires burning while I went away, applied my GI Bill and worked as a graduate instructor to get my Masters? She would, and did.

When it was done, we were both whipped and decided that a fall vacation was in order. We left the kids with my mother – no hardship there, since she indulged them far more than we did – packed up our old Dodge Dart and headed for a rendezvous with autumn in Vermont.

Not much tops car problems for vacation misery, but if you pull your own vehicle spitting and sputtering – and eventually dying – into a little town, try to pick Newfane, Vermont in September. Nothing in our experience had prepared us for this. We luckily found a good Yankee mechanic who looked at, and listened to, our old Dart and told us he could have it fixed in a couple of hours. The little town was ours to explore.

We happened to hit Newfane during a Fall Festival, and we strolled toward a conglomeration of tents and booths around a small square. There was not a point on the compass that didn’t present a scene of exquisite beauty, as we turned to look at our surroundings from the middle of this square. It was a beautiful day. Puffy clouds dotted a deep blue sky and the hardwoods were in full color. We wandered around the various exhibits and into a church on one side of the square. There was going to be a harvest supper that very evening! We were handed a menu; Oh boy! It almost seemed to us that Newfane itself had conspired to embrace us and keep us close.

Then reality. We got the message that our car was fixed. The cost was reasonable, but unplanned, and we were on a tight budget. We had reservations at a B&B in Montpelier that evening, and couldn’t afford to swallow that expense, for an evening in Newfane, although I am sure we must have been tempted. It was back then, on the road.

We have never been back, but that town, that day – that glorious day – has never been far from our memories. May it always be so.