Elena’s Voice

Pictures of Elena fill me me with memories, but the sound of her voice touches me to the core. It evokes deep sense memories of her sitting close enough that she could rest her foot against my leg just to know I was still there. It brings back the feel of her in my lap as we read a story or watch a baseball game.

If you’d like, I’m ready to share a bit of Elena’s voice with you.

I decided to enter the Public Radio Talent Quest contest. This was a public contest to pick three shows that would audition for a public radio show. We were supposed to introduce ourselves in a piece that could not run more than two minutes. We were to demonstrate our hostiness.

And so I thought about my background in radio and where it had started. I have always found radio to be magic. More magic than television. My first appearance on radio was when I was six. I read the weather and original poetry about dinosaurs on a show hosted on the local college radio station by the son of my first grade teacher.

When she was six, Elena had recorded an ad for Mrs. Eagleton. She wasn’t in Mrs. Eagleton’s class yet but she knew she would be.

Every year the second grade runs the Boulevard candy company. The kids sell stock in the company to raise money for the raw ingredients. They then take orders from the other classes so they know how much of each item is needed. Then they melt chocolate down and mold it into suckers and other shapes. They collect the money for the orders and fulfill the orders and pay dividends on the stock.

Elena came up to my office one day and recorded a commercial for the Boulevard Candy company. I love the raw take that she did but I also edited it into a thirty second commercial.

It is the last recording I have of her before she died.

I decided to lead off my piece with her voice. My piece was about me and radio, but it was also about parenting. My daughter was on it and my parents were on it. People who voted on the entry didn’t know that Elena had died shortly after the recording. I didn’t want to get sympathy votes. I didn’t move on to the next round but I was voted in the top one hundred of the fourteen hundred entries.

You can listen to it at http://www.publicradioquest.com/node/502

It is called “With a push from Elena.”

Note: I have dated this entry April 28, 2007 because that was the day I submitted the entry. I have waited to post this link until after the contest was over.

Published in: on April 28, 2007 at 7:59 am  Comments (11)  

The Accident

Kim’s car was hit by a woman driving too fast in a school zone, while eating cereal, and talking on her cell phone.

All of that would have mattered except that Kim had parked on the wrong side of the road to drop Maggie off at school.

Maggie was already in the school and didn’t know anything happened. Kim pulled away from the curb and was hit hard in the side. She’s ok. The other woman, a teacher at Maggie’s school who was running late, was ok. Kim’s car isn’t looking so good.

I know it’s just “stuff”. It doesn’t matter.

And yet Kim and I have this discussion several times a week where I tell her to take the extra minute to go around the block so that she’s facing the right way. “There’s going to be an accident,” I say.

“Everyone does it,” she replies.

I’ve got to say, usually being right feels a lot better than this.

Kim calls me on Kelly’s cell phone. She’s lost her own weeks ago and just cancelled her service rather than replace it. Neither of us say anything about her being on the wrong side of the road. She mentions the other driver’s speed, cereal, and cell phone.

I nod. I’m not happy. Kelly picks up on that and wanders over to diffuse the situation. Now that I know everyone is ok, all that I can think of is that I’ve just quit my job and now we’re going to have to buy a car.

Kim drops the car off at the Honda dealer and we wait. The car is ten years old. We got it just before we adopted Maggie. We figured we needed more reliable cars if we were going to be driving kids around with us.

A few days later we get a letter from the insurance company. They are totaling Kim’s car.

Maybe it was meant to be. We couldn’t really sell this car. This was the car in which Elena died. There in that back seat on the same side that was hit in this accident. Maybe this would help us move on.

Kim and I shrugged. We’d figure things out.

She called the Honda dealer to see how much time she had to come clear out her car. “Why?” the woman on the other end asked. She explained that we had misread the letter from the insurance company. The car was worth saving and that was how much money the insurance company would pay.

The equation changed. We wouldn’t be moving on from this car. To our surprise, neither Kim nor I were ready to move on.

The things you find out by accident.

Published in: on April 25, 2007 at 7:58 am  Comments (1)  

Tax Forms

Missing my little dependent.

Published in: on April 16, 2007 at 7:57 am  Leave a Comment  

Spring Snow

We’ve had an odd Spring. It was warm and wet and beautiful early and so the flowers started to bloom and the trees started to bud. And then the snow came back.

The garden for Elena and Jan had come to life as if putting on a grand finale for Jan’s husband George before he moves away. It was that shock of color after a long winter that grabs your attention and brings you back from months of not paying much attention to the world around you.

And then it snowed. It snowed a lot.

First it snowed a little. The flowers shrugged off the flakes and pushed their heads through. Their color was all the more striking against the white background.

Then it snowed more. A heavy, late-season, Easter snow that blanketed our world. You could no longer see proud flowers standing up beneath the snow. The stems were bowed over. Kind of sad that the garden would be ruined this year.

But as the snow melted, the flowers stretched a git and shook off the weight they’d supported for a week and began to stand up tall again. For the most part, the flowers had made it through the snow and the garden looked like nothing had happened.

People started to weed it again, to water it again, to walk their dogs past, and to notice it.

A spring snow always makes me smile.

Published in: on April 15, 2007 at 7:54 am  Comments (1)  

The Chicken Song

“Why did Elena used to smack herself in the head at the end of the chicken song?” Maggie asked.

“To make you laugh,” I said. “She loved to make you laugh.”

Maggie smiled, pleased with this answer, and said, “yeah.”

When we first adopted Maggie she was an adventurous eater. She’d eat almost anything we gave her. She loved vegetables. But then something changed. She went into a stage where she’d mostly eat processed meat. She took salami for lunch every day. If we’d let her, she would have eaten salami for dinner as well.

Elena, meanwhile, would try anything.

When Elena was three and Maggie was five I cut up some chicken and put it on their plates. “You just have to try it,” I said.

Maggie put a piece in her mouth and started to chew looking like she was going to gag. She put a piece of hotdog in her mouth and ate it to wash away the taste.

Elena tried the chicken and liked it. Maybe to suck up to me or maybe to taunt her sister she asked for more.

Elena never lived through a moment for which she couldn’t make up a song. So when I returned from the kitchen with half a dozen bite size pieces of chicken on her plate she left to her feet and began to sing.

“Gotta try this chicken, gotta try this chicken, gotta try this chicken.” And then she took a piece of the plate and popped it in her mouth.

For some reason, Maggie didn’t feel teased. She thought it was funny and laughed.

So Elena added a dance to the song.

“Gotta try this chicken, gotta try this chicken, gotta try this chicken.”

Maggie rolled her eyes at me but she laughed at the end of Elena’s song. With more pieces on chicken on her plate, Elena needed to embelish more. This time instead of eating the chicken at the end she added a mock swallowing sound which she sang – sustaining he last note.

“Gotta try this chicken, gotta try this chicken, gotta try this chicken, ahhh-goooom.”

Elena knew that she had a hit on her hands but she wanted to evaluate it for herself. So she climbed onto a chair so that she could see herself in the mirror while she sang the chicken song again. Pleased with how it looked, she sang it once more with feeling. Slowing down at the end for the big finish where she drew out every note.

“Oh yeah, I say you just got ta try this chi-i-i-i-i-i-i-ken.” Big pause. Deep breath. “Ahhh-goooom.”

Over the years, every once in a while Elena would reprise the chicken song. It could be at dinner. Often it was when Maggie, Elena and I were sitting playing cards. Maggie would say, “remember Elena’s chicken song dad?”

Elena would leap to her feet, “oh yeah. I love that song.” And she’d sing it again. When Maggie stopped laughing at the song, Elena added a final embellishment: the head slap.

“Gotta try this chicken, gotta try this chicken, gotta try this chicken.” Elena would then slap her forehead with her palm like she’d just forgotten something really important. Then she’d finish, “ahhh-goom.”

Maggie would roll her eyes at me. But she’d always smile at Elena. And that was all the reward and encouragement Elena ever needed.

Published in: on April 5, 2007 at 6:34 am  Comments (1)  

Quiting time

I quit my job today.

I loved the company I worked for and was able to do some amazing things over the past four years. I respected most of my co-workers. There was an unusually high number of smart committed people. I have nothing but good things to say about the founder and icon of the company.

But then there was my manager.

He was hired while I was away after Elena died. When I came back to work he wasn’t my manager yet but he was somebody I’d have to work with. After our first conversation I was horrified. Here was a guy committed to doing as little as he could while appearing to be thoughtful and competent. He convinced the CEO (also the founder) that he would spend the first six months on the job just learning the business and then he would start producing.

I was stunned. I called the CEO and told him he should get rid of this guy immediately. He didn’t. And the next thing I knew I was directly reporting to this man.

He was a micro-manager who couldn’t make a decision. I had to run everything by him before doing them. They would sit on his desk and wither until the deadline had passed and nothing could be done. I watched as all of my active projects died and by Christmas I had little left to do. He would fly me out three thousand miles to meet with him and then he’d have a schedule conflict and not show up.

He loved meetings and soon I was scheduled into many weekly phone meetings that seemed to serve no purpose. Each Friday night at around nine the phone would ring.

“Don’t answer it,” Kim would say, “you know who it is.”

But how could I not answer the phone. Sure enough it would be my manager. It was six pm on the west coast and everyone had left the office. He needed someone to talk to. Some reason not to go home. Some way to convince himself that he was busy.

With all that, I stayed at the company asking to be transfered to another position. Two things tipped me over the edge. The first should have been enough.

I took the week of February 22 off. It was the anniversary of Elena’s death and I didn’t know how I’d feel but it seemed like a good time to take a vacation. I told my manager why I was taking the week off and let him know that I would not be checking email. I explicitly told him that the 22nd was the anniversary.

The phone rang all day from friends and family checking that Kim and I were ok. Sharing a memory of Elena. Letting us know they were there.

Mid afternoon I picked up the phone and it was a former boss who now worked for my current manager.

“I’m sorry to call today. I know this is a hard day for you.”

She’d come to the funeral the year before. It was nice that she remembered. We’d been friends over the years.

“But,” she continued, “xxxx asked me to call to get you to book a flight to San Francisco to meet with Intel in a few weeks.”

“Today?” I asked, “it has to be done today?”

“It does. He wanted to make sure it was done today.”

Like an idiot, I did it. On the first anniversary of my daughter’s death, I took time to call Continental and book a flight. Maybe he asked her to call – but she made the call. She didn’t tell him “not today.” And me? I did what they asked.

And here, in retrospect, is the most puzzling part of that story. I didn’t quit my job then. I came back from vacation and flew to San Francisco and went to the premeeting. Sure enough, my manager had forgotten that he had double booked the slot and wouldn’t be able to make the meeting.

I continued to work for the company but something felt different. I had been covering our conferences since before I came to work for the company and now I had been told to miss two in a row. A couple of weeks ago the phone rang at about ten o’clock on a Friday night.

“Don’t answer it,” Kim said, “you know who it is.”

Sure enough, it was him.

“I finally had my meeting with [the director of conferences],” he said. This was the meeting he had supposedly been trying to schedule since November. This was March. He had sent her a budget for how much our services would cost her. In it he would be charging her tens of thousands of dollars for the use of one of her employees. He was surprised when she reacted badly to that.

And then he dropped the bomb. “[The marketing director] doesn’t want you to come to conferences any more. They don’t think you’re a team player.”

I was stunned. I had just done her a favor two nights before when she was in a bind and needed me to help her post some files quickly. We had always had a great working relationship.

He should have left that alone – but then he gave himself away by saying “And they don’t want you to call either of them to confirm that this is what they actually said.”

When I later told the story to Kim, I said that that was like Elena coming home from school and saying, “I was really good in school today. You don’t have to call my teacher and check or anything.”

Over the last couple of weeks I made some calls. Kim, as always, had the common sense approach. She said, “you can’t fight this battle from three thousand miles away. He’s had you working through him for seven months so all they know of you, they hear through him. He’s gotten to paint their impression of you.”

“But that doesn’t make any sense,” I said, “they’ve known me for years. They know how I am.”

The final straw came when I talked to two women. One was the woman who had supposedly said I wasn’t welcome at conferences and I wasn’t a team player. She said that she had said neither and invited me to let her know which conferences I wanted to attend. The other was the woman who had called me on the anniversary of Elena’s death. She was a woman I’d worked closely with for four years. She told me that she had heard I wasn’t a team player.

“But you know I am, we’ve worked together for four years.”

“Yeah, that’s what I thought but [the marketing director] says that you’re not.”

“Really?” I said, “did she tell you that?”

“No,” she said, “but [my manager] said that that’s what she said. Why would he lie?”

I’ve been watching people and politics for long enough that when smart people trust something they’ve heard over their own experience, there’s no way to convince them otherwise.

And so I quit today.

I don’t know what I’ll do. I have no job waiting for me. I didn’t quit in order to go somewhere. I quit in order to get away. But in the hour since I quit I already feel so much better. I should have done this months ago.

Note: This was much harder to read because I’ve gone to such pains not to use anyone’s name. The point of the story wasn’t who did what. In my resignation I summed up what I had done for the company over the past four years. I’m really proud of what my team did. I also summed up what the company had done for me. I’m very thankful for what they’ve given me. I probably could have gotten some sort of money out of them for the abuse and hostile working environment but it was more important to start fresh and move on than to worry about every little detail.

Published in: on April 2, 2007 at 6:56 am  Comments (4)