Sunday, May 27, 2007

Another Gym Talk, and talk, and talk, and talk...

Another day in my local Angeles City gym.

I was a regular chatty Cathy slash rabble-rouser today. First, I noticed Eugene from Olympia, Washington was back after supposedly going back to the States for the summer.

I greeted him, “Eugene! You’re back! You were barely gone for a month. So, you just couldn’t stay away from this place, eh?” I said jokingly.

“Yup, I’m back. I tried to explain to the people back there why I love it here so much, but they just don’t get it.”

I smiled and nodded understanding , “Well, let me guess—you have a little girlfriend out here, right? How old is she….?”

“Twenty-two.”

Eugene is in his late 50s to early 60s. I went on, “And do you have a girlfriend back there?”

He nodded yes. I continued to quiz him, “And how old is she?”

“Forty-seven,” he answered quickly, and continued just as quickly, almost defensively, “but its not JUST the age thing. People back home just don’t understand how sweet the girls are here. They don’t believe me when I tell them. My girl here just takes care of me better, AND she is not demanding in the least. Women back home, well, they NEED stuff! …It’s just easier here.”

I laughed. “Man, do you know how you sound? You sound like a selfish pig…I love it! But I know what you mean. Filipinas are incredibly giving, especially if you find the right one. Sounds like you did. But, I have to ask you. Are you sure your little dolly doesn’t have a local boyfriend or even a husband on the side? You got to watch out for that. It can get you killed if he finds out, or if he has second thoughts about you putting his woman through school. There are times that foreigners get killed by the pop-up drunk-out-of-his-mind boyfriend that he never even knew existed.”

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure I’m the only one,” he insisted. “But if she leaves me, it’s no big deal. That’s okay.”

“Let me ask you,” I said. “Does she ever have to go somewhere or take off for no good reason?”

“Nope. She pretty much stays in the apartment. She wants to go with me wherever I go.”

“Sounds like you’re good to go then. Paradise is yours. Carry on my friend!” I laughed.

++++++++++

Later, peddling my daily 30 minutes on the recumbent bike, I struck up a conversation with the guy peddling next to me, a tourist passing through for a week of fun and excitement from the States. He’s Philippe, a systems analyst, and a very unique fellow. Obviously mulatto, he says his family came originally from Jamaica. Yet, his accent is as Australian as any I’ve heard; well, maybe a bit muted since I can understand what he says without asking him to repeat anything. He arrived in the USA ten years ago at age 27 from Australia after being sponsored by his dad who had migrated to the States a few years earlier. What a world we live in!

Philippe is quite enamored with this place, specifically with all the wonderful girls. The phrase “kid in a candy shop” comes to mind when talking to him. He asked me what I thought about living here because he was seriously thinking about it himself someday.

I started into what turned into a lengthy lecture, “Well, you’re an analyst. You know what “risk to reward” means, right? THAT is what you get by living here. There are pitfalls and downsides that you MUST be aware of if you want to live here.”

“Really, like what?”

“Well, EVERYTHING! But, I’ll use an example of something you are familiar with—the bars. You notice all the bar managers are foreigners, right? Most of them are on shaky ground because they are probably working illegally without the proper visa. THEY are at risk. Thing is, lots of guys come here who don’t have a pension or some other permanent income source, so they end up as a bar manager. They don’t get paid all that much either, maybe 20 to 40 bucks a day, but that can be plenty enough to live on over here IF they don’t get caught. Now, did you hear about the raid on two of the bars the other night? Well, guess what? The fine for working without a visa can be upwards of 350,000 pesos (about $7600).”

I went on, “There were also bar customers caught up in that raid. Chances are they also were forced to pay up for who-knows-what—perhaps for public obscenity if they had one of the girls on their lap—who knows. It’s whatever they can be threatened with to scare them into paying up. Over here, it’s just easier to pay up than going to jail. And going to jail here can be a frightening prospect, especially if you’re just passing through as a tourist looking for some fun.”

Pausing, I took a breath and glanced over at Philippe who was looking a little worried…

“How often does that happen?” he asked.

“Well, they just voted in a new mayor; so no one knows how he’s going to treat the foreign bar owners. The former mayor used to reach out and squeeze a little milk from the cow every month or so, and this new guy looks like he wants some of that action too. Hell, that one raid probably netted the new administration several thousands of dollars in fines, at least. It’s said that winning a position in government here is like winning the lottery, and that’s why. Used to be they’d find some underage girls, but now that the owners are being more careful they just send in spies to point out to the raiding police which of the girls and their customers were acting “naughty.”

“It sounds risky to be a tourist here,” my peddling companion said nervously.

I continued my lecture, “Like I said, its all about risk-to-reward. My advice is to stay away from any bar where the girls are getting frisky from too many ladies’ drinks, ESPECIALLY if you see male Filipinos come into the bar. It sounds bigoted, but if I see a local male come in, I leave. Many of them are just looking to have some fun, but if they see what they consider to be THEIR women acting too bastos, as they say, they might just call it in to the local constabulary. If you are in the bar when they raid it, you get to stay there for as long as it takes for the cops to process everyone, AND you might just get chosen to be milked. I don’t want to alarm you Philippe, but its better to be safe than sorry, don’t you think?”

++++++++++

Sometime after that I got into another conversation, this time with Eugene and a 79-year-old Chinese American fellow that goes by Roland. Unions came up, so I thought I’d play devils advocate knowing that Eugene is a staunch union man and I have my own negative opinion of them.

I declared, “After serving in the military as an enlisted guy I have a hard time understanding the union mindset, because to me it seems so selfish and money oriented.”

I grinned when I could practically see the hair go up on the back of Eugene’s neck. He spoke up to make a point, “You know what pisses us off? When the big managers, the CEOs who make hundreds of millions a year tell us that we have to lay off workers who make a pittance in comparison to them to keep the company solvent. If the company is doing so poorly then why the hell are they paying those bastards so much to begin with? Of course its wrong.”

I chirped, “Well, when it comes to money, I could have been just as upset over the disparity in pay in the military. I was a Senior Master Sergeant with more than 25 years of experience and yet some young captain with a fraction of know-how makes a hell of a lot more. But, I didn’t dwell on that. For me, money was not the driving force behind my service and never was.”

Eugene complained about the lack of good paying jobs available in the States, claiming that the economy was not booming and that the only jobs to be had are low paying ones.

I shrugged claiming, “If I could work, I’m sure I could get a job that paid what I need. Sometimes you just have to be willing to go to where the work is and to get the training required for it. I did that for 27 years, but what does that have to do with the unions?” I laughed.

I decided to make another point or two: “My dad did his 20 with the Air Force and went to work for GM for 18 more. I almost never heard a good word from him about his time in the union. In fact, he was kind of disgusted with the attitudes of his fellow plant workers. It was always a them-against-us mentality—blue collars against salary. He struggled with that after having a mission to accomplish in the military. Civilians, especially union people, just don’t seem to have a sense of purpose. Their purpose is to force the company to meet their demands and to make sure they keep their jobs by making up a whole bunch of ridiculous rules.”

“Like what?” Eugene asked.

I answered, with hardly a pause, “How about rules about not letting workers do each other’s jobs. How stupid is that? It’s wasteful and adds cost to the product. Like ONLY electricians can change light bulbs. Like a machine operator not being allowed to assist the skilled workers when their machine breaks down. The button pushing machine operator loves it when his press stops working because he gets to read his paperback and have a coffee instead of doing something useful like holding a flashlight for the electrician. That’s just stupid. Don’t you agree?”

“Well, there are safety considerations. You can’t allow people to do work that they aren’t qualified to do. It can get someone killed or even cause a plant disaster!” Eugene responded heatedly.

“Hey, I know all about safety. In the Air Force we have 18-year-old kids working on high performance jet aircraft that are every bit as dangerous and explosive as anything in a factory. But we don’t have enough people to say that certain careers can ONLY do a limited number of jobs. We have a training system that systematically forces airmen to learn lots of other tasks outside of their career field. Every single task learned is documented and signed off by the airman and his trainer. Why can’t the unions do that? Why does it always have to be about artificially keeping the employee numbers up? What you’re doing is cutting your own throats. Do you think they have those silly rules in Japan, or China, or Korea, or Brazil? Hell no! And that’s why we can’t compete with them. They can make products a hell of a lot cheaper than we can. We either learn how to compete or close down all our manufacturing plants and send them overseas.” I stopped and gave Eugene a chance.

He did, “Well, maybe you’re right about some of those things, but I don’t think OSHA will let us do what you’re talking about.”

“Well, how about this. When my dad got into the Steering Gear plant he could hardly believe it when he saw that there were no programs to control the tools to make sure they were all accounted for and maintained. He also saw that there was no program to keep track of test equipment maintenance and calibration. And, he brought up the fact that there was no one watching over the publications to make sure they were up to date. He learned how to manage all those programs in the service. Yet, when he pointed out the need in the plant he got the shrug from both foreman and fellow workers. Finally, he got the go ahead and set up the programs. He set it all up just like the Air Force programs he was familiar with. He also took it upon himself to keep the programs going. THAT is the kind of initiative that ex-military people bring to the table. Unions stifle that kind of personal involvement.”

“Yeah, there isn’t a whole lot of that kind of thing sometimes. The system just doesn’t reward it,” Eugene conceded.

I wasn't done. “Get this—when my dad took his early retirement from Steering Gear no one took it upon themselves to keep his programs going. He was excited when one of the foremen called him and asked him to work as a part-time consultant to manage them. He didn’t need the money, but he thought it would be a neat way to stay in touch with his work buddies. But you know what? They all treated him like crap, because NOW he was no longer part of the union. They shunned him. Now THAT is bullshit! Is that what being in a union is all about, acting like a jerk?”

Poor Eugene didn’t know how to respond, but he tried halfheartedly, “Yeah, that kind of garbage can happen. It’s not right. I know.”

I decided I’d better let up on old Eugene. I noticed about then that he wasn’t so happy with me. He stalked off to his next set on another machine.

“Time to get back to work guys,” said Roland, who had been mostly just listening. He grinned, shaking his head with a wink at me through his spectacles. “Making friends I see,” he laughed.

+++++++++++

And finally, I had noticed a pretty young dark-haired girl with long perfect legs working out with a wooden staff. She had it over her shoulders and was twisting at the hips to get loose. The problem for me is that she was doing it so that two of the machines were not available for use. I asked her if I could squeeze into one of them. She took the hint and went into the aerobics room where she should have been in the first place. I was happy to see that Eugene was apparently over being miffed at me when he remarked that they should put up some signs to keep people from using the staff in the weight room.

I too ended up in the aerobics room a short time later. The last thing I do everyday is my matt work where I do my crunches and stretches. The pretty girl was lying on the floor using the crunch machine, but mostly resting between sets. She started to sing along to one of the old 80’s disco tunes filtering in from the main room, but stopped.

“Hey, feel free to sing if you want. Don’t mind me.” I told her.

She chuckled a little, “I forgot you were here…”

“Yeah, I know; I’m used to being invisible to pretty young girls,” I answered cheerfully. “You have an accent. Are you English?”

She answered that she was from London. Why is that? Whenever I ask someone if they are from the UK and they are from London, they feel compelled NOT to claim England as their home, but insist on declaring that they ARE from LONDON.

“What brings you to the Philippines?” I asked.

“I’m just visiting. My father lives here and apparently loves it.”

“Oh yeah, is he married? Or is he going to get married to a Filipina?”

She was adamant, “NO! I won’t let him. I would never give him my permission. I just spent two months in Thailand, and I know how the girls are.”

“Are you half-Filipina? Is your mom from here? Can I see your face?” She turned fully toward me and I saw a very beautiful girl without so much as a hint of Asian ethnicity.

“No, I’m completely English.” At least I think that’s what she said. Her words were barely comprehensible to me. When I listen to Tony Blair HIS English seems so clear, but with so many others from the UK I really have to concentrate to catch their meaning. It’s frustrating.

“Oh, I see. So, are you still a student? What do you do?”

“No, not anymore. I’m finished going to school.”

“That’s nice. Did you get a degree?”

“No. I would have to go to university.” She went into the particulars of the English tertiary education, but I could only understand every third word or so.

I interrupted her laughing, “I’m sorry, I can’t understand you. Why is it that English comes from England yet hardly anyone from there speaks it clearly—or is it just me?”

She smiled politely. I don’t think she understood what the heck I was talking about. Of course to her, she speaks as plain as day.

I continued my barrage of questions, “So what do you do? You working?”

Back to lying on her back to do another set I thought she said, “I’m self-employed. I’m a pole-vaulter.”

I was impressed. “I knew it. You LOOK like an athlete. So where do you compete? Where are your track meets—in Europe?”

“What? What are you talking about?” she asked.

“Didn’t you say that you are a pole-vaulter?”

“No, I’m an exotic dancer.”

I laughed. “Oh my God! See! That’s what I mean. I can’t understand your London English. Well, that makes even more sense. You definitely look more like a dancer than a track athlete.

I gave up while I was behind, since I FELT like a horse’s behind by then anyway. Oh well, just another day in the gym.

4 comments:

Ed Abbey said...

From your union conversation, I think we are in agreement there.

I think when I finally meet you in person, I am going to have to be on guard because you are really adept at pinning people down with your questions. I wish I had more of that talent!

PhilippinesPhil said...

Nahhh, I'm harmless!

macmac said...

As a former linguist, I've often wondered why I can easily understand heavily accented English from non-native speakers, but find Englishmen, especially Londoners, virtually incomprehensible. A little research has revealed that Londoners and those from Southeastern England speak what is called Estuary English (Thames river and estuaries), and this is characterized by an certain vowel shifts and consonant manipulation. As we get older, consonants are harder to detect as they are at the higher end of the frequency range. Sometimes they replace consonants with a glottal stop; which results in "Beatles" being pronounced "Bay-ulz". Upper classes (Tony Blair) use the standard (Oxfordian) pronunciation. Hope to meet up with you someday, gym, VFW, or bar. You seem to be an interesting guy.

PhilippinesPhil said...

Hey Mac, send me an email. I'm at pjspear1@yahoo.com

I don't know about being interesting, but I'm certainly interested--in just about everything. I'm one nosy SOB!