Being an FTO

…is exhausting.


Me, typing up my Daily Observation Report.

Going through my last few posts I discovered that I posted this, about failing my second chance at my old job, almost a year ago. Time for an update.

About four months ago I was promoted to Training Officer. Last week I completed FTO (Field Training Officer) school and today I started with my first trainee.


Because I’m too tired to find something better.

It’s a lot more work than I expected. Good work that I’m so happy to do, but let me tell you: my brain feels heavy. Like a good hard physical workout where your muscles aren’t sore, just used. My brain feels used. Especially the front, right in the middle of my forehead. I wonder if that means something? Who knows. But I loved every minute of it.


I feel exactly like this Smurf looks

My trainee is great. We got through a lot of material today. I feel accomplished.

I don’t have much more to say except that I’m thoroughly happy; that this “lesser” job is immensely satisfying; and that the “better” job I made the best of for eleven years…


…can suck it.

I Will Not Ask For More

This title, which I stole from of Linda at Life on a Colorado Farm, gave me pause.

I’m typing this from my son’s hospital room. Andrew, 19, who gets wiped out by the common cold…


Psh! Men!

…but is otherwise healthy as a horse, active, joyful, and independent, contracted the Epstein-Barr virus and developed a disease known as mononucleosis, a.k.a. mono.


Don’t call it the kissing disease! He hasn’t been kissing anyone!

At best victims get a sore throat, fatigue, fever, and body aches that lay them out for a couple weeks and linger for about a month. Emphasis on at best. Swollen lymph nodes and tonsils are also typical. Common complications include an inflamed liver with associated blood problems, a swollen spleen, and nervous system issues. It usually takes two or three months to run its course.

Why am I being textbooky and boring? Because MY son can’t be. Oh no! He has only half of the normal symptoms, but the worst ones; the inflamed liver thing; and pneumonia, which is a WTH?! complication. So lots of things conspiring to keep him in the hospital.  And my child’s hospital room is my hotel room. Today there is lots more to ask for.


Cue the sad orphan.

I wonder how this scenario would have played out a hundred years ago, or more? Can you imagine? So often we romanticize the past, when people dressed nicer, had finer manners, or lived “simpler.”


When chivalry was alive and everyday life looked like fine art.

Honestly, though, how many of us would have survived to the age we are now? Would we still be able to see or hear? How many teeth would we have? Or limbs? How much pain would we live with every day? If I had been born a century earlier I probably wouldn’t have survived childhood. My daughter wouldn’t have survived infancy. My 19-year-old son would be dying right now.

To be sure, modern medicine isn’t perfect, but today we are here. We have lived to adulthood serviceably intact. Andrew is ill and uncomfortable but far, far from death.  Today, I will not ask for more than that.

Not Super Human

I couldn’t do it, guys. I had to withdraw from training.


Because this is how I felt.

Since I last posted, the graveyard shift hours became easier to handle even if the heat did not. I spent two weeks back on a daytime shift in that haphazard classroom training before being assigned to a training officer who worked 2am-10:30am.


Seriously. Brutal.

Still, I threw everything I had at it. Maybe it was the hours. Maybe it was the all-over-the-place training. Maybe the job itself has grown too much or maybe I have.  Ultimately it didn’t matter: I knew I wasn’t going to meet their expectations, so I called it.

“Disappointment” is the phrase of the week. I feel like a disappointment to the people who stuck their necks out for me, to the people who believed in me, and to the people who need a reliable coworker. I knew what I was getting myself into and I thought I could overcome, but I couldn’t. The infamous Professor K recently called me one of her favorite and most talented students, but I don’t write much so I feel like a disappointment to her, too.  Disappointment runs rampant in my little world these days.


Cue the sad violin.

I’m not actually full of self-pity. I didn’t fail without help. What bothers me the most is that I’m not the Super Woman I thought I was.


Just disappointingly normal.

There is a rainbow at the end of this storm, though: I’m still employed! Yay! I applied for and acquired another position within the department. It’s not as prestigious or well-compensated as the one I just left, but I’m already tons happier. I’m in a “familiarization” phase waiting for another group of new hires to start with me, but I’ve already been able to contribute a little. And that, after failing every day for 5 months straight, is priceless.


So the story continues.

Sleep Desperation

It’s only spring, but summer weather is already here. Sun and heat drain the color and vigor from living things while fevered breezes pulse through the air like dragon breath. My view is full of flowers and butterflies, but everything has a dusty cast that turns it into a faded nature film from the 1970s.

I @#$%ing hate summer.

I should be asleep right now. When my kids were younger, graveyard shift was tricky because I wanted to be awake when they were home, or at least awake enough to take them to and from school, or wherever else they needed to go. Friends and neighbors would help but it never lasted, either through fault or circumstance.  I thought this time would be easier since my kids are adults now.



I try to keep a similar schedule to my normal daylight time, just 12 hours later, but it’s so hot, you guys! *cry* It’s just so, so hot!

And I forgot about how, when you work overnight, you develop this desperation to get enough sleep. If you fail, no amount of coffee, pills, or energy drinks can help you.

Sometimes you get lucky and work with a crew who understands, who lets each other nap while keeping watch or picking up the slack. The trick to maintaining that dynamic is to not take advantage; make every effort to stay up and pull your weight.  That was my favorite thing about graveyards, that camaraderie we had, watching out for each other, keeping each other afloat. It was temporary, but it was good while it lasted.


Like little sailboats of friendship.

Now, however, I’m a trainee, and no such dynamic is accessible even if it does exist. So it’s especially important to be prepared for that nightly journey into darkness and through to the sunrise at the end.  This heat, though! It’s impossible! Every morning I scarf down breakfast and go to bed as soon as possible to catch the cool air.  I wake up 3-4 hours later drenched, stay up through the heat of the day, and take another 2-3 hour nap in the late afternoon. Then it’s a mad scramble to eat, get ready for work, swing by Starbucks, and catch my train. So far I’ve managed it into a doable routine, but that sleep desperation hangs over me like a little black rain cloud, always.


Too bad it can’t give me some nice cool rain.


Thoughts, Three Weeks In

So. My first three weeks.



My first three weeks were a double-timed, whirlwind orientation combined with whatever early-phase training the powers that be had a whim to throw me into. Four days in I felt the need to put my foot down and demand some structure, which I received along with the wrath of our manager.  Alas, it lasted a whole two days…the structure, that is. The wrath will be harder to shake.

drawing 1

Let’s take deep breath and enjoy some art.

Most days went something like this:

  1. Show up when I’m told.
  2. Report to whom I’m told.
  3. Am asked one of two questions:
    1. “Why are you here so early?” by the person who set up my schedule
    2. “What do they have you doing today?” by the person who’s supposed to tell me what to do today
  4. At some point, treated like a misbehaving child for not being where I’m supposed to be, despite:
    • being given misinformation
    • being given no information
    • engaging in a self-assigned task because I’ve already been waiting over an hour for some direction
    • actually being where I’m supposed to be.
drawing 2

And again…breath in, breath out, enjoy this interpretation of a happy face sun.

I felt like tennis ball: volleyed out of every court I landed in.  It was the most disorganized, disjointed, unprofessional “training” I can recall dealing with, and somehow I was wrong for expecting better.


Let’s distract ourselves with a video this time:

But it’s okay, friends. Now I’m on the graveyard shift with one specific trainer who believes in the power of structure, so I’m thriving. I’m still being treated like a child, but at least now I’m a well-behaved one. I think I deserve a cookie.


And a nap!

And on my last day of that awful first phase I wore my new uniform for the first time.  It’s an icky polyester that requires an extra layer, and my body shape is completely at odds with its tucked-in shirt and belted pants.  So much bad. Still, when I saw myself in the locker room mirror I got unexpectedly emotional:  I felt like I was part of the team again.

Back to the Belly of the Beast

Two months ago I got a phone call from my former supervisor: “Would you be interested in coming back?”


Right here. Just for a moment.

Yup. It happened.

So I could look at this two ways, right? 1) All those hard years trying to avoid this very industry, all that work, thrown away? Ha! No thank you! Or 2) You can’t throw away education and experience, and dammit I need a job. Bring it!

And what happens if I do go back? Do I have demands? Do I have strategies? What kind of attitude should I project? How do I stand? What do I do with my arms?


Get it together!

But I didn’t have time for any of it. Robin hardly had a chance to get the words out before my brain sent the order to my mouth and my mouth blurted, “YES!”

So I am once again gainfully employed. I feel like I’ve been treading water in the middle of the ocean for the past 5 years, and the tiny islands I managed to wash up on never had enough coconuts to sustain me long. And now I’ve hit a continent. The very continent I was sent adrift from, yes, but a continent nonetheless.

How many times have I seen something on the news or heard a story from a former coworker, and thanked my lucky stars that I wasn’t part of it? How many times have I said, “Whew! Dodged a bullet there!” or “Glad I’m not a part of that mess!”

But the truth is that I’m grateful. I don’t know how to survive without a job, or without someone else picking up my slack. I’m not the gypsy or “portfolio career” type. My family has sacrificed so much. I’m beyond ready to get my life back on course. So when this opportunity presented itself I jumped on it, pride be damned.

I just completed my first week back. I need to start journaling because I’m definitely going to get some good writing material out of this.


I need to journal with a fountain pen like this.

In related news, I decided to change the name of my blog to reflect my return to the heart of Los Angeles. J9inLA is my Twitter handle, which I don’t use much but which I created with my employed self in mind. So here we go!


Fight on.



How to Impress an Angelino

My friend Tresa recently hosted cousins on a weekend visit from Indiana. Her daughter planned a schedule jam-packed with as much Los Angeles spectacle as possible: Hollywood, the Griffith Observatory, Santa Monica, In N’ Out…the typical touristy stuff.


See the burger in the middle? Animal style: it’s the only way to go.

The cousins were dazzled, but they also ooo’ed and ahhh’ed over simpler sights, such as scrolling wrought iron fences, gracefully aged apartment buildings, or whole neighborhoods perched on hillsides.


What, this old thing?

It made me think of a visitor we had from Kentucky. The very airport he flew into took his breath away. Like Tresa, we took our guest to places that were uniquely L.A.  What really impressed him, though, weren’t the sights themselves but the immensity of it all. The enormity of singular spaces; the diversity of people and food and things; the way the air buzzes with giddy energy even through quiet nights.


It’s just an overabundance of electromagnetic fields, really.

Tresa and her daughter are planning a trip to Indiana this summer. The cousins say they can’t imagine how they’re supposed to impress people who live in such an exciting place. “Let us relax!” Tresa said.

That. Right there.

I’ve always lived in some or other suburb of Los Angeles. It’s an incredible place, I know! But it’s also expensive and downright exhausting.  We Angelinos are probably more impressed with small, simple things than our small-town counterparts.  You know what excites us? Trees. Horses. Open spaces. A full night’s sleep. The color green. Rivers that aren’t encased in concrete. Storms. Silence. Affordable housing.


But mostly the nature things.

I imagine it’s the same for any workaday person living in a big urban or suburban area. What people from smaller places think of as mundane, we find fascinating. Forget the fancy wrought iron fences…how do you live with NO fences? Aren’t you worried about people coming into your yard? How do you know where your property ends?

And how lucky are you that there’s a creek in your backyard! No, that’s not next to your yard, that’s in your yard; there’s no fence!

What do you mean there’s nothing exciting to do around here? I thought we were gonna play cards and drink beer?

OMG you have a porch swing! Does it work? MOM! C’MERE! They have a porch swing that works!

You are so lucky that you get to drive a half hour to the grocery store.  All that scenery, no traffic, no noise…

What the hell is a potato cannon? You let your kids play with that?  Waddaya mean your kids built that? Your kids are crazy smart. You are the best parents ever.

You paid how much for this house?!

Quiet. Space. Simplicity. That’s how to impress and Angelino.

Big Thoughts on a Quiet Morning

Can we just stand still and be, I wonder?  How many of us get to a point where we can stop moving forward and live entirely in the moments that surround us? Just be? Is it only when we’re forced to by age or infirmness?


Bee sweet.

Did you know that “infirmness” is really a word?


Look it up.

*sigh* I don’t know. Linda’s blog post got me thinking.

I’m reminded of a conversation I had with my friend Maria a few years ago. We were collaborating on a project, discussing media and self-image. She wondered why Americans are so obsessed with self-improvement.  Beauty, health, wealth, charity, leadership, humility, spirituality, consciousness, acceptance, independence, community, happiness, peace, faster, slower, look beyond, look within…we’re constantly being tugged in different directions for the sake of being better.  When, she asked, are we enough?


Bam! In your face!

There’s no right answer. We constantly reach and stretch forward because we have to. Humans are social, curious animals whether we like it or not. Standing still for too long crumples our souls.

It’s Thanksgiving Day in the U.S. of A!

~ I don’t feel thankful.  I feel grumpy.  A shot of Honey Jack in my morning tea didn’t help my bad attitude either, so I put myself in time-out outside.  It’s actually nice out here: cooler than it’s been but still relatively warm, the sun is out, the air is clear.  The wind is picking up, though, and stormy grey clouds are inching their way over the mountains so we might be in for some actual weather.  That would be a treat. ~

I wrote that this morning.  It is now late afternoon.  My attitude has improved sans alcohol.  I got chilly so I went inside and cooked:  candied yams, green beans, rolls, and cornbread dressing.


Instead of brown sugar in the yams I used piloncillo (pee-lone-SEE-yo), which is unrefined cane sugar.  This belongs in your everything.

My mom, daughter and I cooked around each other while avoiding the various children chasing each other through a forest of mother and grandmother legs.   When the turkey was done we set up a buffet table, ate, and watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on rerun.  I just put a peach cobbler in the oven and started to feel cooked myself, so I came back out for some fresh air.


Peach cobbler: a can or five of peaches topped with a box of yellow cake mix and drizzled with a melted stick of butter. Cook 350°F for 40 minutes or until brown. Yummy spices and leftover piloncillo optional.

I can hear the wild parrots coming from the south.  I don’t know why, but every morning they fly south and every evening they fly north again.  Wild parrots are very, very loud.  Two or three together can sound like a whole flock.

(I kept looking up at the sky while I watched this, thinking the racket was coming from the video and the sky.  Nope: just the video.)

There’s still some blue up there.  Those menacing clouds continue to crawl across the sky but can’t decide if they’ll go puffy and white or stay dark and cause trouble.  In the meantime the puffy white fronts are turning orange with the sunset.  How festive!

Hope everyone has a wonderful day, whether you celebrate U.S. Thanksgiving or not. 🙂

Spiders in Holland

I’m still relatively certain that if I wrote my grandmother’s book now, I wouldn’t do her justice.  After scrapping my first draft, I’m terrified that her stories will turn into mine again.  Recently, I got so frustrated with myself that I took a deep breath, put fingertips to alphabet keys, and banged out my favorite story just the way I remember her telling it.  Which makes it more mine than anything else I’ve written about her so far, but I feel like this time I’ve done her voice justice.

Yeah yeah.  I get it, you smuggy smugsters.

“Nazi Germany has occupied the Netherlands. What do you do: adapt, collaborate, or resist?” –Verzetmuseum

I was 13, so it was about a year after the bombing in the city center.  My father was working with the Resistance…well we all were, really.  My sister, Co, you know, at that time she was married and pregnant almost every year with one of the boys.  My brothers made a false bottom in the pram for guns, and we would smuggle them to the edge of the city.  Those stupid Nazi guards let us through the checkpoints because we were the ideal: blond hair, blue eyes, the perfect Arians.  Fuckin’ bastards.  They would cootchie-coo the babies and I’d think,  If only you knew what was under your  finger, asshole.  But to them we were just a perfect little family out for a walk.  They let us right through.

So right.  I was 13, and my younger sister, Yopi, of course was 12, and we were home with Moe [pronounced moo, Dutch for “Mom”].   I don’t know why we were home, but the guys were all out working, and we were home alone, just the younger girls and our mother.   Now my brother, Cor, he was a radio operator, you see.  He had a small radio that he would use at night to send intelligence to the English from the attic.  My mother hated it.  She told him to keep it out of the house but my father said it was fine.

Well, then we get a knock on the door.  And my mother looks at us, and we look at each other.  We don’t say anything but we look at each other, “Who’s that?  Are you expecting someone?  I don’t know.  Who could it be?”   So Yopi and I go downstairs with Moe to the door.  And it’s three Brownies: two younger ones, you know, and an older one, the one in charge.  And these guys were bad.  These were the real Nazis, not the German soldiers.  We called them Brownies because they wore brown uniforms. These were the ones that were taken as children and trained their whole lives to hate and kill.   If it had been anyone else it would have been okay, but the Brownies would shoot us on the spot and step over our dead bodies on their way to dinner without a second thought.

We knew why they were there:  Cor’s radio.  Moe pretended to be polite.  “How can I help you?”  But they pushed past her and went upstairs.  The three of us followed them up.  The commander told the other two where to search.  We were poor so we didn’t have much to go through, but they turned over mattresses and dumped out drawers, anything they could search.  Moe knew better than to ask questions.  One wrong move and all three of us were dead.  So we just stood in the corner in silence and watched them tear our little apartment apart.

The commander saw the attic door and ordered Moe to open it.  In German, you know, but Moe didn’t know any German.  I did, because we had to learn it in school, see.  So I translated.  And I had a good accent even though I only knew a year’s worth from school, but I had a talent for it.  German was so close to Dutch it wasn’t difficult for me at all.  So the attic door.   Moe opened the attic door, and the commander ordered the three of us to go up before him.  He wanted to search the attic personally.  I knew what he was doing: he would find the radio and shoot the three of us himself to show off to the younger officers.  Bastard.  I was so angry I didn’t even want to look at him.

He grabbed a bag of rags we kept up there…fabric scraps, you know, for patches and things like that…and I suddenly felt cold.  I didn’t know why, but something in the room changed.  I looked out of the corner of my eye at Moe.  And she had gone completely pale.  Now, my mother wasn’t afraid of anything, but she was as white as a sheet, so I knew something was very wrong.  I looked over at the commander.  He had a handful of rags.  And hanging from the bottom was a radio cord.

I wasn’t afraid, but I immediately walked over to him and put my hand on his arm.  He had patches on this sleeves, and patches, you know, on his chest , the ones that tell his rank and such.  So I put my hand on his arm, on the patch on his sleeve,  and I said in perfect German, “Oh!  These are so pretty!  What are these for?”  That fuckin’ bastard was so full of himself.  He puffed himself up and said something like Ach, Liebe! These are for such-and-such.  I don’t even remember what they were for, something about his rank.  And I knew I had him.  So I made my voice even sweeter, and I touched the patches on his chest and batted my eyelashes, and said, “Really!  And these, too?  They’re such pretty colors!  What do these mean?”  That disgusting old fucker.  He was so flattered that a pretty young girl would be interested in him that he put the rags, with the radio, back into the bag so that he could point out each patch and tell me what it meant.  I pretended to be fascinated.  “Gosh, that’s so interesting.  You must be so important!”

When he was done, he left the attic with the biggest shit-eating grin on his face.  He told the other two that the radio wasn’t there and ordered them to leave.  He turned around to wave at me before he left.  I batted my eyelashes and waved good-bye.  When the door was closed and my mother was sure they were gone, she collapsed onto the floor and sobbed.  My mother was a rock.  I had never seen her cry in all my life, and I never saw her cry again.  But that day…she said it was the closest she had ever come to seeing her family dead.

When my father came home, ho ho!  Moe chewed him out good, and Cor’s radio left the house.  Eventually he was taken off the street and put into a labor camp.  My father, too, and Adrian.  One night they just didn’t come home, and we knew.  No, I wasn’t afraid.  Moe said they would come home, and if Moe said it was so, well, that was it.  Moe’s word was law, you see.  She told us not to be afraid, so I was never afraid.  I’m more afraid of a spider in America than I ever was of a Nazi in Holland.