25 May, 2023

A Prose Poem


Listening to ten-year-old music podcasts can inspire melancholia.

This is particularly true when unmoored and far from any cultural shore. Music, technology, habits. When my thoughts drift to freedom, I consider the ethics of gas versus electric, methods for socializing, personal finance. The popularity of fitted shirts inspires minor anxiety. To be a stranger in that strange land! To shroud myself and adhere to wayward genres and write missives to a world that can never understand. To wake at an unseemly hour, meditate and stare into the predawn dark as if in defiance of all that's been done. (Notice I'm not directly blaming.) To return to the town, a nobleman of no rank, a man with dreams, however ostentatiously realistic. A cup of coffee. A splay of fruit on a white ceramic plate. A sunrise.
If this seems like nothing to you, old friend, wait till you get to be my age.

19 May, 2023

No Rest for the Weary

By the bylaws of the Speak Easy Gavel Club, I couldn't run for a second full term as Vice President Education. Not that I wanted to; being VPE takes work. After serving as an interim officer for seven months and then for a full term, I've done my bit to further the membership's communication and leadership goals. It's time for someone else to make the schedules, plan special meetings, and track members' progress along the Toastmasters education track.

I was fully prepared to kick back and rest on my laurels. The idea was to work on speech projects from Toastmasters' Storytelling and Communicating on Video manuals and that's all. I wanted a breather. Instead, a clubmate nominated me for President. One by one, over a period of a couple of weeks, almost half of the active members approached to ask me if I'd run. I caved. They voted me in. So much for kicking back.

Outgoing President Roberts is leaving office while the club is on an upward trajectory. Our previous president left in ignominy a minor scandal resulting in the club's first-ever disciplinary hearing, which I, in the capacity of VPE, had to chair. Roberts returned to active membership after a years-long absence, to run for and ultimately serve out the nine months remaining in our ousted leader's term. We were grateful, but not enough to keep him in office for another year

This is not to say that Roberts wasn't a good president. He succeeded in getting a state politician to RSVP as a guest for our annual awards and installation banquet. He also kicked the club's ongoing fundraiser into high gear with the purchase of a deep freeze for storing frozen foods that provide a higher profit margin than Mrs. Freshly's fruit pies offer us. It's no surprise, Roberts was expecting to be re-elected to serve a full term. I understand his disappointment, even though I think a little too much ego-fulfillment fueled his efforts.

Luckily, a Gavel Club or Toastmasters President does less than their Vice President Education has to. I've been training what I hoped would be my successor for months, and now he's taking my place in the role. I can hardly wait to hand over to him the massive black accordion folder that's taken up space beside my desk for a year and a half. The first thing I have to do is compose a vision speech for our upcoming awards and installation banquet.
I have plenty of ideas about how to improve and expand our club doings, including how to better the club's reputation among the prison's population. We'll see how successfully I can herd these cats. Maybe I'll get a chance to present a few speech projects too. Wish me luck!

03 May, 2023

Aramark's First Days at ERDCC

Hearty Vegetable Soup. Garden Salad. Powdered Sugar Dusted Pink Cake. The way those descriptors stack up on Aramark's menu for the Missouri Department of Corrections, you'd think someone were being paid by the adjective. It's a busy menu, and someone definitely put time and effort into adapting the American Correctional Association's standards to serve Missouri's requirements. A 2,800-calorie-per-day average strikes me as high, especially considering how many carbs they feed us, but what do I know?

The Thursday before last marked the beginning of Aramark operations at Eastern Reception, Diagnostic, and Correctional Center, following Missouri's weird choice to outsource its prison food service divisions. The line extended out the chow-hall door and halfway to the property room. Even people who live almost entirely off food they buy from the canteen turned out for the occasion. Everyone wanted to try something new. We hadn't even seen a menu yet many were just sure Aramark's offerings would be an upgrade.

Tuscan Turkey Cacciatore. Kettle Blend Mixed Vegetables. Glazed BBQ Patty. These items and many more fill the new six-week cycle of meals. Some, like the Fresh Baked Roll, haven't been seen in the DOC since the '80s. Others are renamed versions of stuff we've been fed for years. The Crispy Chicken Patty, for instance, remains a bland, breaded, processed-meat disk of dubious provenance. I'm not complaining; the processed turkey that Aramark serves might be an abomination, but frozen vegetables are a huge step up from canned ones.

As we enter Week 3, our overall dietary changes seem value-neutral. For every good thing that replaced something awful, there's an awful thing that replaced something I used to eat. I like the meaty, noodly mess of American Goulash, which is new, but not the Turkey Chop Suey, which seems to be nothing more than vegetable soup with bologna chunks. Much of my life could be said to be one long period of bologna avoidance. I'm certainly not going to start eating the stuff now, just because it's infiltrated the vegetarian meals.

It remains a mystery why Missouri lawmakers approved a budget increase to contract with Aramark. I suspected that such a move might have been nutrition-based. The fact that fresh fruit is only served once a day, at breakfast, kills that theory. Most days, they serve cake twice. Those with a sweet tooth hare happy, at least.