What A Crew Of Blessed Souls*

*Note – from Dave Haus’ “Meet Me At The Lanes”

I don’t leave for a couple of days, but this is probably the last post I’ll have time to put together before then. I figure Monday – while I actually am leaving to travel home – is probably a good time to put up another snippet…

At any rate, I decided it was time to sum up some things from the past 5+ months. Now, I don’t really have to say that I really did love it up here. That has, I think, come through in past posts, both written and photographic.

All I can really add on that score is a simple statement that Yellowstone was worth every minute, and every drop of the frustration that cropped up from time to time. Even if you never venture off the trail, even if you never try to follow me into places that haven’t seen a human in decades (if ever), it is well worth it.

No, what I lay awake thinking about last night was the people who are about to scatter to the wind. The people that I never would have met under any other circumstance. With only one exception, the group that remains to close the store is the same group that opened the place so long ago.

We didn’t know each other back in that first week of May. Hell, we had not even the slightest idea about each other. Yet, as different as we all are, we’ve become close…we’ve become real, lasting friends.

Those of us who write, like to think about how to break our protagonist’s stasis, how to shake him or her out of comfortable normalcy and throw them into the situations in which they can (and hopefully will) grow.

Well, five months up here broke my stasis.

I thought last night about what would have happened if I had not come up and, instead, any of these remaining twenty-ish people had walked into the brewery.

Nothing.

Nothing at all.

If we interacted at all, it would have been solely on the most surface and shallow of levels. And that would have been very, very sad. I would have missed that which has caused me – like any good protagonist – to grow and change.  And, worst of all, I wouldn’t have known what I was missing.

Crap, I’ll reiterate: I generally don’t do nostalgia. Err…well…oh hell, let’s just go with it, anyway.

Now, like any human, I’ve grown closer to some than to others, but all are people I like, and people I am the better for having met.

From Bridget yelling at me for change, to Ian failing to work through biblical hangovers…

From Mark’s pro-Trump sermons, to Onni’s anti-Trump jokes…

From Chandler’s retro-goth hair and nails, to Jess’s Shy Guy tattoo…

Twenty-plus people up here, all with their own foibles and tics…all with their own stories, and their own worth. A few, though…a few are the ones that really stick with you:

Steve R and Sarah N – for making me laugh…a lot. And people wonder why we all spent so much damned time in the office.

Sara P and Jarrod – for the friendship, and the pending marriage. There’s no way I’m not coming out to Mass. to visit.

Kody – for making me laugh…for skipping right past the few lines even I wouldn’t cross…and for just being that comfortable, confident kid you are.

Billy – for late nights of anime and podcasts and D&D…for reminding me I’m fucking old, and (most importantly) becoming one of my closest friends, anyway.

So many I’ve met, that I’ve come to know, but those few…those few really stick with you.

Thank you, all.

I Love This Job

Note – Yes, I’m aware I forgot to post yesterday. Well…actually…I didn’t forget, so much as seriously edit the shit out of myself. After a reread, I decided it would be a good idea to spare you the pissed-off post I wrote following a particularly obnoxious day. At any rate, below is the post that should have gone up yesterday…

Four months ain’t a long time. Hell, I’ve had hangovers that lasted longer than that…

Four months, however, is a long time when you’re at “adult summer camp”. It’s more than long enough to get to know people, and to form attachments. it sure as hell is long enough to make it hard to say goodbye.

IMG_0149But, in one of those inevitabilities of adulthood, sometimes you have to say goodbye.

On a personal level, I don’t do nostalgia. Hell, I barely manage sentimentality, let alone anything more. In my world, emotions like that are for writing, not for showing.

Saying goodbye to the Taiwanese kids, however, really did challenge that little gem of sarcastic, cynical “wisdom”.

I know people all over the world…I’ve said more goodbyes than I can count, some (obviously) more permanent than others.

Shut up, Oz.

Ahem.

Anyway: goodbyes.

These kids earned my respect very, very quickly. With only a couple of exceptions, they worked their asses off. I would hire any of them in a second. I’m not sure a reference from an American ex-sales & marketing-monkey means much in Taiwan, but I would give one in a heartbeat.

More than that, though, they became people I genuinely liked…and that, given my usual “I Hate Humans” Mondays, is more rare than I should probably admit. One of these kids is, in fact, the sweetest human ever born*. I didn’t start to cry when I hugged her goodbye…nope, no way. I just got something in my eye.

Crap, if I keep up like this, I’m gonna ruin my reputation for misanthropy.

*She also drank a lot of the Americans under the table – I should’ve married her!

Okay, to turn this topic back to writing – and, yes, I should at least try to make these posts at least somewhat writing-centric – one of the challenges of mood and tone is in writing those more subtle emotions.

Anger? Joy? Love? Frustration? Honestly, those are easy to write. They are basic, primal feelings that are instantly identifiable to both writer and reader. There’s a reason why they are some of the first emotions we, as humans, experience. The more subtle, more nuanced emotions? Those are a great deal harder.

Think about it, think about explaining the bittersweet mix that comes with a heartfelt goodbye. About the blend of sorrow and joy that comes with nostalgia and memory {there’s a line from a song that captures that particular one: The price of a memory / Is the memory of the sorrow it brings}.

To capture those, to make make your character (and your reader) honestly & realistically feel those, can be one of the real challenges in writing. But when you nail it…

But when you nail it, it becomes one of those days…one of the days that make it all worth it.

I’ve said before: in many ways, I write this blog for others…for the readers. But the stories, the stories I write for me.

In Silence, that means how Connor finally says goodbye to Oz, finally comes to terms with his death, has a great deal to do with how I’ve come to terms – or, at least, am still coming to terms – with the suicides in my own life.

It also means that the bittersweet that remains when loss becomes memory, is very real and very personal. And, yes, I’m writing this because the other day was one of those days: I nailed it. I cried like a baby, but I nailed it.

I love this job.

Yellowstone Practical: Hiking

Two weeks…that’s it. Just two weeks left. Now, besides all the other crap involved with going back to the real world, that means it’ll soon be time to turn this blog back to it’s original focus on writing.

Err…

Well, at least I tried to have that as a focus. Didn’t always do all that well.

Having the opportunity to talk (a bit) about Yellowstone itself has been a nice change for me. Even if my current surroundings have taken away from the focus and time I need to write, it has been well worth it.

So, in the interests of getting back to basics, I’m going to not talk about writing once again.

Nope, I figured I would do a “public service” bit for the next couple of posts…talk about some of the best hikes/outings that are near to where I “live”.

One thing, however: although a great deal of my hiking has been off-trail, in places that haven’t seen a human in decades (if ever), I am NOT going to talk much about that. Off-trail hiking (and camping) can, frankly, be extremely dangerous if you are not experienced and prepared. I have friends up here – friends who are serious hikers & campers – who think I am completely insane for my little solo little excursions into the wilds, so I am not going to lead anyone else into my own life of…err…sin.

Today is mainly some equipment notes, specific to hiking at this altitude, and in this kind of terrain:

1) Water, water, water – you’re gonna dehydrate at eight thousand feet just sitting on your butt. If you go for an eight or ten mile hike? Yeah, running out of water sucks donkey balls. On easy terrain, and in mild weather, I plan on one liter of water for every nine or ten miles. If the day is hot, or the terrain difficult, I increase that by at least fifty percent.
2) Water addendum – even when you’re not hiking, have water. I use one liter Nalgene bottles so I can keep track of how much I drink in a day (three to four liters, on average, when I’m not hiking). Also, keep in mind that water does wash out salt and other minerals you need. I do not recommend Gatorade or other sports drinks…just make sure to bring food along that includes a few things that will help put back what you’ve lost. Even a simple handful of trail mix can make a big difference.
3) Boots – I recommend good, over-the-ankle boots. The stability and protection you gain can make a big difference in rough, uneven terrain. For on-trail travel, those aren’t quite as important, but folks should know that even the “maintained” trails here can have rough sections (downed trees, creeks & streams, rocks & boulders, etc…).
4) Daypack – get a good one, and make sure you set the straps right. Nothing sucks more than aching shoulders and neck ruining your hike. Trust me on that, it is fairly miserable. Also, make sure you have a pack that’s fitted out to carry a camelback. Having your water integral to your pack, rather than in bottles or canteens, makes things a lot more comfortable. Make sure, also, that you have enough space for all the shit you need to carry (more on that below).
5) Food – for a day hike, you don’t need to go crazy here. A couple of granola bars and a sandwich can be just fine. That being said, it can be a lot of fun to spend a while picnicking and relaxing at your hike’s destination/midpoint. I don’t usually snack while I walk (bears, you know…), so a nice lunch is a good thing for me. DO keep your food in sealed, airtight bags…and DO haul back out any remainder, as well as trash, in those airtight bags. Throwing open food and/or trash into your pack makes you nothing more than a mobile snack stand for the wildlife you didn’t think was right next to the trail.
6) Small, important things – a decent knife (no, you don’t need to go all freaking Rambo with some huge “survival” knife), something warm to wear just in case (sweatshirt, flannel, etc…), a decent map of the trail you’re on, and bear spray. No, bear spray is not a scam…I’ve had a bear walk past ten feet from my window. You need to have it with you.
7) Small, optional things – backpack hammock, camera, spare socks (far more important on longer hikes: there are creeks and streams that you can only cross by fording), and anything else you can’t bear to do without. Keep in mind, weight is not your friend when you hike – that pack that seemed so light when you started, can weigh a million pounds when you’re done.
8) “Oh, shit” kit – kinda optional, especially for trail hikes…but for my more aggressive treks, I always have this with me: waterproof matches, flashlight, compass, first aid kid (a tiny one) and small tarp.
9) Firearms – touchy subject to a lot of people. Back home, in the Rockies, I carry a pistol whenever I hike. Here in Yellowstone (or any National Park), carrying a firearm is perfectly legal…it’s just firing it that is illegal. If you carry a gun, and do fire it, you better damn well have a very good (read: life threatening) reason why. The rangers take that very seriously, and any ticket or criminal charge inside a National Park is a federal offense.
10) Cell service – just don’t count on it. No, really…you’re gonna run out of contact real, real fast. A cell phone is not a valid safety net up here. I know this is crazy talk in today’s world, but use common sense and preparation, instead.

The Social Event Of The Season

It’s the end of the season up here. We’ve lost half the staff already. Over the next week or so, we’ll lose just over half of those who remain.

We’re pretty much gonna be down to…well…not enough people after that. I think I’m gonna have to start cooking for everyone…

We opened the season with some, umm, interesting evenings, so it’s only fair that we close it with one. With the best party of the year.

Now, keep in mind, in the dorms alcohol is technically allowed only inside the individual rooms themselves. Not in the halls, not in the lobby, not even on the pseudo-patio outside. And, no, please don’t get me started on the futile insanity of that particular regulation. Suffice it to say, that little rule is not the most well-obeyed one in the universe.

But, for our party, we decided to obey it. Hell, we decided to build the evening around it!

Six rooms, each featuring two or three different cocktails…and a whole lot of people who have lived and worked in close proximity for five months now.  And, no, I didn’t serve beer…well, not just beer.  Nope, I channeled my old bartending days and made limoncello bellinis.  It was a good decision.

Now, as to the party – there are pictures. Worryingly, there are pictures. There might even have been a “dick-wand”.

Ahem.

It’s back to work today, with a surprisingly mild hangover. Worse, it’s back to the real world in less than three weeks.

I’m not sure I’m ready for it.

I’ve written less than half what I wanted (let alone needed) to write up here…I’m just plain freakin’ done with tourists…I want real, honest-to-God internet in the worst way…I miss my friends and family…and…and…and I don’t really want to leave.

Hey, I’ve told you before, consistency is not one of my (many) failings!

Real life? Real cities? People? Traffic? Bills and the stress of everyday living?

Gah…I need to go on another hike.

The Silence Of Snow

There’s something about the forest – the deep, untrod forest – in a snowstorm. It is one of the quietest, most still places you will ever experience. The feeling isn’t one of death, or even of the wildlife seeking shelter. No, rather it is one of anticipation.

It’s almost like everything, like nature itself, is holding their collective breath.

I went hiking through the forest today…hiking in a snowstorm. A place that, just yesterday, was alive with elk, and with the predators stalking that herd. A place of noise and life and a certain amount of chaos.

Today it had that profound magic, that still silence…that anticipation. I loved it.

That hike got me to thinking. Thinking about the metaphors I am using in the current story, and about the messages I am trying to send. The Silence That Never Comes, to give the story its full title.

What would that wood feel like to someone who had never heard silence?  Who had no conception of peace, of quiet and still anticipation?

That is getting to the heart of the story…and to the scene that is building in the back of my mind. The scene of my protagonist – that kid who has known nothing but violence and cynicism and despair – in the middle of just such a storm, in just such a wood.

The vision is there…the knowledge of what I want – what I need – to include is there…now it just has to be executed.

That, by the way, is one of the reasons why I write: the challenge. The challenge of putting into effective words a feeling, and an imagination, so initially vague and formless.

And, more importantly, the feeling that comes when you get it right.

I’ve said before, but it bears repeating: to get it right, to nail a scene, is a feeling that has few peers. The closest I can come, at this moment, is that feeling when I summit one of the more challenging mountains here in Yellowstone.

Is it the view? Is it the effort? No, it is the elation that comes when you do something you know so many people have either failed at, or have refused to even try.

There is a drive to that, and a certain joy…and, to put this in terms of the underlying theme to all of Silence, a certain meaning.

Connor still has yet to really discover, let alone understand, that theme, that understanding…but there really is more to life.

Note – just to put everything in context, I figured I would offer some proof…would show just what Yellowstone looks like in late summer:

I Say “Potato”, You Say “Idiot”

Apparently the Emmys are on tonight. My apologies if you are one of those who find the autoerotic narcissism of Hollywood awards shows interesting, but I personally would rather remove my own spleen with a sharp rock than watch…

Not that I don’t do self-indulgence or narcissism, I just try to make it make it less…pathetic.

So I’m gonna sit here, instead, and plan my final hike of the year. The hike that caused the backcountry rangers to tell me, very emphatically, “Don’t be an idiot.” The hike that caused my friend to preemptively put up “Missing” posters with my picture. “Just getting a head start,” he explained.

*sigh*

But it’s such a cool hike! So what if 15 of the 20 miles are through the most dangerous “Bear Management” region in Yellowstone? So what if there is no longer a trail of any sort? So what if it really only exists on old maps from the early 90s?

Yeah, yeah, I know…the rather large odds of a disastrous ending are not a good idea, but…well…c’mon…no one has done it in almost twenty years!

Wait, what was that I was saying about self-indulgence?

Ahem.

Now, if I was the protagonist of a story, this hike would kick off all kinds of danger and adventure. Kind of a “Into Thin Air”…although preferably with a happier outcome.

But, no, I’m not a protagonist. I’m not the lens through which adventures and lessons come. I’m just a guy who looks remarkably like a Happy Meal to a pre-hibernation grizzly.

Our characters make bad choices so we can advance the plot, so we can have conflict and tension, and so we can – frankly – experience a bit of repeated schadenfreude at their expense.

And, even when they die, they live on…

That won’t work so well for me. There’s a popular book up here called “Death in Yellowstone”. One of my cashiers took great delight in explaining to me, in great detail, just how many of the screw ups in that book I am repeating every time I take off on my solo, off-trail hikes.

I’ll still plan the damned hike – oh, will I plan it! – but instead of doing it before I leave here in a few weeks, I am going to return this winter and do it when everything is sleepin’ the winter away.

How’s that for a compromise?

Hey, I said I wasn’t a protagonist, I didn’t say I was smart!

Pop-Tarts & Beer

I had an eye infection today: I just couldn’t see doing anything.

Now, keep in mind, my normal “I Hate Humans” Monday involves a hike of somewhere around 16 or 20 miles. Occasionally, more.

Today?

Today, I went four miles and stalled out for a picnic lunch. Sat in the shade and stared at a meadow.

I even pretended to write for a while.

Then pretending to write began to feel too much like work, so I decided some napping was in order. Remember that backpack hammock I mentioned a couple of posts ago? Yep, in that. Hey, if I can’t see the bears, they can’t see me…right?

Now, I’m sitting in front of the store to do some actual — err, well, semi-actual — writing. And, yes, I did extend the hike a bit…but ten total miles is still more of a stroll than it is a real hike.

But, and this is important bit, I have to call it a hike…if ain’t a hike, I don’t get my favorite post-hike snack.

And, if you’re wondering, today’s snack is strawberry-flavored, washed down with a nice pale ale. The people behind me are having granola bars and water…I feel so much better about myself as a human being!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some pretending to do…

Knob Polishing: Or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love Norovius

“Honey, how was your day at work today?”

“Just peachy. I had to polish everybody’s knobs.”

Okay, so I probably shouldn’t find this as funny as I do. Ah, hell…who am I kidding? I found today hilarious…mostly because I was off work and didn’t have to actually experience any of the miserable crap.

A bus load of tourists, you see, came in carrying norovirus. Now, if you don’t know that particular little bug, it is…umm…pretty damned unpleasant. Take Montezuma’s Revenge and strip away all the fun and laughs and you start to get a picture of the results of norovirus. An optimistic picture.

And apparently this thing is passed by, well, pretty much everything. Just touching a surface can pass it to the next person who touches that surface…

So, today, every single employee at the store has been basically bathing in hand sanitizer from head to toe every two-and-a-half seconds. In between those baths, they’ve been wiping down every square millimeter of the store…including having one person clean every single latch and door handle in not just the store, but also the dining room and the dorms – hence my (juvenile) joke above.

I should point out that I took a random, extra day off today. And, yes, I did schedule it before this whole thing hit…even I’m not that cheesy!

As soon as my boss came into breakfast wearing gloves, and telling the kitchen that they had to go to “norovirus protocols”, I grabbed my pack and decided to go spoon with amorous bears instead.

I’m a goddamned history major, what the hell do I know about “protocols”?! I’m pretty sure the guy who does the prostate exams is a protocologist…and I don’t need that, thank you very much.

Keep in mind, I’m also the idiot who ignores common sense, and perfectly good trails, so I can go see what’s on the other side of that big hill over there… That means, of course, that I am currently sitting out in front of the store, at a public picnic table, and typing away.

I think tomorrow might suck…

C’mon, Sign Up…You Know You Want To!

There’s a month left. That’s it. A month left in the half-year I signed on for, up here.

What the hell happened? It seemed like such a looong commitment when I signed the contract.

Hell, a month ago it still seemed like a long commitment.

“Nah, not gonna think about afterwords. There’s plenty of time.”

Ahem.

By my estimate, I’ve hiked about a thousand miles total…I’ve had close encounters with five bears (three grizzlies, two black bears), and more distant encounters with half a dozen more…I’ve had to make my way around more bison than there are pigeons in NYC…and I’ve dealt with enough tourists to well-and-truly renew my loathing for Homo Touristus.

So, after all that, I figure it’s time I gave some thoughts and/or advice for anyone considering doing something like this (whether in Yellowstone, or elsewhere):

Overall/general stuff

First and foremost: do it. The opportunity to live in a National Park is the opportunity to know and understand that Park in ways that no tourist ever will. You will see and do things that most people never realize is even possible.

Second: be prepared. No, really…be more prepared, and plan better, than I did coming up here! I left behind things – for reasons of space – that never should have been left behind (more on this later).

Third: understand what you are in for…the environment up here is a whole lot like a mix of freshman year in college and summer camp, especially for the first two months. Relax and go with the flow, get to know your co-workers – the socializing and friendships you build are tied with experiencing the Park for importance in why you came.

Specific stuff

Okay, so you’ve signed a contract with one of the concessionaires in the Park system and you’re committed to coming. Here you go, the important shit.

  1. Pack smart. By that, I mean don’t pack shit you don’t absolutely have to. Whether you are driving up, or flying in and taking a shuttle to your new “home”, space & weight are very much at a premium. On one hand, I didn’t pack a whole lot of crap…but on the other, I could’ve left behind half of what I brought in favor of a couple of those things I left behind.
  2. Amazon is your friend. Basics like laundry soap, shampoo, toothpaste, etc… can all be bought at (or near) where you’re working, but you’ll save money and frustration by just ordering it. This also means, of course, that it makes no sense to pack that stuff in the first place. Just bring enough for a week or two, then order what you’ll need for later.
  3. Do your research on the Park. You will be confused and out of sorts for the first month, so have ready a small list of the stuff you want to do in those first weeks. There is so much to do, and so many returnees who are already “experts” on the Park, that you will be overwhelmed…give yourself some structure to start with, then you can go free-form after you’ve settled in and mastered the basics.
  4. Do random shit. In spite of #3 above, when someone offers a midnight hike to somewhere you’ve never heard of, or there’s an easy group stroll to Bumfuck Falls, do it! You will regret neither the time nor the energy…even if the hike/trip/excursion isn’t your thing, the time getting to know your fellow inmates is worth it. As time goes by, you’ll have all the time in the world to do the “killer hikes”, or solo fly fishing trips, or camping outings, or whatever else draws your fancy.
  5. Don’t judge. The folks you work with will, in the main, be either young college kids or older, (semi)retired folks. The young kids are gonna go get drunk every night…and sometimes the older folks will, as well. Go with ‘em. Relax and enjoy life. Keep in mind, you will be working with international kids with varying levels of English and different habits, as well as with gay folks, social misfits, and even a few people so socially awkward (or just plain nuts) as to make you uncomfortable…deal with it. You have your own life, let them have theirs.
  6. An RV or trailer beats the dorms, every time. If you have the means, just go with me on this. I have my own room and my own bathroom, i am a hundred yards away from the employee dorms, and I still regret being this close. That being said, the best parties ARE in the employee dorms! (Ahem…there’s a future post there…oh, yes sir, is there a future post in that)
  7. Believe the horror stories. The “long-time” returnees will tell horror stories about weather and animals and rangers…and pretty much everything else you can imagine. Believe them. I can, err, well, confirm a lot of those. From getting three feet of snow in late June, to almost getting eaten by the biggest fucking grizzly you can imagine, I can most definitely now add my own “wisdom” to those stories.
  8. Be prepared to suffer for your fun. The hours can be long, and the work surprisingly hard. Specific to Yellowstone: the altitude can and will fuck with your system. It will also make your hangover MUCH worse…and, if you have even the tiniest of social bones in your body, you will get a hangover or two…
  9. Cell service, cell service, cell service. It’s still chancy, but it’s better than nothing. Research the main provider in whatever Park you’re going to – here in Yellowstone it is Verizon. Since I have Verizon, I get decent download speeds at night…in the day it ain’t worth it, since everyone and their five cousins are all hitting the same cell tower that I am.

And, finally…that which I dearly wish someone had given me before I left for Yellowstone: the packing list!

  1. You’re (presumably) a big kid – figure out your own clothing situation. Believe people when they tell you it can snow in mid-fucking-July.
  2. Bring separate shoes for work and play: I originally used the same pair of boots for work and hiking, and I walked through ‘em in three months.
  3. Bring a good daypack. You will either never hike a bit (about 10% of folks), or you’ll hike your ass off. A good daypack, and plenty of water, makes all the difference.
  4. Bring camping stuff. Your know: a tent, a good sleeping bag (small, for backpacking, and cold-weather-capable for, well, snows in June), a backpack stove, that kind of thing. One additional pice of advice: get a good backpack hammock and tarp. Trust me on this – it can actually take the place of a tent 75% of the time, and is a hell of a lot smaller and lighter.
  5. Don’t bother with a bike. I love riding…for the last couple of years, I’ve done a lot of it. Riding in a National Park just plain sucks: you can’t go on the trails, so all you have are the roads…and the most dangerous things in the park system are the tourist drivers.
  6. Equipment is more important than clothes. Since I got here, I have either been given (by my company) or bought (at discount) something like ten t-shirts, a couple of fleeces/sweatshirts, and a bunch of other stuff. I could have left a lot of stuff at home in favor of some equipment that I badly miss right now…
  7. Bring a laptop that has TV shows and movies loaded on it, or on a removable hard drive. You absolutely cannot count on the internet (trust me on that!), and DVDs take up a lot of space. A big 500 GB, or 2 TB, portable hard drive packed with music and videos will make you the most popular kid in school.

Ho Ho Ho!

Yay! It’s Christmas time!

Okay, well, it’s Christmas in Yellowstone, anyway.

Let me ‘splain: we, as a group (the seasonal staff), all live together in close contact for 5-6 months, so we become pretty close. The company I work for understands this, and years ago decided to start celebrating Christmas at the end of August to acknowledge that feeling of our “summer family”.

So at this moment it’s Christmas time for us.IMG_0747

Have I mentioned that I love Christmas?

The best part of all this is the international kids. We have a number of kids in ones and twos from various countries (France, Poland, Ukraine, Moldova, etc…), but we also have two big groups.

The first is a group of eight from the Dominican Republic. When they first got here, they were energetic, boisterous and loud. Frankly, I didn’t know what to make of them. Now, they’re still energetic, boisterous and loud…and I love ‘em. They’ve brought such a different perspective, and so much fun and life, that you can’t help but smile.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that they all (well, all but one) work their asses off. Every single day they are coming to me and asking for overtime. No matter what job I give them – whether it’s something okay like stocking shelves or something (literally) shitty like cleaning bathrooms – they do it both quickly and well.

The other group, of fifteen(ish), are from Taiwan. Oh Lord, these are the cutest “kids” in the world (all are college grads, so kids they ain’t). Their enthusiasm knows no bounds. Every day-off, they get out on the street and hitchhike around the park to the various sights. Every day at work they are the happiest, friendliest people in the place*.

Last night, after work, I wanted to unwind a bit, so I went upstairs to the front of the store to sit and look at the stars (in spite of the cold). What was waiting for me up there? The entire group of Taiwanese kids practicing the Christmas routine they are planning to do at our Christmas party.

It was the most adorable thing in the world. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard “Jingle Bells” in a mix of English and Mandarin.

*I’ve spent a pretty significant amount of time abroad. I’m good at languages, and can usually learn enough to get by even when I don’t originally know the local language. But, with the exception of Japan, never have I been to places where English was not at least a somewhat common option. I am beyond impressed at the English skills of these Taiwanese kids, and at their ability to so totally immerse themselves in a culture and language completely alien to them.

I know this is kind of a choppy, stream-of-consciousness post, but if you’ll excuse me…I have presents to wrap: Santa Claus is comin’ to town!