Thursday, December 17, 2015

Quel petit monde...

My beard enters it's 8th month of only slightly trimmed growth and I've taken to telling folks in our French/English conversation group that the bottom half of the beard is reminiscent of the SDF (Sans Domicile Fixe - or homeless people) and the mustache evokes the late dix-neuvieme siecle (late 19th century).  On days where I don't wish to stand out completely as someone who is SDF I wax the 'stache.  It's a little dandy-ish I suppose.  Still, it's an important distinction around these parts.  Or so it seems from the stares I sometimes get from passersby.

WICE Christmas singalong  - 2015

All this came up in conversation during our annual Winter Holidays Singalong et Gouter.  This is the time when we gather together in song and celebration of having spent pleasant times together.  This is the time when we bring in a few musician members of WICE who lead us in our merrymaking.  First it's a song in French.  Then it's a song in English.  Back and forth we go alternating languages.  All in a register none of us can really sing in and in such a high octave that more than a few of us complain rather loudly about not being able to sing.  I tend to croak like a grenouille.  Other people tend to just give up and hum along as best they can.

These things are wonderfully doused into submission after the Singalong by le Gouter.  People bring their favorite beverages and apero-like plates of yumminess.  All the croaking and humming is forgotten.  All the off-key and stratospheric octaves are forgiven.  Down goes the wine.  Munch go the many tasty goodies.  Jude's smoked canard dolloped with mascarpone on small bread rounds were a hit.  We were able to take home more nice memories and a completely empty gouter plate.

When the cupboards are bare we make our lists and plan our plans and head out to the markets.  Yesterday it was our turn to march through the vasty student strewn sidewalks with air heavily laden with cigarette smoke to make our way to Bio C'est Bon.  Yes, these young people are driving us nuts! with all their smoking.

WICE Christmas singalong  - 2015

Once safely inside the Smoke-Free Everything Bio market we set about doing our shopping.  It was nearly time for the dejeuner and many mothers were out picking up their children and stopping in at Bio C'est Bon Thank The Gods There's No Students Smoking Here! to pick up a few last minute items.

There was Good News, and not just with the lack of cigarette fumes.  One of the young ladies who works there was rather nicely dressed and Jude asked her why.  We learned she'd been promoted to store manager.  This after she'd been told in her recent review that she'd first have to work at several other stores before being considered for the position.  Well then, Minds Changed and a Minor Missed Opportunity was corrected.

As we set about our shopping a SDF brushed past on his way down a side aisle.  I grumbled about the shabbiness and wondered where his money came from.  The mothers who were there with their children looked a little askance, too.

WICE Christmas singalong  - 2015

A few minutes later out basket was filled to the brim and we were in line to talk with another employee while she scanned out items.  Jude and I speak in heavy accents and are constantly asked where we're from.  This time was no different and Jude shared the Important Details of our lives.  The checker seemed to know something about our Old Home Town, as did the SDF who happened to be next in line behind us.

Suddenly the SDF is talking with Jude and I can see his snaggle-toothed mouth form the worlds "Tektronix."  Er?  Wot's all this, then?  The next thing I know Jude is telling the man that I too used to work at Tektronix.

My mind was having difficulty keeping up with the context switch.  It really was.  I figured the SDF was just some shabby good for nothing drunkard in to do a Little Theft Exercise and to be on his way.  How utterly and completely wrong I was.  Words failed me.

Walking back up the street I told Jude about how judgemental I'd been and what a pleasant surprise it was to run into someone who'd worked at Tektronix in several capacities, in Beaverton, on the original campus, and just before the company transitioned from analog to digital.  I told my wife I really needed to reconsider how I view the world and how I "see" or not "see" people.

WICE Christmas singalong  - 2015

It's shocking, actually, to realize how deeply ingrained my American view of homeless and poor people is.  I've learned a little too well to view the poor as being in positions of their own creation and that people who put themselves into these positions are undeserving of anything. It's easy to point to the many conversations with Americans about how weird and strange people can look who shop at Walmart.  How we know when the state welfare check has arrived by the provisions piled high in a cart, filling it with junk foods.  Why can't they buy an apple instead of a frozen pizza?  Don't they know they're killing themselves by eating all that shit?  And, and, and, can't the poor see that all they need to do is just get off their lazy asses and go find a job!, forcryingoutloud.  Gawds! how we absolutely hate it when people are "taking advantage of the system" and the taxes we're paying that support their special/lazy/bankrupt "needs"!!  Yes, I'm embarrassed to admit that I still look at the poor and homeless with a judgemental uncaring America-bred-and-raised eye.

Up went went the fob.  Open went the door to our building.  In stepped Jude.  One last look down the street and... here he comes.  He's a small man.  Slightly hunched.  Very slender.  Ill-shaven.  Very much snaggle-toothed.  His clothes hang in the manner of someone you might not otherwise want to approach.  He was hauling two 4 litre bouteilles d'eau.

Monsieur.  Monsieur.  Regardez quelque chose d'interessant.  I pulled back the cuff of my jacket to show him the watch I wear.  It still has the two rubies on a small plaque on the side of the wrist band.  It was a 15 year anniversary gift.  In small silver bold lettering it says "Tektronix."

Having recovered my mind a little, we talked about some of the trigger mechanisms he'd worked on, all the tools he was familiar with, and the oscilloscope he'd brought back to France with him when he came home.  It was then that I remembered that here in France, in general, the poor and homeless are viewed not as being lazy and undeserving of state care and attention, but rather as the product of a system that has failed.  This is why we've seen the "deserving" (in American terms) having friendly conversations with the "undeserving" (again in American terms) who many times populate the benches and sidewalks in our quartier.

WICE Christmas singalong  - 2015

I had to admit that I really didn't know if this former Tektronix employee was poor or homeless and that my judgements of him were very likely false in every way imaginable.  I have no idea of the system failed him (from the French point of view) or if he is just an old retired guy who enjoys life as much as anyone else.

I told him in a sad tone of voice that une grande entreprise est venu vendre Tektronix.  C'est completement detruite maintenant.  C'est fini, en fait.  He understood that the formerly great  electronics test and measurement company had only recently (8 years ago) been destroyed and nearly disappeared by Corporate Takeover Greed that netted senior management hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars.   Thank you Danaher, or whatever you call yourselves now.  You can kindly go to hell for what you stole and the company you destroyed.

As we wagged our heads at the woe that has befallen Tektronix we bid eachother une tres bonne journee and went our separate ways.


  1. Small world indeed! It's sobering to get one of these introspective moments. At least yours came without the embarrassment from making an inappropriate comment.

    1. Living this far from Beaverton, I never ever expected to run into someone who used to work at Tek.

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