Friday, September 16 – Sunday, September 18

What a relief. Friday was my first full day off in 10 days and believe me it was very much appreciated. Seriously, I don’t think I could have managed many more days of work without a break. People can only take so much.

In any event, I made pretty good use of Friday, going to the shooting range with a family member. He recently acquired an AR-15, in the “New York compliant” configuration. Mostly I used the Ruger 10-22, though I did fire about 20 rounds through the AR. Can’t say that I cared for it too much. I like traditional-style guns, not the “tacticool” ones that are all the rage today. It was still a fun trip.

Saturday continued with the firearms theme, as in the morning I went to a gun show about ten miles away. Before going I had some concerns that it would be all rednecks, but it actually wasn’t like that.  A pretty normal-looking crowd, tending toward the older side. Anyway, I went there looking for older military surplus rifles, like a Mosin-Nagant or a Lee Enfield, but it was rather slim pickins. Lots of AR’s, also many shotguns, and plenty of really expensive stuff. The only military surplus rifles I saw in any numbers were M-1 Garands, the semi-automatic US military rifle of World War II. They are highly sought after, and had prices to match, with the cheapest ones running about $1,200.

And then it caught my eye. Its light wood (beech) stood out among all the dark walnut stocks, and a quick inspection showed it to look almost flawless. It was a bolt-action Swedish Mauser 96 dating back to 1916. Yes, it was 100 years old, though obviously refurbished in recent years. The bolt worked smoothly and an inspection of the bore showed it to look clean. Best of all, the seller was asking a very reasonable $400, and I went for it.

The rifle is in 6.5×55 SE (for Swedish) caliber, a very popular round in Europe though a comparative rarity in the United States. It’s powerful, too, with hunters in Scandinavia routinely using it for moose. Guess it’ll make short work of paper targets. Ammunition can be a bit pricey, though I was able to pick up 50 rounds from a different seller for $40. I’m really eager to take it to the range, though that’ll have to wait until next Friday.

On Saturday evening I did a 6:30 to 11 shift at the Major Home Improvement Retailer, and it was absolutely interminable. There was no freight to pack out, and except at the very beginning of the shift hardly any customers. The other employee in garden – yes, there were two of us – and I were reduced to arranging products on the shelves to make them look more esthetically pleasing. Yes, it was that boring. Fortunately, Sunday’s 10:45 to 4 shift was busier, and it went much much faster.

Published in: on September 23, 2016 at 3:02 am  Leave a Comment  

Monday, September 12 – Thursday, September 15

Two good, two not so good

Some weeks are good at my main job and some are bad. This week was a sort of split-personality case, with Monday and Tuesday being pretty good and Wednesday and Thursday pretty bad. I guess batting .500 isn’t so terrible, right? What made the difference is that on the first two days I did my normal scheduled work. As had been the case last week, this cycle isn’t particularly heavy. Unfortunately, I had to do (almost) double work on Wednesday and Thursday, as the last time I had been at the worksite I hadn’t been able to complete everything. Ha ha, I thought I might have been able to get some assistance this week, but that wasn’t about to happen. One good thing is that the upcoming two-week cycle should be pretty reasonable. In fact, the rest of the year shouldn’t be bad. I hope so.

Tuesday was my only shift at the Major Home Improvement Retailer, a quite tolerable 5 to 9. There were a couple other people working in the garden department so I wasn’t particularly busy even though there was a steady customer flow. In the last couple hours some freight came out and I worked on that. Supposedly, within a month there will be a new system in place that will make freight handling quicker and more efficient. I’ll reserve judgment.

Today’s longform mystery: The Man in the Moor

On Saturday, December 12, 2015, a cyclist in Britain’s Peak District National Park found the body of an older man lying just off the path in a scenic area. The dead man was between 65 and 75, 6’1″ and slim, with receding gray hair and blue eyes. He carried no identification, but had 130 pounds in ten-pound notes and two train tickets. He also had what turned out to be strychnine tablets, and indeed the autopsy showed that he had died of strychnine poisoning. It probably was suicide but there’s still no official verdict.
Using the train tickets and surveillance camera footage, the police were able to determine that the man had entered Ealing Broadway station on the London Underground at 9:04am on the previous day, Friday December 11. It was not possible to determine from what direction he had entered the station. One thing the police were able to deduce is that the man was unfamiliar with the station’s layout, given the way he was looking around for the correct entrance. The police later showed the man’s picture in local businesses, and no one recognized him. He paid his fare in cash.
At 9:50am the man arrived at London Euston station on the mainline rail network and bought a ticket to Manchester Piccadilly Street station. Oddly enough, he bought a round trip ticket, though at 81.60 pounds the round trip cost only one pound more than a one way. He paid in cash once again and took the train which departed at 10am.
At 12:07pm the man arrived at Manchester Piccadilly station and the cameras showed that some strange behavior ensued. He spent about an hour wandering more or less aimlessly around the station, going into several shops without staying long inside or buying anything until he finally got a sandwich. After eating it, he went to the taxi stand outside the station but turned around and came back in. He spoke to a clerk at the information booth, who unfortunately did not remember the conversation. Finally, the man left the station for good around 1pm, going on foot in the direction of the city center.
About an hour later, at 2pm, the man appeared at a pub in the town of Greenfield, which is about 12 miles from the Manchester station and near the entrance to the national park. Investigators have been unable to determine how he got there. The man asked the bartender for directions to the nearby mountain top, the bartender gave him the directions but cautioned him that there wouldn’t be time to get there and back before dark. From the pub to the spot where the man died is about two and a half miles.
The dead man’s clothing was unremarkable, most likely purchased in Britain, but two very strange pieces of evidence turned up. The glass bottle containing the strychnine pills was itself in a cardboard box for a thyroid medicine. Not only did the autopsy show no evidence of thyroid disease, or any other illness, but the thyroid medicine was from Pakistan and had a June 2015 manufacturing date. The autopsy also showed that the man had a titanium plate on his left femur, having been used in the surgical repair of a severe fracture some time prior to 2013. While the plate did not have a serial number, a manufacturer’s mark showed that it too had been made in Pakistan. Its maker produced about 500 of the plates each year and distributed them among 12 Pakistani hospitals.
What made these connections to Pakistan especially odd is the fact that the man definitely wasn’t Pakistani. And Pakistan is obviously not a country on the normal tourist route. Nonetheless, the man must have been there at some point prior to 2013 when he underwent the surgery, and probably (though not definitively) after June 2015 when he acquired the thyroid medicine bottle.
Months later the man is still unidentified. Fingerprints and DNA have been no help and he doesn’t match any known missing persons. At this point, probably the best hope is that one of the Pakistani hospitals will have records of having performed femur surgery on an older white man, but whether they will be forthcoming is another matter.

Published in: on September 19, 2016 at 1:20 am  Leave a Comment  

Saturday, September 10 – Sunday, September 11

By all rights this should have been a fairly easy weekend. While I worked at the Major Home Improvement Retailer each day, they weren’t full shifts. Six hours on Saturday and five on Sunday. Unfortunately, because I had worked on Friday rather than having it off as usual, it was a much more exhausting weekend than my light work hours should have indicated. I do not relish the prospect of working without a day off until the following Friday. Thankfully, this is not a situation likely to repeat itself any time soon.

Not so thankfully, my gym-going motivation remains very low. It’s at the point where I’m getting somewhat concerned.

Published in: on September 19, 2016 at 1:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Tuesday, September 6 – Friday, September 9

Like a breath of fresh air

After the last wretched work cycle at my main job I really needed a break. Fortunately, Lady Luck took a liking to me, and this new cycle much easier. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t super easy or anything, in fact it probably was tougher than average, but after the last one it paled in comparison. I was able to leave about a half-hour early on Tuesday and Wednesday, worked until the usual quitting time on Thursday, and left around 45 minutes early on Friday. In what might be even better, I was able to take my full allotted breaks each day. Having to work without a break makes things all that much worse.

Tuesday was my only Major Home Improvement Retailer shift during these days, and it was only a four-hour one. I had thought there would be a huge amount of freight, what with the holiday on Monday, but what little had arrived during the day had been packed out by the time I arrived at 7. With relatively few customers in the store I did a lot of straightening-up work in the aisle and was able to catch up on my online training.

Today’s mystery: Dorothy Jane Scott. In May of 1980 she was a 32-year-old secretary for what was basically a head shop in Anaheim, amusingly located near Disneyland’s main entrance. Despite the odd nature of the business Scott herself was a very quiet, religious and conservative person, and because she worked in the back office she had little contact with customers. One thing that bothered her is that she occasionally got calls at work from a man whose voice sounded vaguely familiar but which she just couldn’t place, with the caller sometimes being creepy and sometimes making outright threats.

Scott was at an evening work meeting on May 28 when one of her co-workers became very ill. Scott drove him to a nearby hospital with another worker accompanying them. It turned out that he had been bitten by a black widow, of all things. When the ill co-worker was discharged about 11pm, he waited along with the other co-worker at the emergency department entrance for Scott to get her car from the hospital lot. After a too-long wait of about ten minutes Scott’s car came out of the lot at a high rate of speed and zoomed right past the co-workers without stopping. Because the high beams were on it wasn’t possible to see who was in the car. A few hours later the car turned up on fire about ten minutes away, with no sign of Scott.

The strangest part was yet to come. Almost every Wednesday for the next four years, a man with an obviously disguised voice called Scott’s parents, sometimes saying that he was holding her captive and sometimes that he had murdered her. At one point he called a newspaper editor and gave some details that the police had never publicly revealed. Police attempts to trace the calls were unsuccessful because the caller never spoke long enough to allow for a successful trace using the technology of the time.

Four years after the disappearance Scott’s partial skeleton turned up in some roadside brush elsewhere in Anaheim. There was a dog’s skeleton on top of her bones. It was not possible to determine when Scott had died or the precise cause of death. The caller made two more calls to her parents, each time asking simply “Is Dorothy there?” After more than 30 years the caller has never been identified and the case remains unsolved.

 

Published in: on September 12, 2016 at 2:25 am  Leave a Comment  

Friday, September 2 – Monday, September 5

I’m including Monday in this entry because as Labor Day it was basically a weekend for me.  In fact, thanks to Labor Day I actually got two days off in this period, though I’ll make up for that – not in a good way – by having to work the upcoming Friday. Which will mean ten workdays in a row without a day off. Ugh.

Friday itself was an easy day, I didn’t do too much. Which unfortunately means that I didn’t go to the gym. I seem to be having another loss of enthusiasm, but it’s not too worrisome because I’ve gone through such spells at other times and always manage to drag myself back to the gym.

Saturday and Sunday were not easy days. I had back-to-back eight hour shifts at the Major Home Improvement Retailer, the first time I’ve done that in almost two months. It was pretty busy, a combination of Labor Day sales and fears of a major storm that was forecast to hit on Labor Day (it didn’t). Storms mean more sales of gas cans and chain saws and generators. Of course many of those items are likely to be returned. In any event, given how busy the store was my shifts went by pretty quickly, long as they were.  Labor Day itself was a do-nothing day extraordinaire.

Published in: on September 12, 2016 at 1:36 am  Leave a Comment  

Monday, August 29 – Thursday, September 1

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times … no, it was just the worst of times

No glossing things over: this was a horrible week that I’d like to expunge from memory. If only that were possible. I mentioned in the last entry that the upcoming week (this week) at my main job was likely to be difficult but tolerable.  That was one prediction that really missed the mark. Each of the four days was an utter nightmare. I had to work without meaningful breaks each day and still stay over an hour late.Every time I though the situation was under control something new would crop up. Things got so overwhelming that I called management and asked if I could get some additional help, something I really don’t like doing. Naturally enough no one else was available. Each day was exhausting, and the only bit of solace I have is that the next cycle really, actually, honestly should be much easier.

Still, things would have been semi-tolerable if it weren’t for Monday evening at the Major Home Improvement Retailer. I was scheduled to work 4:30 to 10, and because of absences I had to fill in on parking lot/loading duties. As such I was tasked with loading customer vehicles, keeping reign on shopping carts, emptying the outside trash cans, and using a leaf blower to clean off the front apron. Nothing too bad, and all things I’ve done before.

For some reason, however, I found the shift absolutely exhausting, to the point that I had trouble driving home. What made things much worse is that I just couldn’t recover in a timely manner. For at least the next couple of days, even into Thursday to some extent, I was dragging myself around, utterly beat. No idea why this was so. I’ve worked very hard in the past and always have gotten over it quickly. Indeed, my quick recovery time is something in which I take pride. Not this time. By the way, it should go without saying, but going to the gym wasn’t even a remote possibility.

Today’s mystery: The Dyatlov Pass Incident. In January 1959, nine people set off on a ski-hiking expedition to the very remote northern part of the Ural Mountains in Russia. All of them were highly experienced, and by completing this rugged trip they’d become certified to work as guides. Yet on the night of February 1 -2, something (“an unknown compelling force” according to the official report) caused them to rush out of their tent, ripping a side open in order to exit more quickly. They ran into the pitch-black subarctic night, with temperatures around -20F, even though most of them were half-dressed and shoeless. They certainly must have known that doing so was a death sentence, and indeed all nine froze to death.

Over the years there have been many theories about what caused this bizarre flight into death but no actual answers. Among these theories  are that the hikers fled an attack by native tribesmen, wolves or bears, or escaped Gulag prisoners; that they thought they were about to be buried by an avalanche; or that the military chased them away from the scene of a secret experiment of some sort. The newest theory is that wind coming off  a nearby mountain created very low-frequency sound waves known as infrasound, which according to some experiments can create mental unease in some people. None of these theories is particularly convincing and the true answer may never be known.

Published in: on September 5, 2016 at 6:16 pm  Leave a Comment  

Friday, August 25 – Sunday, August 27

It was the calm before the storm, though at the time I didn’t realize it as such. “Calm” was pretty much a given. Friday I was off as usual, and on Saturday and Sunday I worked four-hour shifts at the Major Home Improvement Retailer. Easy stuff. Sunday started out a bit scary because I was assigned to the flooring department, about which I knew little, but with some assistance from other workers everything went okay.

While I knew that the following week would be difficult at my main job, still being on the very tough two-week work cycle, I figured it would be easier than the preceding week. The second weeks of cycles are usually easier than the first weeks, as I get the hang of  things, and I’ve rarely encountered too many difficulties at the two sites where I’d be. So I enjoyed the weekend, made a couple of decent gym trip, life is good. Right? Stay tuned.

Published in: on September 5, 2016 at 5:37 pm  Leave a Comment  

Monday, August 22 – Thursday, August 25

A week that will live in infamy

Okay, that’s my historical reference for today. This was a just-plain-awful week at my main job. I knew that this work cycle would be tough. I did not know just how tough. The number and extent of the tasks I had to do were way beyond what could even remotely qualify as reasonable, and it’s not as if I could omit any. Monday, ironically enough, was the best – okay, least bad – day out of the four, even though the first day of a cycle is usually a challenge. I was able to take a lunch break, albeit a somewhat abbreviated one, and only had to stay about 15 minutes beyond normal quitting time. I can deal with that, right?

It got worse. Much worse. Tuesday I worked almost nonstop for an hour past the usual time, with only a very short break or two. Wednesday and Thursday were both 90+ minutes overtime and of course no meaningful breaks. I’m hoping against hope that next week will be easier, which may indeed be the case as I’ll be at less problematic sites.

Despite working extra time on Tuesday I had to work at the Major Home Improvement Retailer in the evening. Fortunately it was only a 4-hour shift, 7 to 11. In an unusual step, I got sent to a different store, not too far away, as they were swamped with freight. It made for a decent change of pace. Most of the actual work was garden freight packout, which of course is hardly uncommon for me, but being at the different store made things more interesting. I was supposed to work on Thursday evening but ended up calling out sick. I was just too physically beat out from the main job. I have my limits.

Published in: on August 28, 2016 at 2:54 am  Leave a Comment  

Friday, August 19 – Sunday, August 21

I hate eights. Let that be proclaimed throughout the known universe. After a pretty easy, calm-before-the-storm Friday, I had to work my first 8-hour shift in weeks at the Major Home Improvement Retailer on Saturday. In what might be an example of how the human mind blocks out terrible memories, I had forgotten just how miserable it is to work an eight. Time slowed down to a point where the shift went on for an eternity. When I’m working a four and I get to my first 15-minute break after two hours, I know that I’m at the halfway point. On an eight, I’m only quarter of the way through. Ugh.
Sunday was a six-hour shift, slightly easier but still a long haul. What made things worse is that I knew the upcoming 2-week cycle at my main job was going to be a tough one. Hard to enjoy the evening.

Published in: on August 28, 2016 at 2:35 am  Leave a Comment  

Monday, August 15 – Thursday, August 18

I can’t let myself get used to this

Last week was a pretty easy week at my main job. One of the easiest I’ve had, in fact. It’s usually the case that the second week of a two-week work cycle is easier than the first. Well, this was the second week, and the usual case prevailed. Everything went so quickly and easily it hardly seemed like I was working at all. Monday was the easiest day of all, I was done in only three hours, and the other ones weren’t much worse. All in all I worked about 20 hours all week compared to my scheduled 28. And yes, I get paid for all 28.

All good things must come to an end, and unfortunately this schedule may be among them. I got a look at the next work cycle, and while it doesn’t seem too bad it won’t be as easy-peasy as this one. Really, though, that’s okay. Having a very easy cycle come along only every so often makes it a special treat. Would you want to have Dom Perignon champagne and beluga caviar every day?

I had only one Major Home Improvement Retailer shift, a 5-hour on Wednesday. Due to some sort of computer error the store had gotten about double its usual freight shipments, and the receiving area was almost completely full. This led to a major campaign to pack out freight, and as there weren’t too many customers in the department I spent almost the entire shift on freight. Doing so is basically a good news/bad news sort of deal. The good news is that the shift went by very quickly, the bad news is that it was often exhausting work. I’d better get used to it, as the extra freight shipments are likely to continue for several weeks. Why the computer error can’t be fixed, I have no idea and asking management probably would be a bad idea.

I made three gym trips, on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. Monday I did chest and shoulders work, and for the first time in too long did some reasonably serious bench presses. I managed four reps at 225, several less than I’ve done in the past but a step in the right direction. Tuesday was back work, with cable rows having more or less become my exercise of choice. Even though the cable station is a machine, cable rows are basically a form of free weights as the cable is very similar to dumbbells in its effects on one’s muscles. Thursday was leg work, something I’ve sorely neglected for too long, and for that reason I stuck with machines.

True-life Mystery of the Week:
It’s well after midnight on May 14, 2008. Brandon Swanson of Marshall, Minnesota (home of Red Baron frozen pizza) is driving back home after a social gathering in a nearby town, having celebrated his graduation from a solar energy training program. He’s driving on an unlit dirt farming road rather than the main road, probably because he’d had a bit too much to drink and feared getting stopped by the police.

Brandon’s car gets hopelessly stuck. In what must have been an extremely awkward conversation, he calls his father and asks him to pick him up outside a restaurant. Brandon must have thought he was in the restaurant’s vicinity when his car was actually stuck 20 miles away. This isn’t so surprising as the land around Marshall is flat, largely featureless farming country with no landmarks.

For the next 47 minutes, Brandon stays on the phone with his father, describing the route he’s following (“I’m crossing a fence line, now walking along  dirt road”), that sort of thing. Then Mr. Swanson hears Brandon exclaim “Oh [bowel movement],” the call gets cut off, and there’s never been a trace of Brandon seen ever since. The police launched a massive search, with no luck. Given that it’s open country that’s easy to search, and that Brandon must have been within a 47-minute walk of the spot where his car turned up, you’d think he would have been found quickly dead or alive. But no, it’s as if he vanished into thin air.

Searching for Brandon

 

Published in: on August 22, 2016 at 2:33 am  Leave a Comment