Tales of a summer custodian: waxing floors with Cpt. Kirk


This post is the first in a series that explores my summer working as a temporary school custodian. Enjoy.

“Oh you’ve got to be freaking kidding me.” When alarm sounded at 5:00 AM last Tuesday, I was not happy. “Maybe unemployment isn’t that bad.”

The bank disagrees, so I hauled myself out of bed, ate a yogurt, got into the car and started the commute to my new gig.

beakerThis week was my first working as a temporary school custodian. After performing more manual labor than this doughy writer has seen in a very long time, I can now strip a floor, wax a floor and paint stairs (work DOWN, now up). I’ve discovered that enamel-based paint simply does not come out, and that every science teacher in America eventually makes the Beaker joke.

I also know that you can play Black Sabbath through a SMART Board.

Additionally, there’s real satisfaction at the end of a day of hard work:

  1. Unpainted stairs become painted stairs.
  2. Unpainted railings become painted railings.
  3. Unwaxed floors are smooth, shiny and beautiful.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning.

I arrived on Tuesday at 6:30 AM and made my way to “the shop” at the edge of campus. The boss man was actually on vacation last week, so Number One (let’s call him “Riker”) was issuing assignments. On this day I’d be stripping and waxing floors.

After doing my time card wrong (I put my arrival time on Monday, not Tuesday, and in the PM slot), Riker and I made our way to the first building for “stripping and waxing.”

It’s not as sexy as it sounds.

The halls were full of the furniture that used to occupy the classrooms, so we could get right to it. Stripping is pretty easy:

  1. Connect iPhone to SMART Board, play Black Sabbath.
  2. Mix chemicals that will likely be responsible for the third arm my body will grow in a few years.
  3. Spread the water/chemical mix across the floor with the “stripper.”
  4. Feel disappointed that the stripper is not a coed working her way through nursing school.
  5. Follow the stripper with the shop-vac, which is a massive thing with a cylindrical body and a long squeege attachment to suck up the water and chemicals.
  6. Quietly name the shop-vac “R2.”
  7. Say “Come along, R2” in your head as you suck up the water.

kirkOnce the floor is dry, things get meditative. First, pour a line of wax on the floor. Then, slowly spread a thin layer, walking back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.

The last step is this: get all Zen with the wax.

First, you worry about doing it wrong. Then you try to line up your efforts perfectly with the edges of the tile. Last, get really, really into spreading the wax.

Like, really into it.

You begin to recognize just how far a puddle of wax can be stretched. You make beautiful, identical arches. You learn — and work to maximize — exactly how perfectly even, thin, perfect a single swi—


You realize someone has been talking to you while you were zoning out with the wax.

The wax takes about an hour to dry, and four coats are applied in total. A couple of tips:

  1. Don’t do the edges of the room until coats three and four, otherwise it will pool.
  2. Cut a box around the door, as stripper used in the hall will splash under the door and can un-do your hard work. Come back and do that spot later.

The last room I waxed featured the above cut-out of Captain Kirk, which I took as a good sign.

Aside from a coffee break at 9:30 and lunch at 11:30, that was my day. Slow, quiet waxing in an empty building. It was easy, meditative and well…fun. It sounds ridiculous: here’s a guy with a M.Ed. who’s really enjoying the process of waxing floors, but there it was. I really enjoyed the process of waxing floors.

It was low stress, easy and offered instant gratification. I also began to feel a kind of kinship with my blue-collar brothers and sisters. We’re behind the scenes — which I prefer — doing a job that helps everyone else excel at theirs. Faculty, staff, administration and students can do their thing in a building that’s clean, safe and fully functional. It’s a good feeling.

Plus kudos to whoever put that Kirk cut-out in their classroom. You, sir or madam, are doing it right.

Tales of a summer custodian: prologue


Join me as I blog my gig as a custodian.

In February 2016 I lost my job and man alive, I have not been able to find work. Thanks to  some writing gigs and the podcast I managed to just keep my head above water. I also sent out more resumes and cover letters than I recall right now. All of that ends on July 5 when I go to work as a temporary custodian in my local school district.

And I’m going to write all about it.

On Tuesday I’ll wake up at 5:00 AM and head out to the school. It’s a big campus with four or five buildings and a whole lot of summer cleaning that needs to be done. Watch as this out-of-shape writer does more manual labor that he’s seen in a very long time. Read along as I unpack my brown bag lunch. Gaze in amazement as, well, I perform some honest, blue collar work that will get the campus in top shape so that the faculty and staff can do their jobs in September.

I’m looking forward to it, actually. Earning a paycheck and doing some work. Check back every day for a new tale. I’ll see you then.

Know what you’re supporting, Trump voters

If you’re going to vote for Trump, know what you’re voting for:

These aren’t the typical political gaffes that happen during a campaign. They are threats to humanity.

I quote Louis C.K.:

Trump is a messed up guy with a hole in his heart that he tries to fill with money and attention. He can never ever have enough of either and he’ll never stop trying. He’s sick.”

It genuinely scares me to think about a Trump presidency. You should be scared, too.

Horror movies worth watching


I love horror movies. 98% of them are garbage.

I recently saw The Conjuring 2 and found it just as predictable and boring as its predecessor. It’s well acted and well shot, but there’s nothing new or interesting here. Incidentally, the same goes for Insidious 2, which is a total bore and just as goofy as the original.

What do you like in a horror movie, Dave? Well I’ll tell you. I appreciate being scared, which is not the same as being startled. Any idiot can jump out and yell “boo.” That’s not scary. To truly unnerve an audience you must be clever, subtle and focused. Lastly, I appreciate a horror movie that avoids — or reimagines in a clever way — the same old cliches we’ve seen since Vincent Price was prowling around. With that in mind, here are five horror movies that I enjoy for being genuinely scary. In no particular order (note: all descriptions are spoiler free):

The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh


Boy do I love this movie. It takes the haunted house genre in an atypical and immensely enjoyable direction, without a single cheap jump scare. Aaron Poole is an antiques collector who is taking stock of his estranged mother’s house just after her death. He finds one strange object after another, leading him to believe that his mother was involved with a strange cult, and is using those objects now to send him an urgent message.

Director Rodrigo Gudiño has made a dark, brooding, melancholic movie that offers an unexpectedly satisfying ending.

The Babadook


This is a tremendous movie.

The Babadook follows recently widowed Amelia and her six-year-old son, Sam. Amelia is struggling with raising troublesome Sam on her own, a low-paying job and other stressors that I’ll discuss in a bit. Meanwhile, Sam has a preoccupation with monsters that manifests in paranoid behavior that gets him into trouble with his school and his extended family.

We learn that Amelia’s husband, Oskar, was decapitated in a car accident while driving Amelia, in labor, to the hospital. She has never dealt with this loss adequately. Meanwhile, Sam asks her to read a book she found on her self called “Mr. Babadook.” It’s a scary pop-up book that tells of Mr. Babadook, a spectral creature who torments those who deny his existence. “The more you deny Mr. Babadook,” the book says, “The stronger he gets.” Sam is convinced the Babadook is in their home, terrifying his family.

To jump forward, Amelia’s mental health deteriorates as she begins to see flashes of the Babadook himself everywhere. She stays awake for three days straight out of fear of seeing him while lying in her darkened bedroom. Finally, she is lured into the basement where the Babadook appears in the form of dead husband, Oskar. He tells her to “…bring me the boy.” She denies him and a violent sequence occurs between Amelia, Sam and the Babadook in its true, horrifying form. Sam insists that the Babadook is “in her” and she must “get it out.”

The movie’s climax occurs as Amelia, shielding Sam, looks the Babadook dead in its horrifying, larger-than-life face. She confronts it head on, seeing it for what it is. At this, the Babadook retreats to the basement.

Here’s the bit that really brought this movie home for me. Amelia and Sam are next seen in happier days. They’re about to celebrate his seventh birthday, which is significant as they’ve never formally acknowledged his birthday before. That specific date had always been the anniversary of Oskar’s death, not a celebration of Sam’s birth. Now that had changed.

Later they’re gardening and clearly enjoying each other’s company. We see that Sam has collected a bowl full of worms, which Amelia takes. She goes into the house, warning him to stay outside until she returns. Once inside, she takes the bowl to the basement and places it on the floor, where the unseen Babadook begins to growl and roar. “Shhhh,” she says, reassuring and kind. “It’s OK. It’s OK.” The Babadook quiets and takes the bowl. Amelia returns to the pleasant scene in the yard.

For me, this movie is a fantastic and creative representation of a person dealing with a significant trauma. The Babadook, as I’ve interpreted it, represents Amelia’s anxieties surrounding single motherhood, the stressors of raising a troubled child alone, the trauma of witnessing her husband’s sudden, violent death, as well as the overwhelming survivor’s guilt she’s clung to for six long years. “The more you deny Mr. Babadook,” the book says, “The stronger he becomes.” Note that when Amelia first saw the Babadook in the form of Oskar, he was locked away in her basement.

Now here’s the best part. When she turns to face the Babadook head on, she wins a victory. But, the Babadook DOESN’T GO AWAY. When a person endures a significant trauma, there’s a piece of that experience that they keep forever. The only “victory,” as it were, is to see that traumatized aspect of yourself and be able to say, whenever s/he rears up, “It’s OK, buddy. I got this. It’s all right. I’m taking care of us.”

Amelia does not destroy the Babadook; she learns to live with it. It’s not compartmentalized to a single room of her “house.” She feeds it when it’s hungry, she soothes it when it rages. She acknowledges what it is, and that it will always be there. That done, she can get on with her life.

It’s an excellent movie. Scary, smart, and in a way, uplifting.

Kill List


The ending of this smart, gorgeous and ultimately brutal movie disturbed me so significantly I still think about it years later.

A down-on-his-luck hitman gets an assignment nearly a year after botching a job. Eager to win back the trust of his employers and earn a living for his family, he agrees to perform three killings for a big payoff. Honestly, I can’t say any more than that without giving something away. You should go into this movie as ignorant of its plot as possible.

Kill List is a master class in the slow burn. It starts off as a crime thriller and morphs into unforgettable, visceral horror. It’s one of the scariest movies I’ve seen in a long time that also features a moral complexity that’s typically absent from the genre.

As an example of the triumph of evil, Kill List is peerless.

Let The Right One In


The Swedish movie that inspired the recent remake with Chlöe Grace Moretz* tells the tale of forgotten, bullied Oskar and his completely indifferent mother (we never see her face). All is misery for Oskar when, one snowy winter, a girl his age and her father move into their apartment complex.

Eli is a peculiar girl. For example, she never wears shoes, despite the snow, and seems to be able to sneak up on Oskar unnoticed and in complete silence. Also, a rash of killings has coincided with her arrival.

This movie is as much about the beautiful innocence of first love as it is about the lore of the vampire. Beautifully shot with terrific young actors, Let The Right One In avoids the crap that has plagued vampire movies for years. It’s scary, beautifully constructed, heart-wrenching and yes…very bloody.

*BTW if you want to watch the US version, go right ahead. It’s nearly a shot-for-shot remake and very well done.



Hooooo-leeeee crap.

At first glance, Creep looks like a directionless combination of found footage and mumblecore. A young videographer answers an ad placed by a man who claims to be terminally ill and eager to record messages for his unborn son, as he’s certain he’ll die while the child is just a newborn.

They meet up and the guy seems like an annoying man-child, but ultimately harmless. It isn’t long before things get a little weird and well, creepy. The payoff is an absolute knockout that will leave you slack-jawed. Kudos to Mark Duplass who is fantastic, obnoxious and creepy as hell.

Bonus! (or, I couldn’t limit myself to five)

  • Mama.  Andrés Muschietti will scare the pants off of you in this film about a young couple who take on the task of raising two girls who had lived alone in the woods for years.
  • The Ring. Atmosphere, atmosphere, atmosphere and one of the best climactic scenes you’ll see.
  • The Orphanage. Edge-of-your-seat creepiness with an unexpected and very clever conclusion. I loved every minute of it.
  • The Shining. The grandpappy of them all. There’s nothing I can say that you don’t know. This is a master class by Kubrick and Nicholson.
  • The Haunting (1963). That scene at the end — you’ll know it when you see it — is awesome. Also, avoid the remake. It’s garbage.
  • The Blair Witch Project. Many people poo-poo this movie but that final scene with Josh staring at the wall is damn scary.


There you have it. Five 11 horror movies that are definitely worth your time. Rent them, turn the lights down, make some popcorn at lastly…don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Use YouTube for music on your iPhone


My 13-year-old’s dramatic eye-rolling made me a better iPhone user.

I recently discovered that I can use YouTube for listening to music on my phone without it taking over what’s happening on my screen. Here’s what I mean.

My daughter was describing a song to me, but couldn’t quite recall the title or artist. As a TECH GOD I grabbed my iPhone and launched Apple Music. “Just use YouTube,” she said with the disdain typically reserved for someone who had just kicked your dog.

I would, but YouTube commandeers the iPhone. If you’re using the official app, any video that’s playing stops as soon as you navigate away. The same goes for YouTube.com in mobile Safari. Unless you do the following:

  1. Go to YouTube.com in mobile Safari.
  2. Find the video you want to listen to and get it playing.
  3. Hit your iPhone’s Home button to navigate away from Safari.
  4. The music stops. Don’t panic! Just swipe up to reveal the Control Center (below)
  5. Hit the play button.


That’s it! Hit the Home button one more time to dismiss the Control Center and use your iPhone however you like while the YouTube video plays in the background. I had no idea this was possible.

Hence the eye-rolling.

Using Google’s Motion Stills with Live Photos

image03Earlier this week, Google released Motion Stills, a free iPhone app that exports the video from Apple’s Live Photos — with or without sound — as a GIF or brief MOV file. The result can be added to your iPhone’s Camera Roll or shared via certain social media channels. The app is dead-simple to use, with image stabilization tech that can tame even the most erratic clip.

I’ve had a great time exporting and sharing MOV files, but lots of trouble with GIFs. I think the latter is an issue with the platforms I’m trying to share to, however. More on that later. First, a few words on Live Photos.

The problems with Live Photos


When Apple demonstrated in 2015 I went nuts. Just press and hold to have images of my perfect little snowflake children come alive whenever I want? Oh, the proud poppa moments just entered ANOTHER LEVEL, BABY. I couldn’t wait to foist these on people.

The trouble has been in sharing them with your friends and family members who don’t have an iPhone running the latest iOS 9, as well as on social media.

You could take the DIY approach, which involves connecting your iPhone to your computer, launching Image Capture, sorting by kind and then importing all of the MOV files to your computer.


If you want to do this on a Windows computer, navigate to your iOS device in File Explorer and give your machine permission to browse the internal storage. From there, you should be able to see everything in the DCIM folder on your iOS device.

Not the slickest process.

Eventually, iOS apps began to offer support, including Lively (free with in-app purchase), Live Studio ($0.99) and PicPlayPost (free, with a $2.99 in-app-purchase to remove a watermark).

Services got on board as well, and now Tumblr and Google Photos officially support the technology. Facebook does too, but only for those using the official iOS app on a phone running the latest version of iOS 9 (sorry, Paper users).

While you can get Live Photos off of your device and out to the world, the best experience is still on a compatible Apple gadget.

A blurry mess

Whenever Apple shows off a new photo technology or app, I have two simultaneous thoughts:

  1. Wow, I can’t wait to try that.
  2. My photography skills are garbage.

Grace in her New York Football Club hat. Either that, or she just saw that video from The Ring.
Grace in her New York Football Club hat. Either that, or she just saw that video from The Ring.

Consider this demo of Live Photos that Phil Schiller gave in 2015. Water ripples before a completely static background. A hiker raises his arms triumphantly before a waterfall. These are terrific Live Photos. Meanwhile, I get this type of thing at the end of my clips, as I tend to lower the phone at the end of a clip.

Google’s image stabilization lets me get results that are very close to Apple’s demo images. How does it work? From Google:

“Our algorithm uses linear programming to compute a virtual camera path that is optimized to recast videos and bursts as if they were filmed using stabilization equipment, yielding a still background or creating cinematic pans to remove shakiness.”

It works very well and has allowed me to get demo-ready results.

Using Motion Stills

To share you first GIF or video, follow these steps:

Launch the app and scroll to the image you want to share. Next, tap the image to bring up the editor:


There are four simple buttons (from left to right):

  1. Turn the stabilization effect on or off
  2. Turn sound on or off
  3. Export your clip
  4. Close the editor and return to the image library

Pay attention the sound option. In my experience, it’s best to turn off, or else you get three seconds of a sentence or other repeating background noise that becomes annoying very quickly. Also, hit the stabilization button a couple of times to see the difference.

When you’re ready to share, hit the share button to reveal two options: Send GIF and Share Clip:


Tap GIF and the image is created and the Share Sheet appears, ready to go. Hit Share Clip and the same thing happens. In testing this out, I noticed a few little quirks.

GIF issues

This may be the fault of the platforms I’m trying to share GIFs to, but they do not animate. I tried Twitter across various platforms and apps, as well as Facebook and Instagram. Bummer. I did find one little workaround, though.

If you opt to export a MOV and post it to Instagram, you can then share that link to Twitter and view the file that way. Cheap, but there it is.

Unlike my GIF woes, the MOV file worked perfectly. It’s great fun to share a great-looking little clip to Instagram and Facebook with almost zero effort.

This is a fun app that largely does what it’s supposed to do. Give it a try and liberate your Live Photos. As long as they’re not GIFs.

Google Motion Stills

Today must be bizarro day as Google has mastered Apple’s live photos. Motion Stills (free) is a new iOS app that extracts the little videos that are created when you take a live photo, applies some very effective image stabilization and lets  you export the result — with or without sound — as a GIF or a brief .MOV clip. Like this (click to watch):

Screen Shot 2016-06-07 at 5.27.24 PM

It’s super cool and finally gets those clips off of your phone. I did a little experimentation today and I’ll have a good look at this app tomorrow. Until then, grab it, play around and explore #motionstill on Instagram for inspiration.

[Via The Loop]

Bird calzone

It was that bird with the food in its mouth. Beak. Whatever.

7:18 AM and I’m staring out the window in boxer shorts and a T-shirt that reads “STAR WARS” in faded, yellow letters. Seconds earlier I yelled, “Let’s go, it’s seven eighteen!” to my son who should be getting dressed for school in the next room. By June 7th, he should just know to get dressed. By June 7th, I’m light-years beyond sick of prompting him to get dressed. As I reach for the jeans on the floor — worn yesterday but that’s nothing a blast of Febreeze can’t fix — I see it.

The bird. Outside. Standing on the roof of my shed. Small, grey and tremendously, almost aggressively ordinary. He (or she, who knows) is holding what for him (or her, who knows) is a massive piece of food in his beak. It would be the equivalent of your or I holding a calzone between our teeth.


The bird is in no rush. He’s just looking around, surveying the land from the gable of my 1970’s tool shed, content that he’s got a day’s worth of grub locked down by 7:18 AM. Everything is honkey-dorey. That’s when I realize it.

I hate this bird.

He (or she) has no bills to pay. No spouse to please. If there are kids, he’ll just deposit some of his bird calzone into their mouths and they’ll be set for the day. The bird has no insurance woes, income tax concerns or thoughts about the pending election. The bird doesn’t know what a job is.

I hate the bird because I wish I were the bird. Not a care in the world and his day made at 7:18 AM. That’s what four months of unemployment does to you.

It makes you hate birds.

First school dance

IMG_2001Off to his first school dance, the 5th grade social (complete with LEGO bow tie).

It’s tempting to bemoan the passage of time, but that’s not the right call here. In a few months, he’ll be in junior high. Meanwhile, my daughter is a teenager. Everything is temporary, including childhood. Bring on the next adventure.

Judgey McJudgeFace

I saw this cartoon on Reddit today and it really annoyed me:


Who’s to say the garbage man doesn’t have a great job? That he isn’t happy? He’s outdoors, he gets exercise every day, and he likely started his working life without a mountain of student loan debt. At the end of his work shift he can take pride in the fact that he kept the roadways clean for the judgey parents and their kids, allowing for safe passage and preventing rodents from accumulating.

If money is the concern, I know plumbers and house painters who make six figures a year. But that’s not the point. Don’t assume a blue-collar worker is unhappy, uneducated, poor or in need of a savior with a liberal arts degree. He just might be as happy as a clam. And for the love of God, don’t teach your kids that skilled labor jobs are undesirable! Learning these skills will serve them for as long as they live, and allow them to live and work anywhere in the world.