Occupational Progress

With a degree from Control Data and an expanding market for computer technicians, Becky got a series of private-sector jobs; each with higher pay and increasing supervisory responsibility. Bob's prospects were increasing too. His drinking increased in inverse proportion to his working.

Becky, Bob, and Jessie, with a couple of cats and maybe a dog, moved to from Frederick to Wolfsville on Christmas Day. Mom and I came up to help, each in our own car. The shortest and most direct way to get to the new house from Church Street was along U.S. 40, but Bob serpentined the caravan of household-goods-loaded vehicles loaded through neighborhood back streets and byways, which added at least 30 minutes to the trip. Huh? I asked Becky about it later. She said, "Bob hates the traffic around the malls." "But it's Christmas Day! There isn't any traffic!" She shrugged and said something about a dumbass.

The place in Wolfsville was a spacious 10-year-old rancher pre-fab house that had leaky walls and windows. The house sat part-way up a hillside overlooking a pretty Maryland valley, in the fenced-off corner of a cow pasture. The nights offered the jolly entertainment of cows rustling and snorting and farting all around the bedroom windows. You get used to the earthy odors of cattle pastured nearby.

Zeke gets his wayOne of Becky's cats, Zeke, had been with her since Braddock Heights and came along to Wolfsville. Zeke was a good-natured soul who had an annoying strategy to get what he wanted in the middle of the night, which was to be entertained. He would dig into the blankets, find your face, and sproing a couple of gleaming claws out from his paw. Then he would sink one of them into one of your nostrils, which would wake you right up.

Zeke could open the doors inside, so there was no shutting him out except by putting him outside. When I stayed at Becky's during the summer, I slept on the front porch (to enjoy the stars and the fireflies). Didn't get much sleep, what with Zeke picking my nose every few minutes. I would put him back in the house and he'd go to work on somebody inside, who would put him back out and he'd start back in on me. He thought this was great fun.

A little while later, the company Becky was working for closed up its offices in the I-270 technology corridor northwest of Washington, D.C. and moved to Michigan. Becky was laid off again. This time, unemployment compensation enabled her to attend school full time for a semester at the community college. She was quickly re-hired as a quality assurance manager at one of the tech enterprises where she had been previously employed. As the Cold War came to an end and the economy shrank once more, the company decided that quality was an optional feature of their products and Becky was laid off again.

Bob did a stint for a while as a long-haul trucker, but grew faint of heart after a cross-country trip through the Rocky Mountains in winter. He quit and took on short-haul trucking jobs for one of their neighbors. He was proud of the truck. Since the neighbor didn't have very much hauling, there was plenty of time for Bob to keep the tractor's beat-to-crap spray-can paint finish as shiny and clean as it could be. Bob kept track of Jessie after school, which could have interfered with his drinking time. He coped by drinking and driving, with Jessie in the car, to his various bars and buddies. Becky was developing a dim view of the excitement an alcoholic brings to family life. On her impetus, Bob moved out, puzzled that everybody was mad at him.

Meanwhile Becky worked between tech jobs for a residential construction company, supervising a roofing crew and driving a dump truck. Other truckers on the highway hooted and hollered, whistled and waved when they saw her drive by. She's had more cool jobs than anybody I know.

After a while another QA job came along, then another and another. Becky's status as an ISO 9000 specialist put her in ever-higher demand as--in response to shrieks from the public over $500 toilet seats--D.C.'s defense contractors toed the line of legislated demands for accountability. She earned a high-level clearance, which cannon-shot her into the handsome salary and benefits of QA management.

Becky and Jessie moved up the cultural ladder to the rung of home ownership. Becky bought a townhouse in Middletown, MD.