March 16 - Lab Pals & A Waukegan Memory

A delivery took me to somewhere in Northbrook called Underwriters Laboratories. In the lobby, the UL logo reminded me that John from The Bitter Tears works here as a lab technician. I texted him from the UL museum, a brief hall of antique toasters, Nintendo controllers, and cellphone guts, and we met.

With guest goggles pressed to my impressed face, John gave me a tour of the actual lab. At UL, John tests electrical products to make sure they’re up to code before hitting the market. If they make the grade, the UL logo appears on the product. When I arrived he had just extinguished a fire caused by a faulty coffee maker. Apparently the green wire was not the ground wire, and it caused a petite explosion and a cute fire. John tried to explain it to me like Mr. Wizard, and I mostly nodded.

What struck me as telling was the vast amount of vintage industrial equipment that was used to test the modern equipment. A big metal machine with knobs and a retro-futuristic font. A tachometer strobe that flickered and clicked. A faded chrome Buck Rogers blow dryer. All of them older than me. They’ll probably be around after I’m gone, too. Especially if I’m making coffee in one of those cheap, Grucci family coffee makers.

The weather’s been lovely. I had to deliver a court document to a judge in Waukegan, up by Wisconsin. I like Waukegan. It’s home to Ray Bradbury as well as Jack Benny. Last Memorial Day, Lauren and I took the train up there to see Bradbury’s childhood home, and the ravine made famous in Dandelion Wine and Something Wicked This Way Comes. Afterward we stopped into a townie bar in the center of town. The atmosphere was pleasant, with patrons at every stool enjoying the holiday buffet of hot dogs, burgers, and potato chips. We ate on paper plates and watched Maury while eavesdropping on the townie chatter. The bartender, a once attractive frying pan of a woman, kept us company. She was invested in Maury and offered her opinions about the man on television who had been caught cheating. She was in her second marriage. When the jukebox came on she sang along strong. She had a good karaoke voice that bullied the melody. She liked to dance. We were all having a good time. Lauren and I ordered a third round of Old Style when some of the patrons razzed her about something. She told them to cool it. One of them, a regular in his 40’s, didn’t. He kept teasing. That’s when she turned a 180 and started screaming at him. She stabbed her sentences repeatedly with "fuck"s and "fucken"s. I seem to remember the music had stopped, but that can’t be. She kicked him out. He tried to play it off like c’mon. She grew stronger and louder. This repeated until he reluctantly got off the barstool and bid adieu to the other patrons. It was quiet for a while after. The weird mildew of a town's domestic problems lingered in the holiday air. Lauren and I checked the train schedule.

I still like Waukegan.

Tonight’s crowd for Rush Limbaugh! The Musical was the best one we’ve ever had. They laughed, they gasped, they cheered, and clapped along with the songs. I rode my bike home without any street drama.

Verdict: Win

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