Friday, December 31st, 2010

Today’s New Year’s Eve so we get the day off because we’re state workers. It’s one of the benefits that are showered on us like confetti at a hero’s ticker-tape parade. I can’t wait to see how that’s going to change. Watch this space.

But for now, we’re enjoying the day off: Sleeping in a bit, then sitting on the sofa for as long as we damn well want to while we drink our coffee and try to wake up. When we felt we could finally communicate in something more complex than grunts, we threw on some clothes, piled into the car and went into town for breakfast at Lazy Jane’s. My Darling B ordered something called a Chipotle Chili Omelet, which she mistakenly thought was a regular omelet with chipotle chiles, but no. It’s an egg folded over a mountainous helping of chili, more than she could eat in a day under any circumstances. She hardly made a dent in it.

I had a waffle garnished with bananas and walnuts and smothered in syrup. If there’s a better way to start the day, I can’t think of it right now.

We made a quick detour to Mad Cat before swinging back. Boo’s favorite cat toy, a wand with a little poof of feathers on the end, was pretty much worn out. All that was left of the feathers was a little furry stump and one very thin, tired-looking pin feather, so I got her a new one. There are so many feathers I thought it might scare her, but she was very excited to chase the new one even though I woke her out of a sound sleep with it, which is not something I would normally ever do if I could help it. Think of someone you know who’s “not a morning person” and then imagine waking that person up suddenly and rudely, say by throwing the contents of a well-chilled chamber pot in her face, and you’re getting an idea of the kind of “morning person” the Boo can be.

While My Darling B was gathering up the fixings for a shellfish chowder dinner and our New Year’s Eve noshies, I strolled up the street to Star Liquor to ask Adam to recommend a bottle of bubbly that would go with the chowder. He fixed me up right quick and I grabbed a six-pack of Moon Man from New Glarus to go with the popcorn and movies we were planning on watching as we passed the hours until midnight, should we somehow be able to stay up that late.

Then it was on to Batch Bakehouse. They’re closing up for almost two weeks to go on vacation, so we wanted to see what we could pick up from their showcase. Not much, as it turned out. They were being mobbed by a steady stream of people who had the same idea we had, and the showcase was almost cleaned out by the time we made our way to the front of the line. We scored some cookies, a wedge of apple cake and a small loaf of wheat bread, then tried to make our way through the crowd out the door before the ones in the back realized they weren’t going to get any goodies.

Just two more stops after that, at Bongo Video! and the Monona Public Library to pick up a selection DVDs, so many that we’ll almost certainly never get to watch them all, but at least enough that we’ll all be able to agree on something. Movies, noshies, booze and food – I think we’re ready to make it to the New Year!

New Year’s Eve | 2:14 pm CST
Category: beer, Boo, booze, daily drivel, entertainment, food & drink, movies, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, restaurants, television, vacation, work | Tags: ,
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Sunday, December 5th, 2010

Grant Barrett started off this morning’s episode of A Way With Words with a tribute to train conductors and the singsong way they rounded up passengers lingering on the platform by calling out the names of the stops along the way, something like, “Anaheim, Azusa, and Cu-ca-monga!” wrapping it up with the still-familiar, “bo-AAAAHHHd!” Grant likened the exaggerated pronunciation their speech to the wordplay of voice caricaturist Mel Blanc.

(This was a replay of a show broadcast on November 9, 2009, so you won’t see it on the home page of the show’s web site, but I found it in the discussion forums.)

Cohost Martha Barnette gave a similar example of a train conductor in New York State reeling off the names, “OSS in ing, poh KIPP see,” and so on with the New York twang I love so much, and they both gushed over the elision of “all aboard” into a single-syllable “BOAR!”

I don’t believe I’ve ever heard a train conductor do this, except in movies. I was, however, once on a train waiting to leave London from Saint Pancras Station when a teenager opened the door to the compartment, stuck his head in and asked me, in his best clipped Cockney, “ask USE me mite, duh CYST rain GOAT uh PUTT uh SPA?” The translation circuits in my brain came to within milliseconds of a truly spectacular blowout before the nickel dropped and I realized he’d asked me if the train stopped at Potter’s Bar, a town along the route.

The only other thing I can compare this with is calling out commands to march troops in formation, something I’ve been trained to do by a professional, believe it or not. It’s supposed to be a bonding experience for airmen in leadership school, but to me it was mostly a glaring reminder of my limitations. As much as I loved to do it, I never could quite get the hang of it.

We were to divide commands into two distinctly separate portions: A preparatory command, and a command of execution. The preparatory command was the verbal wake-up that warned the airmen that we were about to order them to do something. The command of execution told them when to do it.

To make each command as easy to recognize as possible, we were to make them as different from each other as we could. The most common way to do this was to boil each word down to a single, explosive syllable.

A formation of airman is called a flight, and to call them to attention we were supposed to shout, “FLIGHT!” This was both a preparatory command and a command of execution wrapped up in one word, like “At ease.” We barked it out, and a split-second later the airmen did it without any further prompting.

But we were given to understand that correctly pronouncing the word flight or any other word as a command was really very uncool. The closest I could get to the sound that came out of our instructor’s mouth was something like, “FLYeee!” I say it was closest because he didn’t like the way I did it, demonstrating several times. He very definitely didn’t want me to pronounce the “T” on the end, and he seemed to be lengthening the vowel sound while keeping it in the back of his throat, but no matter how many times I tried to imitate his example, I never got it to sound the way he said it should. Eventually I gave up and just shouted, “FLIGHT!” It may not have been right, but it was certainly distinctive, because nobody else was saying it that way.

To get them moving, we commanded, “Forward, march!” Barking it out in single syllables, the preparatory command, forward, reduced it to something that resembled “foe-ODD!” And the command of execution ended up somewhere between “HARCH” and “HOTCH.” Getting it exactly right was really an art. Some guys could affect a very cool, Chuck Yaegerish drawl that sounded just like sergeants in the movies. The rest of us had to make do with a clunky imitation. Even a simple cadence, the “hut, too, tree, far.” we were all familiar with, was quite a trick to pull off well.

I suspect it’s the same with railroad conductors. There are probably some who make it look and sound so easy, and there are quite a few who are, and always will be working on their style but will never quite be able to pull it off.

foe ODD, HOTCH! | 10:58 am CST
Category: daily drivel, My Glorious Air Force Career, work | Tags:
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Friday, November 19th, 2010

I stuck my head in Laurie’s cube this afternoon to ask her if she could tell me the name of the tune that was playing on her radio. It turned out to be “Only Prettier” by Miranda Lambert. You’ll have to google that your darned self if you want to hear it. I was going to link to it for your pleasure but every time I tried my computer got snowed under by a blizzard of advertisements. That woman’s got more sponsors than a Nascar driver.

Laurie asked me if I was going to look up the words, and I, being the smartass that I am, said I shouldn’t really have to by this time because they played it three times a day on the station she listened to. “You can hear that from your desk?” she said, not quite believing me until she came and stood by my chair. Yes, I can hear her radio. The angle of the walls of her cubicle are just right to focus the sound of her radio across the aisle at my desk. I can’t quite hear every word, but I can recognize every song when it comes on, and if they don’t play “Only Prettier” at least three times a day on whatever station it is Laurie listens to, I’ll eat my cowboy hat (a safe bet – I don’t have one).

To her credit, Laurie offered to turn her radio down and I had to beg her not to. I asked her only because I wanted to look up the words when I got home.

Pretty Good | 8:52 pm CST
Category: daily drivel, entertainment, music, office work, play, radio, work
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Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

I have to tell you I’m still happy to be employed, but I think I sit on this job more than I have on any other job I’ve ever held before. It sounds like a strange observation to make, but at one point this afternoon I felt as if I was literally putting down roots and quickly jumped out of my seat, swatting at my butt, the way I would if I were waking from a nightmare.

Other desk jobs I’ve had required me to get up and go do work somewhere else every once in a while, but at this job pretty much all my work is within just a foot or two of my desk. I rarely have to get up to go anywhere, and on the few occasions that I do, I travel about three feet, grab the files I need, then go another three feet and sit right back down. On a pedometer, it probably wouldn’t even register.

And my breaks are so short I barely have time to get out the door to stretch my legs and get some fresh air before I have to be pecking at my keyboard like an obediently trained chicken again. At lunch I have enough time to walk all the way around the block if I move at a fast trot and go straight back to work as soon as I can.

Seriously, my butt hurts, I sit so much. Yes, I would like some cheese with my whine, thank you.

Sit On It | 6:52 pm CST
Category: daily drivel, damn kids!, office work, work
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Thursday, October 21st, 2010

I spent most of My Glorious Air Force Career overseas, but I was stationed Stateside twice, both times in Denver, for a total of about nine years, some of the best years of my career because, among other things, I met My Darling B while I was stationed in Denver. Also, I was part of a crack team that protected the United States against imminent nuclear destruction. Your city is not a smoking crater because we were on the job twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week … not continuously, you dweeb. We worked in shifts. We worked for twelve hours during the day, went home and slept for a while, then watched television for a while before we worked another twelve hour day watch, and so on until we had a break before they switched the schedule around on us and we had to work mid watches for a while.

Mid watches started at six in the evening and didn’t end until six in the morning. The first four hours or so were fairly tolerable. We had plenty of energy and there was always something going on somewhere that focused our energy on the task at hand. The last four hours were completely intolerable because by that time we were so utterly and completely tired it was all but impossible to focus on anything. I have literally fallen asleep standing up, or in the middle of typing a sentence at the end of really bad mid watches. Several times I kept on typing after falling asleep. Didn’t make sense when I tried to read it later, but I could type a whole line up to the point the bell went ding and woke me up. (For those of you who have never typed on anything that went ding at then end of the line, shut up.)

The middle four hours of a mid watch were a strange netherworld, a cross between having plenty of energy to do something while at the same time having practically nothing to do. There was usually some kind of make work, mostly housekeeping, they made us do in an attempt to keep us from hurting ourselves and others, but after we finished that and they couldn’t think of anything else they let us do whatever we wanted so long as we were back in time to perform the next scheduled task. And that’s how we came up with chair racing.

The room we worked in had a central dais with a desk on it where the guy in charge sat, exactly like a crazed megalomaniac. I shit you not. Surrounded by computer keyboards and screens he might have looked impressive, if he weren’t a plain old enlisted joe like the rest of us. And mostly all he had to do was watch us work. It must have been painfully boring.

The rest of us worked in front of long racks loaded up with computerized gadgets that looked eye-poppingly impressive at first glance, but a closer inspection would quickly tell you it was all hopelessly obsolete. Seriously, a lot of it dated back to the 1950s and I think the only reason they kept it around was it was too complicated to replace. There were so many gadgets to work on in each one of these racks that we sat in front of them on office chairs and propelled ourselves from one end to the other by kicking off the corner of the end rack and catching the other end as we went by. We got so good at it that we could make adjustments to the complicated instruments, punching buttons and turning dials, as we coasted past them.

Once the work was done and we had some time to kill, we sometimes kept on kicking off the racks to play bumper cars in the aisles, and then one night we hit on the idea of racing all the way around the raised dias. The aisle wasn’t wide enough for us to race side-by-side so we had to play a game that was a combination of bumper cars and chair racing, sort of a demolition derby played by office workers. Yes, this was the scene in the heart of the electronic nerve center that was protecting your ass from nuclear annihilation night after night. But really, that was nothing.

The place where we worked was at the back of a spectacularly enormous office building, the result of years of adding on to the original building by simply erecting another building right next to the old one and connecting the corridors. By the time we worked there the building had been added to five or six times, and the three corridors that ran the length from one end to the other were hundreds of feet long. And as we were strolling to work one night, during a lull in the conversation, one of the guys said, while staring at the well-waxed linoleum floor beneath our feet, “Man, I’ll bet you could get one of those office chairs going really fast down these hallways.”

We all chuckled agreement, then stopped and stared at each other: Chair Race!

So some time after midnight that night, during a break in the serious work, two or three of us (maybe, I don’t know exactly, and don’t ask me for names, I’ll never tell) wandered nonchalantly out the door, each trailing an office chair behind us, to take up positions in the hallway. On the count of three, we kicked off as hard as we could from the back wall and kept on kicking, and DANG! Dude was right! You get those office chairs going supersonic when you’ve got a long, clear shot and a bare floor to roll on! We could have made it more exciting with rockets, or machine guns or something, but for a while there the middle of a mid watch wasn’t so bad any more.

Chair Races | 10:30 pm CST
Category: entertainment, My Glorious Air Force Career, work | Tags:
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Wednesday, October 6th, 2010

Aaron, one of my coworkers, was showing me how to approve course work for continuing education. That’s what I do now; I’m one of the two continuing education specialists in my unit at the Department of Regulation and Licensing, so I’d better know how to do this at least a little better than the guy who’s application I was reviewing. He used the wrong form. Actually, he used an old form, which I guess we let slide for now.

It was also handwritten. “Thanks for typing it, buddy,” I griped as I struggled to decipher it.

Aaron went Pffft! “Who has a typewriter any more?” he asked. I almost told him Well, I’ve got ten, as a matter of fact, but something about the way he farted with his mouth like that prevented me. Instead, I just showed him the next application, which just happened to be typewritten.

I worked my way slowly through the steps to review the application while Aaron sat watching. He’s got to teach me that stuff some time, but nothing’s more boring than watching other people do a job you can do without thinking. I wasn’t surprised when his mind started wandering.

“Can I ask you,” he asked, “were you working in an office before e-mail? Because I just can’t conceive of how that worked.” This reminded me of the time my nephew watched, fascinated, as I demonstrated a typewriter, something he’d never seen before. “It’s like a computer, but with words on paper!” he said, awe in his voice.

Aaron wasn’t jerking my chain; he really couldn’t see how people used to get work done without e-mail. “It was actually a lot easier to get work done without e-mail,” I said, and when he gave me the puzzled dog look, I explained:

“When you get an e-mail, the person who sent it to you expects you to read it right now, right? And if they don’t hear from you in five or ten minutes, they send you another e-mail asking you what’s taking so long, don’t they? You might be right in the middle of answering an email when you see a new e-mail appear in your inbox from somebody else, and you stop and read the new one because you know that guy’s going to be way more pissed if you don’t answer him right away.

“But, back in the day, you had to type up a memorandum that would go into the mail and disappear for days. Which was kind of nice on the receiving end, because you weren’t constantly interrupted by messages coming in that had to be answered right now. The guy sending them didn’t know when you got them, did he? You could open all your mail, put it in a pile with the most urgent stuff on top, and then you didn’t have to worry about any new mail until you got to the bottom of the pile. It was bliss.”

I think next week I’m going to bring in my Remington Portable for show and tell.

Show and Tell | 8:47 pm CST
Category: daily drivel, damn kids!, entertainment, hobby, office work, play, typewriters, work
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Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

After a full day at the Department of Administration I am well and truly oriented, I can tell you! Is it just me, or does Department of Administration sound redundant to you, too? Or maybe it just sounds backwards, like it ought to be Administration of Departments. Okay, that went nowhere, didn’t it?

I came home with a backpack stuffed full to bursting with handbooks, leaflets and maps, and a thick stack of forms that I must fill out and return or suffer torture on the rack. I swear I didn’t have to fill out that much paperwork in twenty-one years of military service.

Speaking of coming home, I realized as I walked out of the last orientation meeting that I would have to wait hours for My Darling B to come pick me up, because President Obama came to visit Madison again. Not that I don’t just love President Obama to pieces, but he drops in about once a month to say hello and stop all the traffic. B would never be able to get across town in less than two hours through streets thronged with Obama-worshippers, and after a whole day of sitting on my ass I was not in the mood to park my butt in a coffee shop or even a tavern and wait that long, so I said to hell with it and started hoofing it up Willy Street.

An hour later I’d made it as far as Schenk-Atwood and was starting to wonder if I’d make it all the way home before I saw My Darling B again. Also, my feet hurt and I needed to pee. As luck would have it, at that point I was only a block away from The Victory, a new cafe on Atwood Avenue, so I stopped in to order an espresso. “Getting ready for the rush-hour crowd?” I asked the owner as he worked the various levers of his infernal machine.

“You are the rush-hour crowd,” he answered. “This is the first day we’ve stayed open past four.” Then he opened the display case and offered me a pastry on the house. Caffeine and sugar, just what I needed.

My cell phone bleeped as I was finishing the last of the scone. B was still trying to pick her way through all the roadblocks in downtown Madison and wouldn’t be meeting me any time soon. Maybe I really would be seeing her back at home. I hit the pavement with a spring in my step, thanks to the espresso, and made it all the way to Olbrich Park before B phoned me again to tell me she’d just left the Willy Street co-op and was headed my way. Our paths finally crossed at the East Side Club and I gratefully accepted a ride home.

Hoofing it | 10:55 pm CST
Category: coffee, commuting, food & drink, office work, play, work
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Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

Hey! This is my last week of near-absolute freedom to do whatever I want before I start my new job on Monday! Yay, me! I think.

There are still all kinds of things to do around Our Humble O’Bode before the snow flies, but I don’t know how many of them will get done in these last five or six days because I’m feeling a very strong urge to relax and do nothing in anticipation of re-entering the work force, an urge I think I just might indulge at least a little bit.

I spent yesterday morning and a bit of the afternoon tidying up the basement work shop. It didn’t look like tidying up at first. It looked a whole lot more like I was gathering up all the lumber that was leaning against the three walls of the work shop and throwing it all on the floor in a big heap, not an improvement at all. I needed to make some room on the floor, though, so I could knock together a frame that I eventually tipped up and screwed to the back wall, then added arms to so I could pick the lumber up off the floor and stack it on our new lumber rack.

I used to have something like this before I knocked down a wall to make room for a bigger work shop, but as it was part of the wall that got knocked down, I haven’t had a storage rack for months and lumber’s been piling up all around the walls of the room. This sucked in a big way. Every time I turned around in there I knocked something over. Finally, yesterday, I scrounged up some scrap lumber, cut it to fit, cleared a spot on the floor and screwed it all together, and voila! Storage for most of the lumber that was previously clattering to the ground because of my elbows.

It took me a little more than an hour this morning to fax a copy of my military discharge to the Department of Administration. They love to collect documents like that, and now that I’m working for them they’re putting together a file on me. I supposed that should make me worry, but I’m getting old enough that my paranoia doesn’t kick in until the commandos in stealth helicopters land in my back yard. Jane from the DoA doesn’t even register on my paranoi-o-tron.

You’d think the public library would have a public fax, wouldn’t you? I would. You can do just about anything else there: answer your e-mail, write a novel, print a form, and you can even check out books yet. But they don’t have a fax machine. “You could go to Kinko’s on Monona Drive,” the librarian suggested.

I figured I’d need a cover sheet to send a fax, so I sat down at one of the terminals and composed a very simple one when I couldn’t find a free template on-line. The computer locked up, though, when I tried to print it, and the librarian couldn’t figure out why. She logged in to the terminal right next to it (because I was still logged in to the locked-up terminal and couldn’t be logged in on two machines) so I could try again. “Is there a word processor on this machine?” I asked her, after a quick glance at the vacant directories.

“Sure,” she said, then came up short as she poked around in the same empty directories I’d just been through.

I thanked her for her help, jumped in the car and headed for Kinko’s. Did you think there were still places like Kinko’s out there where you could get big print jobs done? I sure didn’t. I was positive that everybody printed everything on computers any more, but no. The Kinko’s on Monona Drive is a classic offset print shop, with three big, stinky lithograph printers visible in the back of the room and piles of print jobs stacked on the countertop. I thought for a moment I’d been sucked through a crack in time to my days working in the basement of the Iola Herald.

“Help you?” the guy behind the counter asked me.

“If you can send a fax for me, yes,” I answered.

“You think we can do that?”

I smiled at him. “You guys have printing presses. There’s probably a fax machine in here somewhere.”

There was, and he did. He even had a printed cover sheet for me. Three minutes later my fax was on its way and I was headed home again. Total elapsed time from the moment I left the house to go to the library: one hour. Wish I’d thought of Kinko’s in the first place.

Time out | 3:20 pm CST
Category: adventures in unemployment, ch-ch-changes, daily drivel, Our Humble O'Bode, work | Tags:
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Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

There’s just no way to buy pants that doesn’t make it an unpleasant experience, and I can’t figure out why. It drives me crazy because there’s not a lot to figure out. You go to the store, you find the pants, you try on the pants, you buy the pants. There shouldn’t be anything difficult about it. I should be in and out in ten minutes, no more than twenty. It never works out that way. Never. Almost never. Well, okay. Today, it did. Try not to faint.

Since I’m starting my new office job in a week and a half I thought it’d be nice to get some new slacks, the better to look sharp and professional in my new work place. The closest place to buy clothes is at the Kohl’s on Broadway, practically just around the corner, so I hopped into the O-Mobile this morning, hit the gas and went roaring off to my destiny.

What a clod. I’ve been through this so many times at Kohl’s that I ought to know better. They have two kinds of dress slacks: Dirt Cheap and Holy Crap That’s Expensive! And they’re both made out of fabric so shiny I can almost see my reflection in them. I spent exactly five minutes browsing the dress pants at Kohl’s before making a Pfffth! noise through pursed lips, getting back into the car and heading north to East Towne.

(The name of the East Towne mall makes sense if you consider that the West Towne mall was built first and is, in fact, due west of Madison proper. The East Towne mall is sort of to the east, if you tip the map to the right a little bit and aren’t too literal-minded.)

I went to JC Penny’s because I knew where it was and I could go from my car to the Men’s Department in about two minutes. That’s my kind of shopping. As for the pants, they had three kinds: the two mentioned above, as well as Holy Crap That’s On Sale at Half Price! Quite a lot of the pants were made of shiny fabric again – what the hell is that stuff? – but after a short search I was able to find some made of a good-looking poly-wool blend that didn’t feel like plastic cling wrap. I bought three pairs, and a button-down cotton shirt on sale. It was Cheapskate Day at JC Penny’s. I’ve rarely been so pleased with myself.

Nice Pants | 9:17 pm CST
Category: adventures in unemployment, daily drivel, shopping, work, yet another rant | Tags: ,
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Thursday, September 9th, 2010

image of blue skies

Yesterday I got the phone call I’ve been hoping for: A manager at the Department of Regulation and Licensing called to offer me the job I applied for in her section. When I interviewed for it a week and a half ago she told me they’d make a decision some time this week, so I’ve sitting on tenterhooks since Monday. I told her I’d be happy to take it. I start on September 27th.

That’s a load off my mind. I haven’t been looking for a job nearly as long as some people, but it’s been nine weeks since my position was eliminated, and when I listen to the news it’s mostly bad: unemployment claims are up, jobs are down and the economy gets worse each day. On top of that, I’m nearly fifty years old and my professional skill set is geared toward office work. I can type eighty words a minute, I’m pretty good at ginning up a spread sheet and I can sift columns of data for eight hours without going blind. Trouble is, the office environment is glutted with college grads looking for work. Confident as I am in my abilities, the trick was to get potential employers to feel confident about hiring a fifty year old geezer instead of a freshly-minted twenty-one year old.

And somehow I managed to do it. Yay, me.

For my next trick, I’ll have to figure out how to get to work. My new day job starts at seven forty-five in the morning, same time My Darling B puts her nose to the grindstone, and, as it turns out, quitting time will be the same for both of us as well. To do that, one of us will have to get to work at least twenty minutes early, then look for something more stimulating that picking his or her nose for twenty minutes while waiting for a ride home.

Buying another car to get around this little kink would be a waste of money, as far as I’m concerned, unless I can convince somebody to part with his Volkswagen Beetle for a thousand bucks or less. I managed to do that once before in my life, and I used up a lot of my charm convincing my new employer to hire me, so it’s hard to imagine haggling a Beetle owner down to practically nothing again. But you never know until you try. Winter has typically been the hardest season in which to sell a Volkswagen, and the snow’s going to start flying in just a few weeks around here. Perhaps I still have a little haggle left in me after all.

Just for giggles, I rode my bike from Our Humble O’Bode to the offices of the Department of Regulation and Licensing, just to see how long it would take me and how hard the route was. The good news: The route’s easy, and it takes only forty minutes even in my decrepit state of physical fitness. The bad news: Remember what I wrote a paragraph before about snow? There are quite a few commuters around her hearty enough to bicycle to work on the bleakest sub-zero days. I’ve seen them pedaling to work when temps dip as low as twenty below zero. I’ve never tried that, but I feel I can say without benefit of experience that I’m not made of that kind of stuff. I might ride my bike to work for a little while yet this year, but by the end of November or the beginning of December I’ll have to find another way to get there, no question.

The only other thing I really need to know about finally accepting a new job is, do I get to keep on receiving unemployment benefits from now until September 27th? What I can find on the state’s web site is that I have to look for work, which seems redundant now that I’ve found a job. I called the state office that handles unemployment benefits claims but, after navigating the phone tree options, a recorded voice informs me that they’re getting more calls than their automated system can handle. Then the line goes dead. No help there today; I’ll have to try again tomorrow.

Employable after all | 11:27 am CST
Category: adventures in unemployment, commuting, daily drivel, shopping, work | Tags: ,
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Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

image of rough lake

Day after Labor Day, back to the grindstone. Oh, wait. I’m still on seven-day weekends. Never mind.

Or not. I’ve still got some yard work to do before the snow flies, and from the way the weather’s been acting that’s probably going to be at about noon on Thursday. I’ve pledged that I will finish painting the siding on Our Humble O’Bode before winter, for starters. I haven’t ever attached a condition to that – “I’ll either finish painting or eat all the paint chips scattered around the foundation of the house! With milk and sugar!” – but I’d end up eating a lot of crow if I don’t, so the push is on. There isn’t much left. I should be able to finish in a week or so. The soffits and all the window frames need to be painted, too, but I never said anything about those so I think I’m safe there.

Other yard work, such as trimming the overgrown lilac and honeysuckle bushes, will get done only if I can finish painting. In that case, I might end up taking care of that next spring. Care to put any money on that?

The other Very Important Thing I’ve got to do today is return the videos we rented from Bongo Video that we should’ve taken back last night because the late charges are crazy expensive. I don’t know why we don’t just hand them the rental fee plus one or two days’ late charges when we take the movies out in the first place. I can’t remember the last time we rented movies and didn’t pay the late fees. We used to feel guilty about that, but guilt slowly morphed into self-satisfaction that we were doing our part to keep a local business afloat with our very own financial mini-stimulus program.

I picked one hell of a day to return the videos to the store on my bike. All the wind in the world is right here in Madison today – apologies to the folks in Galveston, but it’s one-hundred and one percent true. The wind was even kicking up rollers across Lake Monona big enough to surf on, not that anyone was taking advantage of it.

Honeydew | 11:54 am CST
Category: adventures in unemployment, bicycling, daily drivel, painting, work, yard work
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Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

Went to my first job interview since I started my adventures in unemployment. Aced it. They want me. I’m hired. I start tomorrow morning.

Kidding. It was an interview for a state job; the state doesn’t work that fast. But I wasn’t kidding about how well the interview went, at least from my point of view. I had a good time, and I mean that in an entirely unsarcastic way. They couldn’t have made it any more comfortable for me unless they’d met me at the door with a chilled glass of beer, seated me in a Barcalounger, taken off my shoes and rubbed my feet while we had a little chat about our pets.

But I almost didn’t make it to my first interview, can you believe it? When they contacted me to set up the interview they told me it would be at the state building on Washington Avenue. I’m well familiar with the state building on the corner of Washington and Webster. I even thought to myself how nice it would be to work on capital square. When I left the house, I figured travel time based on a trip to the square and even had all the best parking spots in mind, which is how I got there with plenty of time to spare.

Then, as I was walking up the street to the state building, I checked my notes – which I wrote myself! – to figure out which entrance to use, and that’s apparently the first time I realized that the address they gave me, 1400 East Washington, was not the building I was walking to. It wasn’t even within walking distance. I had the sinking feeling it might not be close enough to drive to in time to keep my appointment, and that’s why you would have seen me running down Webster to the parking ramp at twenty minutes till two if you’d been in downtown Madison yesterday afternoon.

My lucky star was still burning brightly, though. Traffic was light and all I had to do was go straight up Washington to find the right building, an ordinary-looking office complex just before the bridge over the Yahara river. I even managed to get there with twenty minutes to spare, not as early as I would have liked, but not as late as I was sure I was going to be.

And the rest went smooth as silk. They gave me a copy of the questions they were going to ask me so I could prepare before I went in to see them, and after introductions we all sat down and they read the questions off the sheet to me, word for word. I guess that’s to make sure everyone gets exactly the same interview so we can’t come back to sue the state for preferential treatment. Not that I’m complaining. It gave me a chance to organize my thoughts, make a few notes and sound like I knew what I was talking about, and that’s sort of important when it comes to impressing a potential employer.

One down, who knows how many more to go?

Interview! | 6:47 am CST
Category: adventures in unemployment, daily drivel, work
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Monday, August 16th, 2010

I totally aced the tests I took yesterday at Job Center of Wisconsin. The counselors I was required to see there if I wanted to continue to receive unemployment benefits, and I really do so long as I’m unemployed, strongly suggested that I should take a series of tests, called Work Keys, to receive a certification telling potential employers I’m so very smart that they should hire me. Since I’m not all that smart, I figured a certificate saying I was could be a big help. Certainly couldn’t hurt, anyway.

So I went to the Work Keys lab yesterday afternoon, or actually I wandered around the campus of the Madison Area Technical College until I could buttonhole a security guard and ask him to tell me where the Work Keys lab was. Turned out I had to exit the building, cross four lanes of traffic and find an obscure entrance on the far side of a completely different building, so right off the bat I wasn’t doing so good. Thank goodness finding the lab wasn’t part of the test.

I was scheduled to take two of three tests, but I blew through them so quickly the proctor let me take the third one, too, so I wouldn’t have to go back. The questions were all multiple choice and the first two-thirds of each test was made up of questions that were so easy I read them over and over again, looking for the catch. “You worked 37.5 hours at a rate of $11.35 an hour. How much did you make?” That’s the question? Really? The last ten or so questions were so convoluted, though, they more than made up for the ease of the first slew of questions.

The first test was reading comprehension and the second was math. I aced the math. I admit I was pretty well chuffed about that, seeing as how I got C’s in math all through high school and college. I could only manage ninety-eight percent on the reading portion, though – bummer. The final test was looking up stuff on charts, tables and graphs. It had a better name than that but I can’t remember what it was. I aced that one, too. The proctor said I was the first person to take all three tests in one day and earn the “platinum” rating; if that’s true, maybe the job hunt won’t be as difficult as I thought it would.

Tried, Tested & True | 8:30 am CST
Category: adventures in unemployment, daily drivel, work
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Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

I totally chickened out today. When I stepped out with My Darling B to the car this morning we could both tell it was going to be another day hot and humid enough to boil the most hale and hearty person until he’s limp and stinky as spaghetti with a double helping of garlic pesto, so as soon as I got back home I closed up all the windows, drew the blinds, turned on the air conditioning and retreated to the cool, cave-like confines of my basement lair where I stayed all morning and just about all afternoon, working on an on-line certification that’s supposed to make me more employable. That’s the longest sentence I’ve written in years. Don’t let this happen to your kids! Get them away from their computer terminals and out of the house now!

I went outside twice today, four times if you count when I drove B to work and when I went to pick her up. I don’t because I get into the car (and out again) while it’s parked in the garage and that doesn’t seem like leaving the house to me, although come to think of it I did stop at the grocery store on the way home this morning so I guess by my own count I was outside three times.

Round about one o’clock I walked to Fraboni’s up the block to buy a sandwich roll and almost made it all the way home without suffering heat exhaustion or massive blood loss. As if the heat hasn’t made it hard enough to go outside for any more than twenty or thirty minutes, a bumper crop of mosquitoes has made it impossible to go outside for any length of time unless you keep moving, and even then you’ll have to resign yourself to getting bit on every exposed patch of skin wide enough that a mosquito can land on it if you don’t douse yourself in gasoline and light yourself on fire. Mosquitoes won’t touch you if you’re on fire. It’s the only way to be sure.

The third and last time I went outside was to tip over a pail full of water, because we’ve already got enough mosquitoes. We don’t need to give them any of the conveniences that would let them make more. Power-walking as quickly as I could across the back yard to the garden I flipped over the bucket, paused a moment to make sure it was drained, then sprinted back to the door, swatting the many ranked legions of mosquitoes that were marching across my arms and legs while massed squadrons followed close behind me until I slammed the door in their pointy little faces.

Other than those few bursts of activity, I spent the day at my computer monitor trying to plow through the National Career Readiness Certification for Jobseekers. The helpful people at the Job Center of Wisconsin hinted mightily that, if I completed this, it would give me an edge in all the jobs I applied for at both the state and local levels, should I chose to do that. I’ve been applying for many state and local jobs, so I’m trying to finish this up as soon as possible but it’s like taking the SAT all freaking day instead of for only four hours, and I’m quite a ways from being done still. But, as it happens, I’ve got some free time …

Indoors | 8:38 pm CST
Category: adventures in unemployment, daily drivel, My Darling B, O'Folks, work
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Monday, August 9th, 2010

Eleanor Roosevelt used to write a daily newspaper column called My Day. I’ve read the ones that were considered interesting enough to compile and print in a book (imaginatively titled My Day) and they’re about what you’d get if you went to any random blog, adjusting for the fact that Eleanor had a finger in just about every pie in Washington, D.C., let alone that she was the wife of FDR.

She didn’t let that prevent her from writing about utterly mundane things. If you can, imagine one of the Python boys seated at a doily-covered table (I’m thinking Graham Chapman would’ve made a great Eleanor Roosevelt) with a cup of tea in hand, squawking, “Someone sent me a most amusing present. When I came into my room this afternoon, I thought I was being visited by a zoo, for it was surrounded by four polar bears. On closer inspection, however, I found that the polar bears were guarding a goldfish bowl…” So, even though she was living in the White House, someone punked her room while she was out. Then, she blogged about it, because if you don’t blog about it, it didn’t happen. See? Some things never change.

That quote came from Eleanor’s January 7, 1936, column, in case you were thinking I made that up.

I’m no Eleanor Roosevelt, but I’m reminded of her column every day when My Darling B asks me, “So, what’re you going to do today?” Wow, you really want to know? I’m going to wash the dishes, then sweep the floor, then clean the cat box, then fold the laundry … eat your heart out, Eleanor!

For what it’s worth, then, here’s my day:

5:45 – Alarm goes off, get up to make coffee for My Darling B. Arguably the most rewarding thing I do all day. B gives me a kiss for it.

6:00 – Read comics while wolfing down a big bowl of granola generously doused in lactose-free milk.

6:20 – Sit on sofa to chat with B after she emerges from shower & pours herself a cuppa joe. Her side of the conversation always starts: “I don’t wanna go to work.” She always goes to work anyway, because she has a flawless work ethic.

6:45 – While B gets dressed for work, I clean out the cat boxes and fill cat feeders. A cat feeder is a great big bowl divided into five sections that rotates like a lazy susan. There’s a cover over the bowl so the cats can get to only one section at a time, and a motor turns the bowl according to a timer. The cat boxes are simple plastic pans that I have to rake the poop out of twice a day. We got the wrong motorized cat appliance.

7:00 – Drive B to work. I take the Beltline to Midvale Boulevard because it’s the fastest way to cross down. It’s also the most dangerous, hundreds of speeding cars jammed bumper-to-bumper as if it were a Nascar event. How we avoid mangled pileups & firey death every day is a mystery to me.

8:00 – Home again, home again, jiggidy-jog. Drink the rest of the coffee while reading the morning news.

8:45 – This being Monday, I applied for unemployment benefits. I can do this online in about two minutes, and thank goodness because getting through on the telephone is more agonizing than getting my teeth drilled. I think I could probably do it in less than one minute if a glitch in the system didn’t ask me to go through the login procedure twice.

8:47 – Update Facebook status & otherwise doink around on the interwebs.

9:00 – Unload the dishwasher, pile it with dirty dishes, start.

9:30 – Sort dirty clothes, throw a pile in the wash machine. Yes, I sort clothes even though I’m a guy. You can’t live with the same woman for twenty years and not sort the clothes.

9:45 – Apply for a job, something else you can do on-line in about two minutes, believe it or not. Hat tip to My Darling B for catching the vacancy announcement on the state job web site. Maybe I’ll be clerking in the Journalism department at the UW soon. Not holding my breath, though.

10:00 – Walk to the bank. This counts toward my physical conditioning for the day so I came back through Greenlawn Cemetery just to make a big circle.

11:00 – Pet the cat.

11:15 – (Yes, it took fifteen minutes to pet the cat. He’s a needy cat.) Off to the store to get nylon socks for the finches, by special request from My Darling B. No, finches aren’t into legware. These socks are bird feeders. Fill them with nyjer seed and finches come peck the seed out through the nylon mesh.

11:45 – Fix the bird feeder, fill up the thistle socks, sound the dinner bell. Go in and pout when the birds don’t come flocking to the sumptuous spread I put out for them.

12:45 – Start working on dressing up the windows I installed last weekend. The windows themselves look great, but the rough opening they’re hanging in is so rough it looks as though I used hand grenades to take out the old windows. I built a box frame around each one yesterday and I’m going to cut & fit molding around the insides today.

2:15 – Break time! Drink a quart of water while doinking around on the interwebs.

2:30 – Back to work on the other window. I’m losing hope that I’ll get a nap this afternoon.

3:45 – Knock off for the day and head for the showers to clean up before fetching My Darling B from work. The home improvement project still needs a little fine-tuning but it’ll do for now, and I really need to cool down and get unstinky before I drive across town.

5:30 – Home again, home again, jiggedy-jog. Sandwiches for dinner so B doesn’t have to spend lots of time in a hot kitchen on this hot day right before we head off to dance class.

6:30 – B catches a few winks before dance class while I doink around on the internet.

7:00 – Dance class. Swing dance tonight. It’s supposed to be a group class but only B and I show up so we get a private lesson. We learn a little technique, how to spin, do a little core work, then learn a new swing step, passing side-to-side, so we’ll have a few new moves when we go see Ladies Must Swing at the Terrace on Friday.

9:00 – Home again, home again … you know the rest. Time to relax. Wind down. Take it easy, Maybe read a couple chapters.

9:03 – Zzzzzzz …

Timeline | 8:40 pm CST
Category: adventures in unemployment, ch-ch-changes, daily drivel, My Darling B, O'Folks, Our Humble O'Bode, scrub-a-dub-dub, work
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Friday, July 30th, 2010

image of hobo

I had to go to a class yesterday morning to learn how not to be unemployed. Now that I know, I can get to work on that right away.

In one of those letters “requesting and requiring” my presence, Job Center of Wisconsin asked me to attend a meeting of the newly-unemployed at their classrooms in the pole barn on the north end of town. Roughnecks in hardhats were tearing out the walls and ceiling and otherwise drowning out any useful information I might have gotten while I was there, so I nodded when the speaker appeared to pause for effect. I spent a lot of time pouring over the many brightly-colored handouts they gave us, too, and whenever the PowerPoint slide had the phrase “show of hands” on it anywhere, I raised my hand. Non-participation could mean ineligibility for benefits, so I was one hyper-participating mofo.

The case workers who interviewed me were pleased with my participation, so I must have been doing it right. I’ve successfully nodded my way through plenty of military briefings but applying those lessons to civilian life can sometimes be a little dicey. Civilians are likely to ask a question before they pause, for instance. Nodding makes you look like a great big goober in that case, but that didn’t happen yesterday, thank dog.

My case workers also encouraged me to attend several of the many workshops at the Job Center and, after looking over my resume, suggested applying for several state jobs advertised on their web site and, once again, were pleased when I said I’d already submitted applications for several. Just trying to stay one jump ahead of the game.

I applied for any and every job that I came even close to qualifying for, to make sure it was on the record that I was looking for work, but I’m under no illusions that I’m the only one putting in my resume. I scored particularly well on the last two applications I made but still haven’t been called for an interview. I’m guessing there were a few thousand applicants for those jobs and maybe a couple hundred ahead of me who scored one point better than I did. This becoming re-employed game could take a while.

The class ended with a test. They sat us in front of computers to answer a multiple-choice exam meant to evaluate our abilities to read, do math and solve problems. I may have been a bit too literal on the reading portion because I didn’t score very well, and the math portion pissed me off so bad I gave up at the point when I wanted to give the screen a tap with a sledge hammer. I mean to say, figuring out the volume of a cone is very quantifiable. They gave me a calculator and a cheat sheet with the freaking formula, so why did I come up with a result that was just a little bit off? Not way off. Not a misplaced decimal. Just a teensy bit off. I must’ve done that calculation half a dozen times before I finally gave up, picked “C” and exited the exam.

I did a great job of the problem-solving portion though. Go figure.

Only a Test | 6:54 am CST
Category: adventures in unemployment, daily drivel, work
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Friday, July 23rd, 2010

Okay, I admit it: I’m getting restless. I’ve been unemployed for three weeks now and it’s making me antsy, BUT IT’S NOT BECAUSE I DON’T WANT TO STAY AT HOME READING BOOKS, PETTING THE CAT AND WRITING DRIVEL ALL DAY. I hope we’re straight on that.

I’ve always said I don’t understand people who say they could never retire because they wouldn’t know what to do with themselves all day. That’s just sad. I can think of a gojillion things I’d rather do that go to work. Got that? A gojillion!

When my position was eliminated my employer sent me to a job-hunting seminar and one of the featured speakers at this seminar began her talk by pointing at me and asking, by way of trying to be motivational, “If you didn’t have to go to work, what would you do with yourself?”

I made a huge mistake answering her. Never having to work ever again would be my dream, so I laughed, which I realized later sounded a lot like a dismissive guffaw, and I said, “I wouldn’t do anything!

She rocked back on her heels and barked, “Huh!” heavily inflecting her canine reply with enough disdain to wilt a lesser man than I. “Well, you’ve got to do something! You can’t do nothing forever!

First, she’s wrong. I could do nothing for quite a long time. Twenty-one years in the military have trained me well in the ways of inertia. It makes my head fuzzy and I feel like a lump of mud, and if I kept it up for more than a week I’d be just as disgusted with myself as she was, but I could do it.

Second, what I meant was that I certainly wouldn’t end up biting my nails, wondering what to do with myself. I would instead happily spend the rest of my days reading & cat-petting & otherwise puttering, but I think she took it as a personal rebuke. I wanted to explain that and offer my apologies, until she doinked me a couple more times for by repeating the “You can’t just do nothing” meme throughout her talk. By the time she was done I was telegraphing death threats to her in Morse code by blinking my eyes.

So long as we understand that I would be able to cope rather well with not having to go to work, when “work” is defined as reporting to a cubicle daily to bang away at a pile of somebody else’s paperwork that never seems to get any smaller, I’ll continue my original thought: I’m getting a little restless about being out of work. It’s making me antsy because My Darling B shouldn’t have to venture into cubicle hell alone every day to bring home a paycheck.

I had these lofty dreams of becoming a writer, and she very graciously agreed to give me time to look for job vacancies that would let me pursue that dream. Isn’t she the perfect wife? She is, take my word for it. She’s also spoken for. You can’t have her. Just cry in your coffee and get over it.

But my dreams are not going to be enough to get me a job as a writer. Employers would like to see examples of your work, product, but the only things I’ve written in the past twenty-five years are performance appraisals, award write-ups and training manuals. They were damn good appraisals and write-ups, but I’m beginning to get the idea that, without the backup of some night classes in technical writing, they’re not going to win over a potential employer.

Shortly after my previous employer eliminated my position I got a call from the HR department inviting me to apply for a job as an admin assistant. In fact, it was the same job they hired me for five years ago. “Thanks for the years of dedicated service! Want your entry-level job back?” I’m sure they were trying to help, but it still felt like salt in the wound.

Yet now here I am, looking at entry-level jobs. The Great Wheel of Life has turned full circle in just a few years. I’d like to take those night classes but I don’t see how we’ll be able to afford them, or anything else, if I’m not bringing home a paycheck that’s a bit sturdier than the unemployment benefits crutch we’re leaning on now.

Great Wheel | 11:06 am CST
Category: adventures in unemployment, daily drivel, My Darling B, O'Folks, work
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Wednesday, July 21st, 2010

Now that Sean has gone back to Denver, and My Darling B has gone back to work, I’ll have to go back to the fun of keeping up with the yard work and the housekeeping. Oh, and I suppose I’ll have to look for work, too.

We put Sean on a plane to Denver last night. Whenever his flight’s been delayed in the past, he’s called us to while away the time waiting to board but, since we didn’t get a call last night, I’m assuming he actually departed on time, arrived in Denver when he expected he would and was so bushed from traveling that he went straight to bed after getting home, promising himself that he would call us in the morning. Yeah, that’s what happened.

B returned to work reluctantly, as we all do if we’ve managed to snag a full week away from the office to visit beautifully lush gardens, host a big party here at Our Humble O’Bode, paddle a kayak across Mud Lake and otherwise spend lots of quality time with family. She desperately wanted to play hookie today but fully realized she’d only have to deal with the same inclination tomorrow, so she packed up her lunch bag and soldiered on. She’s such a trooper.

Cheeseburger for lunch! Same as yesterday, and again tomorrow.

Back To Unemployment | 4:49 pm CST
Category: daily drivel, My Darling B, O'Folks, office work, Seanster, T-Dawg, work
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Monday, July 12th, 2010

I had to call the Department of Workforce Development on the phone after filing my initial claim for unemployment benefits because I ticked the “No” box after the question, “Did you look for work during the week?” Bells rang, lights flashed and a page with lots of red-letter warnings, all in capital letters, told me to contact a DWD representative immediately.

Oh, great. Now I’ve pissed off the government. And, worse than that, I’ll have to telephone them. I’ve had some trouble getting them to answer my calls in the past.

Settling in at my desk with the only push-button phone in the house (because a phone tree robot doesn’t care if you like the quaint rusticity of a rotary phone) I dialed the number for DWD. It was busy, of course. Five minutes later I hit redial and was treated to more of the same. And again, five minutes later.

On the next try I got through. I did not jump for joy. I’ve gotten through to the phone robot before this and navigated my way through the calling options to reach the representative who could best help me, only to be informed by a friendly pre-recorded voice that there were too many customers on hold just then and I would have to call back later, and then rewarded with a click and a dial tone.

And that’s all I expected as I dutifully pushbuttoned my way through the option menu. This time, though, the recorded voice told me this time that my call would be answered in the order in which it was received.

The first phase of trauma is denial: No! Really? No, not really? You’re messing with me! And so on. But after five minutes on hold, give or take, my call was indeed answered by Matt who, after verifying my identity by asking so many questions I was beginning to think I would have to keep a checklist, finally ended by asking, “Is this Dave?”

“Yes, that’s right,” I answered.

He got right down to brass tacks. “Why didn’t you look for work, Dave?” It was not a friendly question.

I explained that I made an application for the two days of the week my employment ended and wasn’t sure what the procedure was at that point. If I had known that I should have been looking for work in order to claim unemployment, I would have done it or withheld my application, and I offered to withdraw the claim I had made.

“Don’t worry about that,” Matt said, sounding much friendlier then. “You’ll get a form in the mail asking you to explain your claim. Write down what you just told me and send it in; they’ll either okay it or turn you down. Either way, it won’t hurt you.”

Easy enough.

“While I’ve got you on the phone,” I jumped in, and asked him the question I had about reporting my military pension. “According to all the published statutes I found, I don’t have to report my pension.”

“That’s right,” Matt answered.

I paused a moment to let that sink in a bit, then repeated, “I do not have to report my military pension?”

“That is correct.”

I’ll be damned. I’m not sure how that makes sense, but at least it’s satisfying to know I was doing it right.

No Problem | 3:00 pm CST
Category: adventures in unemployment, daily drivel, work
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Thursday, July 8th, 2010

It’s easier to find an image of a dandelion on the internet … no, wait: It’s easier to find more than 2,010,000 images of a dandelion on the internet than it is to answer this question: Do I have to declare my military pension when filing for my unemployment benefits? I know, because I’ve spent the day doing both. Or, in the case of the second half of the formula, trying to do both.

The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development is the source for all information about unemployment benefits, as well as the office that processes claims. I filed my initial application last week Thursday using the department’s web site. It seemed pretty simple and easy to use, but there was just one thing about it that struck me as odd: I receive a retirement pension from the military but, according to the information on DWD’s web site and in their on-line application, I don’t have to report it.

When I applied on-line and got to the question, “Are you receiving a pension?” there was a footnote that said I should report my pension only if I was receiving it from an employer I worked for in the past two years. I retired from the military more than five years ago, so I clicked “No.” A little pamphlet I got in the mail from DWD likewise says I should report receiving a pension only if I’m getting it from someone I worked for during the last four quarters, which again would leave my military service out of it.

I even pull the state statute off the interwebs, and it says the same thing: I have to report a pension if I’m receiving it from an employer I worked for during the base period (the time period they used to calculate my weekly benefit amount). Either it’s really badly worded or I don’t have to report a cent of the pension I’m getting from the military.

I sort of hate to jinx it, but I really wanted to know I was doing it right, so I tried calling them. Yesterday I didn’t call until after nine o’clock, figuring that’s when they opened for business, but when I dialed I got a busy signal. I hit redial two or three minutes later with the same result. Dialed again about five minutes later; still busy. Every five or ten minutes after that, busy busy busy. I throttled back to dialing every fifteen minutes or so until about ten-thirty when I finally heard a ring tone and got the automated phone tree. Score! After navigating my way through the menu to the point where I could talk to a representative about filing a claim, there was a pause before the recorded voice pleasantly told me, “We’re sorry, but all of our representatives are busy now and we have reached the limit of the number of people we can put on hold. Please try again later.” And the call was disconnected. Can’t talk now! Thanks for calling! Bye!

Wow, that’s cold.

B searched the DWD web site this morning to see if she could find an answer specific to military pensions. She couldn’t, but she did find out the DWD opens its telephone lines at seven in the morning, so I tried calling again just after the clock on the wall struck seven bells. I got through on the first try, navigated through the phone tree and was told once again by the friendly recorded voice they couldn’t take my call now, and then it hung up. I got through three or four more times this morning but every single call ended with the recorded voice hanging up on me.

You know what? I’m done. I did my due diligence. The state statute says I don’t have to report it, I’m not going to report it.

Oh, the dandelion:

I spent a couple hours in the yard flirting with heat prostration while pulling dandelions from a small patch of dirt beside the driveway. We both love dandelions and let them grow as crazy as they want to all over the lawn. There’s a pretty good chance our love of dandelions irks the older homeowners in our neighborhood who spend a lot of money on Chemlawn treatments to get rid of dandelions and other weeds in their yard, but our take on that is: We’ll pull up every one of our dandelions the day they stop spraying their lawns with Roundup or whatever herbicides they’re using. I’m not too worried they’re going to take us up on that.

Dandelions are welcome to grow all over our lawn, but in the little patch of dirt between the house and the driveway I’m trying to get creeping charlie to take root, and the big, broad leaves of the dandelions crowd out everything else. I’ve been avoiding the dirty job of pulling them up because the weather’s been so hot lately that the roadside is spotted with charred piles of slag where people parked their cars out in the sun, but today there was a cool breeze and I could stand to be out in the sun for almost a half-hour at a time if I stepped inside to drink a couple pints of water and sweat like a pig.

In about two hours I’d pulled up enough dandelions to fill a bushel basket. Also thistles, chickweed, something that begins with a ‘p’ but I forget right now, and those weeds that look like inch-tall Christmas trees with a little yellow ball of a flower at the top.

Due Diligence | 9:06 am CST
Category: adventures in unemployment, daily drivel, My Darling B, O'Folks, Our Humble O'Bode, work, yard work
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Friday, July 2nd, 2010

Let the four-day weekend begin!

Oh, wait … I’m unemployed, so it’s really more like an indefinite weekend.

Well, whatever.

I applied for unemployment first thing yesterday morning … or rather, it was first thing after doinking around on the internet for an hour, because I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do it until after nine o’clock, which is a really stupid reason for waiting until nine o’clock when you factor in that I applied on-line. You can do anything on the internet these days!

So at nine-thirty promptly …

What? Okay, so I doinked around a little longer than I said I would. It’s the internet! It’s not my fault! The internet forces us all to think non-linearly! Our minds are being scrambled by the internet! I couldn’t help it! You know it’s true! Just look it up! On the internet!

Besides, there was this killer John Stewart video I had to watch before I did anything else, such as provide for my family.

Anyway, after a quick google search and a couple of mouse clicks, my application for unemployment benefits was complete. Took me all of five minutes. Easy-peasy.

What did I do with the rest of my day? Oh, not much. It being my first officially unemployed day, I decided to celebrate with brunch at Lazy Jane’s, so I tucked a book into my backpack, jumped on my trusty Trek bicycle and rode into town. It’s about four or five miles from Our Humble O’Bode to our favorite Willy Street restaurant, so I worked up just enough of an appetite to want their half-sandwich and soup special.

That and a bottomless cup of coffee made me want to hang around just long enough to read through a couple of chapters of A Woman In Berlin, the book that’s on the arm of my easy chair this week. It’s a cheery little tale about the Russian liberation of Berlin in the final days of World War Two, as recorded in the diary of a journalist who was gang-raped by just about every Russian soldier who marched through her neighborhood. I’d have to recommend it because it’s so well-written, but I’d also have to include the warning that it’ll make you want to drink yourself unconscious. Enjoy!

image of shadow box

After a few good, deep burps loud enough to rattle the windows of passing cars, and a long, leisurely ride home (can’t exactly sprint on a full stomach), I spent the rest of the afternoon piddling around in our basement work shop trying to put my shadow box back together. I didn’t get a gold watch when I retired, but they did give me a going-away ceremony and a shadow box filled with medals (yes, mine) and a folded flag. Pretty nice, but they mounted all the little bits of bling with some kind of goop that wasn’t quite sticky enough to hold everything in place for very long. Five years later, all the medals and collar brass were lying in a sticky pile at the bottom of the box. (Senco members, take note.)

I made a few changes. Not that I didn’t like the original shadow box, but I wanted to include some of the patches I kept as mementos of the places I was stationed. I also wanted to arrange the ribbons, badges and name tag the way they usually appear over the pocket of a blue uniform jacket, and I wanted to hang my dog tags in there, too. So I pretty much changed it completely, okay, that’s true, but it was a great shadow box in the first place, honestly. I loved it and wouldn’t have changed it at all if it hadn’t fallen apart.

I made just one other teeny-weeny little change and that was changing the fabric on the backboard. It used to be a single piece of blue felt. I thought the patches and the dog tags would look a little out of place against that background, so I split it in half. On the left, I used a panel of woodland camouflage fabric I cut out of the back of an old BDU shirt I still had hanging in the closet. On the right, I replaced the blue felt with a panel of Air Force blue fabric cut from an old polyester Class-A jacket that I would never ever wear again in a million years, not because I’m anti-support-our-troops but because the polyester jacket sucked great big unlubricated bowling balls. I’ve still got my poly-wool jacket with all the ribbons and bling attached, so if I had to suit up again, I could wear that. Heaven help us all if Uncle Sam is ever desperate enough to ask me to suit up again.

To make sure the little bits and bobs didn’t fall off the backboard again, I hot-glued the shit out of every single thing in there. Hot glue two things together and they stay together. Gravity as a force is lame-o compared to hot glue. I hot-glued the fabric to the backboard, then I hot-glued the patches and ribbons, badges and other bling to the fabric. Hurricane Katrina could not tear this thing apart now.

The only thing left is to figure out where to mount it. There’s precious little wall space in my basement lair, at least for right now. I want to re-arrange things down there anyway, so maybe this is the time. See, this is how little things, like fixing up a busted shadow box, turn into big things, like rearranging my basement lair. I’ll probably still be feeling the aftershocks of this project twelve months from now.

The rest of the evening was pretty typical: Pick up My Darling B from work, sit down to a pleasant dinner, then hit the floorboards for a dance lesson that I had a hard time absorbing for some reason, probably because I didn’t do much all day and was almost too relaxed.

Let The Unemployment Begin! | 9:32 am CST
Category: adventures in unemployment, bicycling, books, coffee, daily drivel, dance, entertainment, food & drink, hobby, My Darling B, My Glorious Air Force Career, O'Folks, play, restaurants, work | Tags: ,
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Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

Just as I was sitting down to lunch, the phone rang and I picked it up without screening it first. I’ve got to stop doing that. Wasn’t thinking this time. I was half daydreaming, my mind long-lost in the days when a ringing phone meant that somebody you knew was calling. Remember when?

Actually, I was expecting B to call me. I’d left her a funny story on her voice mail and I was sure she would ring back to comment on it, so I really did think I was getting a call from somebody I knew. Silly me. It wasn’t B at all, it was Austin from Something Something Home Mortgage Brokers, who wanted to know if I had given any consideration to refinancing my mortgage.

As it turned out, I had, just a few months ago. “And I’ll tell you something that’ll make this a real short conversation, Austin,” I told him, “unless you can offer me a rate of less than four percent, a refinance just isn’t in the cards for us, thanks anyway.”

“Really? Why’s that?” he asked. I’m pretty sure he knew the answer, but he couldn’t just let it go, could he?

So I gave him both barrels. “Because home prices have tanked in this neighborhood, Austin, and we still owe quite a bit on the principal balance. Our rate is already pretty low, so unless your company will offer a rate of less than four percent, or no closing costs, we can’t even consider refinancing.”

“Well, what’s your rate right now?” he asked.

Wait, what? What part of my explanation didn’t he get? I thought I laid it out pretty clearly, didn’t I? Was there anything in my explanation that would have lead you to ask me, Well, what’s your rate now? What’s that got to do with it?

Okay, Austin, let’s see what you’ve got. “The rate on our mortgage is six and a half percent.”

“Well, we can offer you a thirty-year with a rate locked at four point eight,” he countered.

“And what kind of closing costs?” I shot back.

“I’m not the loan officer, so I couldn’t say –”

“Ballpark figure,” I prodded.

“Really, I can’t quote closing costs because I’m not a loan officer.”

“I’m not trying to be short with you, Austin, really I’m not,” I cut in, “but if your company’s closing costs are typical, then we can’t afford refinancing our home mortgage with you if the rate is greater than four percent.”

“Maybe we can work out some points,” he said, changing tack. “Are you a veteran?”

Work out some points? “Yes, I’m a veteran,” I answered. “We can’t afford to pay for points either, Austin.”

“Oh, you are, good,” he said, ignoring the second part of my answer. “Thank you for your service. It’s a great thing to serve your country and so many people forget to say thank you to our veterans, even on a holiday weekend like this one. My dad’s a veteran, too, from the Vietnam war, blah de blah et cetera and et cetera …”

Okay, first of all: Austin knew I was a veteran the same way he knew I had a home mortgage: He looked up the recorded mortage at the register of deeds office, and the mortgage papers were made out by the Department of Veteran’s Affairs. Sort of a huge giveaway, there.

Second of all: I don’t like it when other people play the veteran card to wheedle money out of me. Offering a hand in thanks, then trying to sell me something while still holding my hand, is about the weaseliest kind of thanks anyone could give. Makes me a little, um, cross.

And third: He was still trying to get me to refinance my mortgage! He asked me how much the balance was on our loan, he asked how much we made a year, and he wanted to know where we worked. It’s like he wasn’t listening to me at all, except to mine me for more information he could use to keep his sales pitch going.

So when he asked me how much I made and where I worked, I figured, Screw both barrels, that’s kid stuff. I’m shooting you in the face with a bazooka, Austin.

“Actually, my position was eliminated. I’m currently unemployed.”

Crickets. “Ah,” he said. Awkward pause. “So sorry to hear that.”

Finally got your attention, Austin, didn’t I? “So you see why we can’t afford to refinance right now?”

He allowed as to how he did, and said he would update the system and call back in maybe six or eight months to see if our situation hadn’t changed by then.

Hey, that worked pretty well. I’ll have to remember to use that on the next guy.

Down In Flames | 9:15 pm CST
Category: adventures in unemployment, daily drivel, messing w/telemarketers, My Darling B, O'Folks, work
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Monday, June 28th, 2010

Well, here it is, my first day home after the termination of my position at the office. The whole day’s my own, yet somehow I have a whole week’s worth of work to do. Funny how that happens.

“I wish I could pay you to stay at home and be my house husband,” My Darling B said to me as I drove her to work this morning. She doesn’t know how much I wish she could, too.

Let’s start a list of things I’ve got to do, just for giggles:

  • unload the dish washer, then fill it up again; how pointless is that?
  • wash a Himmalayan mountain of dirty clothes; how two people can make such a mess is beyond me
  • clean the cat pans; these are so smelly now, the cats don’t see the point in covering their shit any more
  • load up the weed whacker with a new spool of floss and go absolutely crazy in the yard
  • clean up the garden shed, which looks like a three-bedroom house that’s been turned inside-out by a Cat Five tornado
  • pet the cats; this sounds trivial, but it turns out this task cannot be ignored whenever one or both of us is at home during the day.
  • clean the bathroom; the less said about that, the better
  • demolish the tomato trellis that’s been leaning against the side of the garage ever since I put it there, out of sight, after gluing it together wrong
  • sweep the dead leaves out of the garage that have been piled up in the back corner since last fall
  • take the tire that went flat on me Saturday morning to the garage to get it patched; can’t Toyota make anything that doesn’t break?
  • take a bike ride; the day’s too lovely not to
  • pull weeds from the herb garden in my copious spare time
  • drink coffee while doinking around on the internet

I guess you can see which end of the list I started on. Making good use of my time, yes sir!

Laundry List | 7:58 pm CST
Category: adventures in unemployment, bicycling, daily drivel, hobby, My Darling B, O'Folks, Our Humble O'Bode, play, scrub-a-dub-dub, work, yard work
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Monday, June 21st, 2010

Today is the first day of my last week at the bank! I’m still debating myself as to whether that’s a good thing or a very, very bad thing.

When I reminisce about the adventure we went on after I retired from the Air Force (exactly five years ago at the end of this month!) and came back to the States, the excitement of those days is still fresh in my mind. There was quite a lot of uncertainty in it, so much that I lay awake on more than a few nights wondering how we were going to get by, but I’m wired for worry. It comes naturally to me. After sun-up we were on the move, heading to the local branch of the library, where we had time reserved on their computers to submit the applications we’d prepared the day before, then used the rest of our time to search for new vacancies. I didn’t have time to be worried then, and the thrill of doing something completely new was just amazing. That’s when it seems like a good thing.

But there are still those nights … I’m wired for worry, remember? … if I spend any time thinking about what a stinkhole the economy’s still in, I get into a deeply-worn rut wondering if the excitement of this job search is going to be anywhere near as amazing, or just plain terrifying instead.

I’m hoping to secure employment somewhere outside the world of finance, by the way. I think I’ve neglected to mention that. My bad, sorry. The banking gig was enough of a challenge to be fun while it lasted, but I’m looking for something completely different this time. My goal is a career change so complete it will utterly eclipse the last one, the one where I retired from a life-long career as a non-commissioned officer in one of the most powerful military organizations on the planet to become an administrator and troubleshooter in the cubicle maze of a basement office.

I’ll let you know how that works out. Watch this space.

countdown | 9:12 am CST
Category: adventures in unemployment, daily drivel, My Glorious Air Force Career, office work, work
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Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

I think I’ve found my dream job.

Ideally, my dream job would allow me to work from the comfort of my basement lair, where I’d be able to sit back with a cup o’ joe and listen to Handel’s Water Music or whatever was on the turntable until the urge to start working again made me sit up and put the coffee down, and I wouldn’t ever have the feeling that someone was glaring at me. I’d get out of bed whenever I woke up (which is usually about six o’clock, but oh, well) and I’d go to bed when I was too tired to hit the keys any longer. I’d take on as much work as I could handle, I’d give it as much time as I needed to turn out a quality product, and I’d say no to unrealistic demands. And I’d go to work in my pajamas. That’s a deal-breaker, right there.

As I said, that would be ideal. I’m not holding my breath.

Meanwhile, here in reality: I was going over the final version of the resume that had been very generously written for me by the placement agency my company hired to help me transition from their employment to someone else’s, the wonderful lady who’d written it said that she would be happy to look it over for me if I’d made any changes, and if I asked her to do a rewrite she would not charge me the full rate of one-hundred sixty bucks an hour the agency would charge anyone else who walked through the door.

Wait, what? my inner monologue yelped. You charge how much to write a resume?

Can this really be true? Are the services of a wordsmith so revered in the circles of business that aspiring moguls will shell out hundreds of dollars for a professionally-rendered resume? Because if they are, I want a piece of that!

Although, to be perfectly honest, I wouldn’t settle for a piece of that. I thought I might, just to be more competitive, but after some reflection I knew I really wouldn’t. When the full import of what she’d said hit home, the first thought that went through my head was, If I charged half that I would be satisfied, but I take that back now. Didn’t mean that. Was only kidding. I could get by on eighty bucks an hour, sure, but if the market will bear one hundred sixty bucks per, far be it for me to cheapen the product. I’m all about quality, as I said earlier, and I’ll slave for as many hours as it takes to produce the very best. That’s just how I roll.

dream | 6:43 pm CST
Category: adventures in unemployment, daily drivel, work
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Monday, June 14th, 2010

I just narrowly avoided a pants-wetting event this evening: After spending an hour and change polishing my resume, then closing the editor to upload the finished doc to my LinkedIn profile, I couldn’t find it anywhere! Even after taking a deep breath, getting up out of my chair and stepping away from the keyboard for a couple minutes to let the adrenaline dissipate, no search would find it, no matter what the key word.

Copious cussing ensued.

When calm finally descended over me once again I realized there was nothing for it but to start over, so I started to download it from the e-mail attachment I’d sent myself and just about crapped myself when the name of the polished resume showed up in the download manager window. Slowly, carefully tracing the path, I clicked on a temp file ever so gingerly because, y’know, sometimes those things pop like a soap bubble and you never see your data again. But there it was, my resume, not only fully intact but as polished as I’d left it. Breathing a sigh of relief, I saved a couple million copies of it to various folders on my hard drive, my web site, my LinkedIn profile, a server on the moon….

pissed | 5:54 am CST
Category: adventures in unemployment, daily drivel, work
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Friday, June 11th, 2010

I cleaned out my desk yesterday, which is as archaic a way of saying packed up & moved out as it is to say I dial phones when I’m using phones that have no dials. In our office, there are no desks, only particle board slabs screwed to brackets on the walls of our cubicles. They’re shelves, really. I cleaned off my shelf. When you put that way it sounds even more sad and pathetic, doesn’t it?

Even though my job was terminated, a job much like mine was created in its place, and someone else within the company was hired to do it. She’s been working out of a tiny cubicle a few doors down (another anacronism; there are no doors to any of our cubicles), and when I say tiny, I’m talking broom-closet tiny, no exaggeration. It would, in fact, have been a challenge to stuff it with the typical janitorial supplies you would need to sweep and clean on a daily basis. Run a shelf along the wall of said tiny broom closet and you’ve got a good mental picture of her cubicle.

When I passed by it the other day, two other people were jammed in there with her. It was a conference. She’s been having a lot of them in preparation for the many huge changes she’ll have to make in the department when those of us whose jobs were eliminated vanish into thin air at the end of this month and she’s left with a much smaller crew to handle the increased work load. Compared to her cubicle, my office was the size of Texas. It seemed a little incongruous, and a poor use of the available space, that I, the outgoing guy, still had a big cube that I wasn’t using as much as she was using her tiny cube, so I shot her an e-mail: “Let’s swap desks.”

She didn’t want to. She said it made her feel like she was pushing me aside. And bless her heart for that, but I said I thought of this as practical, not personal. She needed the bigger desk (shelf, whatever) for the transition a lot more than I did. So we swapped cubes and I’ve got myself one bitchin broom closet now.

broom closet | 7:21 pm CST
Category: adventures in unemployment, daily drivel, office work, work
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Monday, June 7th, 2010

Hot Tip O’ The Day: Mondays aren’t so bad when you don’t have to spend them in the office!

One of the bennies that came with the elimination of my job, if that’s not a self-destructive contradiction, was that management hired a placement agency to help those of us who were about to be newly unemployed find jobs. We got two afternoons off to attend job-hunting seminars, and two private sessions with the agency pros to help us write resumes.

Today was my appointed day to meet with one of the resume gurus, so I took the day off, dropped My Darling B at work, then returned to my basement lair to brush off the resume that’s been gathering dust in the files of my computer and polish it up a bit myself before mailing it in to the pro for further beautification.

The agency is on the other side of town but right off the beltline. I was there in about twenty minutes. Would’ve been there in ten if I hadn’t gotten lost. I don’t go over there very often so I don’t know that side of town very well and expected to get very lost, which is why I left three-quarters of an hour before my appointment and brought a book with me.

Somebody who was not my resume guru came out of her office to greet me when I came in, asked me to take a seat in the waiting room and offered to get me a coke. Nice place. My guru showed up about ten minutes later, shook my hand and asked me to come to her office even though she still had ten minutes before our appointment and could have spent it updating her Facebook status or surfing the Failblog. Nice, again.

We spent a very productive hour in her office, she asking lots of questions and taking copious notes. I have very little doubt that she’ll produce one bang-up resume for me, so it was time well spent.

rezooMAY | 7:48 pm CST
Category: adventures in unemployment, daily drivel, office work, work
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Thursday, June 3rd, 2010

The City of Madison is advertising a vacancy for the position of Parking Enforcement Officer. A Parking Enforcement Officer makes more than I do in my present position. He makes more than a police officer. Probably takes way more shit than either of us. I’m so tempted to apply for the job.

Obviously this isn’t a job for thin-skinned people, but even though I’ve got skin that’s about as thick as Kleenex, I’d really like to ride in that cool jeep with the flashy lights. They’re pretty ugly but they don’t have just a bubble on top, they’ve got bright flashy light-bars on all the corners and the indicator lights blink left and right when the Parking Enforcement Officer pulls up behind you and tells you to get a move-on if you’re parked under the signed that says “No Stopping Or Standing.”

I’m thinking I wouldn’t get to ride in the cool jeep right away, though. I see Parking Enforcement Officers walking around town all the time, going from car to car, punching license plate numbers into their hand-held ticket-o-trons, then slipping their calling cards under the windshield wipers of all those drivers who thought it would only take a moment to run to the place down the block, so why plug the meter? The job announcement warns you that you should be prepared to walk up to ten miles a day. That’s probably what the new guy does. The guy who’s been in parking enforcement for five years is probably the guy who gets to ride in the jeep.

The job announcement also mentions several times that you would be responsible for impounding illegally-parked cars. That’s the part of the job that really intrigues me, not because I’d like to make life hard on people just because they did a dumb thing, but because I wonder how that goes. When you ticket a car that’s been parked all night on the side of Willy Street that becomes an inbound lane at seven-thirty in the morning and the owner oversleeps, or he’s still in the shower when you come by, but then he sees the flashy lights and comes out wearing nothing but a towel and starts to argue with you as the tow truck operator is loading up his car to take it away, what can you say to him when he asks you, “How am I supposed to get to my job without a car?” Yeah, I got a job, too. This is it.

I suppose when someone comes out of his house with nothing but a towel and wants to argue with you, those are the easy times. The hard cases are the ones who come out with something heavy and blunt in their hands, and they don’t want to argue much at all. I’ve never looked closely; I wonder if Parking Enforcement Officers carry sidearms?

job hunting | 7:36 pm CST
Category: adventures in unemployment, work
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Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

Banging away at my office keyboard yesterday morning, I was distracted by an Outlook pop-up reminding me I had a very important meeting that afternoon. I’ve got Outlook set up to give me these things all the time. I can hardly remember to feed myself without them.

Trouble is, they’re only as good as the lead time you build into them. The one that pops up to tell me I should generate the morning reports doesn’t need any lead time. Just click on “OK” and do it. For the one that tells me I’ve got a meeting with Michael in his office, just down the hall, I give myself enough time to visit the bathroom, then grab my notebook.

As for the pop-up that reminded me to drive to the very important meeting on the other side of freaking town, I should have given myself at least twelve hours of lead time so it would have reminded me the night before. I should have, but I didn’t, so I didn’t remember to drive B to work and keep the car. Curse you, Outlook! Do what I want you to do, not what I tell you to do!

Lucky for me someone else in the department was going to the same meeting, a presentation by a job placement service, and agreed to give me a ride after I groveled shamelessly. I’m not sure the groveling was necessary, but I figure it never hurts.

I never thought much about using a job placement service before, but it’s provided free of charge by the company so why wouldn’t I? And even if they can’t find me a job, at the very least I should be able to pick up some pointers. As a bonus, it turns out they’re going to write a resume for me at the next meeting. I’ve got that one marked on my old-fashioned desk calendar in big, red letters.

pop-up | 5:55 am CST
Category: adventures in unemployment, commuting, office work, work
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Saturday, May 8th, 2010

I drove into town early this morning to take the state worker’s office support exam. I hear the state still has a hiring freeze, but there are an awful lot of vacancies appearing on the state’s employment web site. Assuming they’re not putting them there just to keep somebody busy, I’ve been applying for as many as I think I qualify for. Most of them require that I take the office support exam, hence my getting out of bed a lot earlier than I usually do on a Saturday.

And I wasn’t the only one. The test is given in the same lecture hall on the UW-Madison campus that it was in when My Darling B and I took it five years ago. I’d guess it holds maybe five hundred people. We had to sit in every other seat so that’s, what, two-hundred fifty people if it was filled to capacity? It was, or so close to full as to make no difference. A lot of people looking for jobs. And almost every one of them there to take the office support exam, even though they were proctoring several other tests. About fifty people were there to take the HVAC maintenance test, maybe twenty were taking the Sheriff’s sergeant exam, and just one woman was there to take the assessor’s test. “Whatever you do, don’t withdraw,” the lead proctor advised her. “Your chances are looking real good.”

We had four hours to take the test. I don’t know how thick the other tests were, but the office support exam was almost two-hundred questions, most of which were about proofreading, operating Microsoft Office software applications, calculating pay and grammar.

I’ve gotten quite a lot of practice proofreading correspondence in the past two years, updating templates used to generate correspondence and reviewing letters my coworkers wrote to mail out to customers, so I felt pretty good about that part.

I can operate just about every software application in the Microsoft Office suite but I found this part of the test slowed me down quite a bit because most of the questions weren’t accompanied by graphics, but instead ask for key combinations. For instance, to make a type face bold you use what combination of keys? I do that every day but I don’t think about it, I just do it. I found myself tapping out key combinations on the desk top, then trying to remember which keys were under which fingers.

Calculating pay was a cinch after calculating mortgage payments, so the past two years working in loan services served me well there.

Grammar might have been a problem if they’d asked me to parse sentences. I’ve never been all that good at identifying parts of speech, but that wasn’t their purpose. Questions leaned toward the obvious: “Which is correct: Please pick up you’re pencils, or, Please pick up your pencils.” All of the questions like this also had “Either is correct” as an option. I’d really, really like to know what percentage of the people taking the test answer C.

After slogging through it and turning in the test material, I was shocked when I saw that I’d finished it in two and a half hours. And a little relieved. I used to test for promotion every year and they gave us four hours to complete that test because it took four frigging hours! Not this one.

Parking at the UW is usually so limited that it’s crazy to even try to find something close to the lecture hall. There’s a parking lot not too far away and I headed straight for it. On the way, though, I was absolutely gobsmacked to find an empty curbside spot just up the road. The problem was that it was only half-empty because a woman in a Ford Explorer was parked across two spaces. She was in the car with the engine running, though, so I wasn’t going to let her get away with that.

I pulled up next to her, put my car into reverse so she could see the lights come on, signaled right, dramatically threw my arm over the back of the passenger seat as I turned to look back and successfully locked eyes with her. She smiled, but otherwise didn’t do anything. She wasn’t gabbing on her cell phone. She wasn’t singing along with the radio. She was just sitting there, smiling at me.

So I backed into the half-space behind her. There was no room to turn in properly, but that wasn’t my intention. I only wanted to get the butt-end of my car firmly planted on that spot and leave the nose of my car sticking out into the lane, where she could see it in her side-view mirror. And I waited.

After fifteen or twenty seconds she let the Ford inch forward a bit, acknowledging that she had more than enough room in front of her but not giving me enough room to turn in. I waited a bit longer. She moved up maybe another three or four inches. Still, I waited. And finally she gave me all the room I needed by pulling out and driving away. Okay, not what I was after, but at least I could finally park and quit blocking traffic.

testing testing | 5:25 am CST
Category: adventures in unemployment, office work, work
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Sunday, April 25th, 2010

I’ve spent more than a couple of hours updating my resume today. I love to write, but updating a resume is only slightly less agonizing than clawing out my eyes with my own fingernails. I don’t know why it should be like that, but it is. I’d guess it’s some sort of physical law and can’t be ignored, like gravity, or the speed of light. Writing a resume hurts. It just does.

After updating my resume I uploaded it to a couple web sites I used when we first moved here five years ago. I was at first more than a little surprised that I still had accounts on those web sites, given the amount of time that had passed since I used them last, but surprise quickly gave way to a buoyant wave of gratitude that the monolithic bureaucracy that is the state government moves so slowly to delete these things so I didn’t have to start from scratch.

That done, it’s about time to crack open a beer and catch up on web comics. L’chaim!

getting ready | 6:44 am CST
Category: adventures in unemployment, work
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Monday, April 19th, 2010

Happy Monday! My job’s been eliminated! How’s your day been?

Not sure what to add to that. Most people have been knocked around one way or another by our current economic climate change, so it’s not like you haven’t heard this one before, or that it’s much of a surprise, really. And I’m fortunate, sort of, in that there’ll be new positions created in our office as part of the restructuring going on, so I can apply for one of those jobs as an internal rehire. It’s not like I’m out on my ass tomorrow. In fact, it’s not even like I’m out the door this month; they’ve given me until June 30th to apply internally for other jobs. So not too scary. Yet.

But yeah, happy Monday.

adventures in unemployment | 6:36 am CST
Category: adventures in unemployment, office work, work
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Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

B in her gardenWE’RE SO CLOSE TO SPRING!

About a week ago, when winter finally showed the first signs of letting up on us just a bit, My Darling B went out to her garden to paw through the snow cover, searching for sprouting garlic but, so sad, couldn’t find any.

This week, it’s been even warmer, and today temps crept into the 50s for the first time. As soon as we got home, B slipped into her mud-caked gardening shoes and was out in the back yard again, looking for sprouts.
Still no luck. Damn. But just look at how much of the ground you can see! Two months ago the snow was hip-deep. Two weeks ago it was was knee-deep. And now …

A few of the people I work with were complaining about the rain and the gray, dirty snow. I couldn’t stand it. What, are you kidding me? I shot back. It’s raining! Let me put it another way: It’s not snowing! And the snow on the ground is melting because of the rain! I just don’t get people sometimes.

so close | 7:14 am CST
Category: coworkers, daily drivel, My Darling B, O'Folks, random idiocy, work
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Saturday, February 13th, 2010

Friday was the last day for one of the people in our department, so a bunch of us ordered sub sandwiches from Potbelly’s and everybody threw in a little extra to buy Sandie’s lunch.

The delivery guy from Potbelly’s came to the office about thirty seconds after I took a phone call that I couldn’t beg my way out of. I held up my index finger to give the delivery guy the universal sign for “just one minute” and he nodded and mouthed “okay.”

It was a conference call. I tried to keep my answers brief and steer the conversation toward a conclusion, like that was going to do any good. In no time at all the other two people on the call started babbling about something I had nothing to do with, so, keeping one ear on the conversation, I dug a wad of bills out of my pocket and gave it to the delivery guy.

Delivery Guy counted what I gave him, handed it back and said, “You gave me seventy-nine.”

“What’s the total?” I asked.

“Eighty-two,” he said.

I’d added up the total ahead of time, but I must have added wrong because the total I got, plus tip, came to eighty-two. Still, I heard (with the ear that wasn’t listening to a conference call) eighty-two, and the half of my brain that wasn’t trying to keep track of the babbling (in case I had to jump into the conversation) said, “Eighty-two! That’s what I got!”

I peeled off three more dollars, gave it to Delivery Guy and said thanks. He gave me an icy look and walked away. I thought, What, fifteen percent isn’t enough any more? Then I forgot about it.

Until the phone call ended and I sat down to eat my sandwich. While I was munching happily away I passed an eye over the receipt, saw the total at the bottom, eighty-two, and a troubling thought slowly took shape in my mind: Hey … did I just stiff that guy? Oh, SHIT, I did stiff that guy!

Of course I had to walk down to Potbelly’s on the other end of State Street to apologize and pay him. My whole weekend would have been nothing but guilt and worry if I hadn’t. As it turned out, Deliver Guy was behind the counter when I got there, getting ready to make another run. I offered him my hand, said I was sorry about a million times and passed him a sawbuck. “No hard feelings,” he said, and gave me a cookie.

stiffed | 9:05 am CST
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Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

I was showing Katrina, one of my coworkers, how to use the laser printer to address envelopes, which is way cool and a whole hell of a lot easier than trying to get the address on a letter to line up with the window in a window envelope, or print an address on a label and stick it on an envelope. You burn up more paper that way than Nazis at a book-burning rally.

The procedure is dead simple: Just open Microsoft Word, type the address as you would like it to appear on the envelope, click on the tab labeled “mailings” and select “envelope.” What could be easier?

It’s certainly a lot easier that typing the address, at least for me. When I got to the zip code I doubt very much that I got a single digit right without having to backspace and start over. Sometimes I had to backspace twice and transpose. When I finally got to the end after a half-dozen tries I threw my arms in the air and shouted, “GOAL!” Then collapsed in exhaustion on the desk top.

“And it’s only Tuesday,” Katrina said.

“I’m not going to make it to Friday,” I sobbed.

fat fingers | 9:01 am CST
Category: coworkers, office work, work
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Sunday, February 7th, 2010

Stiff muscles … aching joints … swollen ligaments … this is the hand of a man who participated in the company’s annual bowling event, the same man who hasn’t bowled a single frame since 2006. Ouch.

Every year, Bill B (the guy at the office who hired me for my first job after I retired from the military, actually) organizes the company bowling event, partly because he likes bowling so much that he has one of those cybernetic strap-on arms, but mostly because he’s just such a great guy.

I signed up for it the year after I hired on, and enjoyed it so much that I wanted to do it every year.

The second year, I was in an office of not-bowlers, which are different from non-bowlers in that they absolutely will not bowl no matter how much you cajole them or what you threaten to do with their e-mail the next time they walk away from their computer without locking up the screen. I didn’t realize then that I could still bowl even if I rounded up five random people from anywhere. I didn’t have to get them from my office. I could have signed up five of the homeless people who hang out on the park benches on cap square all day.

So this year, as soon as I saw that signups were open, I walked around the office and asked who wanted to go bowling this year. I got four people to make a team in just two minutes, as long as I agreed to be the team captain. Being team captain means delivering the money to Bill B, and that’s it, so I agreed. Easy.

bowler | 8:54 am CST
Category: coworkers, office work, play, work
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Thursday, February 4th, 2010

image of my stocking feetNotice anything missing? I didn’t, until I got to work yesterday. It was like that dream where you’re in a big crowd of people and you suddenly realize you’re wearing nothing but underwear.

My coworkers were very understanding about it. All day long as I padded around the office I expected somebody to say something to me, but they never did. Nobody so much as smirked. Maybe it’s happened to them, too.

It’s not like I walked to work in my stocking feet, I’m quick to point out. I put on a pair of snow boots before I leave the house in the morning. Then, when I get to the office, I change into a pair of brown leather shoes that I usually keep under my desk. But, the day before yesterday, I took them home with me because I thought we’d need them for our dancing lesson. I didn’t. We danced in our stocking feet. It was sort of a foreshadowing of my day at the office yesterday.

stalking | 9:36 pm CST
Category: daily drivel, office work, random idiocy, work
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Sunday, January 17th, 2010

Munich TDYOne of the really great things about my job in the military was that they sent me back to tech school every once in a while, which might sound like a drag to you, but I promise it’s not. Here, for instance, is a photo from the first time they sent me to tech school. I was stationed in England and the tech school was in Munich, Germany. Pretty awesome, no?

I don’t remember who snapped this photo or how it came into my possession, but I remember that it was an an icebreaker during the first week we were at school. The students lived in apartments that had the look of what might have been two-bedroom married quarters with a full kitchen, bath and living area. After this night we would gather weekly in somebody apartment to party, because in Germany they would deliver beer to your doorstep the way milk was once delivered here in the States. When you’re young and out in the great big world on your own, what more encouragement do you need?

The guy in the middle, believe it or not, is yours truly. There really was a time, about 4.5 million years ago according to the latest carbon dating techniques, when I was that young. It still amazes me.

The guy on the far left is Bob Brandriff. This was a guy who liked to party as much as anything else. That’s not a criticism, that’s praise. He knew what he liked, and he did it. And I admired him for it, because I hoped that one day I would unclench my butt and be as easygoing as he was. It could happen. I’m still hoping.

I forget the name of the guy tugging on Bob’s ear. I believe he was a squid, but that’s all I can dredge up from my feeble memory about him. “Squid” is what we used to call Navy guys. They called us “wingnuts.”
I had a huge crush on the girl who appears to be checking out my neck and tried everything I could think of to make my lips say anything to her more intelligible that “beweeble babble dooble bee,” but I couldn’t do it. I can’t remember her name now.

The guy on the far right is Seth Cochran. Several years later I ran into him again in Denver, Colorado, or thought I did. After working one or two nights with a guy who looked an awful lot like him I asked if he’d ever been to the tech school in Munich. He said no, but his twin brother had been. It’s a small world sometimes, but that’s positively microscopic.

wingnut | 3:33 pm CST
Category: My Glorious Air Force Career, work
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Thursday, January 17th, 2002

Today will mark one full set of day watches with the new LT. It’s been a baptism by fire.

We started out with the fiasco of Airman Woods, an uncertified op, training Airman Pedersen; then we had the fiasco when SN Judd’s records hit the front office with no training documented. We’re still getting fallout from the explosion that the Morse aisle set off when they vaulted into 1st place in the Stats Wars. And yesterday I watched him [the LT] fight off SMSgt Holland on the subject of Bennett’s EPR.

Even with flames up his backside, Lt Griffin’s a very cool customer. Not very happy with the fiascos, but very cool. Getting an LT who was prior enlisted can be a plus or a minus; I’m sure Lt Griffin has his minuses, but to date he’s been careful to show us only his pluses.

[11/30/14: In the short time that Second Lieutenant Griffin was Dawg’s watch officer, we got quite a few messes cleaned up. If only he’d stuck around a little longer before he left for a day shop desk.]

Days with LT Griffin | 11:43 am CST
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Sunday, January 13th, 2002

Seaman Judd pointed out to me that, because she’s on the First Aid Team, she’s carried on the rolls as “SN Judd, FAT.” She added that, at her last station, she was on the first aid team for the stern section, so she was “SN Judd, FAT STERN.” She figures it’s only a matter of time before some wag figures out a way to expand ASS to a usable acronym.

FAT | 7:55 am CST
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Friday, January 11th, 2002

I’m rapidly approaching the time when I dread reporting to work while the day shop is in. One more example of little to no documentation in training records landed us all in the shitter again today. They say it rolls downhill, so I set fire to every block controller’s ass. It’ll take weeks to shake everybody into line on this, though. I may be alcoholic by then.

(“Do you drink?” Godwin asked me, during one of our meetings. I shook my head. “I give you six months; you’ll be drinking heavily.” Very encouraging.)

six months | 7:53 am CST
Category: My Glorious Air Force Career | Tags: ,
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Tuesday, January 8th, 2002

Shoddy training records … uncertified ops signing for JQS items … no certified ops in the section … and the Superintendent of J34 calling the Watch Officer into her office, as well as the Mission Soup, the CHFS and anybody else worthy of a good ass-chewing. I’ve had better days.

better days | 10:49 am CST
Category: My Glorious Air Force Career | Tags: ,
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Monday, January 7th, 2002

The Morse aisle has managed not only to boost their stats to their highest levels in 16 months, but they’ve managed to take first place over three other flights, also the first time in over a year. To celebrate, day workers from all offices came out to clap Mark Ursich on the back and offer other congratulations. Also asked how he cheated to do it.

I’ve never liked the shift-worker/day-shop rivalry that existed at every single site I’ve been stationed. It always seemed to be a counter-productive negativism that was easily overcome with just a little understanding. I’m starting to think, however, that this place may surpass my ability to understand.

[11/30/14: There was a day shop with the job of tracking everything we did, then presenting the statistics every Monday morning to the commander. The operators on all four flights knew every trick to inflate their statistics, but on Dawg flight we didn’t resort to tricks, we just did the job. Unsurprisingly, Dawg did not do very well in what were called the “stats wars.” But during this one set of watches, Mark Ursich did such a savvy job of managing his team that they were out in front of all the others. To recognize his leadership, he was half-jokingly accused by almost everyone in day shop of gaming the system. And that’s why I was so puzzled.]

stats wars | 11:48 am CST
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Friday, January 4th, 2002

I’ve probably mentioned to you that I work in poorly-heated rooms. Turns out I was wrong. The place where I work doesn’t, in fact, have any heat at all. None. The building was designed back when computing equipment generated so much heat you could barbecue ribs over them, so the builders installed Godzilla-sized air-conditioning units that ran full-blast, day and night, even in the winter. Now all of that equipment has been replaced by desk-top computers, which are warm, but not nearly warm enough to thaw your fingers after they’ve gone blue and numb, something that happens to me regularly at work.

In every refrigerated place I’ve worked, we’ve complained about the cold, not necessarily because the kind of people I work with are complainers – they are, but it’s more because we’re expected to type a lot, which gets hard to do when you can’t feel your fingertips. The complaints start out as grumbles at first, but by mid-winter we’re openly bitching to whoever will listen. Shortly after that, The Powers That Be whip out the thermometers. It always turns out to be about 64 degrees Fahrenheit, which sounds like a balmy spring day, but even though everybody realizes that we don’t work out in the sunshine, The Powers That Be seem to be using a line of reasoning that goes something like this: “32 is freezing. 64 is twice that number! Heck, that’s practically hot!”

I’m very protective of my body heat. It’s a safe bet you probably don’t want to hear about my underwear, but I’m going to mention that, even though I pad my clothes with several layers of polypropylene and wool, it’s barely enough to keep my blood circulating. I was talking to Richard Bennett and mentioned that after I get home from working a mid, I stand in a hot shower for about twenty minutes or I don’t feel human. “But what’s that got to do with the heat?” he asked, waggling his eyebrows.

hvac | 7:33 pm CST
Category: My Glorious Air Force Career | Tags: ,
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Saturday, December 29th, 2001

The Air Force gave me an official e-mail account so it could send me pictures of horribly mutilated and dead people. Used to be, I would’ve had to go to war to see disfigured corpses smeared with gore; now, I can study them over a cup of tea from the comfort of my desk. Thank goodness for technology.

The question you’re naturally asking yourself now, presuming you have the stomach to keep reading this not-very-funny drivel, is: Why would the Air Force send me pictures of bloody death? Am I engaged in some new study of battlefield action? No, this has nothing to do with the Air Force’s official business of blowing up stuff with big bombs. Last night’s e-mail, filled with distressingly detailed close-ups of children horribly injured in road accidents, was sent to everybody at work in the hope that it would somehow discourage excessive drinking over the holidays. I may be wrong, but I suspect those pictures will instead make many people want to drink a whole lot more than usual. I know after seeing them, I sure want to.

This is the fourth time in four months that somebody working for an Air Force safety office has sent me photos like this in the name of making the world better for all of us, bless their hearts. Shortly after arriving here, I had to sit through a safety briefing that bored me numb, then ended with a short film clip of a pedestrian hit by one car, then another, as he crossed the road. The moral of the story, which my mother taught me years ago, was “Look both ways.” If memory serves, Mom somehow got the same message across without the scared-straight video.

A winter safety brief featured pictures of people’s mutilated limbs, blackened by gangrene from frostbite, or chopped into little pieces after operating a snow blower without reading the operator’s manual. So the message I’m getting from the Air Force, over and over ad nauseum, is that people are stupid. Or have misinterpreted?

ad nauseum | 7:17 pm CST
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Thursday, December 27th, 2001

I had to take the DLPT this morning. It was Test C, the one I always seem to get, and by this time I can answer about a dozen of the questions without hearing the audio or reading the text. For about a dozen more, I have to listen or skim for key words. If I’d studied, I probably would’ve kicked ass, but I have to admit I’ve been very bad, so I probably won’t be getting much FLPP this year, if at all.

[11/26/14: DLPT was the “Defense Language Proficiency Test,” a yearly test that was supposed to determine how well I understood the Russian language. There were three or four versions of the test, hence “Test C.” All three or four versions were written maybe a decade or two before I joined the Air Force and never changed; by 2001 I had most of the questions memorized, but not all the answers. FLPP was “Foreign Language Proficiency Pay,” a monthly stipend awarded to anyone who did well on the test. I think I got about fifty bucks a month for knowing the test as well as I did.]

flip | 5:48 am CST
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Monday, December 24th, 2001

Today’s that magical day – yes, it’s the day we start a new work cycle, our first mid. For the next two weeks I’ll become a completely different person, working all night, sleeping all day. For several days at a stretch, I won’t see some of my family for more than fifteen minutes, and some of them I won’t see at all for days. Mids get pretty surreal sometimes.

Dawg flight relieved Charlie for the Christmas mid watch, and after SSgt Baker gave me the pass-down, we settled into the usual small talk: how’d the break go, what’s up with the family, that kind of thing. As the conversation fell into a lull and he seemed ready to put on his coat and go, I said something like, “Better get on home, sleep well,” the usual things I say to let somebody go, then I just barely remember to add, “Merry Christmas.” He settled back into his seat and said, “It just doesn’t feel like Christmas this year.”

It was a funny thing to say because I’d been feeling the same way for a while. I know it’s been said plenty already, but the holiday season starts way too darned soon. I had to buy a Christmas tree right after Thanksgiving or do without one, so the poor thing was a dead twig by Christmas eve. Then all through the build-up, hardly anybody seemed to be in the mood. It was a surprise to me whenever I heard, “Merry Christmas,” which wasn’t often.

Then on Christmas eve, My Darling B made the same remark: “Christmas doesn’t feel the same this year.” Maybe that was the essence of it, that it did feel like Christmas, but the way Christmas feels had changed, like so many other feelings, in the last six months.

un-Christmas | 6:33 am CST
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Tuesday, December 18th, 2001

B said a funny thing to me the other night – I don’t remember it verbatim, or even how it came up, but she said something about “when I’m the first sergeant.”

“Now what is that supposed to mean?” I asked her. “You want me to be a first sergeant?”

“I didn’t say I wanted that,” she answered.

“You know I’ve thought about it, but geeze, the crud a shirt’s got to put up with …”

“There’s good stuff, too,” she pointed out. “And you could be the one who makes a difference in an airman’s career.”

We didn’t say much more about it than that, but it stuck in my mind because she brought it up; I hadn’t even thought about it for weeks, maybe months – certainly not since I took a crash-dive into the pleasures of being a supervisor over just three airmen. The one airman and the several trips I’ve made to take care of her infractions on my days off have made me think hard about whether or not the game is worth the candle. On the other hand, I have been able to do some pretty cool stuff for the other airmen – nothing super-cool yet, but stuff that made me feel as though I was accomplishing something.

I’ve thought of asking to see the shirt to talk to him about this. Trouble with putting a bug in somebody’s ear over something like this, is that once you’ve mentioned it, there’s no going back. It could happen that I’d end up being a shirt with dizzying speed. There’s also PCS to look at: Shirts go away to a training school, and some of them change station more often than they change underwear. Moves are becoming harder for me to deal with, not easier.

shirt | 7:12 pm CST
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Thursday, December 13th, 2001

I ran two and a half miles at PT this morning and my ankle hardly hurts at all. When we started doing mando PT three times a week, I had tendonitis around my left ankle something horrible – ankle was swollen, hard to walk up the stairs, gulped aspirin to kill the pain & keep the swelling down. Four weeks later, I stretch a little before I get on the treadmill, run thirty minutes, and I’m good to go. All they require is that we do thirty minutes of aerobic activity, so they get thirty minutes from me. Not thirty-one. Working out at the gym bores my ass off. I usually spend the whole time making a mental list of all the things I’d rather be doing, and the list gets pretty long in thirty minutes.

tendonitis | 7:03 am CST
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