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June, 2003: 1 5 17 24 29

6/1/03-Sun.-The job of grading third graders' writing samples is progressing apace, though not without some challenges. We must assess them on each of over a half-dozen criteria, with most of these evaluations being relatively precise, intended to be objective, readily replicable when another scorer looks at the same paper. The rate of accomplishment of this mission varies tremendously. I have heard of a genius who actually goes through seven hundred of them a day! On the other hand, one of my team has only been managing less than forty per shift. I have good and bad days but at least am in the average range for production.

With respect to quality, my team leader says I need to be more lenient. We are continually tested to make sure we're doing the scoring as the supervisors wish, which, however, fairly consistently seems to be different than I had understood from the training examples and explanations.

It's as though they do not want to accept the level of analysis they taught us and thus keep trying to get us to grade the kids higher for what, mostly, are rather limited papers. I figure I'll just adapt to the latest guidance. At the moment this means giving many of the young people higher grades than it seems they deserve. Still, whatever keeps me hired and the employer happy! Besides, there are worse things than giving a kid a break.

The job is in other ways not all I had hoped it would be. There is little opportunity for social interaction, though the other workers are often neat folks. All have college and/or graduate degrees, and they come from diverse backgrounds.

One's shift is spent a few inches from other graders (to the left or right), with each of us in front of a computer, reading paper after paper (scanned in and presented on the screen). We must make quick decisions about the sample before us at the moment, judging it on ideas and content, organization, how well the child expresses his/her personal identity or awareness of the reader (voice), word choice, sentence fluency or rhythm, and mastery of conventions (grammar, spelling, etc.).

The AC is not efficient, and our room gets quite warm in the afternoons.

It is hard to choose between a passing or failing grade sometimes, or between the equivalent of the highest grade and the next highest, etc. While some of the workers turn out to be very good at this, it is not really my cup of tea. I think of too many possibilities. Still, I expect to finish out this project, presently scheduled to end the second week of July. I'm glad, though, that I'm technically retired and don't have to depend on doing this kind of thing from now on.

On the other hand, there are at times some quite entertaining and amusing responses from the kids. Last week, there was a most engaging sample about an imaginary friend, who turned out to be a lovable dinosaur. The students sometimes demonstrate quite an imagination! A few also have a real flair for writing, even at just seven or eight years old. Most papers, though, are unfortunately fairly mediocre.

My team leader is an interesting fellow. He's a smart member of the British upper crust, but in no way stuffy. Failing in his attempt, right after the English version of our graduate school, to get into the Foreign Service, he obtained a position with a private company in France, where he stayed for several years. In Germany, he also taught languages to school children for awhile. Next, he spent four years in Japan, inhaling their culture and tongue as well and, along the way, meeting and marrying his wife, another expatriate, an American. They stood the, as he put it, claustrophobic urban Nippon culture for another couple years and, when they could no longer, made the ultimate sacrifice in support of his would-be diplomatic career, and moved to Austin, TX, where he's remained through the greater part of the George W. Bush reign. But this move took over a year, while he, his wife, and another couple did a mammoth tour of Asia and Australia. It also took time for him to fight the U.S. bureaucracy to a draw and finally obtain a visa to live and work in our country.

He and his spouse are soon, right after this scoring project, heading to London, hoping that their credentials, and five languages spoken between them, will finally be enough to get them employment there. Or, if they're lucky, perhaps he'll finally get a Foreign Service posting somewhere on the European continent.

Meanwhile, I'm fortunate to have him as my temporary boss. He's witty, easygoing, and shows how intelligent he is by sharing most of my attitudes on politics and economics.

The wife and I were testing the muddy waters at the depths of our dyadic bonding recently, for all in the neighborhood who wished to hear. The moment passed, and we managed not to do bodily harm. We were even quite pleasantly disposed toward one another fairly soon thereafter.

We had adequate excuse. Summer here, which arrives in May, is already in furious evidence, and it has been known to drive many to desperate distraction. Fortunately, the season lasts only about six months, or our population would doubtless be in serious decline. As it is, I may just be mailing someone one of my freshly severed ears.

We are now watering parts of our lawn each day, not only out of concern for our grass, trees, and other plants, but also because the concrete foundation for our house is subject to major cracking if the earth around or below it dries out too much (as this leads to uneven pressure on and under the slab). A cracked foundation can cost tens of thousands of dollars to repair and, even after it is fixed, could cut the value of a house tremendously.

Fran accidentally left her bathing suit in Waco the last time we were visiting my mom there, and Mother this past week kindly mailed it back to us.

It will be sorely needed at some point soon, for our 100+°F days have begun, and Fran is bound to want to take the dog and herself out for a swim and wade in some cool spot before long, while I'm staying out of the sun and/or working.

We have two ponds in our yard. In one of these, Fran has a host of minnows or mosquito fish. But we've had such dry weather this last winter and spring that the insects, especially mosquitoes, whose larvae the fish usually consume, have been in short supply. Now Fran has made a little bucket tank out back for breeding more mosquito larvae, claiming her fish are starving. She and I differ on this. I figure the fish can just manage as they do in nature and that if we have fewer mosquitoes about, so much the better! Bad warts are raised when they bite me or Pepper, which they do a lot, and, of course, they carry diseases.

In some states now it is illegal to put out standing water. In CT, one can even do prison time for it, so concerned are authorities there with limiting the spread of West Nile Virus. I know Fran will net the larvae before most can become adults. But the extra standing water also just attracts that many more of the bloodthirsty female adults to our place. I think I'd sooner have vampire bats in the neighborhood.

The pond with the fish also has a host of tadpoles, from several of our toads' recent couplings. The first new amphibian generation of the season has already escaped, minus their cute tails and now with landlubber legs and lungs intact.

Had a nice visit with Joel yesterday. Fran joined us too for lunch. Then he and I went to see a movie. We cannot heartily recommend "Bruce Almighty," but it was entertaining and good for some belly laughs.

I do not envy him the intense academic schedule he has planned for this summer, beginning Monday. I continue to be amazed at how big a load of work and studies he takes on, and then does well at both. More power to him!

I sympathize with him, though, about having to take a new college English course, in spite of having already completed one in CA and having placed out for another semester as well. He's hoping they'll accept samples of his earlier writing in lieu of this requirement. While it seems reasonable, the San Marcos State administration likely won't make an exception. Too bad.

This afternoon, after a nap, I gave Fran her long massage while we watched the Jeff Bridges movie,"White Squall," not at all a bad film.

Despite exciting things on her walks lately, like rabbits, a wild turkey, and deer, our mutt, perhaps feeling the effects of the heat, old age, or the liver tumors, has been noticeably slowing down, seeming more lethargic generally and less inclined to her previous perkiness on even long constitutionals. Now she tends to give out sooner and to take quite awhile to recover. We can but care for her as well as possible and hope for the best. It has already been about nine months since she had the terminal illness diagnosis. The cancer was apparently far advanced already at that time.

Fran's been making things easier for me of late, doing a lot of chores around the place, including the dishes, major pruning of trees and shrubs, and repairs at the base of our front door. She's also been fixing us many great, healthy salads. Today, for about the third time since I started working again, she made me a tuna salad, for sandwiches. She does not even like tuna. But it is a favorite of mine.

6/5/03-Thurs.-It has seemed there was as much wakefulness as sleep during these past couple nights, and now, in early morning, fatigue pervades my being as though the body's thin red blood were replaced with a thick brown molasses. Mental functioning feels equally diminished.

A storm has descended over northern Austin, the sky roiling and darkening in less than an hour, giving promise of at least plentiful rain if not also hail, lightning, or tornadoes.

The first large drops began to fall as I parked and then ran for the door at Trudy's restaurant for breakfast, after my dermatology appointment. Now, moments later, cats and dogs are cascading and piling up beneath the eatery's stately pecan trees. Hope we're getting some of this at our house!

My nose is sore. About thirty minutes ago the skin doctor injected my face with pain killer and then biopsied the latest lesion. She thinks it's a recurrence of basal cell cancer and that it will require a third operation (within 18-19 months!) on the inside of the long-suffering, most forward part of my visage. She'll let me know next week.

Things are all relative. Sure, I'd rather not be going through this, but there are so many much worse kinds of unpleasantness. I might have suffered a grenade explosion in Vietnam and, besides losing a limb or two, have had periodic surgeries the rest of my life to remove traveling bits of shrapnel. Or I could have been badly burned, necessitating hundreds of operations and grafts over many years. All in all, Fran and I are both quite fortunate.

Later.-I put in a six-hour shift for Harcourt, then headed home and took a short nap. It turned out we received about two inches of drenching downpour this morning. Alright! There is a good chance of more badly needed rain through tomorrow.

6/17/03-Tues.-Just a quick note this time, as I'm feeling harried but note the need to update the journal record. I'm working an overtime schedule at Harcourt (getting up at 4:55 AM!) through Saturday of this week, but all scoring in this temporary project after that has been cancelled. So, I shall be able to resume normal writing here, and work on the older submissions (1978), in a few more days. Meanwhile, in a little spare time, Fran and I have been working on our next issue of the family newsletter, due out on 6/21. Our eighteenth anniversary is the following day, 6/22, and guess who has not yet had a chance to prepare for it? (I shall!) I've been doing pretty well at Harcourt lately, exceeding the grading production quota comfortably most every day and getting "A's" for quality. The pathology report, on my nose abnormality, did indicate it is cancerous. My latest nose excavation and rebuilding is now to occur on 7/1. Can't wait! We've finally been getting abundant rain, with several major storms since the last entry. Pepper is still being a pain about eating, having to be intensively coaxed into finishing her meals. We hope this is not a sign the end is near. She and Fran have been having great luck on walks lately though, with deer, skunk, baby killdeer, and multiple rabbit sightings. Frances is involved now in local performances of Gilbert and Sullivan's "Pirates of Penzance," which she says is a lot of fun! I'm very much looking forward to seeing it, possibly with my mom, on 6/28. (That will have to do it for this entry! Need to do several more things before getting ready for bed.)

6/24/03-Tues.-Up at 3:30 AM. Having GI upset and sleeplessness, likely due to concerns over the transition from being employed to unemployed, effective yesterday. I had actually been looking forward to full retirement again. But, now that it is a fact, I find even this requires an adjustment. I'd gotten used to the routine of working, seeing colleagues every weekday, etc., even though I did not really like the work itself that much, merely tolerating it for the other benefits. I suppose I shared that predicament with the majority of other workers!

I have checked online into the possibility of unemployment compensation, since we were let go earlier than had at first been offered (after some contracts for scoring had fallen through).

Later-Read Why are We at War? by Norman Mailer, who apparently agrees with me that America today is at least as much in danger from fascism as international terrorism and that, unchecked by Congress or the judiciary, George W. Bush's policies are taking us recklessly down that path.

I've begun my attempt to obtain unemployment compensation. The process is bureaucratic, of course, which is frustrating. The online application site referred me instead to a phone center. After a couple waits on hold I was told by an impatient, dismissive lady that I do not qualify but should wait for a packet she was sending to find out why.

But the online site referred to extenuating medical circumstances, something the most polite of all possible public servants had not mentioned. So I called back, and my information was referred to a disability specialist (ironic, I thought!) who, in due course, will contact me, consider whatever evidence I can present, and render his decision. I figure that, with multiple conditions and treatments of varied severity during the relevant period, I at least have a chance.

Fran, in anticipation of our having company next weekend, was doing some early summer cleaning today and discovered a new crack in my bathtub, the third time this has occurred. Bother!

On a happier note, my sister-in-law, Mary, will be joining my mom, Val, and me this coming Saturday for a visit that will include the evening performance of "Pirates of Penzance."

We've heard from my brother, Allen. His internet-met wife from Ecuador, Nina, caught an earlier flight than anticipated and arrived in Miami on 6/13. He joined her there and shared the trip on to Fort Worth, where they've begun their U.S. life together. In fact, shortly after her arrival, they went on down to Waco and stayed overnight with Mom, also meeting a couple of my other brothers and one of my sisters-in-law then.

Mom is still concerned about Nina's immigration situation after learning from she and Allen that her visa is only for sixty days. It would be dreadful if, after waiting about ten months to get into this country, she then must return to Ecuador in only a couple months, just as she is due to have their baby.

With my nose surgery and dental appointments, needing to be applying for work in connection with a quest for possible unemployment compensation, and having jury duty next month, it's out of the question for me, but Fran, though earlier uninterested in suggested vacation trips to the TX coast or to CO, is considering going to WI in a week or so, to visit there again with her sister, brother-in-law, and their kids. I'll regret not being free to go too if she does, but will understand.

Meanwhile, both from lack of sleep and the limbo situation with work, medical treatment, and so forth, I am feeling quite badly, exhausted and depressed. The high, humid heat here now is not helping. Maybe tomorrow will be better.

I'll leave you with a bit of artless humor from an innocent third grade girl's paper which I was recently scoring, from our PA batch. I'm sure the eight or nine year old young lady had no idea how she'd mixed things up in her essay on "a perfect day."

Toward the end of her writing sample, she moved into what she did not realize would be perilous territory as she reported on a returning home trip family outing to a fast-food restaurant, Burger King, where her little brother got "a movie toy and a combo meal, with a hamburger, French fries, and a small cock. Then he played with it. After awhile he let me play with it. Mom played with it too and then I played with it some more, after which Mom did too! That sure was a fun day!!!" (Some aspects of that job I shall miss.)

6/29/03-Sun.-Our weekend of visiting, plus the Gilbert and Sullivan production, went reasonably well. Fran left for the last performance of that entertainment this afternoon.

Meanwhile, I motored to the mall following a nap and our guests' departures, getting in some extra walking in the cool setting there.

After spending time last week getting records updated for the unemployment compensation application process, but then looking into it further, I have learned it's pointless to proceed down that road. The amount of a retirement annuity is subtracted, dollar for dollar, from any such payments one might otherwise be due. I'm thus entitled to nothing from that source.

I've updated one of the resumes and may begin applying for education-related jobs, such as a teacher aide. Mary suggests as well that I look for work as the male equivalent of a "nanny," whatever that would be called. Both efforts may be unpromising. I suppose, having neither kids nor grandkids of my own and no teaching experience, to many I would appear to be a potential "dirty old man" rather than a good educator candidate. Mom thinks I'd be a decent instructor for adults, perhaps in a community college setting. All such ideas are just brainstorming. There may be nothing practical for me here. And in any case I'm still of two minds whether or not to return soon to the world of work. Even if I firmly decide to, it may not be for the best right now, in view of my imminent nose surgery.

We've found the secret to getting Pepper to eat more normally again. Once a quarter of a hard-boiled egg is diced up and mixed in with the regular dry dog food, she usually gobbles everything down with great eagerness. After weeks of worrying a loss of appetite meant she was on her last legs, this is a big relief.

I'll be giving Fran her long massage this evening while watching "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy," a videotape anniversary gift set from her. It is a dramatization, with Alec Guinness, of the John le Carré spy novel of the same title. Both the video and book mirror many of my own ulterior moods of recent years.

Our nation, since 9/11/01, is almost in a state of permanent catharsis, ready to patriotically emote and attack at the drop of a leaf. Thus, with our upcoming July 4th Independence Day celebration, one of a host of holiday excuses through each year, there will again, perhaps somewhat in a perversion of pride, be a nearly fascist display of jingoistic rhetoric and symbols, combined with a reaffirmation of intolerance for any who hold out for our original or so hard won freedoms and rights. Illegal (because of the hazard of conflagrations) fireworks will be loudly and abundantly set off in all neighborhoods. U.S. flags will be set out on most lawns or houses. Signs like our newest neighbors' will be sprouting, proclaiming such messages as that "We support our President!" - daring anyone to be less thoughtlessly loyal to the current conservative authority, and so on...Reminds me too much of certain historical precedents, or of the screenplay, Rhinoceros. Can 1984 be far behind, when the clocks all strike 13?

But I exaggerate. Maybe the sky is not quite falling yet. I am alarmed, though, when anyone seems to have unchecked power, regardless of that person's political background or good intentions. George W. may be a very sincere gentleman, but he also now appears to hold sway with most of our press, judiciary, state houses, and Congress. He is forecast, as well, to have at his disposal for the next election two or three times as much money as the combined presidential candidates of the Democratic Party. All it would probably take would be one more major terrorist attack for him to also be able to pass a new "Patriot Act," one that would suspend many of the remaining civil liberties left after the last one.

There was a bizarre incident in South Dakota this past week. A huge tornado (one of forty-eight to hit that region then) - spectacularly captured on film, by the way, and quite awesome - in the process of obliterating a small community of twenty dwellings, sucked a man out of his basement, through a doorway, and up the stairwell, then hurled him aloft before setting him back down safely with hardly a scratch over a block away. Now that's my kind of gale!

I couldn't help but wonder what he was feeling and thinking during his celestial journey. That kind of phenomenon may help account for a few so-called "alien abductions." Suppose he had been sleeping away, unaware of any great wind nearby and then was picked up, carried heavenward for awhile, and gently returned. Out in some rural area and if there were not much damage otherwise, perhaps some crops damaged in a circular pattern, an unsophisticated survivor could well imagine he'd been taken by visitors from another world.

Even if not, what a peak experience, if one didn't simply pass out from fright or from having the air pulled out of the lungs. What exhilaration he must have felt! Unfortunately, the news professionals missed a good bet by not interviewing the fellow. Just think what a story he'll have to tell his relations and for them to recount down through the years!

One can be engaged in the most innocuous activity and wind up having an unusual experience. On the road yesterday morning, not far from home, we passed a recently deceased family of raccoons, all hit-and-run victims.

We drove over to a restaurant for lunch on Friday and discovered it was being remodeled, as if it had suffered from a major fire. Yet, surprisingly, it was still in operation, the vittles being offered by a staff far larger than the number of patrons amid a bedlam of construction noises that reminded me all too well that early Monday morning I'm to endure the ministrations of my dentist, who promises to drill and fill, one of my old fillings having chipped, revealing the crater and vulnerable quick within. Amid jokes about the joys of trying to eat under these circumstances, Fran and I elected to have our food to go.

Almost back to our block, we came across the aftermath of a strange accident. It appeared a two-passenger sedan had hurled itself into the side of a large, heavy-duty truck with such force as to turn the latter monster onto its side. A dozen emergency workers were on hand, misdirecting traffic, making ineffectual efforts to dismantle the car, and trying to excavate its occupant. From their casual leisurely pace, it would seem he or she had not survived.

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