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(1999-2002: Pre-Retirement Years)

Old mine near Silverton, CO.

1/1/01-Mon.-Happy New Year! Fran and I celebrated the eve of the next thousand years in low-key fashion last night, with supper and (for me) a glass of wine at Black-Eyed Pea restaurant, then later with a cozy, romantic romp, and, just at midnight, a quick smack on the lips. Neighbors punctuated the otherwise quiet, cold, rainy nuit with a few illegal fireworks as the significant hour arrived. As with the media's anticlimactic, minimal coverage this year, the transition came with none of the grand fanfare displayed erroneously by many at this time twelve months ago.

Today we began the Third Millennium AD, notwithstanding a variety of overly gloomy doomsayers. There are enough reasons for concern in an ordinary existence without needing the added tension of eschatology.

Of new resolutions, I have but one: to get caught up, and then remain so, in my best of all possible jobs, where now less than 300 workdays remain till I can retire.

Pepper and I were first up this morning, beating Fran by about a half-hour.

Another part of my back is freshly tender, painfully helping to confirm that I remain among the living. (To live is to suffer, according to the Buddhists.)

The wind-chill was about 17°F as we began our walk, soon after the official sunrise was obscured by cloud-cover.

In recent months, Fran and I have, for the tenth or twentieth time or so, discussed various places we'd like to settle after leaving for good our state or teaching positions, including such lovelies as Michigan, Vermont, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, New York, Pennsylvania, or even Maine. While we may still move to one of these cold places, the way my body has reacted to the lowered temperatures even here in central Texas the last couple winters, I am presently feeling more inclined to aim for retirement bliss in a more modestly frigid region, as in western Oregon or Washington, where the relatively warm coastal currents keep things a bit balmier most of the time. We shall see.

1/5/01-Fri.-Another workweek down, with about 64 to go! In keeping with my new year's resolution, to get (and stay) caught up at work, let the countdown begin: The excess casework tally stands at 26, with excess pending actions now at roughly two times this level. I reduced excess casework this week by one and got a number of past due pending actions resolved. This was not a full week, thanks to the New Year's holiday. The primary target is to have a net reduction of 3-5 in the excess casework tally per regular workweek. Next week also is not a normal week, as I have to deal with both a doctor's appt. (annual physical) and a jury summons. (Not again! Groan. I'm as dutiful a citizen as the next guy; but when I'm desperately trying to get caught up, I do not need this added aggravation.) So, in this coming period, I plan to simply hold my own, treading water. Target figures are now at 125/70 and should remain there by 1/12/01. If I get it below that, it will be cause for celebration! But by 1/26/01 they should stand at 119/60 or below. (The past due pending actions should always stay no more than two times the excess casework tally.) By 2/23/01, they should stand at 107/40, and at 99/19/5 by no later than 3/16/01, remaining at or below that level the balance of my state career. I'll keep track here of how well I'm doing. If I can not achieve this or better levels, there could be real trouble ahead. Not quite the way I had expected to be "coasting in to retirement" by this stage of my career. This journal exercise should be helpful, as a way to emphasize the positive. There is so much negative that could be the focus! Each week is terribly frustrating in so many ways.

Tonight the Baltic Buzzards are rehearsing at our house again, giving Pepper fits. She's, as usual, quite out of sorts that she must be excluded from the music room, but sets up an almost continuous howling in response to the musicians' efforts. It is at once extremely amusing and quite distracting. Temperatures outside are too cool for her to be there very long; or I'd just put her in the back yard and leave her, to spare the two of us!

On Sat., I submitted a couple pieces in the im-ur online paper. So far, they've received a not astonishing (but also not unsatisfying) 57 hits. If one feels like spouting off, this may be a good vehicle. You might even linger awhile and read what others have to say. Its articles are often interesting.

Time for supper, leftover Chinese food, while I watch the pundits wrap up the week, on PBS.

1/7/01-Sun.-I saw the movie "Unbreakable" this afternoon. It was entertaining, by the same director as for "The Sixth Sense" but not as good as the earlier film, for my taste. It is somewhat in the same genre but, sequel-like, did not quite hit the mark.

We had an excitingly near miss this morning. We were headed for a morning walk, near the Target area we use frequently, when two adult female deer leaped out in front of us, as we were driving about 50 miles an hour. Fortunately, my brakes must be good. One escaped behind the car. The other was directly in our path but leaped past at the last split-second. We saw its eye, appearing full of terror, as we missed it, literally by inches. Whew! That got the adrenaline flowing.

Two of Mary's Lifestream Way friends, originally from India, were murdered this past New Year's Eve. This is rather horrible. Mary is pretty shaken by it, naturally enough! These were among the many who had helped greatly during Ralph's long illness, after his brain tumor was diagnosed.

1/8/01-Mon.-No more than 295 days remain for me at ye ol' state salt mines. Concerning the backlog progress countdown I began last week, for today the record is positive. Although I did not get out more cases than received (just matching that number instead), I did reduce the pending actions by three, despite having to take two-three hours off to respond to my jury summons. Fortunately, that was a formality this time, as the needed hundreds for juror panels, for upcoming court actions, were found before getting to me. So, except for a few interruptions such as doctor appointments, two of which I have this month, the way now seems clear for me to concentrate on getting completely caught up in my work over the next many weeks.

On my drive over to where we were assembling for the jury procedures, I spotted, noisily flying by near the river, seven monk parakeets, which, as said before, I've chosen to consider as my own personal good omens! These creatures used to belong, in any quantity, only to tropical areas or pet stores. Yet, in recent years the cheerful and social beings have spread as far north as near the ocean in New England, hanging out together in ways that assure warmth in the severest northern U.S. coastal regions, using such tricks as roosting with thick nests in the lighted signs around shopping centers or around (unnaturally warm) transformers, next to the lights for outdoor sporting events, etc. In central Texas, they have been known also to use a few of the many limestone caves, which, of course, tend to stay relatively warm even when ice and snow are causing havoc on our local highways. Some see their presence in the formerly northern temperate states as one more evidence of global warming. Could be. I think, though, it is more likely evidence of their natural intelligence and adaptability.

There have been a few communications recently among some of us in the extended Wagner family concerning celebrations of my sister, Alice's, 50th birthday anniversary, coming up this spring. Mom is suggesting going out to CA for our family reunion. This would be a lot of trouble and expense, but certainly is what Alice (whose been actively lobbying for it for years---so no question of a big surprise!) wants. As we are not all (all?---not any!) as well off as she and her husband (with he having a fabulous high-tech job income and they a California house currently appraised at close to $3,000,000), the prospect gives pause. Still, I think it likely that, one way or another, with good or ill will, we shall manage some grand "do" for the lady. It will be interesting to see how all this comes about. At the moment Mom is doing what planning has occurred; and, indeed, it is she who likely would foot most of the bill, unless the bottom drops out of the stock market. In fact, realizing how much it would mean to Alice, I too have encouraged our making such a large gesture, though at the moment it seems quite a stretch for us. Jeanie did help motivate folks toward a similar festivity on my behalf when I turned the half-century mark, seven years ago, though, on that occasion, things were done at the much more convenient then family homestead, where we'd been holding family reunions for years.

Despite early fatigue and cold and seeming "not in the mood," Fran and I had a really fun time in bed Sat. night!

Seldom long without some big, generous, creative project in process, my darling Fran has offered to make a web site for Alice, in honor of her milestone, keeping it updated for her thereafter, something Fran had already done for her own sister. I am impressed and grateful for her proposal, though I worry that, as Alice and my spouse have very different personalities and have not always gotten along, the long-term relationship this would require could sooner or later involve extra stress, on me if not on the women themselves!

Tonight after work I did a conditioning exercise session while watching "The Nightly Business Report." This is a favorite viewing tradition of mine, especially if I have some inside exercise to do.

Fran fixed us a scrumptious supper tonight of spaghetti with shrimp-and-spicy-tomato sauce, plus all the trimmings. Mmm!

1/9/01-Tues.-No more than 294 remain. A drearily, tooth gnashingly frustrating shift. I got one more case out than came in. Pending actions, however, leaped higher. It is as if, for 2001 steps forward, there were 2000 backward. The Myth of Sisyphus, by Albert Camus, comes to mind.

Tonight, Fran is busy with a rehearsal. Pepper and I took a long walk; but the rage lingers from another tortured day in the trenches.

1/10/01-Wed.-No more than 293 remain. Had only a 4½ hour shift today because of a doctor's appt. and labwork, my annual physical. I'm noticeably getting older and have added a couple pounds since last year (stress-related consuming, I suppose); but essentially I received a clean bill of health.

The time away from work was rather more irksome than otherwise because the doctor took 45 minutes to get around to seeing me, while I enjoyed the pleasures of sitting in one of those silly hospital gowns that tie in the back (if you could ever reach back there and feel well enough to tie) and are the next thing to complete nudity but not nearly as attractive. I think whoever invented those things must have gotten him or herself an extended stay in hell for the effort, at least if any hell (or justice) exists.

So, because of the late start, the daily ration of regular plus catch-up work was of necessity somewhat reduced. In fact, it was still further limited by my quarterly evaluation, right in the middle of the rest of an otherwise productive shift. Of course, the rating and subsequent pep-talk were no surprise: my supervisor, as usual, advised me to do more with less but allowed as how I was managing very well except for those things in which I was not, and for which I could be fired. He admitted that the deficiencies were partly an artifact of the way the managers were distributing the cases, the easy, quick ones going to other folks, while we got the hard, long development ones, so that our stats. were skewed into the "red," relative to the new, artificial average, but said there would be no adjustment of the expectations in consideration of this, that we must simply do about 10% better than we've ever been expected to do before. In short, it was yet another example of how ours is the best of all possible jobs!

For today, though, I did get things somewhat better organized and, considering the short time left for it, accomplished quite a bit.

We had lots of rain, officially about 1½ inches, today, which slowed traffic a lot but was needed by our thirsty yards and gardens, even if it is the semi-dormant winter season.

1/11/01-Thurs.-No more than 292 remain. Got one more case out than in today, so, on the pending cases front, am currently two ahead of where I expected to be in my work reduction planning last week. Right on! Pending cases now are at 123 instead of 125. (Three down and 24 to go!)

This coming weekend is when Mom and my sister-in-law, Mary, arrive to join me in celebrating Mom's holiday gift and Mary's soon upcoming 50th birthday anniversary, with a great meal out at West Lynn Cafe, in the company of Fran and me, followed by the Austin Lyric Opera performance of "Cold Sassy Tree," in which Fran is performing, as part of the orchestra. This work has been getting good reviews. Mom is due to arrive tomorrow evening and Mary on Sat. morning.

Fran's Uncle Joe, her dad's brother, died this past Tues. Fran and he were not close, at least not in recent years, but we realize her dad must be feeling badly about the loss. She's expecting to shop tonight for sympathy cards from us, for Joe's wife (Fran's aunt), Sarah, and for her dad.

1/12/01-Fri.-No more than 291days remain for me at the state workplace. Got one more case out than in today, so, on the pending cases front, am currently three ahead of where I expected to be in my work reduction planning last week. Pending cases now are at 122 instead of 125. (Four down and 23 to go.) Yet, the number of pending case actions has skyrocketed. Bother!

1/14/01-Sun.-Lascivious dreams. Up a little after eight. Mary, Mom, Fran, and I had gotten in after midnight, from the opera. On our way home, I was chauffeuring, using Mom's van. A large, healthy looking raccoon raced just ahead of us across our path; but we missed it.

Mary wondered what will become of the wildlife after we've cut down almost all the trees, for development. But Homo sapiens has already, in the last several hundred years, cut most of them down, in many places. The trends are just accelerating. If they persist at anything like the recent rate, few undomesticated mammals, besides rodents, will remain by the end of the new millennium. But shall we ourselves as a species survive another thousand years? The odds would seem against it. Once we have gone, the rest of the natural world may enjoy a brilliant resurgence!

We all joined Ron at Golden Corral for a pleasant brunch buffet get-together. Then Mom headed on back to Waco. Mary returned with Fran and me and finished her visit with a walk through our backyard, looking over the gardens and ponds, etc., all needing much work after the decimation of recent ice storms, hard freezes, and minor floods. Then she too headed off, toward Houston.

It was a nice visit, overall. Yet we're glad to have the rest of today and most of tomorrow (Fran still playing in performances today and Mon.) off, rather free, and to ourselves, for exercise, rest, taking care of a variety of projects and chores, and a bit of extraneous sex, all thanks to the Martin Luther King holiday.

This P.M., while Fran is at the Bass Concert Hall, I rented a couple videos, cashed in coins for credit from the unit coffee fund, picked up sugar, coffee, and creamer supplies, went for a short walk with Pepper, on which we saw another white-tailed deer, and picked up the mail.

Tonight, it is Fran's turn for a long massage. We're getting back to our usual routines.

1/16/01-Tues.-No more than 290 days remain. Reduced pending past due case actions by a net total of three; but the pending cases themselves went up one. Must rectify this situation---and in fact subtract a net of two from my cases--- tomorrow, to stay on target.

My doctor's nurse called me at work today. In addition to the workload being too high, so is my cholesterol. They want to see evidence I'm getting it down on my own through exercise and diet, or I'll need to start cholesterol-lowering medication. I've been using the excuse of the extra job stress to eat, more or less, what I want to, and to slack off a little on my exercise program. My cholesterol is not astronomical. It's been higher. But the "bad cholesterol" is now 165; and they say it should be 130 or below. So, another area needing extra effort.

Fran came home sick tonight, extremely tired, almost but not quite as wiped out as she'd felt many weeks ago when we'd both gotten food poisoning. She went to bed early and without supper, feeling quite weak. Hope she gets to feeling better soon!

Pepper and I took a walk in the cold drizzle this evening, much to her delight.

My related site, Phil's Place, is among a little more than 100 poetry web sites that one search engine is now highlighting as the top such internet locations. OK!

1/17/01-Wed.-No more than 289 days remain. Pending case actions again spiked up and, thanks to a special meeting called by my supervisor (in which he reiterated his "pep talk," to get more cases out than come in and to do it without checking with our consultants, to save time), plus returns of cases by our consultants, who did not like the way I'd done the cases without first checking with them and wanted me to redo them according to their guidance (thus spinning my wheels and wasting time), plus three cases that had several complicated issues, I was again not successful in reducing the net level of cases on my tally. Extremely discouraging! I shall, after today, not focus on reducing pending cases or case actions at all, my obtuse supervisor notwithstanding, but instead zero-in on specific things completely under my control, such as definitive action on five of the oldest pending cases each shift or as thoroughly completing four cases per day until and unless the backlog is below a reasonable level.

Tonight I was still wound up so tightly after the frustrations of the workday that I felt like smashing things by the time I got home. Fortunately, playing with the dog serves as a good safety valve.

I'm looking forward to a hot bath and to watching one of my favorite TV programs, "The West Wing."

Fran is also planning on fixing a nice meal this evening. She's still not back from teaching. Considering how ill she was last night, with very little sleep, I doubt she has had a great day today either.

1/23/01-Tues.-No more than 285 days remain.

Fran's had a cold the last few days, which results in less sleep for both of us. We also got the new issue of our monthly online newsletter, "The Wagnerian Express," out over the weekend, with hardcopies for a few other readers, who lack internet access, Xeroxed and ready to mail last night.

All in all, we're rather exhausted, which accounts for no entries here or in Phil's Place the last few days.

On the work front, two of my long-term colleagues separately stopped me in the hall today to vent about how overwhelmed they're feeling, with caseloads sky high and no help in sight from management which, instead, as usual, keeps expecting us to do more and more with less and less. Like me, these friends feel they've been on this same faster-and-faster treadmill for years and are quite depressed and stressed out about it. Unfortunately, there are no signs that the administration will change its tack. The best any of us "old-timers" can hope for is that we make it through to retirement before they decide to fire us, for not keeping up with the ever increasing demands. People keep dropping like flies, sometimes literally, with illness, resignation before retirement benefits would kick in (to avoid being canned), etc. It is not that we are all bad workers. Rather, we work like dogs, year in and year out, now just trying to finally get our crust of retirement bread. Morale is shot; but who cares!?

In my personal situation, the last couple days of the previous week proved as productive as that week's first two days, after the federal holiday, were the opposite. So, it was with some relief and sense of accomplishment that I began the weekend! The first two days of this week, however, were yet a new chapter in a book called Purgatory, as one thing after another has gone wrong and, for the 1000th time or so, the place makes me feel, as my sister "psychically read" me over a decade ago with respect to this job, "like screaming through the ears" (since it is not feasible or expedient to ventilate any other way, though the impulse is there and must come out in some way!

Fran and I had a delicious meal at The Olive Garden last night. Mmm! We also had another delightfully affectionate time during the weekend, despite otherwise being fatigued, etc. Glad some things still work, and work out, well!

1/25/01-Thurs.-No more than 283 days remain. The work situation was very modestly improved today, with one more case out than came in but frustratingly little net reduction in the overall pending actions.

Fran and I have received significant aggravation from my brother, Pete, in the last few days. First, he cut-and-pasted several of our addressees from an e-mail we send out each month, about the latest issue of The Wagnerian Express, onto an e-mail of his own and used it to send out a very profane, almost incoherent "story," for which he gave no explanation other than that folks might find it of interest. He did not bother even to assure that the people to whom he sent it were ones he knew. Among others, he sent this rather perverse, vulgar example of what he regarded as "art" to Fran's parents as well as to some teenagers from very fundamentalist Christian families.

After I had sent him an e-mail strongly taking exception to his using our e-mail addressees in this fashion and to using them for sending essentially pornography on the web (an offense for which he was canned by Compaq not quite two years ago), he apparently went ballistic. Since then he's been acting as if he's in the internet highway version of road rage, sending a volley of alternately cajoling and angry e-mails (40-50 so far!). When I indicated that we evidently just cannot agree on what is appropriate e-mail communication and etiquette, and so I would write nothing more on the matter, failing then to respond to his next several inflammatory messages, he began calling us at home, even in the middle of the night, so that we began screening our calls and not answering if it were Pete. He even began a long series of sarcastic, profane, hostile calls to my work number. The situation left me ill by yesterday evening, so that I e-mailed him indicating I'd informed my supervisor and, if necessary, the security folks at my job would need to take steps if his calls to my job continued. Meanwhile, we have begun disconnecting our phone at night. I have also, since he refuses to agree not in future to use our e-mails for his cutting and pasting (saying that this is just how it is done by efficient users of computers today), deleted him from our e-mail addresses for such group distributions. My expectation is that it will be at least a few weeks before he and I can get back to easygoing relations. I am more than a little upset by him. We're still having to take precautions against his electro/telephonic terrorism. But this is the sort of thing with which one must deal periodically when in a large family of rather diverse and often dysfunctional personalities. At least he is now living in CA. Things could be much worse if he lived right here!

I had an eye exam, complete with dilation, yesterday morning. The doctor said I have had a small change in visual acuity, that makes new glasses worthwhile, but that there is no rush. He indicated there is no glaucoma and no evidence of cataracts or other serious vision problems.

Pete's recently highly unstable behavior makes me think of the risks some run who have wide mood swings, which can add color and vibrancy to life but can be dangerous to oneself or others as well. In my own early youth I sometimes had difficulties with intense anger; but, in contrast to Pete, it was usually turned inward, so that I was several times close to suicide, even being hospitalized after one attempt, and living on after another only through chance circumstances.

Just as a ship in a storm, which may swing wildly from side to side, can always right itself if it does not swing too far over, but will likely capsize and sink if a critical threshold of swing is exceeded, so with even highly intelligent people who are caught up in the stormy vicissitudes of life. A person's ship may become unable to right itself before foundering. Many good folks have thus been lost. One, Eve, I "met" through her web site. Though she is tragically no longer with us, Mark, her very significant other, keeps the site alive.

1/26/01-Fri.-No more than 282 days remain. Considering that I endured Pete's assaults this workweek and was out essentially all of one morning with an eye appt. and dilation, I did well to reduce the case backlog slightly, between last week and this.

Tonight, Fran and another of The Baltic Buzzards, Sam, are rehearsing over at our place. And we are having a couple guests, Harriet and Carl Gold, though they've not yet shown up and are already a half-hour late. Sigh. Once they finally arrive, it should be fun. As usual, once the music starts, Pepper goes into her perpetual howling routine. It's very cute but also pretty darned distracting. We'll soon have to put her outside, so the musicians can do their thing without so much "competition."

Later: Harriet and Carl arrived and we had a nice visit. They were late for a very good but sad reason. One of Harriet's friends from work, another psychiatrist, besides the one she now works for as a receptionist, died today of unexpected complications from chemotherapy for recently discovered leukemia. She was busy helping the bereft family with notifications.

1/28/01-Sun.-Have been getting more aggravating e-mails from Pete. I suppose I am being too sensitive; but he is really getting my goat, with rude, aggressive, immature behavior and communications. He never worked so hard at being likeable as he's been, in the last several days and nights, endeavoring to be obnoxious. It is one of those times when one must simply maintain civility, a kind of strained politeness, because someone is "family," though, if it were anyone else, one would be free to say "Go to hell!" and have nothing ever further to do with them. He now makes sarcastic references, to my not immediately and completely forgiving him, in e-mails to the rest of my family (with copy to us), but of course fails to mention to them the outrageous behavior on his part that was the reason we are feeling a need for some emotional and time distance from him for awhile. Instead of letting us have a "cooling off period," he keeps up these silly, one-sided e-mails. So be it! Although I'll refrain from following his lead in sending my version of events to the family, I had already told him it would be better to let us just have a vacation from such messages. Since, once more, he chooses to ignore me, I'll put off any real rapprochement with him till he does give us our requested greater space, and also ceases all the e-mail innuendo he dashes off for others' benefit.

I have had a problem this weekend with insufficient rest. Even though I have gotten about half as much accomplished as intended, I have not been sleeping that well or long, and feel exhausted already, in the middle of the evening. No doubt it is partly the result of the situation with Pete. But my work comes first. I must be well rested for the job over most of next week. I expect to therefore hit the hay a little early tonight.

We had a couple nice walks this weekend. We also enjoyed a special dinner out, one I'd promised Fran as part of her Christmas present last month. On our way home, for a long stretch we were on the speedway called Mopac, which has lots of grass (where rodents probably hang out and thrive) in a large median as well as on both sides. Here we saw four large birds on top of the light posts, which we think were red-tailed hawks. Once when we were driving by we had seen a hawk still on the ground in this same area, holding in its talons some prey it had just caught. Cool.

Speaking of cool, although it has been fairly balmy the last couple days, a front is due in later tonight, bringing with it a high chance of more rain and of significantly lowered temperatures.

1/30/01-Tues.-Error adjustment: now 274 (or less) actual workdays remain at my best of all possible jobs. This date at the salt mines had its share of onerous goings on. Nonetheless, I at least again got one more case out than in!

Terribly tired, once more, though, after the emotional drain of the shift. Expect that, once again, I'll head for bed early. Pepper and I'll go for a walk first.

Have been adding web rings to my diary and poetry sites.

1/31/01-Wed.-273 (or less) actual workdays left. Another month at the state's minimum security prison has come to an end!

Assets in our investment portfolio were up and down last year, but finished at about $620,000, an increase of about 12% from a year earlier, despite the fact that the stock market averages were significantly down in the same period. While this plus our $20,000 annual retirement annuity would be enough to live on indefinitely, we are hoping for a cushion of an extra $90,000 or so above this (about $330/workday) before my tenure with the bureaucracy comes to a final conclusion. In other words, we want, as a minimum, if possible, at least $715,000 by the end of March, 2002, which, with medical benefits plus the value of the annuity (as if it were the principal required, if very conservatively invested, to provide $20,000 a year), should easily provide us the buying power of a million dollars. If we make it, we'll have something to be proud of, for, at the end of 1985 our total net assets were only $5000. Since then, our average annual earnings and other income, in the form of a few gifts from parents (perhaps $2500 a year), have averaged only about $45,000 for the two of us, though in recent years they've been closer to $60,000. In fact, in 1987 we lost quite a bit in the crash and essentially had to start over. Since then, to achieve the net current assets we have now without the increases from our investments, would have required adding, besides gifts and through savings alone, about $44,000 a year or, essentially, well above our net earnings a year after taxes!

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