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February, 2001: 3 5 10 12 14 19 22 23 24 26 27 28


(1999-2002: Pre-Retirement Years)

Oregon Coast.

2/3/01-Sat.-271(or less) actual workdays left. This past week I finally made a little real headway in reducing the caseload backlog. The boss even found occasion to applaud my low aged cases rate and good quality. I shall try to remember such high praise through the inevitable times ahead when the stats. are less favorable.

A neat site worth checking is Writings of the Heart. Ellen, the web page manager, has a wide variety of her own writings accessible here, plus abundant links to resources for other writers. One of the first of her pieces I read is called "Goodbye My Sweet Pet," a submission occasioned by a friend's dilemma, at the end of a favorite dog's life, whether it is now time to have the pet put to sleep. Fran and I are as devoted (almost) to our dog, Pepper, as she to us and dread the day when she'll no longer be with us. After about 11½ years, we know that that time is coming, hopefully not really soon. Anyway, by coincidence, I wrote a series of poems for Fran, back in the 1980s, and called it "Seeing through the Heart." By yet another coincidence, I did one, which I called "Old Man, Buried Dog" (2/26/87) on a somewhat similar theme. My satellite site, Phil's Place, is meant to be for new, original poetic and/or stream of consciousness writing. But on this occasion I am making an exception. So, the entry there for today was actually written almost fourteen years ago. But it has never been published elsewhere and just seemed to fit.

As the reader would be aware who has perused these entries very much, I have not been shy about expressing strong opinions on political or other matters. I have a decidedly liberal point of view, though it is getting a bit frayed around the edges now that Fran and I are hoping to retire with a fairly secure nest egg and will be wanting to keep it, which puts us a little more into the fiscally conservative camp usually linked to the Republican Party. Basically, however, my expressed and natural agenda for the body politic is one rather to the left of center. So, it was not with great delight that I saw the course of events that lead to our current presidency.

I do not, however, in any way condone the immorality with which the just previous administration has been so glaringly associated and in which the Clintons have just, again, rubbed our noses, through actions in the waning days of their occupancy of the White House. Unfortunately, they have made it clear that the smell they leave may be with us for some time to come! To the extent they have thus made the efforts of sincere, serious-minded liberals more difficult in the days ahead, I have nothing but contempt for them.

There is hardly anything I like about the new Bush presidency. But I give "George W." credit at least for this, that extremely early he made it clear there would be zero tolerance even for the appearance of impropriety among his staff, cabinet, etc. I hope he sticks with this policy!

2/5/01-Mon.-270(or less) workdays left. I got one more case out than in.

In a dream last night, my eighteen year old nephew, Jim, and I were enjoying a closer and more mutually supportive, reciprocal relationship than we've ever had in reality. Pretty obviously a bit of wish-fulfilling imagination. I've longed for such a rapport with him but been repeatedly thwarted from anything like it. Oh well. At least it was a briefly pleasant fantasy. Jim has not sent so much as an e-mail (though he has received several from me in the interim), nor even an acknowledgement of a gift, from his new college digs. He's still coming to terms, and may be for the rest of his life, with the death of his dad, my brother Ralph, after a long battle with brain cancer, when Jim was barely eight. He had adored his father.

Over the years, I'd traveled to Houston for long weekend visits with he and his mom, Mary. Occasionally we had seemed to really hit it off. My time spent there almost always seemed to give him at least a small lift. But, in reality, he never quite opened up. He and Mary, the not so well loved parent, would frequently get into big battles even in my presence. She made things worse, it appeared to me, in various ways, but mainly by letting him know that she agreed with him, and felt terribly guilty over it, that she could never be as good at motherhood as Ralph had seemed as a father. If not for the tumor, who knows how Ralph would have turned out as a dad? Our own father had been no great example. But in Jim's early years, Ralph was super at the job. His loss was a huge blow to Jim.

A few months ago, as the decisions needed to be made about who would go to his high school graduation, he was quite clear: he wanted Pete (who'd lived nearby in the Houston area for a number of years, since even before Ralph's illness began) and I to be there, since Mary was inclined to invite us, but only if we had no expectations of him, explaining that he would be too busy with his friends (in fact, when the weekend arrived, spending quite a bit of time with us, however), and only if we understood that he was not looking for anyone to be a substitute dad. Naturally, Pete and I both assured him we just wanted a regular uncle/nephew involvement, though, in truth, perhaps we'd hoped for more. Of course, in reality and in Jim's heart, we could never replace his father! He might even himself have wished very much at one time that we could. Perhaps the emphatic way he has tended to hold us at a distance was partly to keep himself from yielding, to an inclination that might have seemed a betrayal, or to the potential for other great hurts later on. As the Buddhists say, the root of suffering is desire. For both Jim and his uncles, things simply are as they are. To accept them so is to know peace. (Yet, this is not easy!)

2/10/01-Sat.-266 (or less) workdays left. I got several more cases out than in this past week!

In a dream last night, I am tickled to the point of laughter, and thus awaken chuckling, on realizing the Freudian significance of the dream's own imagery: I discover that I have something hard stuck in the front of my pants. On investigating, I find it is a dip-stick. I pull it out and am amazed at how long it is. I at first cannot figure out (still in the dream) why I'd be dreaming of such a thing stuck there in the front of my pants and am a little annoyed at how impractical and in the way it is to have such a tool in such a place, only then to be surprised and greatly amused at the perfect sense it makes from a Freudian perspective. Indeed, on fully waking up, I find that my own actual "dip-stick" has also become relatively long and hard, in a way that is, at that moment, rather inconveniently located and quite impractical! Fran, having gotten up earlier and being in another part of the house, is also rather inconveniently located to properly appreciate my predicament. Perhaps a more opportune time and place will occur. I suspect that sooner rather than later she may need to have her lubricant checked, and perhaps more added.

2/12/01-Mon.-Error adjustment: 262 (or less) workdays left. Last night we got to sleep fairly late (explanation in prior entry). I also woke up two or three times. Today I felt exhausted. Was not able to get out more cases than I received, but at least kept it even. Hope to do better in most of the rest of the week.

With some airlines under the threat of strike action in coming months, the cheapest fair carriers are likely to be booked up early. So, given that Fran and I intend to join much of the rest of my family for a California visit and reunion, in June (to help my sister, Alice, celebrate her 50th birthday), I have been looking up flight info. A good possibility is a Southwest Airlines roundtrip for about $240 each, including taxes and fees. The tickets, if they have this deal, though, will be nonrefundable and may go on sale as early as tomorrow. Accordingly, today, I asked my boss if I could have the time off I would need for the trip. He agreed.

Am just beginning to get a little excited about this upcoming vacation, now that it looks like it will really happen. While Fran is interested in going to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, I am at least as hopeful of our getting to the large Prairie Creek Redwood State Park, with lots and lots of huge, old growth trees, plus several miles of beaches, hiking trails, wildlife, etc. But it would mean more traveling. The alternative, closer redwood parks are tiny and generally no longer have the conditions that made these forests possible in the first place. They are far less dramatic and give only a bare hint of the real majesty of these magnificent forests. I was taken to one of these lesser parks by my sister and brother-in-law when I was out there in '94. It was interesting, but a depressing let-down. In contrast, I had gone to one of the truly giant redwood parks, farther north, when I'd been living in the area in the sixties. Wow! Unfortunately, there are just a few days when we'll be on our own, after the weekend of camaraderie with relatives. So, hard choices will be needed.

2/14/01-Wed.-Valentine's Day (1:10 A.M.). Ironic, since this past evening Fran and I had an argument as we wrestled with the details of the vacation upcoming in June. Fran sharply put in her wisdom with the statement: "You can't always have what you want." Of course not. But that was not, to my view, the issue. Suddenly I've little desire to have this time off and wonder, not for the first time, how we'll manage to get along in retirement, assuming, of course, that I do not get fired before that blessed event. Now, once again, as on our return from a not absolutely blissful honeymoon, when the prospect of similar battles for the rest of my life was so distressing I could not keep supper down, I cannot sleep. The day was already a glimpse of hell due to several things going wrong at once, including a poor case review at work, as I'd followed my boss' guidelines for what should have priority if I were behind, only to have him give me a major gig for things which, in that analysis, he'd indicated that, if I had to choose, I should give lowest emphasis. Too late now to avoid many similar criticisms, since for over a month I've been following his earlier advice, to get more cases out than in, rather than staying as caught up on ongoing development of the existing files. Meanwhile, the "slough of despond" is aggravated by the current insomnia, with all its consequences for slowed mental processing and lack of resistance to further black depressions, or for making too much of things, not keeping them in proper perspective. Once I finally do get caught up on adequate slumber, perhaps this emotional pit will seem as insignificant as an antlion's hole. But at the moment, with everything coming together in the wrong way, it seems more like one of the deepest of ocean trenches, from which it may never be possible to escape.

Later. Sure enough, with more sleep, the world looks much different. The latest storm of depression and rage, born of great fatigue, some disappointments, and renewed anxiety over my work situation, has subsided and passed on into whatever region such weather patterns retreat when they depart our consciousness. Tonight, even if all is not right with the world, at least things look pretty good on our tiny one-third of God's little acreage. It is now a lovely time for celebrating the romantic dyad and for recommitting to the caring, intimate relationship we share, despite the occasional meteorological disturbance.

Still later. Fran gave me a really neat surprise as part of our Valentine's Day gift exchanges: a new links page addition to The Vintage Diarist. It is so cool. This evening we also learned that we are being featured for our Wagner Home Page on a popular site that showcases some of the best pages on the web. Alright!

2/19/01-Mon.-Presidents' Day - Up about 7:10. Vague memories of a dream in which someone had to die. Second time in less than a month for that theme in the slumber-land images.

"How does the typical U.S. matron differ from her French, English, Italian, Russian, Chinese, Mexican, Afghani, Turkish, Polynesian, etc. counterparts?" I wonder.

I was out-of-town, in Waco, most of the weekend, visiting with Mom, Mary, and others. Had an OK time. However, things were somewhat hectic and in semi-crisis mode because Pete had lost about his fifth job in less than two years, having been fired (for the second time in two years) from a good position. He is taking it badly and phoning, e-mailing, and complaining to all who'll listen. Fortunately, Fran and I are now pretty well out of his loop, since we have essentially broken off all but regular mail communications with him after his outrageous behavior a few weeks ago.

Fran had a lot of troubles over Sat. and Sun., mainly over hassling with a new "CD burner" that she'd installed in our computer but which had then reconfigured things in the hard drive in unexpected and very dysfunctional ways. She's frustrated enough with it to likely return it this week, going with a zip drive system instead. One or the other system will be her birthday present from me.

Tonight we have an advance birthday party for Fran and Sam at West Lynn Cafe.

2/22/01-Thurs.-Another terrible night, though that's of course relative. I had plenty of worse nights while helping to look after my brother Ralph when he was dying of brain cancer. Last night was nothing like that. It was just notable for more insomnia and worry over the job situation, though, in fact, things are slowly improving there. Today I even got two "happy faces" from my best of all possible bosses.

I think I'm down to 255 days, max., left at this state employment, once our June vacation days are counted out.

Fran is watching a videotape of episodes in the life of our youngest nephew, Jay, Fran's proud sister, Trudy's, and brother-in-law, Scott's, baby, now about 22 months old. Peacefully entertaining.

We've had a hectic week, including a lot of hassles for Fran with our computer system, as above, and a trip to Waco for me, etc. Still, we finished off the latest issue of "The Wagnerian Express" and e-mailed it out Mon. night, with hardcopy to a few, who still cannot (or won't, like my sister-in-law, Mary) access the internet, mailed out this morning.

I spent a few minutes once home this evening perusing the online diary pages of several other internet journalists, some of whom are pretty good at this hobby. My favorite was NovaNotes.

A columnist for "Forbes," in the last copy, predicts a 1973-1974 version bear market, to be completed within the next 1-2 years. If he's right, our equities portfolio could in that amount of time lose at least $200,000. Groan!

2/23/01-Fri.-Another workweek has ended! 254 (or less) days remain for me at ye ol' state purgatory. Today, again, an incremental step forward was made and not undone by backward slides. There is reason to hope at least for light at the end of this bureaucratic career tunnel.

Austin's traffic scene is not too pleasant. I remember driving in Houston a lot, back when I'd visit there on long weekends to see Ralph and Mary, when I was working out of an office in Orange, Texas. The traffic then, in that earlier megalopolis, was as bad as Austin's is now during rush-hour; and I recall thinking how glad I was not to have to live there and deal with that everyday! Fran and I now routinely spend an hour or more traveling in stop-and-go gridlock to go a few miles that should take only a third or half as long to traverse.

Listening to "Film Score Focus" once more, this Fri. eve., and enjoying it a great deal, as usual.

I took Pepper out tonight for a brisk walk in our neighborhood, with relatively sultry weather for the time of year. This past week I happened, for the first time I can remember, to be thinking how odd that, over the many years I've been walking for exercise, at least since childhood, I cannot recall ever having a bad fall. I've slipped. I've bumped into things. I've tripped and barely caught myself, etc. But, as luck would have it, I do not believe I've taken a real spill, except in play, as with sports or horsing around with young nieces or nephews. This evening, though, in the dark, one shoe caught on a raised part in the sidewalk as Pepper and I were speeding along. Before I had any chance to react to protect myself, I was lying flat, half on the sidewalk and half on a muddy part of someone's yard. The spill was more a surprise than injurious. But I did get some scrapes and bruises and will have fairly sore right shoulder and knee joints for awhile. Pepper, briefly freed from her leash, fortunately did not go far, hanging around after going on barely twenty more feet, waiting for her master to stop his silly game of slithering along the ground.

Last night I chanced upon a cool site, Story Circle Network---for Women with Stories to Tell, a non-profit organization, by coincidence based in Austin, I believe, which uses a variety of means to encourage women everywhere in writing and storytelling pursuits. Check out their web pages! They have newsletters, journals, workshops, and several other ways to provide encouragement for female authors. We men may have reason to envy the efforts the ladies are making along these lines and could wish for our own such network. Fortunately, there are a lot of resources for our gender as well, some of which are included in the site's list of favorite links. My mom is a would-be writer and sometime storyteller herself, indeed quite actively so.

This is Fran's birthday weekend. She is 43 on Monday. Over the last few days she returned my first gift to her, the CD burner, from Best Buy, that messed things up so badly, getting a full refund. Tonight, she used my gift credit offer to buy a Zip Drive/Disk Set instead. When Pepper and I got back from our eventful perambulation (and yard-plowing action), she was busy installing and checking out the new toy which, unfortunately, soon was giving her almost as many fits as the plaything last weekend had. This time, though, there was a happy ending. The problem turned out to be just a bad disk! Once that was replaced, everything worked just as it should and she was happy again. The storm clouds cleared. The sun and her bright smile came out again. Now, a whole new vista of computer fun is opening up for her.

Fran's very busy in the next several days with all sorts of things, not least of which is the next Austin Lyric Opera production, this time, "Die Walküre," by Richard Wagner. With a name like that, it's got to be good! Just kidding, of course. I am very aware of the controversy over this artist and the Nazi uses of his works. I admire the music. I deplore tyranny and racism in any forms.

Speaking of birthdays and music, today is the anniversary of George Frideric Handel's birth, Feb. 23, 1685. Even if unfamiliar with his other works, most will know of his "Messiah." Christmas seasons have not been without this magnificent piece since he composed and introduced it over 250 years ago!

2/24/01-Sat.-On this day, in 1836, Santa Anna began the bombardment of the Alamo, a Spanish mission, turned fort, in San Antonio. Its handful of Texan defenders called for help and vowed to stay to their deaths if necessary. Thirteen days passed, during which other Texans were organized for the cause, but not before the siege of The Alamo had ended with a ninety-minute battle on the thirteenth day. All the Texas fighters were killed. Their fellow Texans' rallying cry, "Remember the Alamo," however, led soon enough afterward to victory for the Texans against the Spanish and to the independence of Texas from Spanish controlled Mexico. This was but the first stage in the breakup of the Spanish empire in North America. Eventually the young United States would take over not only Texas, but also what is now New Mexico, Arizona, and California, thus our two most populous states and then some, from Spain and Mexico. The conquest of these vast new territories, giving our country a relatively easily protected span of southern territories and states, joining two oceans plus the Gulf of Mexico, was seen in terms of manifest destiny by the people of the United States, who viewed themselves as superior to the Spanish, Mexican, and native Indian populations, who had already occupied the lands. Perhaps, however, it was simply a matter of might making "right," of opportunities there for the taking, of clashes of cultures. The greatness of our nation and its blend of peoples today owes much to this heritage from many backgrounds. We need not still contend, against the apparent historical reality, that we somehow were justified in taking the Southwest U.S. territories or that they were even ours by some divine intention. Those lands were simply confiscated. Our white Anglo Saxon Protestant ancestors took them from the Spanish and Mexicans as they, in turn, had taken them from the native populations. We are not thereby better than anyone else. We were simply the most recent conquerors. Someday, other folks may well take them from us or our descendants. Am I glad they are now in U.S. control and not still part of Mexico? Of course! I have as much self-interest as the next person. But let's keep our facts straight about what actually occurred.

2/26/01-Mon.-Fran's 43rd Birthday Anniversary-Besides a romantic interlude last night, Fran's birthday weekend concluded this evening with opening her gifts (and Pepper's, for she always gets into the act when we're opening presents). I also took her to Landry's, overlooking Town Lake, for a tasty seafood supper. Along with various antics among the ducks and domesticated geese we could view from our table, we saw an Egyptian goose, an unusual species to observe around here!

Fran's sister called to wish her a happy birthday and they talked for close to an hour. It's still mid-winter up in Wisconsin, where her sister lives, with two feet of fresh snow on the ground. Their utility bills are out of sight, the natural gas alone costing about five times as much as our monthly charge.

We're both pretty tired and so will try to avoid staying up too late.

Despite my fatigue, though, I got a lot accomplished at work today. Hooray!

2/27/01-Tues.-A small slice of my mind...They've cancelled the Fat Tuesday parade here in Austin for tonight; but who cares!...Sweet things going down on...Janie retiring tomorrow, lucky lady, wish it were me...Pepper hasn't been fed yet, oh my!...OK, now she has and is chowing down!...Frustration: another guest book that won't work right. Bother!... There's something in my left nostril, too far down to get at (without medical instruments), that's partly blocking the airflow. I hope it's just a piece of nose dirt plus accumulated semi-dried snot...How do you spell the slang of that thing, that rhymes with sugar!? Oh, it must be a really wow, man!...buger!...They're playing that piano on the classical station really loudly, as if with a sledgehammer...My back is aching again, my girth too great, my teeth too yellow, my breath...Larry showed me some pictures of candidates for his new Jack Russell terrier puppy, to replace the older dog that died just before Christmas when a tree fell on him...a lot of cute little pups, two litters to choose from, all of them related to the dearly departed, says he and his daughter will pick one out and take it home on 3/11...Fran's in rehearsal tonight with Austin Lyric Opera...I'm hungry...think I'll have some leftovers...tired too, but no time to sleep...the dictionary, a little light reading...what ever happened to Jungian psychotherapy?...Back later!

2/28/01-Wed.-Making good progress on the job, for a change. (251, or less, actual workdays remain there.) We gave my colleague, Janie, a good sendoff this afternoon. She had worked nearly two more years after qualifying for retirement. Go figure! Reportedly she did not need the extra money, just didn't want the loss of social interactions and sense of purpose that her work offered. Clearly, she got more out of government employment than most. Given that there is little enough incentive to work for the full amount and that, in state retirement, I'll be eligible for at least half as much income as I would take home if I kept working (plus paid medical), it would seem like laboring for just half-pay if I kept on at it after my first eligibility for retirement date, certainly not worth it! So, I plan on leaving just as soon as the retirement benefits kick in, at least unless in the interim we have gotten ourselves into another terrible economic depression or something equally horrendous.

Our weather here in Austin was rainy and cold again today. It is quite pleasant having the heat on at home tonight.

Fran fixed us a delicious, low-cholesterol meal for supper and managed it in only about 10-15 minutes!

I'll be watching, once more this Wednesday, my favorite TV program, "The West Wing."

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