5/1/01-Tues.-MAYDAY. Once more, unable to sleep. I do not think there are such things as karma or some personal and fixed destiny or fate, except as meaningful within a particular belief system. I am not generally superstitious. Nor do I have delusions about things working out in just one way because of something I have done or not done in a past life, parallel reality, etc. Nonetheless, when a particularly negative relationship develops and continues, year after year, with little respite, charged with emotional overtones, as between myself and my father and, recently, myself and my current manager, it would be easy enough to indulge in magical thinking and to believe that, in some bizarre fashion, these circumstances, tortuous, intense, complicated, and seemingly malevolent, were meant to be, that they were as inexorable and apparently beyond volition as the playing out of a bad dream from which, unfortunately, there seems to be no awaking. Despite my best efforts, the stats. for the just past month show I am deeper in the hole than ever. No matter that I am 20-25% more caught up than a month ago, the current mathematics of the situation make further duress from my best of all possible supervisors unavoidable. As I did when enduring a humiliating subjugation to my domineering, judgmental "old man," so now I hate the hours I must spend with another, similarly disposed overseer.
5/3/01-Thurs.-Despite all the political chatter on the radio waves right now, for Fran and me the most interesting and exciting news is that Pioneer 10, 28 years into its journey away from earth and now over seven billion miles away, arguably well outside our solar system, is still functioning, gathering data, and phoning home. Wow. Amazing what late sixties/early seventies technology could do!
5/6/01-Sun.-A lot's been happening in my primary family. Pete, of whom the news had been mainly negative in recent weeks and months, and who had "lost it" over a communication problem with me, after I'd objected to his sending a nearly incoherent and profane story via the Internet (a problem similar to the one for which he was fired from a major computer company) to a variety of addressees from one of our e-mails, including Fran's folks, and then lost his fifth technology company job in two years, this time because he could not get to work on time, five days in a row, has now gone into partnership with another of my brothers, Ernie, who has been doing pretty well with his own construction business. The idea behind the new venture sounds pretty good, buying fixer-upper houses in real-estate-booming California, getting them into great shape, and selling them at a steep markup over cost.
I read recently about a couple in Berkeley, only in their early thirties, who have doing this successfully for a few years and now are millionaires! It will be interesting to see how this works out for my siblings. Ernie is very good at running his own job. And he loves Pete a lot. It just might work out well for both of them, though Pete will have to overcome some major difficulties with his personality first. Supposedly he'll be in a foreman role in the CA side of the enterprise, while Ernie continues with the Texas and other states' endeavors. At the moment, though, Pete has very little experience with anything except marketing for computer and software companies. Construction and home improvement skills are not part of his resume. His people talents also have not proven to be good in his positions over the last few years. Nor has his judgment been terribly superior. So, he has given himself quite a challenge. Fran is convinced he'll fall flat on his face in this, as he has in everything else lately. But I think that, with Ernie's encouragement, he's got a shot at making this work out for them both.
Ernie, Pete, and Ron, my brother who lives here in Austin, all got together with Fran and me at the Golden Corral about a week ago, for a buffet supper visit. We had a surprisingly good time, after all the bad blood between Pete and me since about Feb. At our meal together there was much humor, some of it by Pete himself, at his own expense, discussing embarrassing incidents in his work for Ernie in the last couple weeks, as he is trying, with a crash, on-the-job course, to acquire basic construction and leadership abilities, with Ernie as his patient mentor.
In one instance, he was getting way too much concrete poured into some foundation support holes and one of the workers, who knew better than Pete how to get the concrete in there, was becoming really pissed and having to do a lot of extra shoveling. In another, Pete scraped a shin badly when he fell through the hardening surface of a hole full of concrete, when already almost beside himself with frustration. Funny stuff! But I can imagine that, at the time, he felt more like either crying or lashing out. Reminds me of some of my own early lawn care business woes, back in the 70s. Of course, I did not stick with that too long myself. If Pete does stay with this and is successful, I'll have a tremendous amount of respect for him, as it will have involved a big step up in maturity as well as a terrific amount of work.
Meanwhile, Ron has himself a new girlfriend, Claudia, whom he met over the Internet! They've been spending a lot of time together. She's apparently pretty smart and has a good computer job. She's well off too, having a nice place in western Austin, with her own horse. Ron's girls have been out there and really enjoy riding the horse and like Claudia. He says he's falling in love. This weekend all four of them are up in Waco visiting my mom. Hope it works out. Ron deserves a good break!
My sister, Alice, has recently had a D. and C., which she called "emergency surgery." She often seems to exaggerate and make too much of things. Now she is sending e-mail after e-mail about how hard it is dealing with this latest crisis in her life. She and her husband are quite well off and have a net worth of well over a million dollars. They live exceedingly well, with trips to Maui and many other exotic places common, great meals all the time, a super house in easy driving distance of beaches, mountains, etc. and in the great climate of northern California. She does not need to work, just plays around at teaching and "channeling," etc. as hobbies. So, it is difficult for me to get very sympathetic about her dire plight.
5/7/01-Mon.-Something seems to be wrong tonight with access to my online diary as well as to the Wagner Home Page, both AT&T sites. I suppose it's to do with our Internet Service Provider (ISP). Now that AT&T is having major corporate problems and plans to break up into four parts, I guess their reliability is open to question. I'll be optimistic as long as I can. Maybe this is just a temporary glitch.
We've been having major flea difficulties for close to two months now, despite all the Sevin dust, sprays, bombs, scalding salt water, vacuuming, etc. we and the pet can handle! This past weekend she was very sick. I cannot help wondering if it was a reaction to all the anti-flea stuff. Fortunately, she rallied and has gotten back to her normal self again. But the infestation is an obnoxious nuisance! We must get it corrected very soon! We spent nearly $80 Saturday for a seven month supply of Frontline Plus for Pepper. It had been recommended by our veterinarian brother-in-law, Scott. Yet, we dare not give Pepper any of it till the beginning of June because she's already had her Program pill for this month, for all the good it has done her (despite years of using it).
Fran was telling me about fleas in Alabama during the Civil War, how they would literally cover the soldiers for months at a time, not to mention problems with chiggers, mosquitoes, lice, worm parasites, etc. This does provide some perspective. Our current situation is clearly not that bad! But it is certainly aggravating. I must have at least a hundred welts, with every day five to ten new ones, no matter what we do! My legs are rough with the sores, all the way up into the thighs.
Changing the subject, I am really enjoying a rereading of Kapleau's The Three Pillars of Zen, which Harry had recommended to me over thirty years ago. Partly inspired by this work, I had a good meditation session tonight.
We both enjoyed the videotape of the film "Simon Birch," which we began viewing during Fran's massage yesterday (before one thing led to another). We finished it tonight and both agreed it is worth recommending to others. So, here's my raving review: it's a good 'un!
5/10/01-Thurs.-Today was a typically harried, frustrating one at my best of all possible job settings, until about 3:00 P.M. That's when I stopped for a rest, in the room set aside for males to do that on company time, and had a brief chat there with one of my colleagues, Gary, who is retiring next month. He's a little younger than I am and has about the same amount of service with the state I do. I asked him how he was managing to leave so soon, with full benefits. He said the secret was in the sick leave, that he had saved up over 700 hours of the stuff! I knew that both accrued sick and annual leave could be used, once you were already eligible to retire, to increase the annuity amount, but the possibility of using it also to depart the state earlier than normally permitted was definitely news. And I have over 1400 hours of sick leave built up, plus over 300 of annual.
He said that if not for that provision, he would not have been able to retire till next year. He pointed out that each 160 hours (or fraction thereof) counts for another month of state service. So, I calculated it out and discovered that, had I not already set up an accelerated earnings deferment through my 457 Plan (am setting aside from taxes $15,000 a year now, as I did last year as well), which requires that you be working for the full calendar year in which such accelerated deferments are made, I could have already retired at the end of last month!
As it is, I stand to lose potentially a few thousand dollars in penalties if I do not go through with all of this year's plan. So, the earliest I can take early retirement is 12/31/01. But that's still three months prior to the 3/31/02 date I'd most recently been expecting to say "goodbye forever" to my most wonderful of employment experiences, which itself was a delightfully much earlier time than the 10/26/03, age 60, date I had originally been thinking was the most favorable time I could get out of there with benefits.
Of course, if I were actually threatened with being imminently fired, I could still retire just any old time now, and to heck with the 457 Plan penalties. I hope and expect, though, that it will not come to that. And, if by some strange quirk I misjudge the situation and actually am fired by my best of all possible bosses, I'd have a precious few months remaining to work out my indentured servitude before being able to retire from some other state job, perhaps again, as in the early months of this journal, on the "graveyard shift" for a state school for the retarded.
It's not the way one looks forward to his/her last days with a major career; but then I long ago realized this job is not one to give any genuine sense of satisfaction. For all the "smiley faces" they've given me over the years, and despite having promoted me to the top of my career ladder awhile back, if you don't keep doing more and more "over and above" for this management, they can (and do) make your on-the-job life into a form of hell.
5/13/01-Sun.- Friday night, while listening to the "Film Score Focus" radio program, I completed the latest early journal chapter proofing: XX. It has now been added to the site. Up about 7 AM yesterday and headed up to Waco for visiting with Mom, Ernie and Caroline (and their children), Sally (Caroline's mom), down from Arkansas, and Horace and Leila (and their whole family, including Chris). Chris' girlfriend, Samantha, also showed up and spent Sat. evening with us. Since we all figured the major restaurants would be overwhelmed by the Mothers' Day weekend crowds, we ate all our meals at Mom's place; and some of us went out to the supermarket, the first afternoon, for extra food. Pete, whom I'd thought was currently back in CA, put in a surprise appearance about 7:00 that night and stayed through till after I'd left, about mid-afternoon today.
I roomed with William, Ernie and Caroline's boy, who is a bit hyperactive, perhaps partly due to his giving in at every opportunity to a craving for sugar and also indulging, though only ten, in sweet coffee and other caffeine beverages. In the first fifteen minutes after arriving, he had toys and other debris scattered all about the bedroom we shared, all the room's lights on, and a very loud computer game going. The game and lights stayed on the rest of the day, whether he was in the room or not, despite several requests of mine that things be cleaned up, etc. So, I napped at the first empty bed I found, in another room. Fortunately he had depleted his energy before I did last night. After he'd gone to bed, I turned out the lights and game and cleared a path through all the stuff scattered on the floor. Generally, he's a sweet kid; but today I discovered he's also a bit of a sneak. When I'd gone into our room to get something this morning, I found the electronic noise blaring in the background again while he was rifling through the pages of my notes for this journal. He quickly jumped away and pretended to be playing his game again.
Pete, perhaps still trying to get into my good graces, after his own rather shabby performance during the winter months, invited me to join him for a late evening walk down to the lake park, near Mom's place. We surprised a deer, about ten feet from us, which was rather neat. It was prom night in Waco; and the park was unusually active from cars with couples, probably seeking a little romantic privacy. Wherever we walked we seemed to encounter these, disconcerting for everyone concerned.
Pete told me about how he'd not yet gotten insured the big truck he'd bought (at auction 2-3 weeks ago in Austin), for his and Ernie's new partnership business, but this past week had backed it into another vehicle, doing major damage. Because of the insurance situation, he and Ernie are trying to keep the damage settlement under the table. They estimate it could cost them up to $2000 or so.
Despite how most of the above may sound, it was, overall, a very pleasant weekend, with much camaraderie and laughter. Besides chatting, we watched a cool movie, "Cider House Rules," had great vittles, and played some fun games: chess, pool, and charades, that kept most everyone occupied and entertained until quite late Sat. night/early Sun. morning. Mom also gave me some cuttings of sedum, etc. for our gardens (which Fran has already planted, as of this evening) and, despite it being her day, Mom, as a surprise, even made us a delicious pecan pie.
I was exhausted after driving back to Austin, arriving in the latter afternoon, shortly before Fran got back from a rehearsal of the next opera production, "Carmen." She gave me a great, long massage this evening, while we watched a quite interesting PBS tape on American movies. The body work was just what the doctor would have ordered!
5/16/01-Wed.-Just finished watching the season finale of "The West Wing." The cliffhanger was hardly that. Every viewer must know he's going to run for a second term! Still, it continues to be intelligent and highly satisfying entertainment, though some nights much more so than others.
I have a bit of constipation this evening, despite a nice, long, energetic walk with Pepper. It's a bummer!
Today was again a difficult one at work. But at least I got more out than came in. That will have to do. Somewhere around 135 actual workdays remain for me at this best of all possible jobs. What a great Christmas and New Year's present this year, that I'll not have to go back to that workplace ever again!
While each day now on the job may seem a torture of humiliation or frustration, the fact is I am getting through them and, in "no time at all" the regular work-a-day grind will be over. Then we shall be at least half dependent on my management of our assets to assure adequate spending power for the years ahead.
The stock market was up dramatically today. The Dow is now only about three percent below its all time high, though the NASDAQ is still way below its top level. Thanks to "Outstanding Investor Digest," we now know that Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger, who head Berkshire Hathaway, arguably the most successful investment holding company that has ever existed, think the profits from stocks will be much less exciting in the next couple decades than they were in the last. The reasons include the still relatively extreme overvaluation of securities in general, by historical, not to mention good value, standards, and that things like the Internet are making information more easily and quickly available to many millions more now than was the case in the past. Limited access to info. has permitted value investors (the only true investors, according to Benjamin Graham) to find good equity bargains before the word had gotten out, thus permitting them to buy low and sell high. But there is another factor that, so far as I know, Buffett and Munger have not touched on, at least in public.
Capitalism itself has thrived in a very different kind of world than the one we are headed into. It achieved great heights when there has been a wide disparity between the haves and have nots, between developed and developing nations, and when the labor pool available for capitalist companies had a certain level of expectations, drives, ethics, etc. What happens when any sophisticated software worker in the U.S., used to making $80,000-$100,000 a year, can be replaced with an engineer from India, Russia, or China who has been happy to make $3 an hour? Or when the capitalism of the West merges with the Socialism of the Communist or former Communist East? Or when the sources of cheap raw materials are demanding more competitive prices for their commodities, as, indeed, is already occurring among oil producing countries? Or when terrorist, political, and other demands are made on us to share more of our wealth with other nations, as is already occurring with our drug industry, with respect to charitable treatment of millions in Africa, etc.? All in all, when western capitalists must compete in the information age with at least equally hard, and even more desperate, workers around the globe and when political and other factors are also making inroads into the original purity of capitalist principles, the bottom line profit picture for the average company changes and probably not for the better.
5/18/01-Fri.-A fittingly unsatisfactory end to the workweek today, at my best of all possible jobs: we had to leave early due to a bomb scare. I could have used the last hour and a half for definitive action on three or four more cases. Considering the state of employee morale there, it seems equally likely that the call came from a disgruntled current or former employee as that one of our clients was making a gesture. Whatever.
Fran got home very late tonight, after performing with the opera orchestra in "Carmen." She was already tired from a walk over to pick up her car, which had needed major work today. She's gone to bed before me. I should be following her there shortly but am keyed up or, well, a little horny. Being "a sensitive, nineties kind of guy," who worked for awhile as a volunteer for the Austin Rape Crisis Center, I do not roughly force myself on the lass when she's exhausted, just because I feel like getting my rocks off. Big of me, huh? But it may be awhile before I settle down enough for slumber.
Last night I dreamed I was away from where I wanted to be and should have been. It was dark, evening or later. The dream and situation seemed stark, both the setting and the issues were in black and white. I was alone, in the driver's seat, trying to operate my car, a used, nondescript compact or subcompact model vehicle, back to where it and I belonged. Every time I would put the car in motion, it would only go backwards, no matter what I did with the stick shift or how many times I tried to stop and restart the engine, etc. Sometimes, this would be for only a short distance. But sometimes the car would just go on and on in reverse; and seemingly nothing I could do would alter this. I finally put the foot and emergency brakes on just as hard as I could, simultaneously bearing down on the foot pedal and pulling up on the hand brake with every bit of strength I could muster. Yet the backward movement continued, though perhaps a little slowed down. Visibility in reverse was as bad as it always is in the dark, in unfamiliar areas. Telling how to control things, while going backwards, for "proper" direction guidance was also very tenuous. My body twisted about, my neck strained, as I looked back through the little rear window while trying to operate the controls set up for forward movement, I became more desperate and tense, despairing of a happy outcome. It seemed that a collision, with uncertain, but likely very bad, consequences, was extremely likely. Meanwhile, I seemed no closer than ever to returning to where I should be and getting home. I woke up.
Tonight I finished proofing Chapter XXI of the early version of this journal, from the winter of 1974, for addition to the online site. I find it interesting, ironic, and at times also depressing rereading the record of this former version of myself. In some ways I do not seem to have come very far in the last twenty-seven years. I very much wish I could live those years over, knowing what I do now, causing less pain to others, making more good of my short time on this planet, or simply having more fun along the way. But that, of course, is not how it works.
5/20/01-Sun.-Yesterday and most of today Fran and I have been working on the latest issue of the monthly newsletter we put out, which here I call "The Wagnerian Express," but which actually has another name and is well enough known that all hope of anonymity (without which the content here would need to be severely censored) might be dismissed if its true moniker were generally disclosed. A few are aware of the dual identities. That's a few too many. By accident, for instance, Fran told one of the other members of The Baltic Buzzards (also not their real name) about this online project and my having coined that label for their music group. The next time we'd seen him he admitted he'd tried to locate this site via that appellation. Sure enough, Google has several links to that name, all referable to The Vintage Diarist. Oh well!
As I review the old, very early diary entries, from almost three decades ago, one thing that is striking is how much some themes and issues, despite the changing day-to-day or even year-to-year circumstances, remain essentially the same. A common one between the two periods, then and now, for instance, is the search for meaning in life. I might call it something different now. Rather than seeing things in terms of a "quest for my Highest Self," I might ask: "What is Mu?" Or I could say: "what can help make my final days (however long or short a time I have left) as rewarding as possible?"
I do believe, with Socrates, that "the unexamined life is not worth living."
I am no more convinced now than I was in my much younger incarnation of an afterlife. And any of a thousand or more things can bring one's time here to an end, sometimes with very little notice. Fortunately for me, Fran is not given to morbidity but has a generally upbeat, yet down-to-earth, and often quite humorous outlook on things!
But still, one wants to know, just as I (not to forget Hal David and Burt Bacharach, for their song, made famous by the 1966 movie with Michael Caine) queried in 1974, "What's it all about, Alfie?"
I'm currently really enjoying reading James Dickey's Alnilam, a good book. Last night, I had a long, really hot, relaxing bath, while Fran was away for the "Carmen" performance, and, as my skin luxuriated in the steamy water loosening tense muscles, I just pored over the pages of this work like they were rare gems to be savored.
I like this quote from James Dickey's preface to his Southern Light: "In one of his notebooks, Franz Kafka has the observation that a person has only to sit in a room, in perfect quiet, and the world will come before him in ecstasy." Here may be a clue to the answer to my varied and often asked questions. Another, I think, is in the appreciation one may sometimes attain for all of one's surroundings and circumstances. This may be given different names too: joy, love, acceptance, contentment, satori...Clearly I am not there yet! But it and the ecstasy to which Kafka alluded may be worth more than all the gains of a lifetime spent in accumulating wealth, prestige, popularity, children, etc. In the terms used by a certain young man in the early nineteen-seventies, what is needed is a certain depth of poetic vision.
5/23/01-Wed.-Today was a really "sucky" day at work, about which perhaps the less said the better.
Three high moments in today's agenda, though, can be noted: 1. I got through a dental appointment with a minimum of distress, screaming, and crying; 2. Fran and I had a really nice, if low key, Chinese food supper this evening (at my favorite, Tien Jin, Chinese restaurant, which, incidentally, was recently honored as the place the head of Motorola took visiting trade dignitaries from China!); 3. I have discovered, after viewing three of the films made from his works, that, though I have yet to open the cover of one of them, I must have a real affinity for the novels of John Irving, considering how much I like the films. Based on the latter discovery, I intend to rectify the current gap in my literary credentials by reading, over the coming months and years, much that he has written.
5/24/01-Thurs.-Readers of "Steps" will not be surprised that I am pleased with the momentous turn of events heralded by VT Sen. James Jeffords' announcement today that he is switching to being an Independent, no longer a Republican, and thus tossing majority control of the U. S. Senate, at least for the time being, to the Democrats. Apart from my own personal reaction, though, I think most in our electorate would agree that the new political reality better reflects the true will of American voters in November than did a clearly minority party controlling not only the Presidency but also both branches of Congress. Of course, with the Senate chamber still so closely divided, as common an event as the death or serious illness of but one person could tilt that slimmest of margins back in the Republicans' favor.
Former President William Jefferson Clinton may take some small measure of glee from today's top story. After all, it was his brilliantly successful political strategy to co-opt the former policies of Republican moderates like Jeffords, thus in a sense pushing that worthy's opposition party, if it hoped to stand up and be counted, farther to the (unpopular) right. It tried then, in the person of George W. Bush, to appear to represent a good ol' down home country boy, just plain folks, a compassionate and reasonable conservative blend of moderate and right winger, bent on bringing people together and on bipartisanship. "W" was to prove, once in office, however, that he was most beholden to the far right and that Republicans in the middle of the political road, like Jeffords, better get on the right side fast or a steamroller was ready to run them down. Now there will be a lot of Sunday morning quarterbacking to sort out who is to blame after Jeffords has effectively shown Bush and his adherents where to get off with their high-handed (arrogant?) approach to power politics.
For me, an even more interesting event today is Bob Dylan's 60th birthday anniversary. Without going into excruciating detail, this particular artist had a very significant effect on my life. Happy birthday, Mr. Dylan! May you have many, many more.
Tonight I talked on the phone with my sister, Alice, for nearly an hour, my annual birthday call to her, a little delayed this time, though, because she had felt the need to recuperate physically and emotionally from D. and C. surgery a few weeks ago, to the extent that she could not receive calls for awhile. She is proud of being "a sensitive." We had a nice chat despite this.
Fran is performing again with "Carmen" this evening. In our high culture neighborhood, though, the loud, electronic "music" blaring from enormous speakers throughout the area demonstrates a different kind of taste, one, unfortunately, which I've not yet acquired.
5/27/01-Sun.-Generally, we are enjoying the break of this holiday (Memorial) weekend. Fran does have her last four performances, with the Austin Lyric Opera orchestra, of "Carmen" during these few days. But this is not, for her, work work, in the sense that her usual music teaching duties are.
Yesterday I took my car in for an oil change and lube, etc., at Wal-Mart. It would not be ready right away; so Fran picked me up from there and later drove us over to Bombay Grill for lunch, before dropping me off to pick up the vehicle in the early afternoon.
The rest of our time yesterday was relatively low key. We both took naps. I finished proofing Chapter XXII of the early version of this journal. It has now been added to the site.
Fran did a variety of projects in the yard and on the computer.
I worked on a long tribute to give to my sister, Alice, next month, when we'll be honoring her achievement of her fiftieth birthday anniversary with a family reunion get-together and vacation in her (California) neck of the woods.
Later I also did our monthly investment analysis and was gratified to note that, thanks to the recent upturn in the equities markets and when my retirement benefits are figured in (with a value given to them based on the amount of principle [invested in low risk assets such as long-term government bonds] required to generate those benefits if they were not offered by the state), we now have a grand total portfolio, with benefits, worth over a million dollars. We certainly do not feel rich yet though and must continue to carefully monitor our budget over the next few years to eventually meet our improved lifestyle and financial security goals . Also, though I have now enough time in with the state (including annual and sick leave) to retire at any time, achievement of the $1,000,000 grand total outcome will be a lot easier if I am not fired in the next several months. While it seems likely I won't be, given the current situation in my best of all possible workplaces this cannot realistically be taken for granted.
This morning I got up about 6:30 A.M. Fran, Pepper, and I headed off for a walk. We saw three rabbits, which excited Pepper immensely. We also came across a killdeer sitting on a clutch of four eggs, as we could see after she'd briefly flown off. Fran was pleased too to collect a freshly dead nighthawk. She'll take off the head, let it rot for a few weeks, get it cleaned up, and add it to her carefully organized inventory of over 700 other skulls or complete skeletons.
Unfortunately, I am having some painful GI symptoms today. For awhile the difficulties were so severe I was a little concerned I might be having angina. But they are not consistent with cardiac related chest discomfort. I have a lot of pain on the right side as well as the stomach area, plus a great deal of gas, that I keep belching up (though, out of deference to Fran, I'm keeping the belches fairly quiet!). I've done everything I can think of to relieve the problem, so far to no avail. This may not be a very fun day. Indeed, at times I feel nauseous and like throwing up, though, when I go to the bathroom for this purpose, the cramping, etc. subsides before that end is accomplished. Oh well. Must have been something I ate.