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STEPS

(1999-2002: Pre-Retirement Years)

7/1/99-Thurs.-I got to work about 7:25. It was a relatively low-key day. Over the next several weeks I shall try simply keeping the caseload at or below its current, reduced level, while also completing as much related case-management actions each shift as practicable and doing the required extra backup for others who are, or soon will be, going on leave through the summer months.

I got away from there about 4:30 PM., commenting to my colleague, Sandy, that it surely was nice to be able to depart on time. She retorted that she never works overtime without pay, that even if it means she never gets any promotions or other added benefits, she does not feel she could put up with the job if she had to work extra, besides all the unpleasant things with which we must deal through a regular tour of duty.

I prepared a card for Tess' birthday for mailing and went through an accumulation of as yet unopened mail from the past week or so, eventually whittling it down to nothing. Fixed a supper of leftovers and watched some television. Fran stayed busy with a variety of projects. We chatted some and had a little fun with Pepper. Soon it was time to get ready for bed.

7/2/99-Fri.-Here's my record of our trip last month:

Our Southwest Colorado Vacation

Tonight was the Baltic Buzzards' rehearsal evening, this time at our house. It turned out none of us had eaten enough. So, while the others, Fran, Sam, and Matt, went ahead with their music, I left for ice cream, bringing back a rich-ingredients brand in two flavors: cherry vanilla and chocolate mint. Both were well received; and we had a fun little ice cream social after the practicing had ended.

Pete is in town this weekend, for a tango dance workshop. He is one of the good dancers, who will actually be dancing, as opposed to many others, like Matt and his wife Glenda, who are still too close to being beginners, and will simply be watching. Pete will probably "crash" at Ron's (whose divorce from Joan is now apparently final) tonight and tomorrow night. Including Fran, the four of us have arranged to meet for breakfast at Golden Corral tomorrow morning.

Pete also, this past week, officially became licensed as an airplane pilot. Within the past couple of weeks he lost his job with his computer company, on very short notice and with no warning, for a mistake in using their internet for personal transmissions of adult humor. He is actively seeking new work, preferably in California.

7/6/99-Tues.-Fran & I had fun with e-mail this eve. Fran's folks had sent us a couple neat, new internet sites to check out. I also shared this and other info. and messages with my family.

Fran and Pepper had a nice, long walk this A.M. and saw a rabbit and a roadrunner.

As I was heading home from work this late afternoon, the ordinarily sunny, very hot, muggy sky and air were filled with fresh, cool currents and a great, gray, cloud displayed multiple lightning flashes to the west, the direction of my travel. It looked like a huge bag suspended above the horizon, one full of snakes or dragons, that lashed out repeatedly, the fire of their wrath escaping in angry jets of light. When I was still 3-4 miles from home, a heavy rain began to fall. Things cooled off considerably. The rain had already been drenching our neighborhood. The yard at home was nicely soaked.

Franís learning to do all sorts of things with the computer, like adding clip-art to e-mail. Weíve also been getting black-and-white pictures from Franís folks, like of their wedding shots and Fran as a young child, with her dogs of that time.

I tried some meditation tonight, but kept falling asleep and/or having a lot of leg pain, so that concentration did not occur.

7/7/99-Wed.-Another not so satisfactory night, if the intention then was to sleep.

I occurs to me that, in my youth I devoted a great deal of energy and angst to such profound questions as whether there were a personal God, that is, One concerned about any particular individual personally, having a specific plan or intention for that one animal of the species we call "Homo sapiens," and manifesting the all-encompassing knowledge and infinite breadth of time and ultimate resource to put His/Her/Its divine wishes to the service of this plan for each of us, with the perfect goodness of purpose that only a true God could possess, and in Whom we could thus put our complete trust. With some little greater perspective, it seems that, no matter what the answer to such questions may be, our individual conclusions about these matters are of no consequence to That Which Is. However we believe or not about this or that, it will have a rather minimal effect on the nature of things. Yet people still go to war with one another over such issues. What arrogance! Most religious belief seems at best a benign delusion, at worst a mass psychotic one.

Yet, spirituality has an important place in our lives; and its cultivation can be most beneficial, bringing out the best in us and making our lives far richer than otherwise. How are these apparently conflicting statements resolved? As with the song, I prefer now to "let the mystery be." That belief is most comfortably assumed which does not in advance answer the ultimate questions, but leaves the result to discovery.

No other person or book can serve for me as adequate authority. I am not thereby setting myself up as better than some assumed God, Bible, Koran, etc. I am simply not accepting others' exclusive view(s) of the truth as more or less than their view(s).

I also do not think that those who follow the conventional scientific version of "truth" have necessarily really come much closer to it. A good poem, an excellent novel, a fine painting, a genuine smile, a fervent prayer: these may be "truer" expressions of reality, each in its own way, than Einstein's general theory of relativity.

Tonight, Fran, Pepper, and I went for a short walk. Later I enjoyed reading a paperback mystery while taking a hot bath and then tried, again, to do some meditation, with only a slightly better experience from it than in the last couple days.

7/8/99-Thurs.-As a sequel to yesterday's philosophical discussion, it occurs to me that, whether I call it spirituality or not, my best, and perhaps only, hope for getting beyond consensus or ordinary existence, and then of positively integrating what is "far out" from my own personal "inner space," lies through the vehicle of meditation, in one or another form. Alternative means, such as drugs, are completely unreliable and can be hazardous also to mental and/or physical health. Even meditation, for this inner explorer, turns out to be fraught with frustration. Still, it seems to be the only game in town worthy of consideration at this stage of my life and understanding!

Meanwhile, time flies. In something more than zero but less than fifty (to be very optimistic) years, the being that bears my name will cease to exist. Then, of course, it will be way too late to master the art of meditation!

Tonight, Fran and I went out for Chinese food at a nearby eatery.

7/9/99-Fri.-A small tragedy has befallen us. Primarily, it happened to Frances. The reader may recall my expressed disappointment a few days ago over not having received the gift I had most wanted from her, for our anniversary this year, a format (preferably with arrangements for the addition of graphics, headlines, and columns) for our proposed new newsletter, a more personal version than our earlier one.

It turns out that, instead, Fran has been working, this past week, on a surprise, the retyping, onto a Microsoft Word document, and saved onto a modern floppy disk, of the first volume of this journal, covering the period from 12/71 through 12/75. She had, many years ago, used our old Commodore computer system to type up and print (and then had bound) that part of "Steps," as a neat gift for me, one I found amazing in its generosity and scope. I had been wanting to get that section of the diary finalized for years. She managed it, without my even knowing about it, in less than a month, during spare moments when I was not around, or at least while I was unaware of what she was doing.

This time, perhaps because of the greater ease of using a Dell and up-to-date software, she planned to complete the revision in only four or five days! She had, in fact, typed in all but the very last part, finishing the nearly final bit in a whirlwind effort today, beginning just as I left for work, at 7:00 this morning, and concluding only about fifteen minutes before I got home after 5 PM.

Unfortunately, in her haste to get it stored before I returned, and perhaps also in her tiredness after a whole day's frenetic effort, she hit a wrong button (so easy to do!) and apparently closed it out unsaved, deleting the last third of the work! She realized at once what she'd done and was, naturally, sick with dismay at the loss.

We tried to find where it might be, somewhere in the bowels of the computer; but this just added to her frustration and grief. We called our Dell tech friend, Michael, leaving messages, then sent him an e-mail. He responded to the latter first, but only just after Fran had left for a Baltic Buzzards rehearsal. She had not wanted to go; but I thought she should, as a distraction at least. She always seems better after those get-togethers, no matter how badly she's feeling beforehand.

A miracle did not happen. Our friend said that, unless she had saved the day's addition through "File," which apparently there had not been an opportunity to do, it was well and truly gone. Too bad. But I am, despite my sadness with her for the frustrating loss of a day's work, once again amazed and touched by the loving, generous, and very remarkable gift with which she had intended to surprise me yet anew. And, of course, even though there's been a setback, within a few days it shall be a completed project, ready for proofing.

Then "all" I'll need to do is prepare (for final entry into the computer) the intervening years of this diary, the still "handwritten years," from 1/76 to 5/99. Ha. Now that is a project that may need to await our retirement!

After Michael's call, I took Pepper for a walk, had a bath, then did some sitting for meditation again. (I'll let the reader know if I achieve enlightenment. No. That's a joke.)

7/10/99-Sat.-Fran was in a much better mood today. She bounces back fairly easily most of the time.

Yesterday was another unpleasant one for me at work. I got two cases back to redo. The "errors" were not real. The reviewers had the complicated issues wrong in both instances. I am a meticulous professional, concerned about doing the decisions properly the first time. My boss researched it, trying to find ways I was wrong, and yet finally agreed with me. Still, he lacks the balls to challenge either incorrect return with our "higher-ups." When I objected, he said we must just go along with the "corrections." This goes against my record, sets bad precedent, and further increases the workload for no legitimate reason. But it is entirely consistent with the usual state of things at our best of all possible jobs.

Last night, my mom called and informed us she is visiting this weekend. She said she was coming for the family reunion of some friends, from her Austin days. But she did take Fran, Ron, Jane, Esther, and me out to eat at Tres Amigos for lunch. Then she spent the afternoon with Ron and his girls. She planned to visit with Joan, Ron's former wife, the girls' mother, over supper, except that, as of 7:45 PM, that esteemed person had still not returned Mom's call, as she'd said she would, to let Mom know when she would be free for vittles.

This late afternoon and early evening, Fran, Glenda, Sam, and I took Matt out to eat and drink at a favorite Chinese buffet restaurant, Shanghai River, in a shopping center off Anderson. We all had a good time! (I had invited Mom along. But she declined, still hoping to arrange supper with Joan. I am sure she would have enjoyed the eats with us much more than her seemingly endless wait for her former daughter-in-law to ring back. Oh well. I expect Mom is concerned, naturally enough, to keep up relations with Joan in order to maintain at least a tenuous involvement with her grandchildren, Esther and Jane.)

7/11/99-Sun.-We had a great cloudburst yesterday evening, that flooded our drying 1/3 acre nicely to rice-paddy consistency and left everything pleasantly clean-looking and brightly colored by this AM, when Mom (who'd finally arrived last night about 10:00, to retire her matriarchal head at our Wagnerian motel, after an afternoon and evening with Ron, his daughters, and then Joan) quickly walked through to admire the latest marvels from Fran's gardening handiwork.

Our extended family matriarch was gone, however, by about 9:30 A.M. and, on leaving, said something strange (or rude), about such visits being good as long as they do not occur very often. (She sees to it, of course, that they never do). Her parting comment confirmed the overall impression she has given, that she simply does not enjoy the little bit of time she dutifully may on occasion spend with us and is most at ease when heading back out our door. Oh well.

After she'd gone, Fran and I, for different projects, each played around on the computer. Fran is trying to find a way to easily get pictures, previously scanned in by her mom in Florida (of Fran's early life, her folks' wedding, and so on), downloaded to our computer, so she can put them on disks, for ready retrieval whenever she likes.

I was inputting a portfolio I'm calling the "Ralph Wagner Memorial Fund," a set of assets, amounting to $100,000, which will be the basis for annual gifts to each of our nieces and nephews, in succession, of $7500, up to a $30,000 total apiece, beginning with Jim (whose father's illness and then apparently looming death inspired the origins of this portfolio and gift idea), and continuing through all my younger relatives, so long as I live, in good mental and physical health, unless I become disabled before the goals of the fund can be achieved.

Then we went out to eat at West Lynn Cafe for a late breakfast.

By about 2 PM the clouds had opened, yet again in less than twenty hours, the sky so loaded with moisture it seemed a biblical deluge had begun. The weather was quite dramatic, with thunder, lightning, great masses of water cascading, and much attendant noise of wind, pouring, and splashing!

7/12/99-Mon.-A fairly typical workday. Groan! Back by about 5:10 this afternoon.

We went out to eat at Bombay Grill. Mm, good!

Amazingly, Fran eventually, yesterday, found the missing part of the original "Steps," that she'd been retyping and thought she'd lost by hitting the wrong button. It turned out it had just been in the wrong file. Now she is almost finished with putting that whole work onto a disk accessible via our computer!

I get to a lot less TV-watching now than I used to! The computer has taken up some of the slack. Also, I am still trying to meditate every day. (Nonetheless, most of the time I am so tired at these sittings that I don't feel they are adding much to my life. Must hang in there!)

7/13/99-Tues.-Fran finished typing the original "Steps" and gave me the disk today. I started proofing it tonight and found just a few errors. It is great going over this again, after all these years, and having it readily accessible, with modern software at my fingertips!

Received a good evaluation from my boss, for the first nine months of the current fiscal year.

Fran and I went for a walk with Pepper tonight. The weather was very warm and muggy. We hosed the dog down before and after with gentle streams of water. The mutt was in better spirits afterward.

7/14/99-Wed.-Happy Bastille Day!

No special news. I'm keeping up fairly well on the job. Pepper and I went for a walk this evening. I'm continuing to proof the old version of "Steps." It is slow going. I'm still in 1971 and have all of four more years' worth of journal-keeping to go! For Fran to have typed all this in under a week, despite major computer glitches...amazing!

7/16/99-Fri.-Completed another week at the salt mines this late afternoon. It actually has not been a bad five days, as my time there goes. Today, in fact, I received a "smiley face at-a-boy" note from Quality Assurance (positively endorsed by my best of all possible bosses). Oh my!

Fran and Pepper went for a walk yesterday and saw a gray fox (!), the second such sighting we've had in this area over the last few months.

Tonight I'm listening to "Film Score Focus" again on the Austin classical station, KMFA. As usual, the program includes some of my favorite music.

This evening, after I had gone on another walk with Fran and Pepper, we began setting up the format for our new letter. This effort was somewhat frustrating. But we actually got a lot done. I do not know if there will be any interest in the proposed newsletter. However, it now looks as though its existence will begin with a premier edition in the next few days!

Am continuing with meditation efforts and proofing of the old "Steps."

7/20/99-Tues.-Over this past weekend, I completed, after many set-backs, but then with Fran's help, and despite many frustrations for her as well, the first issue of our new family and investment letter, "The Wagnerian Express." We then either e-mailed or "snail-mailed" it out to the extended family, including Frances' closest relatives, and to a few friends. We were both rather pleased with it as an initial effort, a work-in-progress. Early feedback from our new readers is good. As we are using Microsoft Word, and many do not have computers and/or software compatible with a word document attachment, we are still having to postal mail about half of the issues, mainly as Xerox copies. Still, it is a good start.

Last night I got very little sleep, which, of course, does not improve my overall resistance to life's little water-tortures or lift my morale.

7/21/99-Wed.-Tonight I spent a good while on the computer, trying, without success, to track down an old mentor of mine, Harry. Of course, it has been about thirty years since he and I were much acquainted, except by letter, and well over twenty years since we last wrote. Yet, outside my family, he has perhaps had the greatest influence on my life of anyone. I'd just like to get a short message to him. Perhaps, if he is yet among the living, I shall succeed, but another time. I know he wrote a book on kundalini and that it is cited by one publisher on the web. Perhaps they would get a word or three to him. Must think of what to say in such a note.

Yesterday I was nearly hit, on the highway in to work, by a berzerko utility vehicle driver, weaving all over the road, going 80-90 MPH. Had to swerve and brake-slam to avoid the bastard. I hope he continues to drive that way. Some folks are in such a hurry to reach the end of the line!

We've been enjoying a lot of thunder- and rain-storms lately. Almost every day we have at least a sprinkle or two. Often, like today, we get one or more real cloudbursts. The precipitation patterns recently seem more what one would expect of Central America than central Texas.

7/22/99-Thurs.-Weird dreaming last night. As so often, though, I cannot remember it today. I'm just left with a mood, or vestigial insight, of great depths unplumbed.

While I was at work, Fran and Pepper went for an early morning walk and spied eight or nine deer, several very close.

In the last few days many in the world celebrated Ernest (Papa) Hemingway's 100th birthday anniversary. His works continue to inspire for the excellence of the author's craft and the marvelously told stories.

It occurred to me, after I'd tried to locate Harry on the web, that it was perhaps a fool's errand. What would I be trying to prove, after all this time? A relationship is pretty much out of the question. Would I, then, simply be trying to win his approval? To tell him what I've accomplished, as if it were anything special anyway? And why do I need his endorsement of my life? I must, instead, strive to be the kind of person who would automatically merit his respect, not one who craves mere recognition (and thereby shows he does not deserve it!). It is, in Harry's terms, high time to grow up and be independent of others' opinions.

7/23/99-Fri.-Early this morning I dreamed I was with my mother. We were having a good visit, chatting, giving opinions, reminiscing, etc. Suddenly I remembered that I had forgotten to tell her I'd gotten married since I'd seen her last. Then I realized I had also forgotten to invite her to the wedding. How could I explain such an oversight!? The wench in question was an earthy, fun-loving, voluptuous, young, Mediterranean woman. On awakening, still in consternation that I could have been so forgetful as to leave my mom out of things, I remembered that I'd also forgotten that I was already married, and that Mom almost certainly would not have given her blessing to my bliss with the earthy lass, if I'd ever sought it. So she was best conveniently "forgotten."

Indeed, one level of meaning for the dream might be that, by such slight of mind, I had managed to add some little bit of extra pleasure to my life, despite her, for, in real life, when I was still of an age to be seeking natural and carnal delights with sensual lasses of a more tender age, Mom was quite prudish and expressed her judgments and reservations rather often, even on occasion discouraging relationships by talking with the females themselves. Like most mothers, she was concerned with her son's welfare. Unlike most, however, she could be pretty aggressive about it, overly protective.

After a few score sessions with counselors or psychiatrists, I would have to say that she acted rather jealously toward others of her sex in my life, offended that she might be supplanted or have to share me with anyone else, absurd as that sounds. The way she, I, and my father related, in the first couple decades of my life, was classically oedipal, much as was also the case for D. H. Lawrence and his parents.

The degree of her intrusiveness and attempts at control never got as bad as with FDR's mother. And the Mom of the nineties is a far cry from the Mother of the sixties and seventies in this respect, just as Dad too was much more mellow in later years. Still, it was not an entirely "normal" involvement she had with her first born.

7/26/99-Mon.-Over the weekend, we had a nice visit with Mary and Jim. He had just been involved in an honors conference at U.T., Austin. Because of his high grades and scores, and his simple smarts, he is being recruited by faculties trying to load up with the best students. He did not seem much impressed with the local campus. I think he'll likely elect to go to one of the smaller schools. He wants to major in music.

We went to a neat movie and a good restaurant Saturday. Then, on Sunday, Mary, Fran, Pepper, and I had gotten up earlier than Jim and left him sleeping late while we went for a short ride over to the Barnes and Noble shopping center and walked around for awhile. In the back area, adjacent to an unofficial greenbelt that includes a big field and an old abandoned farm, a few water sources, and lots of vegetation, we saw six or seven deer, all looking quite healthy, nice, large specimens. Neat!

Later we had a brunch at Trudy's in the Brodie Oaks shopping center, before Mary and Jim drove back home. My better half and I felt the weekend had passed in a relaxing yet entertaining way.

We had a pleasantly romantic evening.

Tonight, after a fairly routine workday, I called my mom and we had a good chat for about forty-five minutes. She had visited my Aunt Kim and Uncle Randolph recently and was still somewhat upset to have seen how badly off Kim is physically, with serious G.I. and arthritic problems, that have caused great deterioration just since we'd last visited her, on a trip Mom and I took there together about two and a half years ago.

She was surprised to hear Randolph, who has been a rock through all this, painstakingly caring for Kim (who requires a lot of help) while having significant physical problems of his own, say he had not expected to survive so long, that they were outliving their savings and investments.

Mom and I had assumed, from things Randolph had said, that they must have $5-10 million or more. I hope that all he means now is that their nest egg is reduced from what they had hoped to give their children and grandchildren, rather than that they themselves are really running out of funds.

7/27/99-Tues.-Slept poorly last night. Also, as usual, there was a vague feeling of having dreamed significantly, but with no memory of the specifics.

Fran is working in the garage on a new project, making shelves for her room. The days are intensely hot now. So she cannot work out there very long at a time, but hopes to finish them up tomorrow.

This evening, she was also starting another computer activity, this time entering all the poems I have given her over the years, close to two hundred. She is trying to make them look a little fancy, with different fonts, borders, and so forth.

After I'd gotten home from my best possible job, we went over to Black-Eyed Pea for supper. I had soup, Fran a vegetable plate. With tip, it came to a little over $7.

All things considered, our lives, while not exactly wonderful, are not too shabby either, compared, for example, to the protagonist's in Richard Henry Dana's Two Years Before the Mast!

7/29/99-Thurs.-My caseload at work is down to eighty-nine, after being up around one hundred thirty, or even one hundred fifty or so at one time, in the worst of the dark days of my best possible employment. I aim to keep it there or lower as long as possible, assuming the powers that be do not, at their whim, once more increase our workload by adding extra intake cases, as so often occurs.

Meanwhile, in just the last decade, it seems the aging process has gone into overdrive. By the time I'm sixty, the rigors of life will undoubtedly have taken a tidy sum in toll. But, if all goes well, by then we should, for all intents and purposes, be millionaires, which should help. (In the interim, being half-a-millionaires ain't that bad!)


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