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(1999-2002: Pre-Retirement Years)

8/2/00-Wed.-Fran has been embellishing "Steps" with some of her neat graphics, to reduce the readers' scanning stress and interestingly or amusingly break up the prose a bit. On our mutual site, Wagner Home Page, we now have received well over 3200 hits, since about mid-April of this year when it was started. Fran's contributions to the layout and graphics there, with various quite interesting links, have helped immensely. As you may surmise, for the privacy of friends, relatives, etc., we have needed to alter the identity of our site as well as of those whom I mention here. All the facts are accurate. (Indeed, a major internet company has just recently cited our mutual site as its pick for "best of the best.") But Wagner is a pseudonym.

Yesterday I was informed I am no longer meeting the standards necessary to keep my job. You may, after my many negative comments about this best of all possible workplaces, be thinking: "Alright, good riddance!" However, it would be a personal tragedy, after putting in over twenty-five years as a government employee, and within less than two of being able to retire with benefits, to be forced out now. My work has not changed much over the years. I work extremely hard; but the workload at times is very high, at times lower; and sometimes, as recently, there is simply bad luck, with illness in the early part of the year putting me behind and several old cases having been completed last month, adding to the case-age figures all at once. In the past, my current, rather methodical but very thorough, work style has earned me promotions and certificates of appreciation. In the current climate, I am called in for a meeting with my supervisor and told I had better cut corners to get the work out more quickly, even if I know it is not right. I love this job! But I shall heed his warning. I have two months to bring things back into line, by hook or crook, before officially being placed on probation. It is especially irksome to be again in this position, knowing that I do my job well, that, in fact, I have one of the very best long-term records there for quality and level of production. Curses and sighs!

Night before last, I sent what will probably be my final attempt to communicate again with Harry, with an e-mail request of his publisher for his permission to add a link (for the internet info. about Harry's meditation book) to our other web site. I included as well the URL of our mutual site, for Harry's review in case he might consider it. He will either respond or not. If not, so be it! I shall then leave well enough alone. But if so, perhaps, like the author of Tuesdays with Morrie, by Mitch Albom, I may renew what had been an often challenging but also very rewarding relationship.

8/4/00-Fri.-I just learned last night of the death of Harry Pearl, who was a teacher or mentor of mine when I was in CA in '65-'67 and '69-'70. We had then kept in touch quite regularly for many years, but "went our separate ways" after the late 70s. He had continued to be on the leading edge of personal and scientific investigations/adventures/research into meditation, out of his medical background, founding a clinic in recent years, starting university-credit course programs, etc. As recently as 1998, he was giving interviews on his "take" on meditation, spirituality, and the meaning of life, for a college class. I had thought that, if at all feasible, once Fran and I retired, I would look him up and try to resume the relationship of years gone by. Earlier this year I had sent three communications to try to resume our correspondence. None were returned; but none were answered either. Last night, browsing the internet, I discovered a reference to "the late Dr. Harold Pearl." I then was able to find a reference from 9/98 to an obituary on him, though they wanted an arm and a leg charge paid before releasing it to me. So, I have yet to find out the circumstances of his final months, etc.

Each new death of a "significant other" reminds of my own mortality and of the fragility and preciousness of existence. In Harry's case, over the years I had mentally constructed an image, that I held up to myself as a standard, as Mitch had with Morrie in Tuesdays with Morrie. Now that he is gone, I am at once sad that we could not have made contact in a meaningful way again after I had, at least relatively, "grown up." But also, now I must admit that the standards are just within myself. There is no Harry or Morrie or anyone else out there to be a North Star reference for me, in the way that I had thought of him for so long.

It looks as though Pete has a short layover in Austin this weekend & Ron, Frances, and I hopefully will be able to get together briefly with him before he flies out Sun. afternoon.

Fran's friends, Martha and Samuel, stopped over at our place, for the first time, tonight. Fran met Martha in several of her music gigs. Fran plays clarinet and flute. Martha plays French horn in the Austin Symphony as well as in a Houston ballet group and at least one other regular gig. Fran sometimes subs in the Austin Symphony. Samuel is Martha's husband. They are both very "into" flower, succulent, and other gardens, though not so exhaustively, yet, as Fran. Two or three weeks ago, Fran had gone over to their place one evening and had a good time seeing their landscaping and gardens. Afterward, they had chatted for awhile on a big deck up in one of Martha and Samuel's large trees. Fran told them they might check out our other web site, Wagner Home Page, with its links to Fran's garden site. (Fran is now part of some garden site rings and also especially likes using The Garden Web and Texas A & M's Plant Answers Search Engine.) They did, liked what they saw, and came over tonight to check things out in our yard as well.

We had a good visit, though I got attacked by about 1,000,000 mosquitoes while we were out in the yards looking at rocks, cacti, ponds, and misc. plants and trees. For some reason, the little critters go for me like the proverbial moths to a candle, while leaving everyone else alone. (By coincidence, on the news this evening, I heard that, in New York, the first human victim of the new (to us) Nile River encephalitis, that is now invading our country, was diagnosed today. Some scientists warn that this insect-borne disease could spread throughout our nation before long.)

Tonight, once again, after my daily meditation sitting, I am listening to "Film Score Focus" on Austin's KMFA (recently the recipient of an international award for excellence of classical music programming). I can heartily recommend this program to movie and music lovers and this station generally. It should be available via Real Player to most users of the internet. This evening, they were playing some fantastic scores from "Lawrence of Arabia," "Jaws," "Chicken Run," "Back to the Future," and "The X-Men."

Frances has been rehearsing a great deal for an audition coming up in a few weeks and did so this evening as well, after Martha and Samuel had left.

My work situation seems little improved. But I shall simply do all I can and hope for the best.

The current issue of "The Austin Chronicle," an excellent weekly publication here, includes an article on online diarists and is worth checking out.

A vulture couple were feeling like taking a vacation, instead of having to fly around so much or to find just the right updrafts, downdrafts, etc., for a trip they were making from Austin to El Paso. So, they bought tickets on Southwest Airlines. The day of the flight, they showed up with a rather stinky, dead possum each. The baggage clerk asked if they wanted to check the possums. No, they told him, they were carrion.

8/5/00-Sat.-Fran, Frisky, and I headed out before seven this A.M. for a weekend "deer walk" and sighted 15, including several fawns. They were so numerous that even Pepper, though notoriously oblivious to most of her surroundings, saw some!

Out for coffee, then dropping off cleaning, and picking up rental videotapes, including "Magnolia," recently lavishly recommended by my nephew, Jim.

The outside temperature is about 100° F. After just fifteen minutes in the back yard, Pepper this afternoon was overheated, panting, and acting sick. We gave her an emergency hose dousing, which perked her right up. She will be eleven next weekend and, for her age, is doing still extremely well. Makes me think about switching my diet to Purina Dog Chow Senior!

I was born during the middle of World War II. We had constant images of military mayhem when I was growing up. Films like "On the Beach" suggested the fate we had in store. The hells I imagined then were filled with atomic destruction.

Today's youth grow up in a much more complex cultural, political, and atmospheric climate. Instead of "Global Thermonuclear War" they may imagine out-of-control warming from greenhouse gases. U. S. firefighters are calling the current tinderbox season the worst in a half-century. Once exclusively tropical diseases and pests are heading north. Weather patterns seem more volatile, farmers' crops more vulnerable. The icecaps may be melting, the seas rising. Instead of nuclear winter, coming generations may face an endless summer.

Yeats is said to have advised Pound that the only worthwhile poetry themes were sex and death. Though this is mere prose, perhaps the idea still somewhat applies.

So, with a nod to that brilliant man of letters, what shall we do, while waiting for the world to end, but consider a bit of humor?

An attractive young woman went to her cleaners. As there was nobody behind the counter but she noticed some rustling in the back, she yelled out: "Hellooo! It's Monica and I have a blue dress that needs a spot removed." The still out-of-sight manager, not quite hearing her, called back: "Come again?" "No," she replied, "just gravy this time."

8/6/00-Sun.-Ah, the American supermarket! What a wonderfully extravagant, gloriously convenient, narcissistically self-indulgent, and unnatural phenomenon it is! Simply to have the opportunity and means to shop at such places once a year or so, not to mention two or three times a week, raises us far beyond the lifestyles of the vast majority of history's previously rich and famous.

Have stopped this A.M. at the HEB "superstore" nearest us. Fran had already gotten our weekend shopping done here earlier, while I continued to snooze. So I am just here for a relaxed cup of Java and a donut (and getting one for Fran) before returning home to do our backyard mowing.

While hand-watering (necessary most evenings under Austin's current mandatory water rationing) yesterday, Fran showed me a beautiful garter snake that has taken up residence near our compost bins.

Pete is here, it turns out, for his twenty-year high school reunion. Significantly, he did not bring his eighteen year old current paramour, Molly, and was telling me he does not know if he'll be coming with a date (presumably met and picked up this weekend, if so) when he meets Fran, Ron (with his girls), and me for lunch, this afternoon, at the Black-Eyed Pea. Pete never stays too long with any job, residence, or romantic involvement. He changed jobs again, last month, and has been talking for several months, with everyone except her, apparently, about dumping Molly, for some vague flaws he sees in her now, despite her devotion to him since they met when she was fifteen! He "tried" to dump her earlier but "couldn't" after the older (mid-thirties) lady with whom he was then sleeping, in preparation for the transition, began sharing her sexual favors with someone else. He had, conveniently, never told Molly about that new girlfriend; so Molly followed him out to California. (Pete, aware of the statutory rape laws, did not introduce her to our family until she was eighteen.)

I am not certain that my self-righteous tone, above, is due exclusively to a sense of holding the high moral ground on such issues. It could as well be that I am slightly envious, at least that the child-like, immature part of me is. Yet, I think Pete is missing out big-time, even as he seems so "foot-loose and fancy free." Indeed, I wish that I could have been, sooner, somewhat more a grownup. I might, then, have been ready earlier for a serious relationship and for the kids I now shall never have.

I am lucky, for all that, to have found in Frances a mate who complements my personality well. I love her. We have our difficulties at times. We both have "rough edges." But I am so glad to have her in my life!

She and I have now been married over fifteen years. With the statistics for divorce what they are, we should take nothing for granted. But it seems likely we shall stay a dyad "till death us do part."

A few months after the wedding, we participated together in an Imago Therapy couple counseling workshop. We still have the thick, three-ring binder of materials that were part of the course. It has been meaningful for us both, helping us to see that, when conflicts arise, the responsibility for them and the means to working them out both lie within ourselves.

8/7/00-Mon.-Snails' trails forest fires "Magnolia" shooshing leatherette wet frost lyric iceicle fall water drip rain golden leaf smoke the air waves the great lake loon croon moon cheese "Wallace and Grommit" tender grapes softly softly swoon cat pillar is the night bunched under garments St. Nicholas alas snow thunder slide rode two-humped in her time climb as soon with him as another breast bare musical tone wanton sleepy eyes pouting lips quest chest blessed be the tide that turns hollow women blow the man down way hey current spent and I'll tell yew another curds and tundra mind awful hoary breath bath stroke of thigh oh my...

8/8/00-Tues.-In my search for more info. on Harry's life, after an interview he gave for a college class in '98, available on the internet through Yahoo!, I have checked out two more interesting sites, one on Transcendental Meditation, with each of which Harry was closely associated for a number of years. I also fired off e-mails asking for info. on Dr. Harold Pearl and expressing some of my interest. (No response yet!)

8/10/00-Thurs.-Another workweek is quickly coming to an end. At a meeting today our supervisor announced that there will be a reshuffling of our unit cubicles, as our part of a new master plan that will cost tax payers over $1,000,000. Only my "office" and one other one will be affected, since they are too far away from (managerial control and) the "central axis" of the rest of the unit. (Why did he think I chose that cubicle!?) Our two ools will be eliminated to make room for a more centralized clerical operation. We would then have to move into an area where a "dispersed" clerical operation now functions very well, compared with how it will be when we have to ship our cases out and away from the unit, for who knows how long and with what quality work then to be done on them. This is just the latest of many "on high" decisions made by our head-up-the-nether regions upper management hierarchy, one with which none of the actual operating level folks agree, unless they were bought off by promotions, as with the clerical staff that got higher pay to oversee the new operation. We minor minions must now go closer to the "central axis," which translates to right under the supervisor's thumb and (for we prostate sufferers) much farther away from the bathroom. Well, change is inevitable. But, with such inconvenient and retarded transitions in the offing, I am now more gung-ho than ever to vacate those premises forever, once my retirement benefits finally are due to kick in.

I have this week enjoyed viewing the "1900 House" program on PBS. This was so good, highly informative and with a lot of human interest. Among other tidbits of historical trivia was a new understanding of just how much our many ancestors must have stunk in the extremely long, odiferous yesteryear, given that an abundant supply of running hot water is only a fairly recently added modern convenience, even among the western, developed countries.

8/11/00-Fri.-My efforts at whittling down my case processing time at work continue, more or less successfully; but I won't know for sure they have been sufficient until the end of September, when our rating period comes to an end.

Today on the job, I got a loaner book from Larry, who knows, from my descriptions of Pepper's antics and my appreciation of his tales about a couple terriers of his, that I enjoy a good yarn about dogs, and so passed along the book My Dog Skip, by Willie Morris, for my perusal. I am really enjoying this work and can recommend it, along with several others of Morris' writings.

Morris was coming into his own in Austin and was writing for and editing "The Texas Observer," which helped launch his journalistic and scribal career, at the same time I was in my early college years here, at The University of Texas. At Scholtz's Beer Garden, sometimes alone and sometimes with friends, I often used to read the pages of this periodical for witty, urbane inside dope on the Texas political scene. In those days I was a naive liberal, interested in the civil rights and "ban the bomb" movements. My father, a retired Air Force intelligence officer, would become quite angry with me for such interests and associations, claiming they were led by communists and that the FBI would get my name and picture, if I attended such activities, and would ruin my life. It occurred to me that if, for simply standing up for what I believed in, walking in legal marches, or peaceably assembling and planning political actions, the FBI was going to destroy my life, it was the FBI about which we needed to be concerned, not some alleged communist plot. (I never heard of significant genuine involvement by communists in the liberal movements of those years. However, we have since learned of many illegal activities by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.)

Dad began to suspect me, then, of being a communist too, when I would not give up such things. I never was in any way a member of or ever leaning toward the Communist Party or its ends. But I suppose I must have gotten my surveillance file started about then. As one of the steering committee for the University Wesley Foundation, a Methodist Youth Fellowship organization, I invited Pete Seeger to Austin to speak and to lead us in fine old Woody Guthrie songs. He did come. We had a tremendous gathering of young people interested in the then growing folk music tradition, civil rights, anti-nuclear activism, the traditional "communist ideology" as taught by Jesus in The New Testament, and just darned good banjo strumming and sing-along fun. He came under the auspices of our ICHTHUS Coffee House, which I helped run for a year or so, clearly a red front!

Some years later, in the latter sixties, I helped direct The Austin Draft Information Center, which had an office in the basement of the University "Y," another obviously communist conspiracy facility. Our ADIC group coordinated with local draft boards, to be sure we were completely up-to-date on the info. we gave out, and counseled young men on their options under the then very powerful draft law, which had the fate of many folks' lives in its clutches. We offered those who came for our services legal alternatives, such as seeking conscientious objector status, married student deferments, recognition as a preacher, or documentation of legitimate impairments, rather than serving in a way which, unlike World War II, was seen as less than a best use of our country's young talent and tax-payer resources. Those of us who started the ADIC did so not as communists or communist sympathizers at all, but as loyal American patriots who felt strongly that Vietnam was neither a moral nor an expedient war for our nation to wage and that the politicians who were trying to sell it to the American public as anything otherwise did so only by oversimplifying the issues and at the expense of truth, as eventually, in fact, some of the same former leaders would admit. At the height of our ADIC's popularity, we were getting contributions from many solid citizens and organizations around town, were sending speakers and counselors to various parts of Texas, such as Killeen, near Fort Hood, and were helping hundreds of men make difficult, personal choices that could affect the rest of their lives. Some elected to go into or stay in the military and to serve out their military duty time. Others chose a different path. Some wound up living in Canada. I knew of none myself, but have heard that a very few eventually deserted and went to Sweden. Such an option was never one I would have condoned. I sought to assist folks only within the law. But, at the time, after many talks with young soldiers extremely disillusioned by the kind of war we were fighting, I did not find it appropriate to judge those who felt they must take a personal stand against an involvement they saw as completely wrong, even if it meant giving up their U.S. citizenship. Some elected to commit minor acts of civil disobedience. Many of these were sent to jail, even prison.

In those days, though, I definitely did acquire an FBI file; and one of my church's ministers advised me that he had been interviewed about me by one of their agents. So did a rooming house landlady. What dull reading those records must be!

8/12/00-Sat.-A few years ago there was a film, "Six Degrees of Separation." The idea, I believe, was that all of us are connected, even related, and that to discover the link one need only consider all the people each of us knows. Among all known by one person, consider all the people known by each of those, etc. Continue this out six times and you will, on average, so the theory goes, discover at least one person whose friends or relatives are connected back to the original person. Thus, we are all connected within six degrees or spheres of difference or separation from each other. I would like to see it tested out. I suspect that for some there are less than six degrees of separation and for others more; but six may be a realistic figure overall. So, we are really living, in a way, in a very small world indeed, if any "stranger" is only six degrees of difference from ourselves and our closest circle of acquaintances.

From this concept, and the notion of synchronicity, as in Jung's writings, I see the possibility that our world is actually even more closely related than that, as if all the events that occur within our minds are, likewise, at only six degrees of separation from all the mental phenomena of anyone else, but that, as with microscopic black holes that theoretically interpenetrate all of space/time, so that time and space interactions can be bent or curved around every which way and we may, in a sense, be at one and the same time here and on the other side of the universe, so, on a mental level, there may be a Swiss cheese effect in which we are interconnected with all these different degrees of difference. There is, then, perhaps, not really so much a vast number of units that have lesser or greater connection (as it seems to us subjectively in our apparent separateness), but rather, as with our nervous systems, though made up of billions of individual cells, a single organism of connection. On at least one level, all sentient beings may be one, with the "degrees of separation" being the illusion, rather than the sense of oneness with That Which Is, that occasionally may come over us.

My jeans are too tight. Time to go on a reducing diet again! Groan. I vowed many years ago never to buy pants with a waist size greater than 36 and have stuck with this pledge. At the moment, though, my belt feels like a Dutchman's last ditch dike against the sea's storm surge. My dad had no such promise to himself, to judge by his girth, and eventually became rather massive in the middle.

On the way over to Jim's this morning, for a snack before mowing the front yard, I arrived first at a four-way stop intersection. As I was starting up again, however, a youthful Black driver in an SUV, who had barely slowed down, rolled on through with a sneering gloat at he cut me off and turned past. For an unworthy few moments I wished we were back in the Jim Crow South, when "young bucks" like this who got too "uppity" would have been taught appropriate lessons by "red-neck" cops.

For some reason, the image came to mind of the powerful balcony seduction scene very early in James Baldwin's Another Country, of the white woman, Leona, by the black man, Rufus, who later would kill himself. What barely submerged anger, in the character as well as the author. What raw rage still smolders between our two races!

Later. As I negotiate Austin (this once sleepy capital town) now, I am struck by the penalties we may pay for success. Almost wherever I go, there are long lines. The torrid Texas sun beats down on us as we wait through light after light. (The radio announcer says that the official temperature in this burg is now 104 degrees F.) A five minute drive can often take fifteen or twenty. On a cool day, I used to easily, eagerly, walk about this fair place, from one edge to another. Fast forward: in August, 2000, an hour or more may be required sometimes just to drive across our burgeoning metropolis.

8/13/00-Sun.-Pepper's eleventh birthday anniversary! She's still going strong. She'll receive some special celebratory treats and attention today.

It being a mandatory water rationing day for us, as verified by checking Austin, I'm up at 4:15 and have been using the sprinkler in the front, waking up and setting off now barking neighbor dogs in the process.

We leave our front porch light on at night. We also have dozens, perhaps scores, of geckos (and anoles), living on our third of God's Little Acre. One very large one (for a gecko!) stations himself on the side of the house near the burning light and just waits for insect snacks to come to him.

I awoke, a little after 4 A.M., from a dream in which I was warned about poisonous snakes. They were presented in vivid, archetypal, utterly beautiful, yet deadly, images, as I'd first seen them in a colorful insert section of a very thick, old Webster's Dictionary which, when I was little, perhaps about three or four or so, I'd used as a booster seat at the dining room table, and which I would later often also be called upon to employ for my verbal edification, until I could give the correct spelling and meaning of a till-then unfamiliar word. Perhaps because that tome was already fairly old and was so large as to be not much abridged, my memory of the use and meaning of many words is often that more appropriate in the last century, or earlier in the 20th, than now, or is from one of the definitions that modern dictionaries consider archaic or at least less common.

The dream segment I remember includes a little promontory of land, sloping sharply down to a clear deep, fast moving stream. On top of this hillock or jutting of the land there is a large tree, its mighty roots intertwined through the rocks and soil that make up the promontory peninsula, holding it together against the erosions of the water in times of flood. For some reason, I am walking or climbing about on this point of land. Everything is very clear. There are, in the sides of the promontory, indentations, places perhaps where large rocks used to be, that were carried off by the swollen stream. These now serve admirably as foot-holds in my climbing. But in any one of these now dry recesses there may lurk one or another specimen of serpent. I see a couple, handsome in their pristine, just shed of old skin, colorful attire, their menacing, triangular heads alert and poised for necessary action, should one of my feet have the temerity to invade their territories. (I wake up.)

While surfing the web this morning, I have noticed that The Vintage Diarist is now available through a Yahoo! search.

8/15/00-Tues.-In a dream last night my mother is showing me a house and making suggestions on the points of interest when considering buying it. (Now, what's that about!?)

In reality (if any, and as best we can determine it), Mom arrived here during the day yesterday in preparation for Frances taking her to the airport today for a flight out to CA, for a little over two weeks of vacation, visiting with Pete, Alice and Ed, as well as some mutual friends made during previous trips to the Golden State, and possibly, if there's time and opportunity, one of Mom's cousins, and his family, as well.

Frances has been a princess during this period, with one exception. She is used to being a fairly private, independent lass, keeping herself well occupied with her own projects and needing or wanting no special social interaction in her off time. But, while I was away at work she kept Mom company, with a pleasantness and loyalty that could put most biological daughters to shame. Mom was very pleased, and glad to have the companionship.

Last night she took Fran and me out to eat at the Landry's sea food restaurant on Town Lake, buying us all fabulous meals. We had a choice window table and got to see interesting wildlife, including turtles, a nutria, and a great blue heron, as well as the lovely sunset over both the cityscape and the placid water.

Today, Fran took her over to Wal-Mart for some pre-trip, last-minute shopping, then to a Chinese buffet for lunch, and, finally, on to the airport for a 3:05 non-stop flight out to San Jose (just $199). She'll be arriving back here late on 9/2. Her van is staying in our garage for the interim.

I had a really terrible day at work, though the backlog at least was reduced a little.

On my way home, I stopped at Nippon Automotive, where Fran had left her car for servicing a few minutes earlier, and gave her a ride home.

On the way back the incident occurred that somewhat marred Fran's otherwise perfect record over the last couple days. We were stuck, as so often happens now, in a long line of traffic. Someone tried to force his way in line, from an adjoining shopping center. Since several before this one had gotten away with this, slowing things down for everyone waiting behind us, and the driver did not even have the courtesy to wait till at least one more car had gone by, since the last such line-breaker, I continued to maneuver my car ahead, having the clear right of way. He decided to try to force the issue and wedge himself in anyway. I was not about to let him get away with it, however, and continued on, which, as he also did not want to stop butting in line, nearly resulted in an accident. It was a matter of inches, with this teenage hot-head having to back down or we'd be telling our story to the police. At this point, with our open windows quite close, Fran chose to call the other driver a "shithead," or some such, quite loudly enough for him to hear. I do not know if my 42 year old wife was trying to egg him on and get her excitement from the near fight she was inciting, something I would have expected from someone one-third her age, or if she just had no clue of social decorum in delicate vehicular confrontations! In either case, the response seemed uncalled for and a needless escalation, one, unfortunately, of a type she has been all too prone to exhibit in similar episodes before, knowing full well that I despise such behavior. In one other incident, for instance, she made a rude middle finger gesture at a lady, after having pulled in front of her at an intersection, when the right of way was in some dispute. The lady was so furious that she went out of her way to chase us down, cut us off, and then yell a series of threats at Fran. I told Frances, after that incident, already one of several, that I definitely do not appreciate such antics and never again wanted her to do anything of the kind, certainly not while I was in the car. I do not know what gets into Fran that she either cannot control a bitchy tongue or actually enjoys baiting people into near aggression. I hope she learns soon how to act like a grownup in highway situations! In most ways she is quite mature and very responsible; but, like so many others, behind the wheel she seems to feel she has a license not just to drive but to act like a teenager.

As we had heard from Ernie last month, Horace and Leila have now let Mom know as well, making the announcement official, that they and most of their family plan to move to Colorado as soon as they can sell their place in Waco, leaving both Mom and Leila's parents, Rose and Kenneth (who had done so much for them over the years, with financial assistance as well as thousands of hours of baby-sitting, etc., but who were expecting Horace and Leila to stay around and be there in case of need as they get older, not to mention for all the interactions with grandchildren on which Mom, Rose, and Kenneth had come to depend), very much in the lurch. Not insignificantly, this may also mean that Mom may need to call on me or me and Fran, though we are about a two-hour drive away, much more in the years ahead. While here, she jokingly said maybe she should move in with one of her children. With equal levity we said she could certainly come live with or near us, but that as soon as we retire we are planning on going to a cooler climate. She could go there, however, and would be quite welcome to start afresh in a more comfortable clime. She said the best offer she had had came from Mary, who, now that Jim is heading off to college, and with Ralph having died, just as Mom has lost Dad, is somewhat at loose ends and may be wondering what to do all on her own, in her own "declining years." Mary, on hearing of Horace and Leila's perfidy, immediately advised Mom to make a new home for herself in Houston near her. Mom at this point is feeling rather bitter and perhaps may be thinking that if her children will not treat her right, then she will just settle down near Mary instead and good riddance! But she is clearly also feeling very anxious and disappointed as well.

Our computer mouse is wearing out. We have contacted our technical support folks at Dell and they have promised to send a new one within about a week. So far, overall, we have been pleased with our Dell system; but we are also glad the warranty contract has about another two years to run!

8/18/00-Fri.-Ron's birthday. Fran & I celebrated it with him last night at Tien Jin Chinese restaurant. I got him a book by David Poyer, The Circle. Poyer is, I believe, the best American author of modern naval adventures. It is a shame he has, as yet, so few books in this genre. But perhaps he will continue his craft of sea plus military yarns for a long while to come.

The other night I had a vivid Technicolor dream on the theme of global warming and some of its possible effects, in this case with the southern U.S. becoming variously desert, tropical rain forest, and jungle, with many of the species now living closer to the Equator finding safe haven in our previously more temperate clime. The dream was in great detail, from plagues to venomous creatures to noxious plants to allergens gone wild to molds, hordes of hungry insects, etc.

8/20/00-Sun.-We got up before 7 AM and headed over to Zilker Park for our usual routine: Fran went hunting for good photo subjects and opportunities to collect seeds, while Pepper and I went on a 3-4 mile walk, variously chasing squirrels (or other interesting varmints) or trying to stay reasonably healthy, with at least a modicum of exercise each week, despite the intense heat and high humidity. Pepper kept panting and stopping to rest and pee. I kept patting her down with water to cool her off. About half-way through our constitutional, I saw and heard a flock of monk parakeets, noisily social, sitting in, or flying between, a couple of huge pecan trees.

We continued on over to Zilker Gardens, where once again I found dinosaur prints, and where I dropped my overheated dog briefly into one of the koi ponds, which seemed to help her stamina.

The temperature must have been a hundred-and-Hades in my car when I went out for a rental video, as background for a massage I'll give Frances later this afternoon.

Our replacement mouse has still not arrived, from Dell.

Nor have I received any replies to my e-mailed inquiries about Dr. Harold Pearl. It is as if all record of him ceased completely, after an interview he gave, copyrighted in 1998.

A long-shot, I know, but I have also asked my sister Alice, in CA, who has a network of contacts in that state's esoteric community, for any information she may be able to retrieve. She said she would check with her Swami Beyondananda friends at a party she and her husband were going to yesterday. Well, it cannot hurt; but it seems unlikely help will come from a "cosmic comic" or his acquaintances. Still, I am at the leaving no stone unturned stage now.

Frances and I are putting out our monthly online family newsletter, The Wagnerian Express, this weekend, and now have it close to finished.

Back home, in our best of all possible suburban housing divisions, Maple Run, our nearest neighbor keeps up non-stop, blaring rock "music" on a radio in his back hard, which noise blends with that of his screaming children and barking dog. Meanwhile, in an abandoned house lot, across the street from us, another (alcoholic) neighbor's teen-age son loudly races his off-the-road vehicle, tearing up the dry sod and creating lovely clouds of brown dust. Everything quite normal.

8/22/00-Tues.-The meditation has been relatively fruitful lately.

This evening there is a "Nova" program, on time travel, on our PBS station. That should be interesting! (I'd like to travel backward about two years for each one forward, for about the next twenty-five years or so.)

Fran is trying to get our other home page onto Cool Home Pages; but, realistically, we may not stand a chance. We checked this site out. They have some really neat stuff showcased there. They also have extremely funny worst of the web sites. These are a riot. The reader really should take a look!

8/24/00-Thurs.-It has, so far, once again been a very challenging, frustrating, emotionally draining week at my best of all possible government jobs. Well, tomorrow is Friday!

Today Frances started back on her school term schedule of combined teaching, rehearsing, and performing. She came home looking and feeling about as wiped out as I do after almost every new day in the bureaucratic trenches. She suggested it would be about right if we just had to work one day a week, with six to recover. I agree! The current ratio is instead entirely too taxing.

Fran has an audition this Sat. for an opening in the Austin Symphony Orchestra. I hope she gets it! More than would be so for any of her other talents, Frances' career as a musician is the most rewarding and meaningful for her. Her performing is far and away the activity for which she trained and covets and deserves recognition. Her teaching of music, which she does full-time from late August through early May each school year, plays "second fiddle," to make a poor analogy pun, to her performing. It just does not come close to being as interesting and satisfying for her, though it is, perhaps, better than if her main work were as another state employment drudge!

Yesterday, I overreacted to an e-mail Mary had sent, about a weekend family get-together that Pete has been pushing, in memory of Ralph, who died ten years ago (10/27/90). Today I was remorseful about this and wishing I had never sent it. So, I transmitted through the e-waves an apologetic missive and related that, after seeing Mary and Ernie's responses to mine of the previous day, I was reminded of one of Gilda Radner's famous lines: "Oh, that is very different! Never mind!" She was such a cool comic!

8/25/00-Fri.-Recently I have been rereading a book by William Hart, The Art of Living - Vipassana Meditation, as Taught by S. N. Goenka. Although this is not exactly the kind of sitting practice I use, the method and philosophy are similar to mine. Reviewing such works as this proves inspirational for me. Though I clearly have only gone a little way on this path, as is all too well attested by my frequent distress over my own behaviors and reactions or over those of others, too often recounted here, I at least have found a way to make a meaningful inner journey. As so often in the past, I do not go along with a lot of cultural baggage. I strongly believe, though, that the ancient meditation traditions have much of value to teach to us in the modern world. We are not so wise that we cannot learn from others who have millennia of practice and discipline behind their advice, who thereby know the means to genuine results, taking into account our inner psychology. "Insight meditation," as I prefer to call it, can help one to refine the tools with which we were born, to discover true pearls within, by "simply" seeing things as they are.

8/27/00-Sun.-Up about 7 A.M. On the "All Things Considered" radio broadcast on Friday, 8/25, there was discussion of biological warfare agents. We have, as a species, developed more than enough stored and often engineered (to be even more lethal, durable, and resistant to whatever efforts we might make to eradicate them) viral and other biological toxins, agents of plague such as smallpox and anthrax, to wipe out most if not all of humanity. Moreover, our nation, the good ol' U.S. of A., a likely primary target of terrorists bent on using such agents, now virulent and available enough to make the average nuclear envious would-be mass murderer salivate, is not prepared for a concerted biological attack. The twenty-first century does not usher in a miraculous heaven on earth. The next hundred years are probably going to involve at least as much horror as did the century before it, quite possibly more. Regrettably for us, in contrast to the situation in the 20th Century, the United States will apparently be the main ground zero in such a future war, as we represent the last "super power" toward which the rogue nations and their minions may direct their fanatical political ire. I was curious, after hearing the ominous radio report, and went to the WWW, where I found that, among other interesting sites, a great one had been prepared by PBS. The only trouble is that, after reviewing the information shown there, the reader may not ever feel safe again! It would appear, from what I have now heard and seen, that the odds are unfortunately very good that our nation will be attacked, sooner rather than much later, perhaps not once but many times, and that the attacks could be highly successful, with perhaps as much suffering as we had sometimes imagined in the last century from nuclear attack.

More positively (at least temporarily!) I completed a new investment analysis yesterday and discovered we are ahead of our current target, with current assets now exceeding $600,000. Our progress toward financial independence is excruciatingly slow, but is at least fairly steady. Including about $20,000 in new investments so far this year, our assets have, through the first eight months of 2000, increased over $62,000, despite a generally so-so equities market and our having 25% of our liquid assets in reserves or bond holdings.

While Fran is finishing a nap today, I am browsing the fare on the internet and chanced upon the's "Week in Pictures" site, a must see for folks who enjoy spectacular, journalistic photos. For me, this week's best of the best from their photography smorgasbord is one that captures the moment of a Japanese volcano's eruption. It is truly stunning!

Yesterday, after Fran had left for her audition, for a position with the Austin Symphony Orchestra, the tension was high. As so often in the past, I was aware how little control I have. Were it in any way within my power, I would have assured that she did magnificently in the audition, that she "nailed it," and was selected for a permanent place in that organization. Of course, it is not up to me! She also could not control all the significant variables. She could, through no fault of hers, have had a wreck on the way over. She was very well prepared and extremely talented, but could have gone up against impossibly brilliant competition. The committee listening to the candidates might have already made up their minds to pick someone else. So many little things could have gone wrong. For success, instead, so much would have had to go right. I was anxious on her behalf, knowing how much this would mean to her, one way or the other. She had asked that I not go down there with her. I had no choice but to wait for her return home. And she was later getting back than I had expected, which built up the tension a bit more. In fact, as it turned out, she did not get it. This is really a darned shame!

8/28/00-Mon.-In a dream fragment from last night, my mother is following behind me and notices that, apparently when I had taken something else out of my pocket, I had dropped all of my paper money, a folded wad of about $30. (What is that about?) It seems too as though we were going up a flight of stairs in an older house. Hmm. I have the impression that I am feeling rather harried and that the lost greenbacks are just one of several things that have gone wrong, another in a string of frustrations. I am aware of being responsible to pick Mom up at the airport Sat. evening, after she flies back from a visit in CA. Also, that some decisions will need to be made about her welfare in the next few months or years, now that Horace and Leila and most of their family are planning as soon as they can to move to CO and away from their Waco residence, where they've been close to her for many years. I am aware too of concern that Fran & I too, in hoping to go somewhere nicer after we retire, in another couple or three years, may also seem to be abandoning her, if certain arrangements and understandings are not reached first, that accommodate her elder care needs. I am no spring chickadee myself and at some point in the next very finite number of years am likely to need such care of my own. We are also in a small quandary about a residence after retirement, wanting a cooler and nicer area/neighborhood but knowing that just about everything in the way of real estate now costs a lot more than it did when we bought our current place, and that most houses have appreciated in value better than our place. It even occurred to me that, as we retire in a couple years or a little less, Mom may be just about at the point she will need a closer attendance upon her welfare. I have very mixed feelings about direct involvement in this. She and I have had a somewhat strained relationship through much of my adult years, respectful usually, even close at times, but with definite caution on both our parts. Each of us has also been really hurt by the other at one time or another. Too typical of a classic "dysfunctional family." Yet it is possible that, as one transitional step, Frances and I could be involved with her and her care and in some way connected at that point with her residence or she with ours. All that by way of background. Yet I still do not have any idea what the money falling out of my pocket and her following behind and finding it and giving it back to me could represent. Maybe it is nothing meaningful at all, just a random admixture of dream images. The mind is surely not always profound!

8/29/00-Tues.-Today I went to lunch at a Wendy's restaurant that is an easy walk from where I work. When I started to pay for the food, I found I had no paper money with me, the first time that has happened in so long I can barely remember it ever occurring before. It must have been at least twelve to fifteen years since the last time. I am very compulsive about checking my pockets for wallet, keys, cash, coins, and handkerchief every time I leave the house. So, it was a remarkable thing. As it happened, they let me pay with a credit card; so I did not wind up washing dishes! But the particularly noteworthy thing was that, though I still cannot account for the presence of my mother in my dream from yesterday morning, except that she is the archetypal overly cautious Mom, often, when we were growing up, reminding us of things that might happen if we were not doubly careful, i.e. about making sure we had enough cash before leaving the house. But the coincidence of my winding up, in fact, for the first time in at least a decade, without paper money in my pocket when I needed it and the dream's theme, of my losing paper money from my pocket, is intriguing!

As so often in the past when such coincidences have occurred, it came partly as a result of an "altered state" of consciousness. All such experiences that I have had were related to dreams, semi-dream states just after or before sleep, meditation, or concentration while writing creatively. Readers interested in more on such synchronicity events may wish to peruse some of the writings of or about Carl Jung on the subject.

Otherwise, it was a fairly routine day. However, late in the afternoon at work, I received my copy of the newly updated statistics on which our evaluations are based. Though in two out of thirteen variables I am not "in the black" by much, at least I am no longer "in the red" for any of them. Thus, the chances are once again good that I'll successfully finish the fiscal year without being placed on probation, as had (despite the quality and production accolades I consistently receive, along with loads of my boss' "smiley faces") been a major worry since my last official performance appraisal. If I get through just one more month, at this best of all possible workplaces, without a "developmental plan," I shall then, at last, be in a position to coast, relatively stress-free, through the following year and a half to retirement with benefits as of the spring of 2002. I shall then, during this final interim, still do my usual conscientious best, but will no longer have to be concerned that, due to ever increasing job responsibilities or a bad illness, etc., I could, even with a quarter century of government service to my credit, be let go for not making one out of thirteen stats.!

Concerning recent comments about insight meditation, I note that I differ some with the originators of that approach, at least as I understand it, not only in its heritage from its Asian background of assumptions, but also with respect to its suggestion that one must overcome cravings and aversions. It seems to me that one cannot do so and still remain in this world. Even if our cravings become very subtle indeed, so subtle perhaps that we just crave success in insight meditation and feel aversion for all that keeps us from it, nonetheless, by even that much we are still prisoners of our desires and fears. The best we can do, I believe, is to become relatively detached from our wishes and worries. But this, perhaps, is very worthwhile, even if it is not complete perfection, impossible anyway. To have us aspire to a modicum of faultlessness is well and good; but to expect anyone to ever achieve it, to hold that standard over us, or pretend that anyone ever has accomplished it, that just makes insight meditation into yet another religion. Forget it! There is enough benefit from very mundane levels of insight without our having to try for an otherworldly degree of it!

8/30/00-Wed.-In a totally blue funk. Surely it can't be as simple as that I hate working. My immediate boss was a jerk again today. What else is new? Why does it still get to me so? Meditating, I kept obsessing and getting madder and madder. I took a long walk to loosen all those tense muscles and kept thinking how much fun it would be if he had a rollover accident in a brand new SUV. This actually happened to another of my bosses a few years ago. He went out to kill deer (no bird pun intended) and came back a corpse. All that stuff about feeling guilty after someone dies when you had previously fantasized bad things happening to them? Not true! I kept thinking it could not have happened to a nicer person. Well, if we do not cut one another's throats first, my current manager and I have a little over 1½ years more of karma, and/or fantasies of car harm, to go before our paths may at last diverge. I must put on my best, most diplomatic, front while around the SOB. And deal with the seething on my own time.

Fran and I went out to eat at Tres Amigos restaurant tonight. Nice vittles and a glass of vino. Saw our head medical consultant there with his wife.

In the mail, got the latest rip-off news from our HMO. Prices are going up another 50% or so. Benefits are going down. Great. On that subject, I think they really had it right in the fine movie "As Good as It Gets."

We did get a big surprise in the mail, a summary of projected benefits from Social Security. It seems we are to get about $5000-6000 more a year than I had expected, starting in 2005, assuming I take partial retirement, at age 62. I plugged the new figures into our retirement spreadsheets and was pleased at the overall effect, assuming I live more than a few years of the oft yearned-for post-work days and do not collapse first into permanent apoplexy from a seizure of glee upon at last shaking the dust off for good from that most wonderful of job sites!

8/31/00-Thurs.-I have gotten through another month at ye ol' state job! Potentially but 19 months left. Yuck! When I say it that way, it seems s o....l o n g..................................................

The last time I was at Zilker Park, taking Pepper on one of our weekend constitutionals, we witnessed a strange sight as we got close to the part of Barton Creek just below the dam that helps create Barton Springs pool. In that area there is a relatively flat part of land that is bound by a steep slope roughly to the north and by the creek roughly to the south. Through this wide stretch of bank, that extends for about the length of a football field, all kinds of activity may be observed at any given moment. There is a hiking-and-biking path that runs through it, also a canoe rental shack, usually a variety of dogs, often not on leashes, sometimes a few human waders, and a large assortment of water birds, including cormorants, ducks, geese, and the occasional swan. In this instance, Pepper's and my attention, this early morning, the sun barely up as we had arrived in good time, hoping to get our walking in before too much of the summer heat made the exertions miserable, was suddenly riveted by a very loud, high-pitched, repeated whistling, that seemed to be advancing toward us and the birds, which were now getting up and showing signs of great excitement. It turned out the noise was coming from a little, hoary-faced octogenarian, who looked no more than four feet high, dragging behind her a wagon full of bready leftovers which she was, no doubt, about to wield to the waiting fowl, an effort she apparently was used to doing with some regularity, given their responsiveness. She had the most intent expression on her old face, as if her whistled trumpetings were about to open the heavens or at least announce the pending happy munchings of a few score water birds for yet one more day. It struck me as I watched this spectacle that it was this particular lady's ONE meaningful, nurturing endeavor in life, at least now, after who knew what long journey had left her stranded alone here, her family and friends perhaps all gone, but her winged companions always there for her, dependent upon her, caring utterly, poignantly about her appearance each new morn, no matter who else may have forgotten or passed beyond the realm of remembrance. In just this way, I realized, some more touchingly so than others, we all must find a way of being recognized, must discover a response from life that says: "Yes, you, especially you, still really matter."

Just so, at one time I helped Fran plant and/or nurture, in our little 1/3 acre lot, about 100 trees, figuring that the net deficit to the environment of my existence is probably the equivalent of what 1000 trees could give back to it. So, my lifetime goal, including the fifty or so that remain healthy around our house, is to assure the sustenance of at least 1000 of them, preferably preserved safely from developers' destructive ambitions. This is but one example, but a not insignificant one for me, given that I have no genetic offspring.

According to the weather maps, Texas was again the hottest state in the Union today. The color-coded temperature pattern for our area looks, as usual, like a large, painful patch of skin with 1st and 2nd degree burns! One wants to spread some aloe oil or other soothing ointment on it.

The official high for our part of the central Texas metropolis today was 106° F. That's almost warm enough, even for the now rare "horny toads" I used to catch and keep as a youth in San Antonio.

I checked the National Weather Service site for any hurricanes on our horizon or cold fronts headed our way. There appeared to be none of either in our imminent future.

I had a surprisingly satisfying and productive shift on the job today. Our stocks also went up nicely. And the meditation proved enjoyable. All is seemingly right with the world!

But it is all relative. Yesterday's lows and today's highs are both symptomatic of too much reactive involvement with and dependence on changing circumstances.

Meanwhile, Frances came home with laryngitis after a day of teaching music. Fortunately, she has no more students until after Labor Day. She says she does not know if her loss of voice is due to allergies, a cold, or just too much recent crying. She is taking the results of the weekend audition pretty badly, feeling keenly the difference between what might have been and how things turned out. Her grieving, after decades of unlucky attempts at getting a permanent orchestra position, is only natural. Yet it seems that, even in the good times, it is too difficult for her to give herself proper credit for her many, prodigious assets and accomplishments. She needs and deserves more recognition than has come her way in recent years. And the latest disappointment just highlights this for her. I try to tell her that her many fine talents are quite enough, more than enough! However, she does not need to hear this just from me. She must accept it, believe it, herself.

There's a gem of a little book for times like this, called How to Survive the Loss of a Love. It is not just for situations involving loved ones gone, but also for all kinds of significant loss. Both Fran and I have found it helpful on different occasions through the years.

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