10/2/00-Mon.-Up, per usual, about 5:55. Frantic preps. for work, then the commute, arriving about 7:20. Hectic workday, with the usual nerve-wracking frustrations and bureaucratic absurdities. One example: a lady failed to go to an exam we had set up, to decide a rather frivolous claim. Turned out, even though she knew of the exam, she decided to go visit her son in Egypt for a few months. I conferred with my supervisor, recommending a negative decision on her claim in view of her lack of cooperation, an approach for which there certainly was good support. His decision instead: we must contact Social Security for help on knowing how long she'll be there, keep the case indefinitely, work with the consulate in Egypt on getting her an exam in that country, work with our State Dept. if necessary to coordinate everything, etc. In other words, rather than do the simple, reasonable thing, create a hugely complicated issue that will then require scores of hours of my time and be on my books for months, when the negative outcome of her claim is a foregone conclusion. Typical. Such matters come up about every other day. The solution is almost never the simple one. It is delightful to have the best of all possible jobs!
Austin is enjoying a return to summer-like weather. We never seem completely, safely rid of sweltering days. Even in January we may have temperatures in the high nineties. Seeking a fantasy respite from the drudgery of state employment as well as from purgatory here in our sunny central Texas climate (granted in many ways a marvelous place to live, but for Fran, Pepper, and myself not very endurable from a temperature standpoint), I checked out a couple real estate sites on the web, one showing "cheap, rural real estate," which had in its inventory a place in northern New York State for sale for $138,000 that included over 400 acres of forests, streams, lakes, etc., ready with utilities for a mobile home or construction of your own permanent place, etc. Adventurous, true, but it surely sounds good at the moment!
I tried another site for coastal Oregon real estate, which included, among other places, a 20-acre site with a mobile home already on it, a few score miles from the ocean and where the climate is much more pleasant, temperature-wise, than here (or in northern New York). Well, as they say, the grass is always greener...But, 18 months from likely finally achieving retirement, it is fun to dream.
Called my mom tonight. She's doing fine, but likes the recent return to warmer weather, setting her thermostat at 86 degrees, then wondering why weekend visitors were acting like they were too hot. Oh well. Maybe, if I stay here, in another decade or two or three I'll enjoy Texas weather too! Groan!
I'm now very much enjoying the historical classic on the origins and initial phases of "The Great War," The Guns of August, by Barbara W. Tuchman. It shows what can happen when mediocre, bureaucratic minds run this best of all possible worlds. Am very glad that is no longer the case!
10/4/00-Wed.-Another long workday. Back, though, by about 6 P.M. Just one more, frantic day of last-minute efforts at "triage" remain before I am off work for a few days, leaving the fate of the caseload to the future.
On the news, in the last week or so, there have been not unexpected reports of violence again between the Palestinians and the Israelis, seemingly inevitable as the "peace agreement" should have gotten beyond all the endless preliminaries and on to the real nitty-gritty issues, that would have to be worked out for genuine resolution of conflict in that region. Regardless of who is "to blame" for this latest series of incidents, or even who was to blame for all the aggression back and forth for the last several generations in what used to simply be called "Palestine," this terribly complex overall situation cannot be remedied by half-measures or efforts that merely pay lip-service to achieving peace at some point indefinitely in the future. It appears likely that at least another war will erupt in that scarred area before all contenders come to their senses, perhaps one that is far more devastating, and even potentially more involving of other nations, than any that have preceded it. But if real peace is to arrive there, I suspect it will only be possible if Jerusalem is made into an international city, or at least if its primary religious sites are made part of a United Nations' protected enclave. Are any of the confrontational parties, all of whom claim belief in the same one God, willing to give up claims of sovereignty for the sake of peace? Does the United States have the balls finally to use its massive leverage (including military, political, moral, and financial) to insist on such a solution? Or must people continue to pay with their lives for the deliberations, delays, and double-speak of the various politicians?
10/8/00-Sun.-Up about 8:00, after an unusually late night. Ran into Ron, returning from a walk, on my way over to a Kettle restaurant, next to our Motel 6. He'll be joining me here in a few minutes. Ernie, Caroline, and Pete are at the Motel 6 too but didn't want to be up and about yet. There's some big building fire not far from here. Visible from our motel balcony, the thick black smoke has been billowing up; and sirens are wailing frantically. The local news channel is featuring it; and Ron, getting out earlier than I, walked over and snapped some pictures of it.
Despite some hard to accept, going-with-the-flow frustrations, this has been a rewarding weekend so far. Besides myself, Ron, Ernie, Caroline, Pete, Mary, Mom, and (Ernie and Caroline's daughter) Diane have participated.
Mom, Ron, and I left Austin Fri. afternoon, 10/6, and, after getting caught in rainy, Houston rush-hour traffic, arrived at Mary's, following an otherwise pleasant trip, about 6:30 p.m. We had a pre-prepared vegetarian meal at her place, and later were joined for snacking and visiting by Ernie, Caroline, Diane, and Pete (whom the others had just picked up from the airport). Diane and Mom stayed both nights at Mary's. Caroline, Ernie, and Pete are all staying at the Motel 6 for three nights, Fri., Sat., and Sun., before dispersing (Diane, of course, with Caroline and Ernie) on Monday. Sat. night, Ron and I stayed at the Motel 6 too, but were at Mary's Fri. night.
On Sat., Ron and I went for a couple-mile walk at a large mall. Later everyone got together for lunch at the Spaghetti Warehouse.
That afternoon we went our separate ways, except for one group that did some shopping. A couple of the others remained behind, looking like two large, belly-up, beached sea lions, and spent this time watching television, their vacant, soporific, matching stares completing the analogy.
I used these hours to go through copies of the correspondence between Ralph's son, Jim, and myself (beginning shortly after Ralph's death and continuing for about 4-5 years thereafter), that included several references to my memories of Jim's dad, jotting down additions to notes on my current reminiscences of him.
That evening, we all drove over to the Holiday Inn where, nearly ten years earlier, we'd had our memorial service for Ralph, attended by nearly 200.
First, we ate supper in their dining room, beginning our recollections with rather silly or frivolous things, like the times Alice, as a jealous young but older sister, 2-4 years of age, in several attempts tried, all too nearly effectively, to kill little Ralph by stringing him up at the neck, using a handy Venetian blind cord, by suffocating him under a mountain of blankets and stuffed toys, etc.
Somehow he survived, later chasing her angrily with a stick once he'd learned to run! One way or another, he bested her time and again. She stopped her open aggressions, though not her long-term, smoldering resentment, which persisted even to several years after his death, when she had vindictive "visions" of his coming back to life as a lowly dragonfly, "proving," to her satisfaction, that he had not been on the right spiritual path, that his meditation efforts had all been in vain. I'm afraid last evening we enjoyed not a little unkind humor at Alice's expense.
Once we had retired to the Holiday Inn's hospitality room, the serious reminiscences got under way, the highlight of which was a tribute to Ralph by Pete, who had written a five-page essay based on his perspective as the youngest of the family. There was probably not a dry eye among us after he had completed an emotional reading of his piece.
10/12/00-Thurs.-Another night of fitful sleep. Surely this has nothing to do with the fact I drink about a quart or so of coffee during the day.
Fran fixed us a delicious, simple, mostly healthy meal last evening of fresh fruits and vegetables, toasted half-bagel with cheese, and cold shrimp (though I confess to not much liking the kind of small, pre-cooked, frozen salad shrimp used).
I watched, with mixed boredom and exasperation, the second of this year's presidential campaign debates, Wed., and found myself wishing for third-party candidate involvement. I cannot imagine either of the two front-runners serving our country well. The major third-party candidates, Buchanan and Nader, may not be any better for the office but at least would have provided superior evening entertainment!
"Wagner's music is better than it sounds," attributed to Mark Twain.
10/17/00-Tues.-The last of the current presidential candidate debates is to occur tonight. Not sure if I'll watch, given the disappointments up till now.
We have received some good showers in the last few days, though no gully-washers, such as colleagues up in north Austin got.
Fran and I have been busy putting together the next Wagnerian Express issue. Meanwhile, she has completed 21 new garden essays, with photos, for her biology site!
Frances is in rehearsals or performances every night this week, through Fri. She is working her regular private teaching schedule too. Long days!
10/20/00-Fri.-Got home about 30 minutes ago after a solid hour of traffic in the commute. Rested briefly and am about to head out again, this time for The Univ. of TX., where Fran is performing with the Austin Symphony.
Too bad for Pepper who's been home alone all day and now will be abandoned for the evening as well. I played with her a bit and gave her a chew-thing treat. That will have to do.
I did watch the last of the debates on Tuesday. While it was slightly more entertaining, there seemed little of interest or substance. I already knew these guys' pat answers. There were no major flubs. I suppose this is how democracy works in the last year of the Twentieth Century. It does not seem like much to write home about.
10/23/00-Mon.-Watery eyes, sniffles, inflamed sinuses, a little extra throat phlegm, earache---the first trickle signs of a phenomenon which, in full flow and flood, is as hard to dam as Niagara Falls. It is apparently caused by, or at least the result of, an allergic reaction to all the extra mold and other spoors in the air, which, in turn, follow from the plentiful rainfall we've been enjoying in the last few days, including several inches of precipitation at our place. The last time I had this problem, it took a couple months to get over it and, in the process, I developed a bad exacerbation of asthma or reactive airway disease (R.A.D.) and was briefly afraid I might have to be hospitalized. At least I know better this time how to treat it. Maybe it won't be so debilitating this time. Before last fall and winter, I had never been seriously bothered by this sort of thing for more than a week or two at a time, at least not since I was about 6 or 7 years old, when Dad had still used to smoke a lot of Camel cigarettes in the house.
I recall that I was having a sinus flare-up, and taking (unintentionally mind-altering) over-the-counter medications for it, when I first decided to become involved in The Lifestream Way, back about 1972. There are, perhaps, worse causes for religious conversion than side-effects of "cold medicine."
This past weekend, we finally completed and sent out the latest issue of The Wagnerian Express. It took more effort and time than usual this month because we had to coordinate with various extended-family members who were making contributions to it, as we were including their input in a special tribute section, in honor of my brother Ralph, who died 10 years ago this week, and my father, whose death occurred five years ago this month.
Also in the last two days, we took a couple nice walks, with Pepper. On the one early Sat., we had 15 deer sightings!
That morning I also planted about 100 Bluebonnet seeds, given to me by a colleague who has had much better luck with these plants than I up till now. She said they have a great patch of them and harvest the seeds each year before the birds can get them. I got my seeds into the ground mainly in our wildflower garden, an area dedicated particularly to Ralph's memory, and where I had planted a pear tree in his name and buried some of his ashes. The tree blossoms beautifully each spring. Shortly after the seeds were out, heavy rains began; and light or significant showers have persisted, off and on, ever since, reminiscent of the weather when I used to live in Tacoma, WA.
10/25/00-Wed.-The Niagara is now in flood. All the medications and extra rest do not seem able to stem its flow. Bummer! It is a draining experience, pun intended. The last couple days at work have been quite a challenge. Just as last winter, it is hard to think straight and get the cases out under these circumstances.
10/26/00-Thurs.-Happy Birthday, Phil! Today I'm 57. At the moment I feel every minute of it. Still very much under the weather with allergy crud. In fact, up in middle of the night making this entry because I cannot breath right; so sleep eludes anyway.
In the book, Who Dies, by Stephen Levine, he advises using periods of illness to become better at dealing with one's own inevitable death, thus perhaps lessening the adjustments when one really is dying. If so, then the current illness would seem to be custom made for such "practice," since the over-the-counter medications already give one the feeling that his or her hold on this body is very tenuous. I have "spacey" sensations. It seems that, as was true of my brother, Ralph, when in the intensive care unit after his constant seizures threatened to end his life abruptly, and when his brain tumor had just been diagnosed, yet eight months before he actually died, my consciousness "wants" to float free of the body already. Well, it may be just an evolutionary adaptation to the body's sense that death is imminent, perhaps a trance of some unknown value to the perpetuation of the species, a state from which perhaps to lull a predator (just before a final, frantic attempt at escape?). However, it is easy to see how mystics through the ages could have mistaken this for spiritual awakening. I cannot recommend the means, though. The overwhelming impressions are of illness and yucky symptoms, not of going to meet my hypothetical Maker.
10/27/00-Fri.-My allergic sinusitis is all but at an end for the moment. Good!
Typical of the machiavellian machinations at my best of all possible workplaces, yesterday I overheard my esteemed supervisor, along with others meeting with our director, discussing the new office cubicle I would be issued after the coming million-dollar musical chairs that upper management has dictated, for absolutely no rational reason, which move is to commence in the next few days. My current cubicle is relatively close and convenient to restroom facilities, which, of course, has made it a preferable one considering my prostate troubles. I had early-on been informed this location would be eliminated, in the grand changes about to occur to satisfy a high-priced big wheel who feels her position is justified by how much she disrupts things and spends money, even if at the cost of employee morale and with no gain whatever, but much loss of coordination between we operating level folks and those who supposedly support us in our work.
My cubicle's advantage is somewhat offset by the major disadvantage that I am also close to the director's office and he and I can hear each others' goings on, not my favorite form of easy listening (nor his, I presume). The overall situation is straight out of Dilbert comics!
Yesterday I learned that another cubicle, only a few yards farther from both the facilities and the pontificating director was going to be available. I promptly put in for it as my preferred location after the move. And the request was at once accepted by my best of all possible supervisors! So, it was with some bemusement, that same afternoon, that I inadvertently eavesdropped on the director's and supervisors' conversation, about the move in general and mine in particular. As they began to discuss me, the director's voice quieted some and then one of the supervisors suggested, ironically quite loudly, that the big boss had better keep it down, that "he can hear everything." Before they got down to volumes I could no longer decipher, I did hear the director saying something about not wanting me on one of the main aisles anymore, a peculiar prejudice which has the effect of barring me from the just chosen new office space. A few minutes later, just after the meeting had broken up, my supervisor called me into his office and informed me that there had been another change in the plans for the big move and that our unit could no longer have the cubicle I had requested, but that a couple others (adjacent to his and far more distant from both the restrooms and the director's office) would suit me just fine (says he), that I could choose between them. I pretended to accept this false construction rather than admit, with who knew what repercussions, that I knew the other office was no longer available simply because his boss had personally put a hex on my selection of it. Such is life in the funhouse of state employment, at the end of the latest week, and toward the conclusion of this greatest of all millennia, a fitting birthday present from a man who, years earlier, then as my direct supervisor, had summarily fired one of my colleagues and friends, with whom he had a personality difference, having first goaded her into an angry outburst that he used to justify her dismissal. With luck, considering leave time, only about 16-17 months remain for me at this haven for the depraved.
Yesterday's "revelations" make me almost as angry as when I learned that Fran was being blackballed by one of the band directors at a school where she had till then been teaching a number of students. She is good at what she does. Her competence pays off and protects her from some of the small-mindedness of a few. So she continues to do well in her private teaching at other schools, notwithstanding this one director's badmouthing her behind her back. I suppose this sort of unfortunate situation is just part of the everyday work environment, or, for that matter, of human nature.
Despite such weirdness and/or insanity at my best prized sweatshop, I am basically a survivor. With luck, in another year and a half I shall be able to shake the dust of that place off my garments, never to return, but with a combined annuity and nest egg, for Fran and myself, worth the equivalent of about a million dollars. (At latest count it is up to about $900,000.)
I learned last week that another of my colleagues, who began there about the same time as I but who had prior state service at another agency, and who was hired by my director as a supervisor only about a year ago, has decided to resign and live on his retirement till he can get a better job elsewhere. He is tired of working at this place and with the likes of our mutual director. More power to him! My friend, Larry, currently his assistant, will now have to decide whether to try for a promotion into the vacated position or stay on as the assistant to some other supervisor, who may not be nearly as good.
10/28/00-Sat.-Pepper and I took a walk tonight, while Fran is off playing a Halloween gig with The Baltic Buzzards. We saw a raccoon from quite close. In fact, I had to restrain Pepper, who briefly had it cornered inside a garbage dump enclosure, lest she find out what raccoon's teeth can do! Needless to say, she was a very excited doggy.
I voted yesterday, absentee, avoiding the election day crowds. I am generally a liberal, yet see myself also as independent. But this time there was no hesitation in deciding against the spoiler, Ralph Nader, whose third party presidential campaign now almost certainly will throw the terribly close Democratic vs. Republican race in George W. Bush's favor, an outcome bad for our country. But besides that, I deeply resented the partisan way the Republicans used their control of Congress to force through an impeachment of the President for conduct which falls far, far short of the "high crimes and misdemeanors" intent of our nation's founders for that last resort option. I was terribly angry with that fool, Clinton, for his conduct, both the infidelity and the attempts to cover it with statements that skated on the legalistic thin edge of outright lies. But what he did didn't justify what was done to the Office, by the Republican Party. I vowed at the time I would vote straight Democratic this time. Unfortunately, Nader's successful candidacy means the Republicans will get away with that and probably a whole lot more that will erode this country's greatness, not least of which being the likely appointment of several new, highly conservative Supreme Court justices. Still, I should be philosophical. Third party success by Ross Perot had a negative impact on past Republican hopefuls. Now the same type phenomenon, that I applauded then, will go against me this time. And it is not as though I truly believed that Al Gore is God's gift to the U.S. of A!
10/29/00-Sun.-I shall conclude my comments on the upcoming U.S. election, at least for now, by saying that, as an investor, it seems the worst possible outcome would be that either major party won both control of Congress and of the White House. I greatly distrust the ability of either party on its own, unchecked by the opposition, to govern our country wisely. I am virtually certain that were any one party to control the legislative plus executive branches of government, it would herald a time of woe for our economy, and hence for stocks, and quite possibly also for our place in international affairs, leading to further instability abroad, that could so easily affect prospects for companies, and hence for stocks. I would be surprised if, after the tremendous run-up in equities in the past few years, there were not a modest pull-back anyway, within the next administration's term. However, if that administration controls the House and Senate as well, I think we are in for a steep decline in the stock market within 1-3 years. At this point, Bush and his party would appear to have the best prospect for doing just that.