Now Some Help With Sleep is Needed…

I cut out of work at 11:30 today and went, in the sleet and gray, to see my shrink out at Mount Carmel East.  Emotionally, I’ve been feeling much better these days, but my sleep–or lack thereof–is getting to be a problem.  So, the good doctor got out his prescription pad and his pen, and in my billfold I am now carrying a prescription for amitriptyline, which I will fill at CVS Thursday night, once my paycheck is posted to my bank account.

This may sound odd coming from someone who went to Ohio University, but I am not wild about taking yet another pill.  The insomnia has been an issue for 1-2 years now.  I did wear a C-PAP because of sleep apnea a few years ago (Steph was complaining about my snoring, but thank God she didn’t get my microcassette recorder and make a tape of it, the way one girlfriend did years ago!), but the snoring issue went away after I lost quite a bit of weight.

I had a rare night of uninterrupted sleep Thursday-night-into-Friday-morning.  My friend Scott and I went walking as the snow fell (2-3 inches’ worth) in Columbus.  I won’t compute the distances here, but we met at the corner of  W. 15th Ave. and N. High St., and walked all the way to Goodale Park and back, via the OSU Hospital complex and Perry St.  If you’re ambitious enough, you can get on MapQuest and do the math.  (I did own a pedometer, but it came as a prize with a McDonald’s Happy Meal 1-2 years ago, and it died within a week.)  Steph and Susie were at a girls’ spa night at Pat and Tanya’s house, and I got home at 10:45, before they did.  (I came home and saw all lights out, and I was afraid they’d gotten home ahead of me and gone to bed.)

Susie sometimes listens to audiobooks or tapes of old-time radio shows (usually light fare, such as The Aldrich Family or Archie Andrews).  She listened to several Harry Potter books, and also Judy Blume’s Are You There, God?  It’s Me, Margaret, which she loved.

If I slept alone, I would probably do that.  Lord knows that audiobooks kept me from going nuts when I was a header entry operator at Medco Health (until I “defected” to work for the State of Ohio in 2004.)  A lot of us ended up swapping around books, which meant that out of sheer desperation I’d read Nora Roberts or Belva Plain.  (My only rule was that I would not read any of the “Left Behind” books.  In a description that was all too generous, Christopher Hitchens described the series as “the bestselling pulp fiction series Left Behind, which, ostensibly ‘authored’ by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, was apparently generated by the old expedient of letting two orangutans loose on a word processor.”)  (This is from p. 57 of his book God is Not Great.)

Despite all the foul weather this past week, the State of Ohio has carried on as always.  The last time that State offices were closed and workers were excused was the ’78 blizzard.  I was living in Marietta then, and we only caught the dregs of it, but it still meant a lot of school cancellations–and a coal miners’ strike was going on as well!

When I got home from the doctor, I made myself useful by shoveling the ice and snow off our front walk and steps.  Steph has students tonight, and she is trying to earn money teaching piano and voice.  It’d be counterproductive if someone broke his/her neck on our front walk and then turned around and sued us.  (My net worth is easy to determine: If I’m found dead, the amount of money in my wallet, plus the contents of the two penny jars and the Big Boy coin bank in my study at home, will be my entire net worth.)

Excellent ROLLING STONE article on Britney Spears

I am convinced she is no longer play-acting–that woman is seriously mentally ill.  She was not equipped, spiritually or psychologically, for fame and everything, positive and negative, that accompanies it.  If she is still psychiatrically hospitalized, she is where she needs to be.  And, unless there is lots of mending on her part, letting her be with her children (even with supervised visits) is as smart as letting a child play with power tools.  (When there were stories that she was studying Kabbalah–which seems to be the spiritual flavor of the month in Hollywood–she said, “I no longer study Kabbalah.  My baby is my religion.”  That is as it should be, sez me, speaking as a parent.  But apparently she’s desecrating the temple these days.)

I don’t follow the adventures of Hollywood stars.  I barely could tell Britney Spears apart from her many clones whenever I ended up watching Entertainment Tonight.

If she wants to mount a comeback, she should audition for a gig as an emcee for Patriotic Pops.  The Columbus Pops Orchestra hosts this concert every July, right around Independence Day, on the back lawn of Chemical Abstracts.  (It’s kind of a Nuremburg Rally for yuppies and suburbanites.)  I was dragged to it by a friend of my wife’s (along with Steph and Susie), and spent the entire week before the event praying for a cloudburst.

When Tucker Carlson interviewed Britney Spears about the Iraq war, she said: “Honestly, I think we should just trust our President in every decision he makes and should just support that, you know, and be faithful in what happens.”

She’d fit right in with fans of Patriotic Pops.

While Susie Auditions for SCHOOLHOUSE ROCK

I am at the main library, bringing this blog up to date.  I had a too-exciting Presidents’ Day on Monday.  Steph had shortness of breath and chest pains, so we spent most of Monday in the E.R. at Riverside Methodist Hospital.  She had X rays, CT scans, blood draws, everything, and we learned (much to our relief) that it was an upper respiratory infection… as opposed to pneumonia or a cardiac problem.  So she’s taking the antibiotic and the codeine-laden cough syrup the E.R. doc prescribed, and she’s back to teaching voice and piano.

The wait was longer than I thought, and you’re usually triaged to the head of the line if they think your illness may be heart- or brain-related.  It reminded me of when I was 10 (Susie’s age) and my mother made one of her frequent trips to the E.R. at Marietta Memorial Hospital–she was there so much at that time that she had a curtain cubicle with a revolving door on it, I think.

One summer day she came out of the hospital fuming at the doctor who had treated her.  He wore cutoffs, sandals, a shirt unbuttoned at the stomach (“with this big hairy navel”, she repeated millions of times to friends and family over the phone), reeking of cigarette smoke.  When she could laugh at it, she referred to him as The Escapee, but I started calling him Dr. Bell E. Button, a name which stuck in future references.  (As recently as five years ago, I was bitching to Mother in a letter about a long wait at the emergency room at Mount Carmel West.  I wrote, “I would even have been happy to see Dr. Bell E. Button come in,” and she remembered it.  A conservative estimate is that Mother is in her 33rd year at death’s door.)

Now Where are *Our* Counselors?

When my co-worker Angie Bell Farthing was murdered last year by a stalker, the following week there were counselors on call at work for people who were shaken up by the tragedy and the senselessness of her death.  (I didn’t avail myself of this, because I only knew Angie very casually, because I occasionally rode the Sullivant Ave. bus she took to work.  She worked on a different floor than I did.)

Counselors definitely have their hands full after the massacre at DeKalb, Ill. this week, but we at the Industrial Commission could use some counselors of our own, for a different purpose.

On Thursday, a co-worker of mine was arrested trying to rob a Fifth Third Bank on S. High St.  During his lunch hour, he went in with a cooler and said he had a bomb and a detonation device (which I suspect was a TV remote control, a cell phone, or a garage-door opener), and demanded money.  He was arrested without incident, and I doubt he really had any incendiary device with him.  (In the eyes of the law, though, I doubt that matters.  It will be treated as though he had the real thing, whether he did or not.)

It’s a tired cliche, but he was not the person I would think would crack and do something this desperate.  We need counselors at the Industrial Commission because any of us could be at the end of our ropes and try something like this.  I heard rumors that his house was in foreclosure, and other aspects of his life were falling down around his ears.  He probably knew that he would not escape from the bank, and would either be in custody or dead within minutes.

The pay for state workers is not stellar; I am one of the few people I know there who does not moonlight, and Lord knows I’ve been trying to for quite some time, due to money issues.  So all of us are vulnerable to the type of financial desperation that drove this worker to such an act.  (It’s received very little publicity–I’ve seen no mention of it in The Dispatch, and WCMH-TV, Channel 4, seems to be the only station that broadcast it.)

I can say, quite smugly, that I wouldn’t do such a thing, no matter what condition my life is in.  I have a hatred of guns and ordnance that borders on the pathological, and an even greater pathological fear of confinement.  One night in the Athens County drunk tank (public intoxication, public urination) was enough jail for one lifetime as far as I’m concerned.

For me, my strongest memories of this co-worker will be the cakes he frequently brought in for us.  His wife was taking a cake-decorating class, and he very generously brought in her “homework” for us to enjoy.  He and I were hired at the same time (August 2004), so we went through orientation and the building tour together.  I have always been in the office where I am today, whereas he began in the mail room (in the basement of the building–which has all the beauty and charm of the Hanoi Hilton) and then went to work in Medical Scheduling.

My co-pilot Lynne told me about it yesterday when she arrived at work.  (I come in at 7 a.m., she comes in at 8).  When she told me, my first reaction was, “Okay, I’ll bite.  What’s the punch line?”

Steph and Susie and I went to Schmidt’s Sausage Haus on Kossuth St. in German Village to celebrate (belatedly) Valentine’s Day yesterday.  (Or V.D. Day, as Edith Bunker called it.)  (So you can see what the experience is like, go to and see for yourself!)  I had a hard time staying focused, because of the news that had dominated the workday, but I did enjoy the gifts–a book bag, a ring, post cards from the Art Museum, and a new wallet–that Steph and Susie gave me.  They were quite pleased with the gifts I gave them–scented candle and a back massager for Steph, a stuffed animal and a Swiss army knife for Susie.

And we all ate too much–I think I would have enjoyed those Roman banquets of old, the ones that went on for days.  The buffet was plentiful, and the banana cream pie I ordered for dessert (and had to take home, since I was too full to eat it there!) was wonderful.

Steph and her friend Joanna are knitting this afternoon in our living room, so Susie and I are here at the library and then headed to Wendy’s for a late lunch.  I went grocery and medication shopping this morning, so I’ve served my time in purgatory for the rest of this three-day weekend.


Another good piece of news.  While I was going through my office looking for the poems I would submit for Larry’s contest, I discovered the missing p. 16 of The Sad Hospital, the manuscript I hope to mail out this spring.  I was afraid I would have to completely reconstruct it once I sat down and starting typing it on the word processor.

It Actually Feels Like Winter

As snow fell last night, I’m happy to say that I actually got some work done on the creative front.  That is not something I have been able to boast lately.  Larry’s Bar here in Columbus, where the late Phil Ochs had his professional debut, sponsors an annual poetry contest, the William Redding Memorial Poetry Contest.  Its deadline is next Monday, so last night I plowed through some journals and notebooks, selected three poems, and typed them up.  I mailed them this morning in the lobby of my building at work.  Stay tuned to see if I win… the ad in The Other Paper didn’t even say what the prize would be.

I played nurse much of the weekend.  Steph is just now recovering from a nasty bug that wiped out both her voice and her stamina.  I was going to take Susie swimming on Saturday morning at the Recreation Center’s indoor pool, but Steph was having such trouble catching her breath that she didn’t want to be alone.  She was also worried that she would be so short of breath she’d have to go to the E.R.  That didn’t happen, but her energy was just about zero all weekend.  There was lots of productive coughing before the cold settled in her chest.  She has a history of heart problems so having this virus there didn’t put us at ease.  She spent much of the weekend in the bathroom with the hot water running in the shower, kind of an ersatz sauna.  I’d walk in and my glasses would fog right up to the point of opacity.  Steph skipped both church Sunday and her women’s chorus last night, although she was feeling better.  She wanted to conserve her energy for the piano lessons that she is teaching tonight, even as I speak type.

But she’s pretty much back to normal and up and around.  I’m just happy that I’ve dodged the bullet and not gotten sick.

There was at least an inch of snow on the ground about 11 p.m. last night.  After I was done typing the poems I mentioned above, I ventured out to buy a two-litre of Diet Pepsi for work today.  (There was an old Dave Berg cartoon, in a Mad feature called “The Lighter Side of Smoking,” where a man is looking out his window at a blizzard and vowing to stay indoors no matter what.  A panel or two later, he realizes there are no cigarettes in the house, and the last panel shows him driving in the blinding snow.  I think I’ve reached that point with Diet Pepsi.)  When I left for the bus this morning (about 6:15), my footprints on our front walk were about 2/3 covered.

Susie’s kids’ choir has been cancelled for tonight.  The National Weather Service’s Website posted that we should expect freezing rain (which will turn to snow after 9 p.m.) and an additional inch or two of snow.

I was surprised there was very little absenteeism at work today.  I kept myself busy–lots and lots of stuff to transcribe, as well as ex parte orders and dockets to type and prepare.  My co-pilot Lynne and I have reason to be proud: We’ve almost completely cleared away the backlog of undictated reports that we have had to face since before Christmas.

Anti-Super Bowl Night at Our Place

It was just Steph and me on the home front last night; Susie spent the night at Gianna’s house.  Steph was at church at a workshop all afternoon, and when we got home, we ate the turkey that had been in the oven most of the day, and we watched a DVD of Little Big Man–the first time I had ever seen it.  I like almost anything with Dustin Hoffman, and this was an excellent picture.  It’s not one I’ll return to again and again, but I’m glad that I saw it.

I see the psychiatrist in under two hours.  I left work at 12:30 today (although my appointment isn’t until 4), and I’m spending the meantime at the main library.  I have a long bus ride to the far east side of town (my shrink’s office is in Mount Carmel East’s medical campus), so I will be leaving for the appointment an hour before it takes place.

And speaking of work…

Rancor builds at state agency
Rise in employee complaints at Ohio Industrial Commission affecting operations, some say

Sunday,  February 3, 2008 3:34 AM


When one worker complained that she could use her breast pump only during her lunch hour, it generated a paper trail of more than 500 pages — thicker than the Columbus phone book.


Other employees filed dozens of union grievances of their own. Several objected that they were required to submit doctors’ notes to take sick time. Others said they were punished for speaking out on workplace issues. One complained that she was docked pay for coming to work three minutes late.

In all, nearly a quarter of the unionrepresented employees of the Ohio Industrial Commission, a forgotten corner of the state bureaucracy that deals with injured workers’ claims, filed grievances last year.

The labor-management conflicts have intensified even though Gov. Ted Strickland named two former union officials — both Democrats — to the top posts at the agency last year.

Before being elevated to executive director last summer, Patrick J. Gannon served on the three-member commission that oversees the agency’s 496 employees. He acknowledged that the rancor is detracting from the agency’s work and said he’s trying to patch things up.

The Industrial Commission handles thousands of appeals of Bureau of Workers’ Compensation decisions on benefits to injured employees. It also decides all claims from workers seeking lifetime disability pay because of the severity of their injuries.

The commission faced a growing backlog of cases before streamlining its process in early December.

Those claims inch through a labyrinthine bureaucracy, sometimes taking months to get to a hearing, while claims officers handling them also tangle with their managers over sick time, their attendance at training seminars, pregnancy leave and other issues.

The veteran Cincinnati-based claims examiner with the breast-pump complaint, for example, filed six union grievances late last year and this year over issues including retaliation, the denial of overtime and a request to change her work hours.

In December, the commission began to expedite the processing of total-disability claims by requiring its examiners to look at only three years of a worker’s medical history, rather than a lifetime. Before that, the commission struggled to work through a backlog of cases that had reached 1,944 by the end of November, up from 1,760 a year earlier.

The delay leaves injured workers in limbo while the commission decides whether their injuries warrant lifetime compensation.

“They have created a very tense environment,” said Darlene Harvey, a commission employee who left in December after 15 years, largely because of poor morale there. “There are injured workers who have been waiting a long time to get some kind of income. They’re losing their homes.”

Gannon acknowledged that workplace conflicts contributed to the backlog.

“Labor-management issues everywhere do have an effect on productivity,” he said. “The vast majority of employees are putting out the same amount of work, no matter what’s happening with grievances.”

Last year, 111 workplace grievances — more than double previous years’ levels — were filed by some of the 370 Industrial Commission employees represented by the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association. Union members who work at the commission spent nearly 59 on-the-clock hours on grievances and other union business in December, up from 50 hours last January.

The grievances ran the gamut, from someone upset about being denied bereavement leave to a complaint on behalf of all claims examiners that work quotas are hurting the quality of their work.

The commission is setting quotas and punishing workers who fall short “to sacrifice the quality of our work product … to reach the arbitrary quota that they have set,” William T. Rose, a union steward, wrote in a July grievance.

Rose and other union officials declined to comment. Some said the atmosphere has grown so hostile, they would risk their jobs by speaking out.

The complaints could come to a head on Feb. 13, when leaders of the civil-service union meet with Gannon and Gary DiCeglio, who was a top official in the Ohio AFL-CIO chapter before Strickland appointed him as chairman of the commission in July.

“Our effort to put together a meeting is to see what can be resolved by sitting across the table rather than just filing grievances and (getting) responses,” said Peter Wray, spokesman for the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association.

Strickland is aware of the problems but won’t intervene before the meeting, spokesman Keith Dailey said.

The problems might go too deep to be solved in one meeting, however.

Adrienne Keller, who worked as the commission’s communication director nearly three months before she was fired in September, said she spoke to employees in all departments while acquainting herself with the organization.

“The culture as I experienced it and heard from other people, it’s very hostile, it’s punitive, it’s stifling,” said Keller, a longtime publicrelations worker. “It has a direct effect on your productivity, no matter what your position is.”

Gannon said he’s trying to smooth over the ill will.

The conflicts have fanned speculation that Gannon’s goal is to privatize the agency, an idea that he raised during a staff meeting in January.

In an e-mail from a commission spokeswoman, Gannon said he was merely suggesting that people in the private sector would gladly do the work of commission employees.

“Whenever you have a change, whenever you are doing something that hasn’t been done before, I think it does put a strain on the relationship,” he said. “This is like a marriage. You’ve got to work on it.”

April 15 is the Day Lincoln Died…as Far as I’m Concerned & Worshipping at Panera

And this is because yesterday afternoon, around 5 p.m., I mailed both our Federal and State of Ohio income tax returns.  I’m leery about filing online, so snail mail and paper still work well for me, and the extra wait is worth it.  Steph did the taxes yesterday morning while I was shopping at Aldi ($98 for two weeks’ worth of groceries–not bad, really!), and all it required when I came home was my signature and walking it to the mailbox.  We have a so-so refund from the State of Ohio, and a big one from the Federal government.  We plan to use the latter one to move… but I don’t see that happening before the spring.  I won’t panic until six weeks have gone by with no refund.

I have experienced April 15 in two very unpleasant places.  One was the main post office in Cincinnati, where I had to fight my way through bumper to bumper lines that stretched far down Dalton St. into the parking lot, and the other was when I was a data transcriber at the IRS’ facility in Covington, Ky.  The post office provided free doughnuts and coffee for employees, especially the ones who were out in the parking lot with the big canvas mail tubs.  I didn’t have it as badly as some people did.  I took the bus to work, so I didn’t have the nightmare of navigating the parking lot.  And I worked inside in rescue mail, which meant I was not called outside to help with the crush of humanity.

I am an award-winning procrastinator, but never when it comes to doing my taxes.  I usually have a refund coming (I always did when I was single), so I see no reason to drag my feet about filing.  If I owed, I sat on it and mailed it and my money order closer to April 15, like earlier that week.

Steph sang at the 9 a.m. service at the Unitarian Church this morning (unless I state differently, whenever I talk about something at “church,” this is where I am referring).  The sermon title was “Luck?”, so Steph sang “I Take My Chances,” by Mary-Chapin Carpenter.  (She had considered, at my suggestion, the title cut from the Alan Parsons Project’s album The Turn of a Friendly Card, but the library didn’t have the sheet music for it.)

Steph also had a meeting at 12:45 this afternoon, so there was no point in leaving Beechwold (the neighborhood where the church is), and Susie wanted to go to Sunday school.  So Steph, Tanya, and I had a brunch at Panera–I had a chicken salad sandwich and Lord knows how many cups of Diet Pepsi.

Susie is spending the night at Pat and Tanya’s house, since Tanya teaches their history lesson tomorrow.  Steph has a doctor’s appointment on that end of town, so letting Susie stay there is much more expedient than having Susie wait in the doctor’s office while Steph is in there.