What Level II Snow Emergency? Get Your Fanny to Work… Now!

They didn’t say it in so many words, but that was the message I heard yesterday morning.  I lollygagged in bed until close to 6, hoping that the powers that be would decide that Franklin County’s being under a Level II snow emergency was sufficient grounds to close the offices today.  Just before 6, I took the cell phone from my night table and called the information number.  They were monitoring a winter storm warning, but no offices were closed.

The only treacherous part of getting to work was the walk from the bus stop to the William Green Building.  The bus ran on time, and it ran smoothly, but sidewalks were slick with ice, and I made the mistake (more than once) of thinking that I was stepping on solid ice, only to be immersed in cold water up to my ankles.

Naturally, there was a skeleton crew at work.  I had enough work to keep me going, and managed to stretch out the workload so that I wouldn’t finish everything in the first 1-2 hours and then have to feign actual work for the rest of the day.  The psychologist I like was snowbound in Akron, so he dictated some reports–and they were actually interesting.  One of his clients came in smelling strongly of alcohol, and said he had been driven there by his Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor.  (The psychologist always asks how you get to the examination.  I think he’s expecting someone to say that he/she beamed down from the Enterprise.)  This client needs a new sponsor.

Columbus is still under a Level II snow emergency, although the snow pretty much quit falling about 1 p.m. yesterday.  The office wasn’t quite as deserted today, but the schools were closed, and the buses were free.  (That last is a moot point for me, since I have a monthly pass, which I get at a discount.  Asperger’s syndrome is considered a handicap, so I get a 50% fare reduction.  Herr Doktor Asperger can be a good friend.)

I needed some respite from doctors’ dictation, so I typed some Statements of Facts.  I used my headphones to listen to an MP3 of Fibber McGee and Molly.  A lot of the humor is dated, but I still found a lot of it funny.  The series of vignettes where Fibber observes National Letter-Writing Week made me want to put the stationery that Susie gave me for Christmas to use.)  The fact that Jim and Marian Jordan, the actors who played Fibber and Molly, were married in real life made it even more fun to hear.

One of the tapes I transcribed involved a groundskeeper at a local cemetery.  The doctor cracked me up when he mentioned that the injured worker threw out his back while carrying the coffin of an oversized "patient."  I think the person was finished being a "patient."  Would "client" have flown?

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Olfactory News, and Navigating Vine St. by Smell

The title I use tonight comes from the title of actual email sent from one of the supervisors to everybody on the 10th floor at work today–including me.  She sent us cc:s of the mail that she sent to the people who actually are in charge of the nuts and bolts of running the 30 floors of state office space where I spend 40 hours a week of my life.  There was a lingering rotten eggs/dirty diapers smell in the air that was just on the edge of my consciousness during most of the day.  It wasn’t nauseating or incapacitating me like it seemed to be with some people, so I was able to plow ahead and do some of the tasks that comprise a typical Tuesday–typing ex parte orders, transcribing a doctor’s report (the doctor who was consulting with a relative when he dictated, that relative being his Old Grand-Dad), making folders for paperless reports, etc.  I had an errand to run that kept me out of the building for two hours, so maybe I missed the smell at its peak.

When I came back, just before 12 noon, one of the updates said that the smell was from some raw sewage outside, and so they had shut off the air intakes that faced that side of town.

I remember the last time that people ignored a smell, and it was a minor tragedy.  In the fall of 1985, I was living in a small room in the Columbus YMCA on W. Long St.  (I was an underemployed bachelor, and unwilling to commit to a lease or furniture-buying.  About all I did there was pick up my mail and sleep.)  There was an older man who had lived there, uninterrupted, since the 1940s.  He was from Canton or Akron, and had come to Columbus during World War II to work as an engineer for Battelle, or something else with the war effort.  He apparently had no family, and kept pretty much to himself, although one of the desk clerks could occasionally coax him out to a movie or a Clippers game.

Around late November, several people, independently, came to the front desk and said, "The guy hasn’t come out to eat or pee for two or three days, I think you’d better check on him."  One man kept insisting, "He’s gone and died in that room," and the clerks agreed.  No one wanted to be the one to find him.  After 4-5 days, they had no choice.  You’d get off the elevator at his floor and the smell would just about knock you over.  Finally, they took out his body.

My first place in Cincinnati was in olfactory hell.  I rented a room above a small appliance store in the neighborhood of Elmwood Place, way up north on Vine Street.  Again, it was merely for the price, since I worked downtown and most of my active life revolved around Clifton and the University of Cincinnati area.  I kept my belongings there, received mail there, and slept.

To the immediate south were some Procter and Gamble plants, since razed (I believe).  One was where they made Nu-Maid margarine, and almost parallel to it was Ivorydale, the plant where P & G manufactured the 99 44/100% pure Ivory soap.  If the wind was blowing a certain way, I could get the interesting combination of margarine and soap in production.

If the wind came from the north, I could get drunk.  The National Distillers Products plant was over on Paddock Road, so I could smell Jim Beam, Gilbey’s Gin, and various liqueurs in varied stages of readiness.  Add to that, Fries and Fries was also nearby–they made vanilla extract.  When I lived there, having a cold was actually a godsend.

We’re supposed to get clobbered with 4-6 inches of snow tonight.  I’m at the Whetstone Library, typing away while Susie is next door at the Recreation Center in her tae kwon do class.  Steph was all set to go to choir rehearsal at the Unitarian church tonight, but the choir director called less than half an hour before practice to let her know it was cancelled.  Steph is not at all happy about this.  I would be happy if they cancelled work tomorrow, but the chances of that are slim to none.  I posted in Twitter that I’m almost tempted to play hooky, arm myself with a snow shovel, and go door to door.  I might earn a little more money that way!

Did a Little Better with the C-PAP; Sat Down & Opened a Vein

It’ll take awhile before I’m totally used to the C-PAP.  I think it’s the same as with wearing glasses.  I didn’t start wearing them full-time until I was almost 25, and everybody I knew who had worn glasses for awhile said you’re not totally used to them until you no longer see the frames in your peripheral vision.  I can’t foresee being able to sleep and forgetting I’ve got this mask over my nose connected to a 6′ hose.  I couldn’t even stand those thin nasal things that hook around your ears I’ve had to use when I went to the hospital thinking I was having a heart attack.

Yesterday was a fairly productive day for me, mentally and literarily.  During the afternoon, while Steph and Susie were doing homeschool-related stuff, I sat down with a stenographer’s notebook and a black ballpoint pen and, taking few breaks, wrote about 14 pages about my mother’s recent death.  I don’t know where I’m going with this–I’d like to eventually publish it, but the market is overloaded with "My life is a mess because of my fucked-up parents" books–and I long ago abandoned the idea of trying to keep it in any type of linear order.  Items went straight from my head to the paper.  I even kept going after dinner, while Steph, Susie, and I watched the first half of Inherit the Wind.

Mental illness plays a big role in my mother’s story–and in mine.  That seems to have been my major inheritance from her side of the family, although I suspect that, in the future, glaucoma will show up in my life as well.  Many of my predispositions toward depression, bipolar disorder, dysthymia (I was "promoted" from dysthymia to major depression several years ago), and possibly even Asperger’s syndrome came from biological causes, not just environment.  I am currently off my medication–since I recently changed psychiatrists, I wanted to start with a clean slate, medication-wise, and see what he plans to prescribe.

I lived in Boston in the early ’80s, when the mental-health advocates’ "deinstitutionalization" advocates entered into the Faustian pact with the Reagan Administration’s zeal to cut programs that people desperately needed.  Mental health care was one of the first victims of this atrocity.  So, on the street and in public buildings, I ran across many mentally ill people, and in the back of my mind I was afraid that this would be my ultimate fate.  I had no health insurance at the time–none that would cover physical illness, let alone mental–and I was afraid that with my mother’s genetics, it was just a matter of time before I’d have some type of breakdown.  (I was also doing the absolutely worst thing a person with mental health issues should do–I was self-medicating, mostly with alcohol, but occasionally with street drugs as well.)

For awhile, I seemed to be a magnet for them.  (Maybe they recognized a kindred spirit?)  I was too careless a dresser for anyone to think I had money, so panhandlers usually left me alone.  One night, I was on a subway platform waiting for a train to take me to a concert, and an older guy (he reminded me of Edmund Gwenn in Apartment for Peggy, a 1949 movie I saw on the All Night Theatre on Channel 3 when I was a teen) began complaining about the "assertiveness training" classes that many women’s groups and mental health clinics in Boston (and elsewhere in the U.S.) were offering.  His theory was that the people who created these programs were the same people who had masterminded the JFK assassination.

I saw him once more, a month or so later.  I was in Copley Square, coming out of the Boston Public Library late one afternoon.  Right away he was at my side, clutching the sleeve of my coat.  "Did you see that suspicious car?" he said, pointing insistently out at Boylston Street.  (I don’t know how a car can be suspicious.)  I didn’t reply, and went away, thinking about how paranoia must be the ultimate narcissism–just think how many people, and how the entire world, is engineered to plot against you.  My dad said the ultimate paranoid was someone in the stands at a football game who thinks the players in the huddle are talking about him.

He’s the type of person I’d think of when I see a Depressories poster that said: The entire purpose of your life may be to serve as a warning to others.

Pre-Tae Kwon Do

As arranged, Susie met me in the lobby of my work building and we took the bus up here to the Whetstone Library, where I am now blogging among the socializing teenagers.  The library is next door to the Whetstone Recreation Center, and in about an hour I’m taking Susie next door for tae kwon do.  Tuesday was her first day, and the two-hour class meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  The teacher is pretty realistic about his attrition rate.  I was happy to hear that one of his ground rules is that his charges have to finish eight weeks in the class before they can buy a gi.  That’s good news for me.  I don’t think we want to spend money on something if Susie will lose interest in it down the road.

There were about 10 people in the conference room watching the Obama inauguration.  I got in midway through Rick Warren’s invocation, and I was sure that the Chief Justice’s gaffe while administering the oath was on YouTube before the 21-gun salute was finished.  (I read in the paper this morning that President Obama retook the oath yesterday morning, just to make sure he covered all bases.)

I wasn’t wild about Rick Warren giving the invocation, but I think that his spirituality comes from the heart, and he is willing to walk the walk more than many on any side of the theological spectrum.  (Now that he’s a bestselling author, he reverse-tithes to his church–he gives them 90% and keeps 10% for living expenses.)  Bush’s Christianity was about as genuine as the Hitler diaries, while Obama seems to follow the maxim of St. Francis–preach the Gospel at all times, but use words only as a last resort.

Since we’re moving to a house which is fully equipped with appliances, Rent-A-Center came and took our stove on Monday evening.  I was more emotional about losing my tonsils.  I keep remembering the words of FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper of Twin Peaks fame: "Leasing may be the fast track to an appearance of affluence, but equity will keep you warm at night."

Speaking of my tonsils (I must have what the Buddhists call "monkey-mind"–jumping from subject to subject to subject), I was showered with gifts during my post-tonsillectomy recovery time at home, when I was in kindergarten.  One such gift was a set of Matchbox cars, which I enjoyed.  Robert Louis Stevenson’s "Land of Counterpane" had nothing on my recreating the Pennsylvania Turnpike on my bedspread!

These Matchbox cars followed me to Boston, Athens, and Cincinnati.  To get on the good side of one of my supervisors at the Cincinnati post office, I gave them to her kindergarten-aged son when she told me that he was starting a collection.  She told me the following night that he had opened the shoe box where I packed them and said, "Wow!  Antiques!"

I knew a kid who had an electric train set that was the envy of all serious collectors.  It came complete with crossing signals, sound effects, and a little town that had houses, a post office, a town square, and a church (white church with a steeple–Congregational, I’m sure).

He and his brother just weren’t happy with that.  Their town had to have a junkyard.  To this end, they got out all their combined Matchbox and Tonka vehicles and went to work with rocks, ball-peen hammers, M-80s, anything that could be converted into a blunt weapon.  They were even meticulous enough to use a soldering iron on several of the cars.

I bought the set for $.50 during one of their yard sales.  Not sure whatever became of it.

Roe vs. Wade Wasn’t All There Was to 1/22/1973

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j9mCcfN9iRk
This is what I remember most about that day. (I wouldn’t learn there was such a thing as abortion for another 2.5 years–and I learned about it at a Catholic school, so great source of unbiased and objective information.)

I do remember NBC Nightly News coming back from commercial break about midway through, with Garrick Utley going through a similar scenario. (When he went on the air, he was hanging up a phone.)

As for abortion, I love an off-the-cuff answer I once heard. I was at a union convention in Cincinnati, and a union vice president got the question, "What do you think of Roe vs. Wade?" He said, "If the water’s higher than my waist, I’d rather row than wade."

The State Wants a New Contract–On Its Workers

I’m glad I actually opened up and read the email from Andy Douglas, the president of the Ohio Civil Service Employees’ Association.  I was about ready to put my fist through a wall when I saw what management is hoping the workers will concede.  When I read that the State says layoffs are inevitable even if these concessions happen, I knew that the rest of negotiations will not be pretty.  (I had considered applying to be on the Contract Negotiations Committee, but decided not to because talks began just around the time of Steph’s surgery and its aftermath.  Probably a good thing, because I’d be the one needing a defibrillator and being on the verge of a major coronary.)

STATE’S CONTRACT PROPOSALS

$1 billion in worker givebacks sought
Union being asked to consider 5 percent pay cut, fewer hours and no more holiday pay

Saturday,  January 17, 2009 3:09 AM

THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH

Rough cuts

Highlights of proposed state employee concessions (annual savings unless specified)

• 5 percent across-the-board pay cut

($163.1 million)

• Mandatory furloughs ($80 million)

• Reduce standard workweek to 35 hours ($350.8 million)

• Eliminate holiday premium pay ($213 million); eliminate all paid holidays ($108 million)

• Freeze "step" pay increases ($90 million over two years)

• Increase employee share of health-care premiums ($50.8 million over two years)

• Freeze conversion of sick leave ($15.6 million) and personal leave ($12.6 million)

Source: Negotiations memo

The Strickland administration has sent shock waves through the state work force with a contract proposal seeking around $1 billion in concessions from employees, including a 5 percent pay cut, reduced hours and elimination of paid holidays and personal days.

 

Among the concessions being sought: cutting the standard paid workweek to 35 hours from 40 hours, saving $350.8 million, according to a negotiations memo obtained yesterday by The Dispatch.

The union’s memo said union negotiators have been told that layoffs might be necessary even if concessions are made.

Eliminating paid holidays would save $108 million, while a "mandatory furlough" requirement and eliminating "step" increases between pay levels would produce savings estimated at $80 million and $30 million, respectively.

The figures appear to represent estimated savings that would be accumulated from concessions by most or all 60,514 state employees.

Ron Sylvester, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Administrative Services, the business arm of state government that handles contract negotiations, declined to comment or confirm the information, citing a news blackout agreement with the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association.

The OCSEA contract typically sets the pattern for negotiations with other unions, including the Service Employees International Union District 1199, the Fraternal Order of Police and the Ohio Education Association. Further, the state’s nonunion workforce usually gets raises and benefits — or, presumably, concessions — substantially the same as those included in union contracts.

The union representing 36,000 state workers has been in private contract talks with the state for about two months, seeking agreement on a new pact to replace the current contract that expires Feb. 28. The deadline has been extended to April 15 by mutual agreement.

"While the union knew it would be in for the battle of its life with respect to gaining ground on economic issues like wages and health care, the team was aghast at the scope of the concessions proposed," a memo to union members said. "The state claims the givebacks are necessary in order to avoid mass state layoffs due to the amount of the state budget gap."

The administration proposals are not set in stone. The final contract is to be worked out in negotiations, possibly culminating in supervised fact-finding and mediation.

Andy Douglas, the union’s executive director, would not discuss specifics of the administration proposal.

"We have received information from the state during bargaining," he said. "We’re still in negotiations, and we’re still trying. Nobody’s jumped off the bridge yet."

Gov. Ted Strickland has ordered three rounds of cutbacks to the current budget and is looking at a projected $7.3 billion shortfall in the next two-year budget that begins July 1, barring federal aid or concessions from the state workforce.

State employees have been on a payday roller coaster in the past few years. Six years ago, union members reluctantly approved a contract that froze wages for two of three years. However, in 2006, the rank and file voted overwhelmingly to ratify an agreement with annual raises of 3 percent, 3.5 percent and 3.5 percent.

ajohnson@dispatch.com

Cold Weather Be Damned, I’ve Been Walking!

I’m proud of the fact that I have done a fair amount of walking this weekend.  (The weekend isn’t over yet–I have tomorrow off because of the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, and I plan to be walking with my friend Scott in the afternoon, one of the rare times we get to walk together during the daytime.)

I went with Susie to and from the Franklinton library (two or three blocks each way), to Family Dollar to get her new pre-paid cell phone (she ended up buying a NET10 model), and then on to the gift shop at Mount Carmel West Hospital so she could buy a new Webkins doll.  I left her back at the library while I ran to Herbert’s Market, the little corner grocery at the corner of Sullivant and S. Glenwood, to buy bologna, bread, milk, and eggs for dinner.

And today after church, we planned to go to the Whetstone Library, which is almost exactly one mile from the Unitarian Church.  Steph and Susie went on Project Mainstream, while I went ahead of them on foot.  It was straight down N. High Street, and downhill most of the way.  The temperature has been in the 20s today, so my fingers and toes weren’t freezing to the point of immobility, and I really didn’t feel like I just had to get indoors and into the heat right then or else freeze to death.

I didn’t feel that way last night when Steph and Susie asked me to go out to Tim Horton to buy Timbits.  That turned out to be a futile mission, because I got to Tim Horton just after 9, when they took drive-through window customers only.  They wouldn’t serve me at the window, since I was on foot.  (Most places are that way, although I have stood in line at bank drive-through windows and no one has said a word.)

Elsewhere in this blog I wrote about a family trip in the summer of 1978, when we were going to see my step-grandparents at their home in the exciting metropolis of Spiceland, Indiana.  I got enough of my family very fast, and always did, so I escaped them by boldly deciding to walk to New Castle, which was the next biggest town.  It was almost eight miles north on Indiana 3, but it got me away from them, even if I was somewhat sunburned and aching by the time I stopped at a McDonald’s in New Castle for lunch.

Some snow is falling right now, but it’s not threatening visibility, and the wind doesn’t seem to be blowing much, if at all. 
 

Susie Buys Her First Cell Phone With Her Own Cash

Susie and I are at the Franklinton library while Steph teaches a voice lesson.  A little later this morning, I’m taking her to Family Dollar so she can buy herself a cell phone.  (Steph and I finally paid her all the back allowance we’ve owed her for weeks!)

Last month, we laid down the law with Susie–if she wants to have a cell phone, she needs to buy it and pay for it herself.  We were including a line for her on our Revol account, but in the space of two weeks, she managed to break one (insurance and loyalty discounts enabled us to replace it for about $5 and change), and then leave its replacement at the library and lose it about 10 days later.

My hope is that since it comes from her own pocket this time, she’ll do better with hanging onto it.  This also means we’re doing the prepaid option.  Our next stop from here is Family Dollar, so she can buy a TracFone.  (One of her friends has one, and they seem to be quite popular in this neighborhood, especially their annoying walkie-talkie feature.  Susie will have no need, as far as I can see, for the walkie-talkie.)  At one time, I would have suggested PagePlus, but I’ve had back experiences with their phones dying 1-2 days after buying them at the corner markets in this neighborhood.

We watched Ghost last night, and I really enjoyed it.  (Since Patrick Swayze will become one before long, it seemed appropriate.)  I’ve never cared much for movies about the supernatural, with very few exceptions, but this was excellent.

I’m nearing the end of Andrew Vachss’ Another Life, and he has said this is the final book featuring his recurring character Burke, the institution-raised thief and con man who lives to hunt down and destroy child abusers.  Burke is not a likable character–other than his hatred of child abusers and those who prey on children sexually, he is totally lacking in scruples–but his loyalty to his “family of choice” endears him to me.  (His “family of choice” is a ragtag gang of criminals who live below the radar in New York with him.)  If you’re new to the works of Andrew Vachss, don’t start with Another Life.  Start at Flood, the first one, and read the series in order.