Passing the Torch–uh, Notebook–of Leadership

Steph is at a meeting at church, and Susie and I hopped on the bus to the Whetstone Library to return books and CDs.  Susie is currently reading off some of her fines, so I’ll blog while she does that.

I must have mentioned earlier in this blog that I was running for recording secretary of my local OCSEA chapter.  I guess the results were conspicuous by their absence.  I lost by almost a 2:1 margin.  As sour-grapesy as it sounds, I am a little relieved to have one less responsibility weighing on me.  The new local president and the new board were sworn in yesterday at lunchtime.  I sat at the front of the room, my steno notebook and Paper-Mate in front of me, acting as recording secretary for the last time.  My successor came by my pod later that afternoon and photocopied the notes I took.  (My penmanship is quite legible, and I didn’t use any obscure shorthand or abbreviations, so turning my notes into readable English won’t be that much of a challenge to him.)

As the work day today was winding down, two dictated reports popped in the queue.  It was too late in the day to begin one, but at least I know I’ll have a legitimate project to occupy my time in the morning.  This doctor is an osteopath who sees injured workers about every 6-8 weeks.  He’s also an orthopedist, which usually means the reports are boring as hell, but the fact that they average 4-6 minutes in length makes up for that.

The work day seemed longer because my beloved Internet Archive, http://www.archive.org, seemed to take forever to download sound files.  I had some CDs at work, so there was something to listen to, but I missed the much wider variety I have from the Archive.  (Yesterday, during what little work there was, I listened to a fascinating debate–a give-and-take between Christopher Hitchens and Al Sharpton.  I can, depending on my overall mood and openness, come down on either side in a debate like that, but Sharpton made an excellent point to Hitchens: “At the end what is refreshing is that you are a man of faith, because any man that at this point has faith that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq has more faith than any religious person I know.”  Hitchens’ cheerleading of the Iraq war, and his pathological hatred of both Clintons, are my major strikes against him.

I had some writing time between dinner last night and joining Steph and Susie in an evening of mindless sitcoms.  I managed to write a poem and a half, and then I went into Microsoft Office and did some editing of the 300+ pages, still not quite finished, that I’ve written about my friendship with Cincinnati novelist Robert Lowry (1919-1994).  It’s been awhile since I added any new material to the chapters, and I am proud that I was able to be brutal with the blue pencil when necessary.  Rereading my prose after some time has passed reminds me almost of the morning-after syndrome.  When I take a second look at what I thought was brilliant prose that would set the world of 21st-century American literature on edge, I regard it like one of the characters in About Last Night…

Susie and I will be missing the Old-Time Radio and Nostalgia Convention in Cincinnati this weekend, sorry to say.  It’s just too much of a burden logistically this year, although I hope to go to Cincinnati for the day sometime during the next few months.  I’m not quite conscientious enough to ask that my vacation day for Friday be cancelled–I’ll mark the day off by sleeping in.

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Hoping This Will Ease Me Back Into Writing

I apologize for the hiatus, but the Wi-Fi deity has been withholding his/her treasures until this evening, and my time at the library has been fleeting, so I haven’t had the time to sit down and type a blog entry, or do much more than keep ahead of email, etc.  I haven’t been blowing you off, my loyal readers–all half dozen of you.  While I have ‘Net access, I’ll try to post an entry.

Steph has been trying to budget my time so that I’m doing some creative writing.  The holographic diary I usually do at work, during breaks and lunch, so it’s rare that I have the composition book and the ballpoint out while I’m at home.  There is no unsecured Wi-Fi access at work, and the "social sites" are blocked, so that is why I never post from there.

I have several projects that I have been doing in very small increments, and often not at all.  This is a rather weak analogy, but one reason I try to be so conscientious with keeping the journal (either here or on paper) is to keep me in the rhythm and habit of writing, much like the way you keep a tap dripping 24/7 in the winter to prevent your pipes from freezing.

One night while Steph and I were watching TV, I sat down with the notebook and began writing two or three autobiographical poems.  It was in the same vein as a project published by my friend, Cincinnati novelist Robert Lowry.  I knew him long after his fall from grace and success in the post-World War II literary world, when he was persona non grata with the publishing establishment and dedicating himself to chain-smoking and drinking himself to death.  In lieu of an autobiography, Lowry published a chapbook called an american writer at the end of his life with a small press in Toronto, and it consisted of autobiographical poems.

I won’t write them in chronological order, although if I ever get the cajones to "go public" with them, I’d definitely arrange them that way.  I wrote about the small house we lived in from my birth (46 years ago the 29th of this month) until I was six, and my first realizations that there was such a thing as death.

The death realizations focus on the death of my great-grandmother and grandmother (paternal) in Wheeling when I was two and three, respectively.  I thought it was an exciting time, because of the car trip to Wheeling–even at a young age, I loved travelling, and I was 10 before I was ever carsick my one and only time.  The memories that stood out were my being scared to death of my great-grandmother in a hospital bed in the living room.  I was reassured that Grandma was "going night-night," but nobody explained to me why she’d be going night-night in the middle of the living room.  I was told–I do not remember this–that I occupied my time by repeatedly opening and slamming the screen door to the back porch until one of the adults had enough and locked it.

Something else I remember was a trip to visit my aunt, who was then a Catholic nun.  She was in a convent near Wheeling, and all I remember about that is that there was an enclosed courtyard in her convent, and I was intimidated by a giant (to me) statue of the Blessed Mother that was in the center of a fountain.  I’m sure if I went to see it now, it wouldn’t be so huge.  There’s a joke, quite true, that things shrink once you get older.  But at one and/or two years of age, that statue of Mary might as well have been Everest.

On a less morbid subject, Susie’s new friend Dee Dee just left.  Dee Dee came over for dinner, and they retreated to Susie’s room to read comic books and talk.  Steph and I were washing the dishes when Susie shrieked from the other room that we had Internet access once again.  She shouted so excitedly that for a second I thought the house was on fire.  Susie and Dee Dee met last Friday night at the Seder we all attended at First UU.  (The Unitarian sh’ma: Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, Adonai, is–at most–One.)  Dee Dee’s grandmother is a longtime member of the church, and I used to serve on Worship Committee with her.  Susie and Dee Dee hit it off quite well during the Pesach meal, and were exchanging phone numbers and pictures by the end of the night.  I am happy that they clicked so well.

Often in this blog I have talked about the feast-or-famine workload at my job.  It’s been famine most of the week.  I spent a lot of time on the Internet Archive, http://www.archive.org, and listened to The Shadow and a very good debate between Christopher Hitchens and Al Sharpton.  I also wrote two letters, and did maybe an hour of "real" work all day long.

I would normally feel guilty about farting around so much while being paid by the taxpayers of the State of Ohio, but our new contract doesn’t make me want to be that conscientious.  Here is a Dispatch article about it, published on April 1 (no foolin’):

State union gives up raises – ‘No-win situation’ for OCSEA, chief negotiator says

Columbus Dispatch, The (OH) – Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Author: Alan Johnson ; THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
Members of the state’s largest employee union have voted to approve a three-year contract that includes no pay raises and 10 days of mandatory unpaid furloughs.

The Ohio Civil Service Employees Association, which represents 35,000 employees in nearly all state agencies, said 60 percent of its members voted and a "clear majority" approved. The vote was not revealed.

"This was a no-win situation for us," said Andy Douglas, the union’s executive director and chief negotiator.

"Obviously, this contract was not the outcome we were seeking. However, given the economic climate and the state’s budget, this union did the best it could to ensure damage to our members was limited. Given what is happening in most other states, the result could have been much worse."

Gov. Ted Strickland’s administration sought more than $200 million in concessions from the union to help balance the state budget.

The union said it dodged a proposed 6 percent pay cut with a shorter workweek, and "held the line" on most health-care costs, adding full insulin coverage and eliminating co-pays for health screenings and wellness visits.

The contract also includes higher reimbursement for travel and mileage expenses, elimination of disciplinary fines, and improved benefits for employees injured on the job.

ajohnson@dispatch.com

So, since I am going to have 10 unpaid days per year over the life of this contract, I figure I should give myself a raise by not working as hard.

 
Union officers’ elections were last week, and yours truly was defeated in my bid for recording secretary.  (I already was recording secretary, filling in after a resignation, but I was running for a term in my own right.)  I was defeated by a hearing officer.  It’s a mixed bag.  I’m still a steward, but I’ve had no time on the playing field.  I spoke with our incoming chapter president and told him I think I need to go through stewards’ training again, from the ground up, and shadow stewards during negotiations before I dare strike out on my own.  Throwing someone out in the middle is not the best way to learn to swim.
I hear Susie watching Supernanny in the next room.  Dee Dee’s grandmother came for her, and I’m typing in the kitchen, waiting for the dishwasher to finish so I can do a load of laundry.
 

Between Easter Breakfast & Easter Service

I’m at church right now.  Steph, Susie, and I arrived early for breakfast, and at the moment we’re killing time waiting for 11 a.m., when the bigger of the two Easter services happens.

Steph bought a new digital camera when she was out yesterday, while Susie and I were buying Webkins, going to Wendy’s, and spending the afternoon at the Whetstone library.  I may borrow it to take pictures of my new office.  ("Office" is a generous word–it’s my work space in the basement.)  I can think of it as my study, since most of my books, my boom box, and very scrambled and disorganized archive are housed there.  I just have to try to block out the fact there is a washer and dryer down there, along with the furnace and other pipes.

The furnace has actually kicked on a few times, since there have been temperatures in the 30s most of last week.  (According to The Weather Channel, it’s now 41 degrees F.)  Our house dates back to the 1930s, and it’s the first one I’ve lived in for awhile that has furnace registers.  (One of them, unfortunately, is next to my bedside table, so I wonder just how much coinage I’ve lost down there.)

The house where I lived from kindergarten to seventh grade had a register just outside my bedroom door.  The day I learned the cover could come off was the dawn of a new world for me.  I took the grille off and used the register as an all-purpose wastebasket (but not for foodstuffs–I was very conscientious about that.)

One of the casualties of my new-found toy was a gold-plated fountain pen that Marietta College gave my dad to honor 10 years of service to the college.  I don’t know how I got ahold of it, but–long and short–the pen ended up down the register.  I doubt it was incinerated.  My guess is that if they ever took that furnace apart, whoever did it would find a mass accumulation of toys, trash, and the pen.

If Dad had his way, I’m sure I would have been next down the register.

My Easter Weekend Thus Far: Buying Lamb, Getting a New Wallet

Steph, Susie, and I went to an excellent Seder at church last night.  I met them after work, with a pit stop at Kroger to pay the electric and gas companies their respective pounds of flesh.  We ate quite well–the meal that accompanied the ceremonial Pesach food was quite filling, and I had no desire to snack on anything once we were home.  Steph and I watched 20/20 after Susie hit the sack, and then we went to bed as well.

Tomorrow is Easter.  (I’ve been racking my brain to remember what Jesus’ first words were, according to the Gospels, after rising from the dead.  I think it was, "Taa-DAAAAAH!!", but I forget which Gospel writer says this.)  We’re having friends over late in the afternoon Sunday, so this morning I took Susie to breakfast at White Castle and then enlisted her services at Giant Eagle, armed with the shopping list Steph wrote out for me.  I bought a boneless lamb (the last one they had available!), Crock-Pot sized.  I wasn’t 100% sure it was the type of lamb Steph had in mind, so I took a picture of it with my phone and sent it to Steph.  It was just what she wanted.  The whole grocery bill (the lamb was the impetus for the whole shopping trip) was just over $100, which was far less than I thought it would be.

Early this afternoon, Susie and I went to a candy store so Susie could buy new Webkinz stuffed animals.  I ducked into the used bookstore in the same strip, and bought a Paperback Library edition of Milt Machlin’s book The Private Hell of Hemingway, published in January 1962, six months after Hemingway’s suicide.  I had enjoyed Machlin’s book Ninth Life, about Caryl Chessman, so I’m sure this Hemingway book will be a good one.

Steph was at nearby Global Gallery, waiting for her knitting friends and eating zucchini bread.  When we walked in, she had just finished paying for a new wallet for me.  The wallet I carried until less than an hour ago was completely dilapidated.  She and Susie had made it out of duct tape, and after about two years of service, it was time to be put to pasture.  I moved what cash I had (not much, as always), as well as various insurance cards, bus passes, IDs, postage stamps, and store discount cards, to the new wallet.  Susie had made the duct tape wallet, so throwing it in the trash was a little sad.  This new red leather wallet doesn’t quite feel right yet in my back pocket, but I’m sure I’ll get used to it.

On Steroids, Anthrax, Pain, and Bed Rest Reading

I haven’t posted here in almost a week, and one of the reasons is because of some pain in my lower back of semi-unknown origin.  (Steph suspects it began Thursday when I went to the Co-Op and bought various groceries and bulk items, and carried them home in bags, rather than using our two-wheel grocery cart to transport them the 1/3 mile home.)  My writing setup in the basement isn’t exactly a monk’s cell, but the metal chair is not comfortable, and my typing style is rather aerobic.

I stayed home from work Monday because just getting out of bed to go to the bathroom aggravated the pain so much it almost knocked me over.  I stayed in bed until about 11 a.m., although I made it a point not to sleep, otherwise I’d be wide awake all that night.

While Steph was knitting with her friends that afternoon, and Susie was at homeschool history class, I went to Aetna’s Website and looked for physicians in my area.  I managed to get a 4 p.m. appointment at the St. Anthony Family Practice Center, which was only a half-mile from our place.  Had my back been up to par, I could have walked there without breaking into a sweat.

I waited an hour in a cluttered, disorganized waiting room, spoke to a forgetful receptionist, and was in with the doctor less than five minutes.  (From the conditions of that office, I’m surprised they didn’t have a barber pole out front, and I’m still not 100% sure they don’t bleed people there to cure them.)  I described the situation, and out came the prescription pad.  I was on my way home with a prescription for a steroid, Methylprednisolone.  The word "steroid" raises a lot of red flags with me, mainly because of what I hear on the news about athletes abusing them, but after serving working 6-7 years at Medco, a mail-order pharmacy, I know they have positive and healthy uses as well, such as smoking cessation, muscle relaxant, and hormone replacement.

It has helped.  I’m not nearly in as much pain as I was, except when I bend or angle my back a certain way, and I am still rising out of chairs in stages, not in one fluid motion.  I may have overdid it last night carrying laundry, but I’m feeling better.

During the time I "took to my bed" on Monday morning, I was rereading Amerithrax, Robert Graysmith’s book about the mailed anthrax attacks that happened immediately after 9/11.  (He wrote it before the main suspect, Bruce Ivins, took his own life last year.)  I remember working at Medco once the anthrax letters began appearing.  Since Medco was a pharmacy, we were worried about getting any gems like this in the mail:

(That was about the time that Jay Leno reminisced about the good ol’ days, when people in Hollywood actually looked forward to getting envelopes of white powder in the mail!)

Looking back, some of our precautions were almost comical.  Since Medco first started the mail-order pharmacy business, clients would mail pills back almost daily, with enclosed notes saying, "This pill doesn’t look quite right…", etc.  Of course, by the time it’s gone through the Postal Service’s equipment from point of origin to point of delivery, the pill has been totally pulverized, so there’s no way a pharmacist can analyze anything wrong with it.  After 9/11, letters with these demolished pills caused minor panic.

I was on the Safety Committee, and I remember one woman in the Header Entry section (where I worked) who received an order that had a big purple stain on it.  What she did flew in the face of everything we had taught people about suspicious-mailings safety.  She took it with her and walked around the entire section, looking for a supervisor.  I knew it was probably nothing (and it wasn’t; my guess is that the person had leftover Easter egg dye on his/her fingers when preparing to mail), but if, God forbid, the letter had been tainted, she was spreading it all over the section by carrying it around.  Rule one was always to keep it in one place if you’re suspicious.

I never did think to ask how many prescriptions for Cipro went out.  Many people were driving their physicians nuts asking for Cipro prescriptions, and it didn’t do any good to tell them that Cipro didn’t prevent anthrax–it helped to cure it, but it wasn’t a preventive.

I checked Susan Cheever’s Note Found in a Bottle out of the library on Thursday, and I’m just about finished with it.  She is quite good.  I enjoyed her description of her drinking history, which began with her family.  (Her late father, John Cheever, immortalized the post-World War II East Coast WASP experience in his many novels and short stories.)  How important was alcohol in her household?  She mentions its importance from the get-go, in the very first sentence: "My grandmother Cheever taught me how to embroider, how to say the Lord’s Prayer, and how to make a perfect dry martini."  This was at the age of six.

I still can’t embroider, I didn’t know the Lord’s Prayer until seventh grade, when I began attending a Catholic middle school), and I never learned how to make mixed drinks, so I guess Susan Cheever was ahead of me.

She’s whetted my interest in her family enough that I’ve reserved The Journals of John Cheever from the library.