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Saturday, April 3, 2021

That Changes in the Yard

I love yard work.  This means I also love Spring.

Part of this springs (pun intended) from having grown up in a housing project where I learned to associate planting flowers, etc., as being a sign of affluence.  A bigger part though is more deeply ingrained in the machinery running inside my head.  More specifically, most of the time my mind is like Times Square in New York City, pre-pandemic:  Things going in all different directions, lots of flashing lights vying for attention, and so very much noise.  It is, in a word, tiring.  While I can physically relax (and probably do so too much these days), actually mentally relaxing is far more difficult.

That changes in the yard.

The grass needs to be my mind focuses on getting out the mower, making sure it has gas, cleaning it off a bit, and actually cutting the grass.  The grass was too high before I cut it, and now it is just right.  I've spent effort and gotten a result.

Time to trim the trees...the dwarf plum in the front needs a bit of shaping, so I break out the tools and get to work.  It looks really nice afterward.  Making sure that the old maple in the back is free from dead branches that might fall onto the garage.  Time to get out the pole saw.

I could go on with about four more examples, but they all revolve around the same story, namely that for whatever combination of reasons, being outside and working in the yard gives me the ability to (figuratively & temporarily) move from Times Square to a quiet meadow.  There's a certain clarity to the yard that I don't get at, for example, work...the goals are easy to understand, there are no ulterior motives and the results are easy to see.  There's also certain predictability to the yard; for example, the lilac's bloom in late April/early May.

This is not just about immediate gratification by the way.  In the yard this year I am hoping for two fully blooming honeysuckle plants (which I spent countless hours on last year planting, trimming, and fertilizing).  I also have plans to remove a rather ratty-looking ground cover plant in the front, but the replacement is still under consideration.   Maybe put in a light pole and clematis?

I'm sure this kind of thing is not unique to me, and perhaps we all need times and places where we can be free from the noise.  Mine just happens to be the yard.  For others, maybe it's sailing.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Amazon Union Drive

The important news that you may not be aware of is a unionization drive at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama.  This is a very, very big deal that could have an impact far wider than just one of the many Amazon locations.  I consider myself mostly neutral when it comes to unionization; by and large, I think employers which have a labor union are in that situation because they deserve it.  

Amazon is a test case though in what's wrong with many employers in the United States today.  As my former Labor Law instructor at Villanova recently said on LinkedIn...

Amazon's pitch is "Don't let the unions come between our relationship".

A warehouse employee counters that by saying "But we don't have a relationship.  We have a relationship with a computer and an app".  

The above also exists in an environment where Amazon employees are afraid to use the bathroom while at work* as the company relentlessly drives for more efficiency and productivity.  Oh, and the company was founded by one (if not the) richest man on Earth.  Now I like getting my Amazon packages quickly with my Prime membership, but I would not complain if I waited an extra day for delivery in order to make sure that Amazon employees are treated more like human beings than a piece of machinery.

Granted, unionization isn't always the best answer to addressing employee issues, but sometimes it may be the only answer that's left for employees.  As a professional, this makes me truly sad.  I believe to my very core that individuals are capable of representation themselves...they don't need an intermediary...but what happens when the leadership of an organization won't actually listen to individuals?

There are better ways out there to do things from a labor-management perspective.  It's worth looking at, for example, how things are done in Germany.

As it stands though, I can't help but support the workers who want to organize in Alabama.  What other choice is left for them?

(*) Citation:

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Last Gasps

Two Last Gasps.

The first is (hopefully) winter.  In some respects, it has been one of the most difficult winters I've had in a long time.  This is how I suspect difficult years end, by the way, in a kind of last gasp.  And I can't even claim to have had things all that bad, by most practical measures.  What I can claim though is that, for the most part, this is not how I imagined my life would be at age 50-something (I am too tired to do the some point, you just stop counting anyway).  That's not a measure of what you might think, by the way.  I would have hoped that I would just have more of this "battles inside my head stuff" figured out.  

Was it always this way?

That's a great question.  I think that, in the past, I always had what I'd call bumpers to my life...things that basically forced me to just plow through stuff.  These are the things that good husbands and fathers do.  Think along the lines of "I don't know what the Hell I am doing, but I'm just going to do it anyway".  With age though, some of those things just go way.  Kids grow up and become successful.  Marriages end and begin again.  Before you know it, there is nothing left to distract me, and here I am, left to answer 40 years of "why" questions.  

Maybe, just maybe, Spring is part of the answer.  A kind of magnificent metaphor.  No matter how horrible the Winter was, between bad weather, pandemics, and insurrections, the snow piles dwindle into nothing and Spring comes.  Maybe I just need to stop thinking so much and just enjoy the coming flowers.

Another last gasp is Kmart.  One of the few remaining Kmarts in the known universe, located in Edwardsville (PA), is closing.  My first trip into a Kmart wasn't really a was a kind of proto-Kmart known as Kresge's in downtown Scranton.  My brothers and I would parade down there with my mother, probably looking like a duck walking with her ducklings, and do the shopping thing.  A high-point was stopping in the cafeteria, where we could get a soda and on the rare occasion a muffin.  Kresge's evolved into Kmart, the staple for us being the one located in the Birney Plaza in Moosic.  Alas, that died a slow death a few years ago, only to be replaced by a pretty nice supermarket.

Anyway, I couldn't forgo the opportunity to make my last stop in one of the last Kmarts in the universe, so my younger stepson and I make the few-mile trek.  It was everything one would expect...this combination of sadness and apathy rolled into an odd mix of horrible-looking clothing and a few Craftsmen tools.  I did end up getting some tools during that trip by the way.  I also saved the bag.  30 years from now maybe I'll pull it out from a drawer and reminisce about how my brother Chris had this habit of pouring some of each different kind of soda into his cup as we were at the small Kresge's cafeteria.  Yes, he was a rebel even back then.

Sunday, March 7, 2021

It's Been A Long Road, Getting From There To Here

I don't think I have ever gone this long without posting something before, but February was a long month, even though it is actually the shortest month.  As for why it has been so long, I wish I had a good answer other than, maybe, "tired".   That can be tired as in physically, mentally, emotionally, etc.  While it may not seem like much on the outside, writing this stuff can be taxing on me.  Granted that I enjoy this...I would be doing it for going on 13 years if I didn't...but sometimes things just get in the way.  

Work has been taxing, and I readily admit that I am needing to learn new skills to make it work.  The skills, by the way, have nothing to do with strategic job stuff.  More like the skills associated with balancing my needs to do everything right, self-flagellation when I get it wrong, and better understanding my boundaries.  There is a kind of moral here, namely that getting older doesn't mean you have all the answers.  It also makes me question how well I have served my own needs by having stayed at the same employer for so long.  Was I ultimately too isolated from the "real world"?  No sense expending too many mental calories on that one, as the rear-view mirror examination is best used in very small doses.  

For the record, trying to mentally back out of certain thought patterns is very, very difficult for me.  For example, where I should be in life right now, I think, is working towards an eventual retirement.  That's the big goal.  I should be viewing what I do now through that lens, not the one where I over-examine in microscopic detail what I do every day.

Then there are the reminders every once in a while where the universe tries to re-focus your head.  Recently, in my case, part of that has been a friend who is going through cancer treatment.  Here I am wallowing in whether I cheesed someone off at work and this person is dealing with "the Big C".  I readily confess, in a brief moment at work that I nearly broke down thinking about it.  Sometimes "...universe tries to re-focus..." is just a fancy way to say "...dramatically unfair $hit..." (with apologies for the quasi-swear word).

I do sometimes wonder if I have reached a kind of existential moment in my life, with more questions about "why" than there are actual answers.

In any event, I am moving along.  Part of that moving along involves my doing a better job at work of just focusing on task other words, just trying to get some stuff done.  Part of that, in turn, involves being less emotionally invested in things.  I need to come to work, do my best, and leave work.  I am learning (make that trying to learn) that I need to save the emotional investment for things where an actual emotional investment is more appropriate.

Re-reading the above, it seems like I have spent a few hundred words trying to say something that could easily be described in a single sentence.  So I'll give that a try now:

"I am re-examining just how important my professional experience should be in the context of my larger life."

How's that?  I know, all of the above is an incredible exercise in over-thinking.  Maybe that's the point...and also the problem.

* * * * * *

On a more practical, non-internal dialogue note, I am officially fully vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus.  I should probably feel more relieved than I actually do, but in all fairness personal worry about the pandemic hasn't been much of a driver for me over the past year.  If anything, I worry more for others, including those who are more vulnerable to infection because of their health or what they do for a living.  Here's to hoping that we, as a nation, have turned a corner in the fight against the virus.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Today's Prediction

For reasons that escape me, from time to time the following clip comes to my mind when I am dealing with stressful things...

Ironically, I didn't really like that Rocky movie (#3) as much as the first two.  

Anyway, and without getting into too many details, it's been a bit rocky (no pun intended) on this end over the past few weeks.  As usual, probably about 66% of that is just in my head, but there is that good third that is definitely sourced from the exterior.  Honestly, the details are not all that important, other than to say that no one is sick, I love my wife, and my children are all doing okay.  

One of the things that I have realized over the past few weeks is when I was younger, I had a much stronger tolerance for certain kinds of stress (of the 9 to 5 variety).  As I've grown older?  Well not so much.  I suspect that, in those younger days, no matter what was happening in and around me, I always had that compelling reason to push through in the form of my young children.  Failure...however you want to define that...was never an option.  What happens when you don't have that compelling reason?  That's the $64,000 question, and I don't have an answer, other than what Clubber Lang notes in the clip above.

I will note that I am not the only person of my age who has these kinds of feelings.  What does differentiate me from others, maybe, is the unrealistic set of standards I set up for myself when I am earning a living.  I am smart enough to know not to hold others to unrealistic expectations, but not smart enough to prevent myself from doing that same myself.  What's left is a kind of opaque cloud that's settled on me, where it's difficult to gain the proper perspective.  What isn't opaque is the fact that I wake up worrying about the 9 to 5 stuff most mornings.  As in it's the first thought that comes to my mind.  To be fair though, I somethings think those thoughts are new; maybe they are just continuations of what's pinging around in my head while I am asleep.  That may, in fact, the scariest part of this posting.

In any event, the purpose, if you want to call it that, of this posting was to engage in a bit of venting.  Which I've done.  Do I feel better?  I'm not sure.  Regardless, here's something better...a video of Linda Ronstadt singing a song by the Hollies.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Stand Up In A Clear Blue Morning

Tomorrow at noon will feel like a brand new day.  At least for many of us.  

Four years ago, during a November vacation that happened right after I was "retired" from a company I had planned on retiring with, my wife and I watched election results in horror.  A man who had basically failed at much of what he had done in life...two failed marriages...six failed businesses...was going to the be next president.  From that point on, it honestly felt as if there were a cold wet blanket on this nation.  I wasn't proud to be an American.  I watched with a kind of downward head-shaking acknowledgment when he promoted racists and demoted those allies we had that shared in our supposed national values.  

Last November, there was a kind of glimmer of hope if you will that maybe, just maybe, we might get a new president.  A president that didn't, for example, rage-tweet in the middle of the night.  Even then though, I basically still wasn't sure it was going to end.  The tweeter-in-chief's campaign of countless lawsuits succeeded in planting some doubt in my, and I am sure others, minds.

On January 6th of this year, we had a kind of crescendo of sorts, when all the ugliness of a failed president and his supporters had their final stand.  A Waterloo worthy of any dictator.  While those events are a stain on this nation, they also gave me though something that was lacking:  A real sense of hope.  After January 6th, I knew it was truly going to end.

As I write this now, Joe Biden will be the new President of the United States of America in about 14 hours.  It feels like I can finally exhale after four long years.  In something of an interesting bit of synchronicity, I now find myself a few months into a new job where I very well may be until retirement.

Lastly, I offer this...

What do the President of the United States of America and the author of this blog have in common?

We were both born in Scranton, Pennsylvania!


Sunday, January 10, 2021

Life is What Happens

Last week was, in a word, terrible.  Granted, it was terrible for many of us, but I had two extra things going on, in addition to the terrorist attack at the United States Capitol:

  • It as the anniversary of my brother's death
  • My stepson's father passed away
As a general rule, I do my best to protect the privacy of others on the page, and that will continue for my stepsons.  I will note though that they had a complex relationship with their father, which is something I knew about going into my relationship with Ms. Rivers.  Based on that, and the advice of Dr. Gordon Livingston (in one of his books...), I made the decision early on that I would work hard at being a positive part of their lives.  Time will tell if I have been successful with that goal.  

For the record, I didn't attend the funeral services.  This was in part because I viewed my possible attendance as being both disingenuous and a distraction.  The disingenuous part comes from the fact that I could not honestly honor the life of someone who caused pain to people I love.  I know though that there were good times in that family in years past, so it is entirely proper for others to come and pay respects.  But not me.  I did though contribute to the effort in other ways, including editing the photo for the obituary.

I am reminded though by last week's events that sometimes great pain...and even part of the cost for a new life to begin.  That could be a new life for a nation that struggled for four years under the divisiveness of a malignant narcissistic leader.  Or a new life free from the what-if shackles of a non-supportive parent.  To that second point, well, I have some experience.  If you were to ask me how I felt when my own father passed away, my immediate answer would probably be "glad", as he was finally wrenched free from his physical and emotional pain, and at least one of his sons (me) was free from trying to understand why his father was never capable of actually being a father.  I know that's pretty dark, but on the other side of that passing is a kind of peace, as some memories do soften with the passing of time and (hopefully) the wisdom of age.  I hope that turns out to be true for my stepsons as well.

It's also time for life.

Sometimes when we're going through difficult times it's hard to remember that this is life.  That our life is ticking away.  By all means, we have to do the hard things of life, including losing people close to us, but we also can't get so focused on the trials that we miss everything else around us.  Life does not pause for us.  Life is always happening.

Monday, January 4, 2021

The Things We Can't Leave Behind

I'll cut right to the chase:  There isn't a day that goes by in my life when I don't think about my late brother Chris.  As in no matter what I am doing, no matter where I am, there are always thoughts about him pinging around in my head.  Some of those thoughts are probably best described as "whistful", as in thinking about what our lives should have been or what he would be thinking about relative to some current event.  Some of them are sad.  Some are just, for a lack of a better word, perplexing to the point of mental exhaustion, as I still really can't fully grasp just what happened 4 years ago on January 5, 2017.

If you are at all wondering just what the hell I am talking about you can click on this link:

Yes, 4 years later and part of me just doesn't understand what happened, and that runs counter to all of my emotional and intellectual programming, as by and large I ALWAYS HAVE TO UNDERSTAND.  I have to be able to make sense of my world and what's happening in it to some degree, as any loose-ends gnaw at me like a beaver on a birch tree.  I need understanding and order in my life now to balance what I experienced growing up.  Yet though on another level the death of my brother does not now, nor will it ever make any real sense.  What's more, one of the few bits of saving grace in my childhood was the fact that there were 3 others in the world who could understand this to one degree or another.  Now my youngest brother has settled into a world and routine where maybe these things don't matter as much to him now, which I think is a good thing.  That means now there is really only 1 other.

There are times when I honestly just wish I could break down into a puddle of emotional goo over what happened, knowing that at least then maybe I could hit the emotional re-set switch of sorts.  That doesn't work though for me.  I somehow believe that I was fated to find my brother in January 2017, precisely because that was better than others finding him.  You see, that almost stoic, restrained, logical person that I am is well equipped for calming the emotions of others during trying times.  Yes, I do the crisis management thing really well.  Yet that comes at a high cost (as John Mellencamp once wrote, "I do things my way, and I pay a high price"), namely a kind of emotional governor that I can't seem to disable.  I am left with trying to use logic to describe feelings that are inherently illogical.  It's a vicious cycle.  

For the record, I don't know what actual purpose this posting serves.  It's not actually even a half-way decent tribute to my late brother (you can click on the link above for that).  If anything, it's the kind of rambling insider stuff that part of me wants to dismiss.  However, this seems to be what I can manage to scrape together from the jumble of feelings I can't seem to fully process all that well these 4 years later.  I also get the impression that I'll be able to write this same posting 10 years from now, as the fundamental conflict at play, namely my needing to be "in control" vs. the very "out of control" feelings I have buried deep down are not likely to be resolved.  Simply put, I'm not likely to change all that much, and Chris is not coming back.  

In the final analysis, what is clear is this:  I just wish he was still here.

Friday, January 1, 2021

All is Quiet on New Year's Day


Welcome to 2021, and I'm not even going to try and add to the chorus of why we collectively needed 2020 to come to an end.  While it wasn't the worst year in my life, it definitely was up there in the top 5, and I, fortunately, haven't had anyone in my family get sick.  Sometimes though there is this collective terrible that falls upon us all that doesn't need to touch us specifically, and it just wraps around everything and everyone like a cold, wet blanket.

As for me, I did something around midnight that I almost never do...I had alcohol (pink champagne, to be precise) both ring in 2021 and to toast Ms. River's birthday.  I'm good now in the alcohol department for another year+.

As for the new year, I just want some normalcy.  

I want to continue to have a normal job.

I want to be able to go out to dinner in a normal way.

I want to worry about normal things when it comes to my children.  

I want the national news to be filled with normal, boring things.

I want politicians to Tweet about normal, boring things.

If anything, COVID-19 continues to remind us all just how good we had it back before "pandemic" became a present-tense word.

I'm not sure any of the above is too much to ask for, but yet some of it still seems so out of reach.

In any event, there is only so much we can control, and most of that is simply our own reactions.  So as we all stare down 2021 with a mix of hope and suspicion, let's not forget that every big thing is made of a bunch of small things, which holds equally true for the pyramids and our own attitudes.  

We can do small, hopeful step at a time.


Wednesday, December 30, 2020


Many years ago, when Ms. Rivers and I first started dating (that sounds pathetic coming from someone who isn't in their 20's or younger, but so I digress), I remember her telling me that she would not allow her sons to watch "The Family Guy".  Given the content of the show, I was hardly in a position to argue the point.  That, however, hasn't been what's stuck with me all these years later.

Before I go further, to make sense of this posting, the first thing you need to realize that the show is actually titled...

Family Guy


The Family Guy

The second thing to know is that the moment I find something off-beat and funny, well, I'll literally beat it to death to the point of being ridiculous. 

To that second point, all these years later, I've taken to adding random "The" to things.  For example...

Today we are going to the Philadelphia

Where the show "It's Always Sunny in the Philadelphia" takes place

Last Sunday I had the Turkey Loaf for dinner

I got my younger stepson a vintage poster from the Supertramp for his bedroom

I enjoy listening to a CD from the Roxette on my drive to work

I have a great family doctor at the Geisinger

My younger stepson likes it when his Mom makes the eggs in a hole for breakfast

The odder the place where I can insert a "the", well, the better.  Why?  I can't really explain why, other than the fact that in some small way it amuses me and that I always need to have lots of different things pinging around in my head at any given time, including finding odd places where I can insert a "the".  Fortunately, Ms. Rivers is pretty tolerant of my rampant silliness.  Given the other myriad of things I could be doing, well, this seems like a minor inconvenience.

On a happier note, it's almost the 2021, which is truly good news.