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Sunday, August 18, 2019

Cutting Cords

The post below was written on August 11th, but I haven't gotten around to hitting the publish button until now.  Call it lazy blogging I guess, or call it "no one cares about this but you anyway Steve".  Either works fine for me.  Part of the lack of blogging units problem is the fact that I'm actually doing well.  You read that right:  I am actually doing well.  I'm adjusting well to a new job with a new company and new co-workers.  I'll also confess that it's nice to feel comfortable about what I do for a living again, as that hasn't been the case for a while now.

To that last point, and maybe this is a larger posting topic, but the last few months have been a reminder to me of two things:

1) We are all more than what we do for a living, but yet that still matters.  At least it still matters to me.  It's a tough nut to crack when you find yourself in a position where you're not happy in your professional circumstances.  It's also something you don't necessarily see until you are on the other side of those circumstances.

2) Things work out, at least some times.  I'll always struggle with that one, in part because I am not a patient man.  I am certainly persistent, but not patient.  Maybe that's part of what folks try to convey through religious faith, namely this notion that there is some bigger reason to this all.  I know, I've mentioned that before, but maybe part of what I'm doing is trying to convince myself that all of what I've experienced somehow means something.

Anyway, that's where I'm at.  On to the main posting.

* * * * * *

Main Posting
Two noteworthy cords were cut recently:  The Superintendent of the Scranton School District and with my cable.  Both seem to be a step in the right direction.

Goodbye Dr. Kirijan.
You can read about Dr. Kirijan's departure from the Scranton School District HERE.  I've never met the (now former) Superintendent, but suffice to say, the Scranton School District (SSD) is a "hot mess", and as a leader, she carries some responsibility for the current state of affairs.  Case in point:  In addition to being banned from negotiating with the teacher's union and not blinking an eye at a no-bid multi-million dollar busing contract, Dr. Kirijan was the force behind SSD Directors and others having to sign non-disclosure agreements ( can read more about this on Tom Borthwick's blog).  An NDA in a public school setting is outrageously ridiculous, as the only information held by a district is, by default, the property of the public anyway.  We're not talking about protecting trade secrets here by any stretch of the imagination, but instead, this is an attempt by an administrator to exercise control in precisely the wrong area.

There have been other criticisms of Dr. Kirijan over the years, with some being more valid than others.  Regardless, Dr. Kirijan and the SSD are better off without each other.  Kudos to the SSD Board for taking the initiative to end her contract.

On an unrelated and personal note, it feels good to be working in Scranton again.  No matter where I go, no matter where I've lived or will live, Scranton will always be my home.  Driving into the city makes me feel a kind of connection that I've been lacking over the past 2+ years.

Speaking of personal...

Goodbye Comcast Cable
Ms. Rivers and I have joined the ranks of those have cut the cable cord, at least for television.  By way of disclosure, we still have cable service, but now just for the Internet.  I've been scheming to do this for a while, but my attention has been elsewhere until recently.  In a way, this makes a ton of sense for us, as we don't really watch all that much television to being with.  What's more, every time we changed Comcast packages to save money, we'd end up with more sports channels that we never watch and fewer channels that we would watch.

The replacement plan in all of this as been to get an upgraded Internet service and then use SlingTV for the broadcast stuff.  For the benefit of the curious, in addition to getting back a few channels we lost last year (including Comedy Central), we've reduced our monthly cable bill by nearly $50 (and climbing, as our last Comcast package was creeping up every few months).  This may not seem like much, but anytime you can get something you were missing and pay less for it, well, it's a good thing.

I did, by the way, get the sales pitch to stay with Comcast.  I asked if they could provide channels a-la-carte, and they said no*.  Sales pitch over.

(*) Technically incorrect, as they could provide just the channels we wanted, but they just don't want to.  Why?  As I understand it, the only way the golf channel (for example) is economically viable is to force folks (formerly) like us to pay for it, even though we never watched it.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Two Mass Shootings

Two mass shootings this weekend. What will our elected officials do about it?

Well, after 20 LITTLE CHILDREN* were slaughtered at Sandy Hook Elementary School nothing was done. NOTHING. What makes anything think it will be different now?

This country lost part of its soul on that day; what's happened since, including this weekend, is a reminder of that fact. More families grieving because our elected officials didn't care enough to act after 20 little children were slaughtered.

Just to be perfectly clear, I am not advocating any specific policy solution(s), other than to say anyone who feels that "the solution to gun violence is more guns" is part of the problem. We have enough guns in this country already. What I am saying is that someone in a position of power has to DO SOMETHING.

Congress and the President that they can take their "thoughts and prayers" and shove them up their collective rear-ends. I am tired of the pandering and inaction. I am tired of mass shootings and the politicians that enable them through inaction.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

...and the rock cried out no hiding place

See THIS LINK for a reference to the title.

Fun fact:  This is the second time in about 11 years that I've used this blog post title.  The first time was on November 22, 2010.  That was a pretty trying time for me actually.  I'm not making any comparisons from then to now, but it has been something of a bumpy ride for me over the past year, pretty much coming to a head at the end of June.

Details on the above aren't needed (and, if provided, might actually get me in trouble anyway), but what I will share is this:  My personal life has been nothing short of great.  My health is okay (I need to lose some weight...).  My children seem to be doing well.  My professional life though has been a struggle.  For me, that has been a big deal.  A very big deal.

Understand that what I do for a living, and where I do it, has had an over-sized impact on my life.  Growing up I was just a poor, ungainly tall, awkwardly thin kid from a housing project and I just knew that I had to do better.  I didn't know what "better" was, other than the fact that one day I wanted to have a house where I could plant Marigolds, just like my well-off cousins had at their houses.  It was as simple as that, believe it or not.
(Age 11; I look like a Muppet.)

I have been fortunate most of my working life, by the way.  I worked for a wonderful organization for 28 organization that both makes money and helps people live better lives.  Despite losing my job to a corporate reorganization in December of 2016, I am exceptionally proud to be an official retiree of the Prudential Insurance Company of America.  I even have my signed certificate of retirement framed.  If I do nothing else professionally, I would still be able to look back and say "I did well".

Since then, well, it's been a struggle.  Sometimes, for whatever reason, we just don't fit into an organization well, regardless of talent or desire (or lack of desire).  That struggle culminated in late June (as noted above), with me once again finding myself being corporate re-organized into a free agent.  Long story short, my free agency was to be short-lived, and I started a new job on July 22nd.  It's my honest hope that this will be the last full-time job I have until I "really" retire, which will be in something like 10 years.  All signs point to this being both possible and desireable at my new employer.

There are people to thank in all of this, none the least of which is Ms. Rivers, who has known just how difficult of a ride the past year has been for me, and who literally kept me sane.  I also have a great group of co-workers to thank at my last employer; they helped me in ways that they never realized.  Last but certainly not least, I have the senior leadership team at my new employer to thank for giving me this opportunity to re-anchor myself in productive, meaningful work.

Finally, I will admit that I didn't want to write this posting.  I just don't want that kind of attention.  But I can't both avoid this and just write about other stuff, which explains why I haven't published anything since July 12th.  I need to get these sentiments out of the way now and resume the ruminations over other mundane things, per the usual at  Why?  Listen to the song:  There's no hiding place down here.

More to come.

(I actually do plant Marigolds, ever year.)

Friday, July 12, 2019

It's (business) day 11...

...since I found myself with some extra free time as a result of a corporate restructuring.  Here is my to-do list:
I'm not that concerned about confidentiality for my list, as I can barely read my own handwriting (make that "hand-printing").  Note to self:  I actually completed #23 on Monday.

Actually, one would think that I should have written this posting 11 days ago, but I've been somewhat conflicted about the notion of this blog entry.  On one hand, I do share a lot on this website.  In fact, over the years some of these postings, and the discipline associated with organizing my thoughts such that they make sense for the public Internet, have really helped me deal with some significant life events.  On the other hand, I loathe anything remotely resembling sympathy from anyone.  I just don't want it.

Anyway, a number of the folks in the department I worked in at my last employer, including the person I reported to, were laid off in late June.  If this was my first experience with corporate downsizing, well, I'd be more unnerved by the whole thing.  As it stands though, I am now an official veteran at such things (see The Watch).  I wasn't entirely surprised by these events; a benefit of being hyper-vigilant is the fact that I sensed something was possibly coming.   Regardless of staging or intent, the fact remains that I am now a free-agent of sorts.  Just to get the thought out of the way, I'll note that I hold no ill-will towards any person or organization.  Being bitter for more than two minutes about anything in life is a ridiculous waste of time and energy, both of which are too precious to squander.

I'll note that I am actually fine.  Really and truly fine.  Well outside of the bit of sunburn I got on my feet from pressure washing the back deck on Wednesday.  I should have expected that to happen, seeing as though I basically have albino feet and I was wearing water shoes with plenty of wide-open plastic webbing.  This means, by the way, that I have sunburned diamonds on the top of my feet.  I'd share a picture, but it honestly just looks ridiculous.  And my feet are just generally gross.  And so I digress.

So what's next?  Well, I have a to-do list, see above, but I get bored easily, so that is already starting to get tedious for me. The obvious answer is that there are new professional challenges ahead of me; I just need to find them.  First, though, I have to put some Aloe Vera gel on my feet.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Scranton & Rights

With the guilty plea of Scranton's former Mayor on three felony charges (reference HERE), there continues to be quite a bit written about "rights", as in "city residents have a right to ___________".  As I read all of this stuff, some coming from the horde of anonymous commentators (having the online equivalent of beer muscles), I do think there are some clear lines in the sand.
  1. Scranton residents have a right to an explanation from the former Mayor His attorney publicly proclaimed his innocense multiple time in the media.  This means that, in addition to explaining his felonious actions, he also needs to explain why his attorney lied on his behalf about his (lack of) innocence.
  2. Scranton residents have a right to know who else in city hall is implicated.  If media reports are true, there may be city employees on the payroll as I write this who participated in the former Mayor's illegal activities.  Authorities need to identify all of the players by name.  These individuals need to be fired.
  3. Scranton residents have a right to know exactly who "paid to play".  Bribery works because there are two willing partners.  If a city vendor paid the former Mayor in order to continue to do business in Scranton, barring their proactive participation in the investigation, those vendors need to have their contracts nullified.  
  4. Municipal employees have a right to a presumption of innocence This is precisely why "names need to be named".  Not every municipal employee participated in the former Mayor's fraud; in fact, the vast majority did not.  How do I know this?  Well, call it a combination of age and common sense:  Illegal activities need some degree of secrecy to function, which means a limited scope of participants.  Innocent city employees should be freed from guilt by association. 
Lastly, rights, as such, always come with obligations.  For example, with our right to free speech comes an obligation to not use that same free speech to yell "fire!" in a crowded movie theater.  Scranton residents have an obligation in all of this mess, namely to vote.  Based on what I've read over the years, about 1 in 3 eligible voters in the City of Scranton actually cast a ballot in any given election.  In addition to simply being utterly pathetic, voter apathy is the fertilizer that helps fraud grow in government.  For there to be actual, real change in how Scranton is governed, people have to get out and vote.  In the end, you get the government you (do not) vote for, and we all know how that works out, at least in Scranton.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

"...and he said Nothing as he entered the courthouse"

Now former Scranton Mayor Bill Courtright said nothing to reporters as he entered a federal courthouse in Williamsport to plead guilty to three felonies, all involving money and corruption.  You can read the actual indictment HERE.  You can see a video of (a silent) Mr. Courtight entering the courthouse HERE.

Folks can make their own judgments about the felonies committed by the former mayor.  In terms of actions, what I will say is this:  Bill Courtright owes the residents of Scranton a public explanation.  It's simply not acceptable to merely fade off into a perp walk sunset.  Scranton residents invested in his administration.  He had some good people working for his administration, and they are owed an explanation as well.

This whole sad episode is particularly stinging because it's NOT 1960.  Growing up in Scranton in years past, you expected this kind of thing.  It was "how things are done".  There was, for far too long, a conspiracy of silence when it came to politicians and certain groups in the Scranton area.  The newspapers were complicit, the Church was complicit, unions were complicit, and far too many residents were complicit as well.  It was a system designed to help the well off and occasionally throw some crumbs down off the table to a few, just to keep their hopes up.  It was a system that we had hoped was just about dead.  Given Bill Courtright's brazen felonies, the system isn't quite so dead after all.

In the end, maybe one of the worst crimes committed by Bill Courtright is the one he was not indicted under, namely making so many believe that municipal corruption was a thing of the past. 

Thursday, June 27, 2019

The Place Was Broken

Preface:  Written in May, but it makes sense to publish this now.

* * * * * *

I was a latecomer to the place.  I was glad though that I did get a chance to see part of what it was, back before it was broken.  It's almost startling to think about the change, from then until now.

In the "then" world, there was a certain kind for frenetic energy to the place.  People buzzed around, like so many worker bees in a hive, fulfilling what they viewed as being their responsibilities to the larger whole.  It was not always a pleasant sight in terms of organization, but what it lacked in elegance it more than made up for in positive intent.  It was a kind of functional dysfunction, where gears meshed, although sometimes with considerable effort and lots of lubrication.

The "then" world was also a family.  Granted, it was a family with plenty of weird aunts and uncles, but a family never the less. Most folks knew each other by name.  They knew what they did, in all of its inelegance, and had some sense as to what you did as well.  There was also this over-riding understand of, and respect for the mission and each other.

In the "now" world, well, it's simply barren.  You can measure "barren" in any number of ways.  Sometimes it's the number of open parking spots.  Sometimes it's the barren expression of the faces of people who seem to be contemplating when their number will be coming up.  That frenetic energy has been replaced by a kind of measured gait by many.  I'd use the term "walking dead", but even the word "walking" is too lively a figurative term for the present tense.

The "now" world is no longer a family.  It's more a collection of survivors.  It's a collection of people who have to take the axiom of "one day at a time" and modify it to "one minute at a time" because that's a more digestible chunk.  The weird aunts and uncles are gone; in fact, they were among the first to go.  Professional survivors don't always make for good company.

Was it necessary to break the place?  I can't answer that, in part because I had far less skin in the game, by virtue of my short tenure.  While I certainly understand the macro-economics of modern global markets, I am also cursed to understand all too well the human dynamic at play.  I've gotten the opportunity to see it broken into pieces, with a few choice shards being kept for the apparent value.

No judgments on my part, just observations.  Judging might, by the way, actually result in some kind of temporary feeling of relief; as it stands, I'm not even capable of generating that kind of energy.  Instead, I'm relegated to simply watching.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Spaces In Between

I think that, in each of our lives, we have times and places where big, good things occur to, around, and for us.  There are also times and places where genuinely bad things happen.  Then there are the spaces in between.  Thinking back over this past week, I'd have to go with myself currently being in one of those spaces between.

The week was intended to be what we all expect a vacation to be:  Physically and mentally escape from the pressures of everyday life.  In my case, that's a fancy way of saying "not be at work", where "work" is how I earn a living.  That, however, was really not to be, as I found out during the week that several of my co-workers had lost their jobs.  These are good people, and while I don't want to make this about the subject of corporate layoffs, I'll simply say this:  I've been there, and I know the pain.  I know that all of them will land on their feet, and I'll do anything I can to help them in that regard.

So what do you do when you try to escape work but work does not escape you?

In a way, given my experiences over the past year or so, the above isn't exactly shocking.  Maybe it's a reminder of sorts, a lesson designed to teach the fact that you can't really escape certain things.  Maybe the trick is to just seek momentary truces where available.

I, for one, am back at work tomorrow morning.  Just about anything could happen.  I could be laid off.  I could be fine.  No amount of mental gymnastics will have an impact on that outcome, which by now has already been determined anyway.  Either way, I'm good with the outcome.  To partially quote Quentin Crisp in The Naked Civil Servant, "you can't touch me now", although in my case that's because I've already felt the business end of (the rotten to the core term) rightsizing once; the second time would just be anti-climatic.

Now that I have the machinations of the corporate world fully covered, it's back to the beach.  A few random photos and observations:

The sand crabs cared not our human concerns; for them, it's all about fish for dinner.

On Friday afternoon we sat on the beach for about two hours.  I brought a book.  Instead of reading it, I instead just watched the blue sky, the white clouds, and the rolling surf.  #TimeWellSpent.

We really enjoyed our time in Sandbridge Beach.  There are no hotels there; just two large condominium complexes (the one we stayed at is above) and many homes.  It wasn't crowded and it was impeccably clean.  

Finally, while I don't take too many videos (and I've never included a video I took on the blog before), I had to capture frogs at night.  They are as good a send-off as I can think of when thinking about the week that past.

Yes, the video is mostly just blackness.  Just listen to the frogs for 30 seconds.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

On the (Vacation) Road, Part 6 - No So Vacation-esque Thoughts

Sandbridge Beach, Virginia

Some folks I know received some sobering news yesterday afternoon.  I'm not going to share the details, but suffice to say that it's a reminder that in this day and age, you really can't take anything for granted, no matter who you are and what you do.  What I am going to say is that I am glad to know these individuals.

Outside of WhatsApp-ing like a maniac (see above), yesterday was spent at an outlet center, where I bought a pair of red Chuck Taylor Converse sneakers.  It's the first time such things have graced my feet since Gerald Ford was President.  I hadn't planned on buying sneakers, but the hole in my current daily pair sort of made the idea self-evident.  I'll end up seeing just how well my feet feel in shoes that have less of an arch than your average Stanley Tools level.

(Ruby Red Converse Sneakers:  If you click them three times you are magically transported to Shamokin)

New red sneakers noted, another sight to be seen was that of F-18 Hornets landing at Naval Air Station Oceana, which is conveniently on along the way between here and Norfolk.  The jets themselves can be seen frequently flying in the area of Virginia Beach.

It's the sort of thing that you actually get used to after not too long a period of time.

Speaking of "getting used to" and "period of time", I did something last week that I hadn't done in over almost two years:  I attended an event related to my prior employer.  A colleague was retiring and there was a small get-together for her at a local restaurant.  Saying that I was somewhat apprehensive at the thought of going is a bit like saying "there might be a Tuesday next week", but I am glad that I went.  So many folks I know/knew have now left, either through voluntary or not-so-voluntary retirement that I no longer feel all that odd about the whole thing.  In fact, I really enjoyed connecting with folks I spent nearly three decades working with back behind Channel 16.  There's a not so difficult life experience to be learned from the whole thing, and maybe one of these days I'll actually grasp it.

As noted in the title, by the way, this isn't a very vacation-esque posting. 

My favorite part about yesterday was going for a long drive in the evening.  This is simply a very beautiful area.  It's also incredibly flat:  I checked the altitude three times during a 90-minute drive and it varied by a whopping 2 feet (from 5 to 7 feet).  By way of comparison, I think I can walk out the front door of my house and walk 7 feet and see a change in altitude of 2 feet.  I should have brought my bike on the trip.

Today will likely be spent at the Jamestown Settlement in Virginia.  I've been saving my camera battery (I forgot the charger...) for this, and I hope to get some decent photographs.  Here's to a sunny and vacation-esque day.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

On the (Vacation) Road, Part 5 - Thinking About the Future & Past

Sandbridge Beach, Virginia

One of the topics that regularly comes up when Ms. Rivers and I take some time to get away is retirement.  More specifically, where do we want to live when we retire?  By way of background, while Ms. Rivers was born in Allentown, she grew up in Philadelphia.  I, on the other hand, was born and grew up in Scranton.  While we both are relatively happy living in Northeastern Pennsylvania now, we share a common goal in retirement:  Warmer weather during the winter months.

I can't speak for my wife, but I really don't like those desperately cold winter mornings, and I'm even less fond of snow.  I'm not looking to live in the tropics, mind you, just somewhere that doesn't regularly offer a morning in the teens in January.  Everything else is up for debate.

The good news in all of this is that all things considered, we'll likely have the means to move when we do eventually retire.  That's a blessing we know others may not enjoy, and for that, we are very thankful.  Timing is up in the air, but probably on the order of 10-12 years from now.  The question though is this:  To move where?  That's where Captain Analysis (a.k.a. Me) comes into his own.

I'll leave the squinting to you.  A few things are readily apparent from the analysis to date:

  • Scranton has a very low crime rate an cost of living.  We're not getting that combination anywhere else.
  • We want to still be within driving distance to our families.  Granted that might be difficult to predict, but we figure PA/MD/DE/VA is probably a good bet.
  • Northeast PA, in general, has a down-right creepily low number of sunny days per year. No wonder alcoholism is such a problem.

In the end, how much of this is wishful thinking vs. reality?  Not sure, but I do know this:  We've both worked...and are working...hard, so whatever we do, it will be to thoroughly enjoy ourselves.  We've earned that much.  Yes, this is one of the many places my mind goes when I'm not filling it with work stuff.

In other news, we had the honor of visiting the battleship Wisconsin yesterday, taking a tour of the engine room and related workings.  It was incredible.  The fact that our sailors worked in these conditions says a lot about what service means in the United States.  We owe these sailors...and all who serve and have served...a debt of gratitude.  Here are a few pictures:



(Street view)

(Below deck, "Broadway")

(16" shell & VW Beetle...the same weight)

Finally, my late brother Chris was stationed in Norfolk during the first part of his service in the United States Navy.  Seeing sailors crossing the street made me think of him, imagining that he would have been in that same uniform, crossing that same street back in 1984-1985.  That felt oddly good to me.