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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:

(bow)

(stern)

(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.


Tuesday, June 18, 2019

On the (Vacation) Road, Part 4 - Momentary Lapses in Solitude

Sandbridge Beach, Virginia

It was yesterday evening and the clouds were threatening, yet Ms. Rivers and I went to the beach anyway.  Since I had my camera in tow, I snapped a few photographs.  Probably my favorite is this one...

...if I had to give the photograph a name, I'd call it "Random Lady on the Beach".  I don't know who this lady is (hence the random part) or why she was just sitting in the sand, watching the waves.  Was she contemplating some big decision?  Pondering the mysteries of the universe?  Just getting away from the rest of the family for some solitude?  I'll never know, and that's okay.  I look back on the beach trips taken when my daughters were younger and there were many times when I would find opportunities to seek some solitude.  Thinking back to then, my over-riding thought now is "how did I manage to do all of that back then?", where "that" was the pressures of a difficult job, helping to raise three daughters, and a few other things that don't belong in a public blog posting.  Yet here I am now, around to tell the tale.  Anyway, I hope that the Random Lady on the Beach found her momentary lapse of solitude.

That was a great photograph.  An hour or so after that photograph was taken we had some lightening in the area.  I did my best to try and capture a strike, but I wasn't in a great place and had mostly bad luck.  The best I can offer is the following...


...if you look closely you can see the faint glow of a lightning strike that had just occurred.  In photography timing is everything, and sometimes you just miss.  All in a days vacation.

Sleeping has been something of an issue for me this past three nights.  It's not falling asleep...I don't have an issue there...it's what happens once I do fall asleep.  On most nights some of my dreams seem more the like the ether-mescaline fueled delusions of Hunter S. Thompson driving through the desert, but these past few nights have been intense even by my standards.  The one that I can still recall with some clarity from last night alternated between my trying in vain to install up a light post in our back yard (something I've been thinking about doing in the real world) and not being able to finish some big presentation for work.  That big presentation, by the way, was projected onto an enormous screen, and I was being critiqued by this older foreign gentleman.  I think there is a message in both threads*, some of which probably (again) isn't fit for a public blog posting.

I'm not sure what to do about the above odd mental sights and bizarre dream-visions**  Seeing as though this is a vacation, making it prime-time for deep, contemplative thoughts, I should ponder some more on it.  Well, truth be told, that's not really all that accurate.  I have pondered some of the work stuff before.  Here I am though, well into my career, and I seem to be a bit, well, professionally adrift.  There's a certain thread* to this posting, as I started off with a photograph of someone sitting on a beach contemplating and here I am, having my subconscious more or less forcing me into contemplation regarding my professional life.  Cue Elton John & Circle of Life.

On that note, it's time to put this posting to bed and fully start the new day.  Maybe a walk is in order while others (smartly) sleep.

* * * * * *
(*) I work with a few folks who love to talk about "threads".  As in the "threads of a story".  That makes me cringe somewhat, although not as much as the twisting in American English of the word "skill", as in "he needs to be up-skilled" and "we have to create some up-skilling opportunities".  Can't we just use "learn and learning" instead?  

(**) Subtle reference, made strictly just for my own enjoyment, of a book I enjoyed many years ago.  You can find it HERE.


Monday, June 17, 2019

On the (Vacation) Road, Part 3 - Reach the Beach

Sandbridge Beach, Virginia

My very first trip to an ocean beach was when I was a pre-teen; my actual age escapes me, but it was to Atlantic City, a fact that I've mentioned before in prior postings.  What doesn't escape me is how I felt upon seeing the ocean for the first time and what I (and my brothers) did when we had the chance to run free...it was this sense of wonder, of awe, of something incredible.  As soon as we could cajole our mother into allowing us to run free, we made a mad dash across the sand to the edge of the water.

I was thinking about the above as I sat on the beach yesterday.


My days of sprinting in the sand, barefoot mind you, are long gone.  What hasn't left though is the sense of awe I get every time I see the ocean.  Now, of course, I can at least better understand the feeling,

Funny story from back then:   Growing up we didn't eat seafood, well outside of Mrs. Paul's fish sticks.  Anyway, the Albert Boys were amazed at clams.  We dug up about a dozen of them and brought them back to our hovel of an efficiency unit and left them in the dry sink.  Coming back to the hotel room a few hours later we got to experience what dead/rotting clams smelled like.  I still don't eat clams by the way.

Back to the present day, and I enjoy sitting on the beach, listening to waves, and thinking back to days gone past, be they with my brothers or my own girls when they were growing up and we'd have beach vacations.  These days my beach activities have moved away from digging up clams (and sentencing them to a long death inside a dry sink) and making sand castles with little girls and towards reading and walking along the water line.  I do confess though that the thought of one day having grandkids to do things with is appealing.  For now, I'll enjoy reading on my Kindle (which is great for reading the bright light, by the way) and the company of my wife.

What do I read?  I read about 4-5 self-help/personal improvement books a year.  Based on that volume a reasonable person would conclude that I should be in pretty good shape mental health wise.  To that point, well, I will offer no opinions either way.  The current book is a look at how our unconscious biases about ourselves drive our behavior.  It's a pretty good read.  I have a physical book with me also...

...that I'll probably get around to start reading before the end of the week.  Yeah, I get the criticism:  I don't exactly enjoy "light reading", but it works for me.  I've never been much of a fiction reader, and at best I've read about a half dozen novels in my lifetime.

As for today, Monday's plans include taking a drive up to the more commercial end of Virginia Beach.  Tomorrow with be a trip to Norfolk.  The latter makes me think quite a bit about my late brother Chris, as he was stationed at Norfolk for half of his U.S. Navy service.  I'll also keep the following thought in mind:
(from THIS site)

Sunday, June 16, 2019

On the (Vacation) Road, Part 2 - Road Apples #179

Sandbridge Beach, Virginia

Random thoughts pinging through my head at the moment.

Right Now...It's 8am and I am sitting at the dining room table of a condominium in Sandbridge Beach.  I'd be typing this on the balcony, but it's currently over-run by something of a small swarm of dragonflies.  The locals tell us that they are harmless (I already knew that) and that they kill all of the annoying flying critters (I already knew that too).  I just have to get used to swarms of two-inch long flying assassins being around me.  

Pill Load...Yes, this (below) is what I bring with me on vacation.  I didn't bring my multi-vitamin, mostly because the bottle wouldn't fit in the ziplock back with the other stuff.  For something of a science guy, I admit that I probably take too many supplements.  In my defense though, the glucosamine and chondroitin I take really do help with my arthritic toes (yes, I have arthritis in my big toe on my right foot...and nowhere else...go figure). 
On the good news side, I have no life-threatening illnesses, mostly stuff that comes from living an active life and getting older.  

By the way, there was a time when I didn't take anything.  I literally could get up and go, and go to bed at night without having to swallow or inhale a blessed thing.  

On the Road...I felt literally battered from yesterday's drive.  It was long, traffic was, at times, stupidly backed up, and my knee was hurting from having been bent for so long.  While I can't do much about the traffic, I can adjust my seat for the drive back.  Speaking of driving, we drove my Silverado down for this year's vacation, mostly out of a desire to have lots of room.  Speaking of room though, I've parked in a garage, so I have a feeling that getting in and out of the parking space is going to require some patience.  Thank God for the back-up camera.

Work...I actually have to do something for (my professional job) work today.  I'm putting it off, but that can't be forever.  It's something I should have done before I left, and it's honestly not fair to stiff a team member and have her do it for me.  There are times when I think I should have been an electrician.

Band...I saw this in a restaurant we stopped at on the trip down here yesterday and thought to myself "what a cool name for a band!".  Cultural reference, for the uninformed, HERE.
Anyway, I was thinking to myself, "If I had a band, what would I call it?".  After all, I do have a bass guitar that, in theory, I am going to learn to play one of these days.  I'll have to work on that thought.

Today's Agenda...I have to get that work stuff done, as it's hanging over my head.  Outside of that, probably some reconnoitering and planning for the week.  From there it's anyone's guess.

Happy Father's Day...to all of the Dad's out there.  Fatherhood is probably the most under-rated job in the world.  Those who do it well deserve our thanks.