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Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Preface To A Broken Wing

The posting you see below (the six *'s) was written by me on September 30th, pretty much unchanged until now, except of course for the fact that you didn't see it then.  In fact, no one saw it, mainly because I didn't publish it until now.  It, along with about 60 or so other postings, sat in my draft bin.  I'm like that when it comes to this writing stuff...

...sometimes I get these ideas and quickly write them out, only to lose interest.
...sometimes I work diligently to finish a posting, only to think "that's too ______"

The September 30th posting, as written below, was the latter.  In this case, the ________ is probably best described as "visceral"; as a result, I didn't want anyone to read it and somehow worry about me.  Why?  I simply don't want that kind of attention.  Odd, given that I put myself "out there" via public Internet postings, but never the less I've never wanted that kind of attention.  I never wanted to be that "weak" person, that "needy" person, that "vulnerable" person, or that kind of person that my mother would have probably mocked in some fashion for their perceived frailty.  Yet, in spite of my need to "win", to be "in control" to be "good enough", there have been times over the past year when I've felt as if none of those things applied. 

So why am I publishing this now?

The answer is simply this:  It's honest, and if anything, I've always tried to be honest in this microscopic corner of the Internet.  Yes, you can call me many, many things, but dishonest about how I feel with regard to a particular topic?  Nope.  I'll also note that a friend posted something on social media on Sunday that moved was simple...and I admired this person's honesty.  If they could be honest, well, it feels rather cowardly that I can't.  What's more, I need to break this whole "October Bad Juju" thing once and for all.

Finally, and going back to the idea of "visceral", I think it needs to be okay for me...for everyone really, but especially for not be okay sometimes.  Maybe this, in some small manner, is a kind of statement to note that sometimes those of us who seem the best assembled may, in fact, have a few loose parts from time to time.  It's okay to not win all the time.  It's okay to not be in control every once in a while.  Just facing this is "good enough". 

So yes, what you read below was honestly how I was feeling on September 30, 2017.  It's not now how I feel now, by the way, but many of the things that drove me to write "Broken Wing" are still there.  Now I know, that previous sentence sounds all too cryptic, but so be it.  I write this as October is about to end, and by and large, it's been a good month.  That's another reason to write this posting by the way:  "Broken Wing" and this preface are a kind of bookend, if you will, for the month that turned out well. 

* * * * * *

Broken Wing (September 30, 2017)

It's time for something of a confession.  Of sorts.  Heck, I'm starting this and not sure even what "it" will end up being; I just know that I need to write this, so fingers are hitting the keyboard.

(My late brother Chris, acting like an ass, date unknown)

As I start to write this, tomorrow will be the first day of October, and I am anxious about it.  Pretty odd, huh?  I pride myself on being a rational person, someone who likes to think like a scientist(1),  someone who uses reasoning, not emotion, to view the world.  Yet over this past year or so, some of that logic has failed me.  There have been times when I've felt like a bird with a broken wing.  Am I to be in this perpetual state of damage?

The signs are all around me:
Some days are a struggle to get through. 
I have much to be thankful for(2), but yet I don't always feel it.
I'm not sure much brings me joy.
I've allowed piles of crap to sit in my office since January; I'm only now starting to clean up.
I have an exceptionally difficult time relaxing, even when I'm not working.
I have allowed my eating to get dramatically out of control.

I'm illogically afraid that another layoff (a-la "Retirement") or some other major jolt is just around the corner.  Welcome to October.  Will this be the one that finally breaks me?  It's not a paralyzing fear, for that, well, I could probably handle.  Instead, this is more like a small gnawing kind of feeling.  A leprosy of the soul.  It may go hiatus for a day or two, but it almost always returns, rotting away at my innards.

I replay my "retirement" 20-second video notice in my head.  I have a kind of deep sorrow regarding my late brother.  As I've noted here before, in a way I am grateful that I (and not one of my other brothers) was the one who found him; on the other hand, and this won't be a shock, but that was a horrible experience.  I am both sad and angry that he's gone, but yet grateful that he's not suffering.

It feels as if so much has been taken from me over this past year.

I've done my level best to try and sort this whole mess out, but maybe it's time for a different kind of approach.  I'm just not sure yet just what that different kind of approach will be just yet.

For the record, this isn't a "cry for help" and I am in no way, shape or form a danger to myself, others(3), small animals, most insects or any other of God's creations.  Even at my most damaged, well, at worst I try to subconsciously harm myself via eclair and grease overdose.  The latter almost sounds comical, but it happens to be true.

I can envision a happier future:  Being physically healthier, giving myself the benefit of the doubt, not vegetating so much in the evenings.  It all feels though like it's ever so slightly out of reach.

At the start of October, well, it feels like my worst month may have already won.  We shall see.

* * * * * *

(1) Which makes me all the more proud that I have a daughter who is becoming a scientist.  
(2) A kind and supportive wife, a job that pays my bills, colleagues at work who are a pleasure to work with, physical health (sometimes in spite of my best efforts), and the list goes on.
(3) One exception:  I am a danger to NAZIs and other such types.  Just saying.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Entire Scranton School Board Should Resign

Here's the least damning thing recently reported about the Scranton School District (SSD) by Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale:  Scranton effectively has the most debt-ridden school district in Pennsylvania.

Again, that's the least damning thing noted in the A.G.'s recent performance audit of the SSD.

It get's worse from there; here's a telling quote from the A.G.:

“It is long past time for the dysfunctional Scranton School District board and the staff to start acting like responsible adults, and to be blunt, get their heads out of their asses and focus their energies on doing what is right for the district’s 10,000 students and thousands of taxpayers,” 

You can read more about Auditor General's report on the Scranton Times website (link to the article HERE).

You can read the entire report produced by the A.G.'s office HERE.

There's nothing I need to embellish in this mess, as the facts stand out on their own.  I do wonder if some of the accusations merit a further criminal investigation, such as over $600,000 paid to a mechanic...who was not a district employee...who also received SSD paid medical coverage (for himself and his spouse).  Then there's the busing contract, which virtually everyone, including the A.G. but except a majority of the SSD Board, has known to be a fiscal version of a dumpster fire.

Regardless, there's one step the SSD Board should take, unanimously I will add:  Resign.

The entire SSD Board should resign, effective immediately.  All of them are complicit in regard to the SSD's perilous states, both fiscally and from a leadership perspective.  All of them either knew or should have known what was happening in the SSD.  All of them failed to appropriately raise the condition of the SSD to the crisis level that's described in the A.G.'s report.  The fact that Pennsylvania's Auditor General has to shame the SSD's leaders into doing their jobs is more than sufficient justification for a mass resignation.

Speaking of complicit, the SSD's unions can't escape blame here, as they knowingly engaged in the politics of the board, routinely endorsing candidates that weren't qualified to count money in a second-rate Bingo Parlor, let alone manage a multi-million dollar budget.  Yes, the objective of any union is to look out for its members, but educators and support professionals in education have an additional calling, namely the care and betterment of children given to them during school hours.  Board politics and hiring practices over the years benefited union members...which is a fact that no sane person in Scranton would dispute...but these same practices will ultimately harm the SSD's students through the budget cuts that are coming.

Finally, the ultimate "buck stops here" moment in this hot mess lies with the voting age population of Scranton.  As I noted in a related Facebook posting, institutionalized government graft is a part of Northeastern Pennsylvania's culture.  It's effectively seen as an area with limited economic opportunities, connections to government graft became for many Scranton residents an accepted form of upward mobility.  The problem though is that the greed driving the engine of government graft is unsustainable; eventually, so many pieces of the pie are taken that there are only crumbs left to educate students.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

October @ Mid-Point

Well, it's October 21st, which means that the month is more than half over.  What has happened so far?  Close to not much.  In fact, while some things are busier that than others, by and large, it's been an uneventful month so far.  For the record, part of me hesitates to even write this, as what happens if October views that statement as being something of a taunt?  I mean there is still part of the month to go, which means all manner of negative things could still happen.  I could, for example, catch leprosy.

In case none of the above makes sense, you can go back and read this posting.

I actually have quite a bit planned for the balance of the month.  Today we traveled to Renninger's Farmer's Market in Kutztown for a few hours of inhaling the smell of smoked swine.  This place is an experience.  Seriously, the smell of smoked meat is almost to the point of over-powering; one time both Ms. Rivers and I had to temporarily leave the building, as it was that strong.  I can thank my oldest daughter for introducing me to Renninger's when she was a student at the very wonderful Kutztown University.

(among the delights that can be found at Renninger's)

This coming weekend, Ms. River's parents are coming up to visit, and there are plans a-foot to hike up the trail (not down...that's for amateurs) at Ricketts Glen State Park.  That's becoming something of a Fall ritual, although I don't know if we've done it enough to actually and officially use the title "ritual" properly.  Even though I'm wildly out of shape, I'm still looking forward to the experience.  My hiking partner is Ms. River's mother, and I'll do my best to keep up with her.

(from a hike in September 2013)

After that?  Heck, October is nearly over.

All of the above is rather ironic in a sense, in that I pride myself on being solidly logical, rational, reasonable, etc.  But yet, almost by habit, I suppose I do have superstitions of sorts.  What is superstition anyway?  Maybe it's a half wish, half blind explanation for the things that we are either too lazy or too preoccupied to mentally grasp.  Maybe it's a kind of mental short-hand for general anxiety, with the subject being a kind of avatar for things that are likely too dark to describe in polite company.  Either way, I still do pick up that stray penny I see on the ground.  And I'll likely continue to have some latent misgivings about October.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Harvey Weinstein

There is about 16 metric tons worth of hypocrisy in Hollywood these days when it comes to Harvey Weinstein.  Yes, the industry that regularly produces a product that very often deals in misogyny and violence also kept mostly quiet while one of it's "power brokers"1 was effectively running rampant over women seeking a career in motion pictures.  And now some in Hollywood are "outraged".  I'm kind of thinking that the "outrage" is about 20 years too late.

I've read quite a bit about Mr. Weinstein, but the best, most succinct piece I've come across is from John Oliver.

Lest anything think that this is all a jab against "hypocritical Hollywood liberals", I'll note that the Republican President of the United States is on record as endorsing sexual assault.  Oh, I forgot, that was just "locker room talk".  Maybe then Mr. Weinstein was just engaged in "bedroom antics" then. 

The real issue here is that some men with power of sorts (be it in business or politics)...not all men, but certainly some...feel compelled to express power by degrading and assaulting women.  It's not mentally hard to create a connection between "lust for power" and "lust for other things".  Those things seem to go together all too often.  Maybe it's time we stop creating idols out of those who do lust, regardless of what they are lusting after.  I'm not sure what's worse though:  The shameful treatment of women or the blatant enabling by others2.

(1) I hate the term "power broker". 

(2) It should be noted that many of these enablers are also women, making a kind of double hypocrisy.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Witching Hours (and Days)

8:12am | Peabody, MA
I'm sitting in the lobby of a Hampton Inn (in some quarters also known as a "Hamster Inn"), located in Peabody, MA.  The free breakfast has been consumed, my Boston brand mint tea is finished, and I'm basically waiting for the rest of my traveling compatriots (Ms. River & my younger stepson) to complete their morning rituals.  The intent is to get on the road today, headed southwest back to Northeastern Pennsylvania.

Peabody, by the way, reminds me somewhat of central New Jersey.  The place sports continuous traffic, with a kind of non-descript, not-quite-industrial, look to it.  For the uninformed, Peabody is north-west of Salem and Boston.  No offense intended to New Jersey.  Or Peabody, which, by the way, is pronounced "pee-bidy", not "pea-body"(1).

This was our second mini-vacation of the year; the other was a trip to Vermont a few months ago.  I'm becoming something of a fan when it comes to the short vacation, mainly because it works well with my attention span (re:  Short).  One of the benefits of living where we do is the fact that there is a lot to see within a reasonable driving range.  I'm sure that's not the case everywhere...sorry residents of Idaho.  This trip entailed two days:  One in Salem and the other Boston.

I've been to both Salem and Boston before, although the former many, many years ago.  Boston?  I was last here about three or so years ago, but this time around we spent a fair amount of time in the Italian section of the city.

I enjoy walking, so hoofing about Boston was something I well tolerated.  The fact that there was a ton of good food also made it worth the time.  My weight/general health may somewhat disagree with that second sentiment, but hey, I can always work on that aspect of things.

The time in Salem was fun as well.  We took a cruise out onto the bay, which Ms. Rivers always enjoys.  I don't think that I'll have to work too hard to convince her that a retirement closer to the water would be a good idea.  The actual town of Salem is cute, especially this time of the year.  Its kind of like an extended, over-commercialized version of Haloween, except this one is for adults.  I could see where some of the more religiously conservative would be offended by the soft-selling of what they consider to be devil worship, but these days there is plenty of real evil in the world, so perhaps the "buy my trinkets" version isn't so bad after all.  Besides, I do think that there is a larger moral story to be found in Salem.

Part of that story, at least in my mind, centers around the need for a hard separation between church and state.  It's easy to take that for granted, but then someone like Roy Moore runs for United States Senate. Alarmist?  Perhaps, but then again hanging witches was considered pretty reasonable in the 1600s.

Another parallel story is playing out in the midst of this micro-vacation.  Over the past two weeks, I did two things that were important to me:  I cleaned out & did some necessary filing in our home office and reconciled my checking account (for the first time since January).  I am somewhat ashamed of both things, but I mention them here for a larger purpose.  Simply put, the past 12 months haven't been the easiest for me.  I don't want or need to get into those details(2) but the fact is that I allowed some things to get out of control.  Stacks of paper and an unreconciled checking account were a kind of avatar of sorts.  I will also note that someone in my extended family pointed out that some of what I've written on the blog over the past few months could be interpreted as being indicative of my not feeling well (my words, not theirs).  That made me first...and then the fact that they were basically right settled in my head.  Anyway, last weekend I spent an evening filing and cleaning up the office.  This weekend I went through nine months of bank statements and reconciled my checking account (I discovered my balance was's that for a procrastination reward?).  Does this make me feel better?  I'm not sure; then again, I wasn't entirely sure how I felt before feeling "better".  What matters more, I suspect, is the fact that I'm writing this in the first place.  Moving on.

I suspect that any moment my traveling companions will be down here, in the hotel lobby, wanting me to actually interact has a fellow human being.  That's a point Ms. Rivers made the other day (subtext:  It's rude to be playing on the phone while at a meal table...and she's right), so I'm going to close this chapter of the posting now.  With a bit of luck and light traffic, I'll be finishing this up from home this evening.

8:05pm | West Pittston, PA
The ride home was uneventful and traffic was more or less light.  That's somewhat surprising, in a positive way, but I'll take it anyway.  In other news, I can honestly say that I haven't been a complete slug since coming home, as I've managed to clean out two litter boxes and wash laundry.  This is in addition to unpacking from the trip and watching a few Star Trek Discovery short videos on YouTube (I'm still not sure whether I'll actually watch the show).

This week ends on a curious note, as on Friday the 13th of last year I was "retired" by my former employer.  There was a certain symmetry to the timing, I will give you that much.  This will be the only specific mention I'll make of it, as I've already said enough on the topic.  On one hand, I am almost glad that it happened, in the sense that I think it has left me a better person.  Adversity will do that sort of thing.  On the other hand, I still have a feeling of remorse about the whole darn thing.  And a feeling of failure.  I suspect I'll have those feelings for a long time (cue The Beatles:  "Boy, you're gonna carry that weight, carry that weight a long time").  Like most things in life though, it's not as much that it happened but rather what I've chosen to do about it that matters the very most.

(1) I had something of a bet with my wife regarding the pronunciation, which she won and I lost.  She still pronounces a "cubby" as a "cooby".  That must be a Philadelphia thing, you know, like "wudder" instead of "water".

(2) I actually wrote a fairly long blog posting about it, that I decided at the last moment to not publish.  I know, "why is that even relevant?".  It was one of those things that I think I needed to do for me, but then again I had the foresight to get a good night's sleep before hitting the publish button, which turned out to be a good idea.

Like these tiny endnotes?  You can thank the late David Foster Wallace, who used something very similar in Consider the Lobster (which I still haven't finished).

Sunday, October 8, 2017

5 Myths About Adulthood

Thinking back to when I was much younger, I had this notional idea in my head about what it would mean to be an adult.  Looking back now over a few decades of having been an adult, it's easy to see where things just haven't lived up to the vision I had as a child/young adult.  Here are five specific examples:

1.  Freedom
Myth - You can do whatever you want.
Reality - You can't; by and large you don't want to anyway.
Being able to do "whatever you want" doesn't mean you can actually do whatever you want.  For me, I think the biggest obstacle in adulthood is energy:  By the time I do all the things I need to do, such as my professional life, home responsibilities, etc., I basically don't have the time or the energy to do a lot of extra stuff.  If anything, I have to work really hard in order to be able to do at least some of the things I enjoy.  Sadly, sometimes it's easy for me to forget just what some of these things actually are.

2.  Money
Myth - Earning money makes your life far better.
Reality - Your overhead is considerably more than you ever imagined.
As a child (like most children) I only chose to see the having side of money.  Rightfully so, I didn't have much of a window into the other side of the financial equation, namely just how expensive life truly can be, especially when young children are involved.  Having to worry about paying bills is a kind of cancer that eats away at someone.  I've known both the worrying and the "I'm doing okay" side of things, and one is definitely better than the other.

3.  School 
Myth - School is boring and stupid; it will be far better to have a job.
Reality - School is a far, far easier gig than having a job.
This one is a slam dunk.  School was far, far easier for me than being in the working world has ever been.  Even my least challenging job was harder than my most difficult school experiences.  I want to note though that there is a corollary of sorts to this:  At least some of the work stuff has been far more rewarding than school.  This also loudly makes the case for adults to try and find "work" that they actually enjoy.  With me, well, I know what I enjoy, but I just have to find a way to do it more often.

4.  Relationships
Myth - "All I want is for someone to love me and it will all be okay."
Reality - People...and relationship...are far more complex than you think.
Young adults are such idealized romantics, and isn't that a wonderful thing?  Actually finding someone that you want to spend the result of your life with though is hard work, and for some, it should be even harder, because getting into a relationship can be far more difficult than getting out of one.  It's a kind of catch 22 actually:  When we are younger, at least some of us are in a hurry to find someone to spend the rest of our lives with, but yet that's when we are the least experienced with relationship and basic self-knowledge (we don't really know what we want ourselves in a relationship, let alone be able to articulate it to someone else).

5.  Health
Myth - Our bodies are indestructible and we can do whatever we want.
Reality - Our bodies tend to wear like car tires.
I never would have imagined how hard just living can be on the human body.  What's more, and in retrospect, I could have never conceived just how corrosive something like stress can be to my physical health.  It's nothing short of astounding.  As a younger person, I more or less took my health for granted.  These days?  Well, I can't.  Like some of the other points noted above, getting older means having to work harder (in this case, at my physical health).

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Of Guns and Dead Children

On December 14, 2012, 20 children (and six adults) were slaughtered at Sandy Hook Elementary School(1).  That's an important date and fact to remember as we all process the most recent mass shooting in Las Vegas.  Why?

Well, I by no means wish to minimize the tragedy in Las Vegas, but the simple fact is this:  As a nation, we did BASICALLY NOTHING after 20 children were slaughtered.  Yes, we really did nothing.  What was done?  Well, among other things, the gun manufacturing industry, via its proxy the National Rifle Association, advocated for the purchase of more of its product through the arming of school personnel(2).  Yes, the solution to gun violence is more guns.  That's what we call in the business world "Marketing Genius" in action.  

By the way, I'm advocating for any specific form of gun control.  I've simply stated two facts.

In the end, I firmly believe that NOTHING will be done in response to the Las Vegas shooting.  Nothing.  That decision was already made in the in the days, weeks, and months after December 14, 2012.  Sadly, it will have to get much worse...worse than the slaughter of 20 children...before anything is done.  As much as anything else in this nation's history, that will be a permanent stain on our collective morality.

(1) Citation HERE.
(2) Citation HERE.