Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Poetry in the Scranton School District


Call this one something of a nearly perfect* avatar for an operationally and ethically challenged school district.  Yes, apparently the Scranton School District has a vermin problem, over and above that which currently exists at the Administration Building.

(photo from Wikipedia)
The commentary in this case basically just writes itself.

On a more serious note, this actually is a serious problem.  One of my first real jobs in life was working in a summer camp kitchen, where one of my duties was emptying and re-setting mouse traps.  From that experience I learned three things:
  1. Mouse traps DO NOT catch mice by their tails.  
  2. There is never a shortage of mice.
  3. Mice only stay when there is something for them to eat.
I really do hope that the SSD can manage to at least solve this one problem, which is arguably more difficult than finding a copy of a (no-bid) busing contract.

Finally, the idea of glue traps being used to catch mice bothers me.  It just seems like a very inhumane way to dispose of the critters.  I know that there likely aren't too many alternatives, but it still does bother me. 



(*) A more perfect avatar would be the Scranton School District having a rat problem.  Oh, wait, perhaps it does.


Sunday, March 17, 2019

As Irish as Paddy's Pig

When my daughters were younger, I used to tell them that everyone but them was Irish on St. Patrick's Day.  They knew that wasn't true, by the way, mostly because their great-grandmother was about as Irish as Paddy's pig.  Part of that was just a Dad trying to be a smart-alec.  That part they got, all too well.  Another part of it was the fact that, for a variety of reasons, I just wasn't really all that fond of being any part Irish.  I know, that's an unpopular thing to say in these parts, but growing up was tough (side note, you can read another growing up story, this time about my wife, HERE), and there just wasn't all that much to be proud of, Irish or not.

Fast forward to the present, and thanks to the miracle of modern genomic testing, well, I might have been really lying to my kids. 


Yeah, well, it gets better...


Now there is a bit of face-saving here in the fact that I also have a strong genetic link to England, specifically London...


The testing, at this stage, can't tell the difference between the British and Irish parts of my genetic code.  I know, that probably sounds like blasphemy to any green-blooded Irishman, but this stuff gets more sophisticated all the time, so who knows what they will be able to tell me in the future.

As a kind of final note, I do read where some folks have concerns about their genetic data being used by pharmaceutical companies and law enforcement.  To that I offer I following:  I don't really care.  Well, I do care in a positive sort of way in that if my bits-n-pieces of genetic data can be used to help identify disease treatments, well, I'm all in.  As for law enforcement, well, last time I checked getting in fights with your siblings wasn't something that was prosecuted using DNA evidence, so call me unconcerned at this stage.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Crime Pays (Scranton Edition)

Preface:  I don't normally mention people by name in this blog when I am being critical, usually referring to by their position or a pronoun.  That rule is being put aside for this very special case.

* * * * * *


As reported in the local media, the former Chief Financial Officer for the Scranton School District, (SSD) one Greg Sunday, recently entered into plea agreement related to acceptance of free automobile repairs from a pseudo-district mechanic.  The repairs totaled over $8,000.  Mr. Sunday is also implicated in similar repairs being made for others connected to the SSD. An article related to this story can be found HERE.

Details of the plea arrangement, agreed to by the presiding judge, are as follows:
  • He pleads guilty to a lesser charge 
  • He will need to make restitution for the amount of the repairs
  • He will receive probation for 3 years
  • He must continue to cooperate with officials who are actively investigating the SSD 
You can read a short piece of the plea deal HERE.

What's particularly important to note that Mr. Sunday will continue to receive his $70,000+ per year pension.

Details above noted, this whole arrangement is despicable.  Mr. Sunday is effectively getting away with fraud and theft with the smallest of slaps on the wrist.  He will no doubt move on after this whole sordid affair and relocate to Florida, where he will enjoy his publicly funded retirement (he is not even 60 years old) in anonymity. 

Mr. Sunday said that he was "lackadaisical and complacent" in his actions.  That's infuriating.  Is that what white-collar criminals call stealing these days?   The restitution he will be making basically amounts to an interest-free, multi-year loan for car repairs.  Go down to your local auto repair shop and see if you can arrange such a deal for yourself.  

Had Mr. Sunday been an 18-year-old who used a shank to steal $150 from a local quickie mart he would be in jail now.  

In theory, Mr. Sunday is cooperating with law enforcement to nab others who similarly received free car repairs.  I would call these "bigger fish", but the reality is that as CFO, there were few in the SSD "bigger" than he was.  What is the likelihood that these other "fish", once charged, will also cop to plea deals?  We shall see.  

In the interim, I offer the following closing thought: Greg Sunday got away with theft (the SSD paying for car repairs), conspiracy (his work in approving similar repairs for others) and lying (to the press, to Scranton taxpayers), and effectively pays no real, substantial price for his actions.  Justice has failed taxpayers in Scranton.  

Monday, March 4, 2019

Moving Books


Over the course of about three weeks, I've moved about 30 or so of my own books from my work office to my home office.  In the interests of not having to haul tons of stuff all at once, it was simply easier to do it in small batches.  I actually have some other of my own personal material to move back, but the heavy lifting, if you want to literally call it that, is mostly done.

There are a couple of "why's" behind this work.  The easiest one is also the simplest one:  My responsibilities at work have changed pretty dramatically over the past 8 or so months, and now I just don't need any books at work.  It's actually kind of sad to say that, as I've acquired a ton of books over the years, all in service of my own professional (and personal) growth as well as serving as a reference for my day job.  Nowadays, I would simply stare at the books at work, knowing that they were just taking up (work) office space.  I'm a firm believer that "book" should be a verb, as books are best when actively used, not sitting on a shelf as a reminder of past professional glory.  These days, well, my work is far more process-related than anything else.

By the way, some of the books (note Emotional Intelligence by Dan Goleman) represent almost pivotal moments in my professional development.  I look at that and immediately think of 2010.  Other books are like a kind of "spoils of war" from my graduate degree (Handbook of Employee Benefits, for example).  Granted that I don't necessarily reference these books all the time, but it's almost comforting having them near.

Anyway, there are other reasons for moving the books back as well, some of which just don't make for an interesting blog.  Maybe that will come to light in the weeks to come.  We'll see.  In the interim, it's nice to be surrounded by my literary friends at home.


Sunday, March 3, 2019

Scranton's St. Patrick's Day Parade...


...is on Saturday, March 9th.  Nothing says "Family Friendly Event" quite like people getting drunk at 10am.  For the record, it's 10am because many years ago the local District Attorney had to request that bar owners not start to serve alcohol in the 7-8am range.

Just to get it out of the way, I basically don't drink alcohol.  I may have a glass of champagne on a special occasion, but that's about it.  That noted I'm not anti-drinking; the feeling of being drunk and then hung-over just doesn't appeal to me.  None of that's really relevant here though, because the real issue I have with the Scranton St. Patrick's Day Parade is the notion that it's touted as a "Family Friendly" event.  It's not.


I know people who enjoy the parade and related activities, and for them, the good out-weights the bad.  Let's just be honest about parade day though:  It's disproportionately about alcohol consumption.  For some that borders on cute.  For the guy who almost got run over by a pickup truck as he drunkenly waltzed down Mulberry Stree?  Maybe not so much.

If you're going to the parade next Saturday, well, enjoy yourself and be careful out there.  As I have advised out of town visitors coming for the parade, watch where you step, because you never know what (or who) may be in the gutter in front of you.


Saturday, February 23, 2019

5 Ways To Improve Employee Engagement

In the old days, it was called "Employee Morale".  These days, the term of choice is "Employee Engagement".  Regardless of the words used, the underlying thought is this:  Employees who feel valued by their employer do better work for their customers.  Period.

I don't think anyone would argue with the above statement, but yet why is this such an issue for many employers?  Well, that's a separate posting for another day.  For now, I'm going to instead focus on a few ideas to actually improve employee engagement.

Become Fanatical About Clarity
People perform better when they know what they are doing and why they are doing it.  Why then is clarity such a challenge?  I think part of the answer lies in the old notion of "crap rolls downhill":  Your manager's boss doesn't provide him/her with clarity, so your manager returns the favor to their direct reports.

A Solution:  Everyone in the organization should become a fanatic about clarity.  If you're not sure what you're doing and why you're doing it, then become a pain the rear-end and demand it.  Social media tools like Yammer should be explored as a vehicle for employees to dialogue about the "whats" and "whys" of their jobs.  Employees who challenge the notion of "well, we do it that way just because" should be rewarded.  Every employee should be able to tell the story of what the organization does and why that thing is important.

Be Transparent
I'm in favor of a simple rule at work:  Assume information can be shared unless it can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that it shouldn't.  Sharing, by the way, doesn't mean "send an email" either.  Granted that some things shouldn't be widely shared, such as certain aspects of compensation*, information that might compromise a sales prospect, and certain kinds of intellectual property.  Otherwise, I am for the outlandish idea that we shouldn't treat adults like children who "don't deserve to know" for the simple justification of "because".  The underly reason really isn't "because", by the way...it's actually "we don't trust our employees".  To that end, why would an employer hire people they can't trust?

(*) Let's stop pretending that employees never talk about how much they are paid.  They do.  Given that reality, while I don't favor listing individual employee compensation for all the world to see, I do believe that salary ranges by level/grade should be available for every employee's reference.  All of them, from mailroom clerk to C.E.O.

Coach Leaders on Emotional Intelligence
Emotional Intelligence (EI) is, in my estimation, a game-changer for leadership at all levels, from front line supervisor up to C.E.O.  Awareness of one's own feelings, exercising management over one's actions, recognizing emotions in others and building relationships are all key skills that every leader should work towards.  "Work towards" is a key phrase, as EI is less of a goal and more of an area of practice, making it an ideal element of any leader's development plan.


Ask (and be Transparent)
Engagement surveys, where an employer asks employees for opinions about their work/employment experience and environment, are a great idea that can yield tremendous actionable data for leaders.  There's a big "however" here, namely that the results have to be shared.  Simply letting them rot in an HR office, never to be seen or heard of again, will do far more harm than good:  You'll be telling employees that their opinions really didn't matter after all.  I'll add that failing to report engagement survey results is also just cowardly.  Oh, and you'll also create some conspiracy theories worthy of the Weekly World News.



(Source:  This site)

Ditch the Divisive Perks
I honestly think one of the things that kill employee engagement are perks and benefits that pit one group of employees against another.  If you are a senior leader or a highly regarded salesperson, for example, well, you get paid more; that's your reward for the job you do.  Piling on vacations with spouses thinly disguised as conferences, providing preferred parking, adding golf club memberships that allow for more than just closing deals or, one of the worst example I've ever seen...namely giving more senior leaders a far better vacation policy than the rank and file...all scream "you don't matter" at a volume loud enough for even the deaf to hear.  Again, I'm all for paying top dollar for top talent/performance, but I'm against "in your face" perks that effectively create a caste system in the workplace.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Road Apples, #177

Indeed is a drug...Indeed, as in the Indeed job search site.  Once you start receiving the feed in your inbox, well, it indeed becomes something of an addiction.  It makes me wonder if I'll now perpetually be in a job search mode.

I held a baby and put him to sleep...rocking in my arms on Saturday.  As I noted in a somewhat private Facebook posting, there are few things more perfect in all of the world than a sleeping baby.  The experience brought back so many memories when my daughters were infants.  That was, by the way, a long time ago. 

Also in the baby department...I received a text message from my youngest daughter telling me that I am going to be a grandfather...as in she got a new puppy.  He's a lively 5-month old that reminds me of Scrappy-Doo.  As I've said many times before, most dogs are, for the most part, better than most people.

Magnesium L-Threonate...is kind of tough to spell and I don't even try to pronounce it.  What I can say with some authority is that, as a supplement, it does that rare kind of thing:  It actually works.  I've been taking it since late December and I do find that it both helps me sleep and seems to give me something of a boost in the cognition department.  You can read more about it HERE.

Second posting...I actually hadn't planned on writing this posting, let alone publishing it.  In fact, I worked on a posting over the past few days that is 99% ready to go.  The trouble with it is two-fold though:  1) It's on a serious topic, and I'm too tired to edit a serious posting 2) I'm convinced that it's either really good or incredibly stupid.  One or the other.

A brief conversation with my sister-in-law...over the weekend centered around this idea that, when I was younger, I figured that by the time I was in my 50's, I'd have the career thing figured out.  Things would be stable.  It's been my experience, and sadly the experience of a few others I know, that not everyone gets that gift.  See the first entry in this posting.

Books...Every so often I feel this compulsion to re-organize the many books I own.  Just such a compulsion has been in effect lately, brought on in part by the fact that I've been bringing home some of the books that I had at work (1-year rule applies:  If you don't reference it in a year, well, you don't need it there).  Anyway, I have four shelves organized, inclusive of these...

 
There's much more to do, but so far I'm happy with the results so far.  I also have two stacks of books to either donate or add to a future yard sale. 

Corporate welfare and automation...is the underlying thesis of a terrific article I recently read.  You can find it HERE.  There are times when I actually do think our society is on the brink of an awakening of the likes none of us have ever experienced before. 

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Your Career: 2 out of 3 Ain't Bad

(from THIS site)

I've become convinced of something lately:  In order to be happy (or at least content) at work, you need two of three things to occur.  What are the three things?

Well before I go any further, I'm going to apply Daniel Pink's axiom about compensation, namely that you are getting paid enough such that compensation isn't a front and center issue for you.  This noted, here are the variables.

1.  Your Job.
This is about loving what you do, or for the most part, enjoying much of what you do for a living.

2.  Your Manager.
This isn't the literal title of manager, but rather it's the person you directly report to in the organization.

3.  Your Employer.
This is the organization you work for...what it does, what it stands for, how impacts the community and the world.  Would you be proud to tell others you worked for this organization?

Again, I think the key here is that you need at least two of the three variables to be positive in order to be happy at work.  A few examples.

(+Job)(+Manager)(-Employer)
You love what you do and you have a very supportive manager.  Your employer?  Maybe not so good, but your manager insulates you from the worst of it all, and besides, the day-in/day-out of what you actually do "puts gas in your tank".

(+Job)(-Manager)(+Employer)
This is probably the toughest "stay" scenario, but hear me out:  You love your job, but your manager is an un-supportive pain in the rear-end.  Your organization is wonderful though, and you take pride in telling others where you work.  In this scenario, you can simply let natural attrition take care of Attila the Boss.

(-Job)(+Manager)(+Employer)
You hate your job but work for a great boss in an organization that suits you well and makes you proud to be a part of the team.  In this case, you decide that a new job in the organization is only a matter of time anyway, as your manager is supportive of your desire for career movement.

Of course, there are other scenarios.

(-Job)(+Manager)(-Employer)
You hate your job and your employer basically makes the world a worse place.  However, your manager tries very hard to motivate and assist you.  In this case, it's only a matter of time before you leave, either on your own or through some other means.

(+Job)(-Manager)(-Employer)
Your enjoyment for the work is the only thing keeping you employed.  At some point, the lack of support from your manager and the shame you feel at working for an organization that routinely treats its employees like test dummies will drive you to leave.

(-Job)(-Manager)(+Employer)
This is the toughest of the "2 out of 3" scenarios.  Why?  Because in part, humans have an inherent need for community.  We like to belong to a tribe.  Working for an admired organization that helps make the world a better place represents a mighty attractive tribe to belong to, even when the other variables paint a more dismal picture.

Lastly, we do have the opposite ends of the spectrum.

(-Job)(-Manager)(-Employer)
It goes without saying, but don't stay.  Instead, be of the opinion that your current employer is effectively paying you to find a new job.  That may be the best thing they can do for you.

(+Job)(+Manager)(+Employer)
You've found your home.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

What I Learned from Watching Over 2 Hours of Old Cigarette Commercials


Watching these commercials was actually fascinating, in a terrible sort of way.  When I was younger, well, smoking just seemed so normal.  The commercials only reinforced that fact.  Maybe that was the point of the commercials in the first place.  It also speaks to the influence mass media marketing has had (and continues to have) in our country.  It's as if we're on a quest, on the cheap mind you, to somehow be glamorous, cool, and popular, listening to anyone who can seemingly show us the way.  


In retrospect, it's as if an entire country was caught up in a collective cognitive dissonance, somehow believing that they could inhale burning vegetable matter without any consequences.  It actually goes beyond that when some of the commercials proclaim the number of doctors that use their particular product.  Now it seems naive and stupid, but that conveniently ignores the fact that, in spite of falling numbers...


...we still have a significant number of folks in this country who do smoke.  Just stop into just about local convenience store to get a practical demonstration of this fact. 

Again, I do find the commercials fascinating, but maybe it's the same kind of fascination that sometimes comes with roadkill.  Or a Nickelback video.  In any event, and to be a bit more serious for a moment, I really wish the smoking rate was zero.  None.  Nada.  Zilch.  There are no redeeming qualities associated with smoking, only the very strong possibility of a horrible death.  Granted that we are all going to die one day, but my hope is that it doesn't have to be from literally drowning in your own bodily fluids.

"Hugely difficult thing to post about my mum died 9 weeks ago from lung cancer/copd don’t really know she went in with chest infection was sent home with oxygen and antibiotics found unconscious the next day and never regained proper consciousness but there were moments of clarity, I spent the next three days with her in hospital and she died she basically drowned in her own fluid in front of me and I could do nothing I am obviously very sad but also having horrible flashbacks I don’t know how to move forward..." 
[Citation HERE]

If you are reading this and you smoke, well, please try to quit.  If that doesn't work then try again.  And again.  And again until you are successful.  Life is too short, it's too fragile to throw it away on a broken Madison Avenue promise of glamour and cool.



Thursday, January 24, 2019

The place is now just a little bit worse...

Patty, a colleague at work, died this past week.  The details of her passing aren't all that important, other than the fact that she knew it was coming.  Like all things Patty, I have no doubt she was her own wonderful self up until the end.

To explain even why I'm writing this posting I first need to go back to February of 2017.  I was starting a new job with a new company.  This was the first "new" company I had worked for in over 28 years.  Having spent those 28 years thoroughly dipped in the culture of one organization, I didn't know what to expect on my first "new job" day.  Fortunately for me, I knew one or two people there, and there also happened to be some folks who were simply kind to me from day one.

The latter was Patty.

I am not exaggerating when I say that Patty was just about the kindest human being I have ever metWhile we didn't work together, we worked in the same office area, which afforded me the possibility of getting, for the benefit of my own sanity and soul, a daily dose of Patty.  That almost always came just as I was nearing the end of some rope, with my usual way of dealing with professional stressors mainly consisting of going for a walk.  There was a routine to my walk:  Before heading out, I always checked with Patty first*.   On the surface, my checking in with her was to see what the weather was like outside.  About 2 millimeters below the surface?  I just needed a dose of Patty's kindness and optimism.  Even when the weather was bad and I had to partake of an indoor walk, I still always tried to check with Patty first.  Instead of "what's it like outside Patty?" my banter was more along the lines of "did you go for a walk today Patty?".  It never mattered specifically what Patty told me on those days; it was all just about getting that daily dose of kindness and optimism.

It was a jolt to all of us at work when Patty became ill.  After she left for medical care I found myself still looking towards her office, almost reflexively.  Intellectually I knew she wasn't there, but part of me still needed that daily dose of kindness and optimism.  I still need it, maybe even more than before.

Now?  Things are challenging at work.  That's not a criticism, but rather a statement of fact that almost all of my co-workers would admit to if given the opportunity.  Those challenges are independent of Patty, but yet since she left, well, the place is now just a little bit worse.

If there is a moral to all of this, well, I think it's this: All of us spend an awful lot of time dealing with the "anti-Patty" types of this world.  This includes the complainers, the mean-spirited, the negative, and the unkind.  Maybe, just maybe, we need to spend more time dealing with the Pattys instead.  Better yet?  Maybe we all need to be more Patty-like ourselves.

Rest in Peace Patty.  





(*) In addition to being one of the kindest human beings on the planet, she was also very healthy, always encouraging her co-workers to eat well and exercise. 

Monday, January 21, 2019

Scranton School District: When the Man Comes Around


The big news coming out of Scranton...well make that one of several pieces of big news coming out of Scranton (considering the fact that the FBI recently searched the home of the Mayor)...is the fact that the state Departmartment of Education (DoE) has appointed a recovery officer that will be assigned on a full-time basis to the Scranton School District (SSD).  This is one step shy of the Pennsylvania DoE actually assuming full control the SSD.  A related article can be found HERE

Yes, the man is coming around.

No one will be happy with what happens next:
  • Teachers will be paid less.
  • SSD employees will be laid off.
  • Taxes will increase.
  • Children will lose the benefit of a neighborhood school.
  • Some programs will be eliminated.

Basically, less will be delivered and it will cost more.

Who is to blame?  That's surprisingly easy to answer:  Registered voters in Scranton.

It was a majority of the 30% or so of registered Scranton voters who routinely voted for grotesquely incompetent candidates for the SSD board.   How "grotesquely" you may ask?  Well, ponder the fact that, over the past few years, two former SSD board presidents didn't even graduate from high school,  That's how grotesque.  The SSD board operated like a sailor on leave in Bangkok for decades, and now no one is "clapping".

Scranton taxpayers got the successive SSD boards that they wanted.  

This is also a board that twice...not just once, but twice...voted for a no-bid busing contract that just happens to be with a significant campaign contributor and influential local businessman.  For the record, I don't blame the businessman; if anything, he's guilty of out-smarting a bunch of amateur politicians (again noting that two recent SSD board presidents didn't even graduate from high school, so how difficult could that have been?).

District teachers don't escape blame here either.  The Scranton Federation of Teachers (SFT) routinely endorsed many of these grotesquely incompetent board members, time and time again.  Why?  Well, like the busing contractor, I suspect that they knew who they could out-smart.  They were successful, but like the kid that eats too much candy, the inevitable rotten teeth now must be pulled.  Look for the SFT to complain loudly about the actions that "the man" will recommend, while conveniently forgetting their active role in SSD mismanagement.  Their excuse/refrain will be that it was the "administration" that is to blame here, and they are right...but again forgetting that they helped elect many of the "administration".  

Detecting a pattern here yet?

My heart genuinely goes out to those teachers, maintenance workers and others who will lose their jobs.  I've lost a job through no fault of my own, so I know the difficult road they will travel.  Many of these people just want to work hard and earn a decent living.  But like the bystanders in a drive-by shooting (decades in the making), they had little choice in the matter.

I'd like to tell you that this will all work out in the end and that there will be momentary pain followed by a better tomorrow, but that's a lie.  There will be years of pain ahead.  Scranton voters will learn the hard way that you reap what you sow by either voting for the incompetent or not voting at all.  

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Cleanup

I've been reading about the whole Marie Kondo thing lately, and while having absolutely no intention of reading Ms. Kondo's book or following any of her advice, I think we can all appreciate the fine art of the cleanup.  To take a bit of a sidetrack for a moment, I don't think Ms. Kondo is really selling organizational skills; instead, she's selling the perception of self-control.  That's something most of us want, but yet not everyone can actually (mentally) afford to any degree of consistency.

As for me, well I enjoy the act of organization.  In fact, my latest quest has been to re-do our home office.  To take a step back, when I was living in my own apartment, I bought some office furniture from IKEA that was well suited for the task and space.  When we bought our current home though in 2013, well, my office furniture wasn't quite a good fit for the home office space we had available.  Think about 3 sizes too big.  While I knew I'd eventually have to make some kind of change, I also had a few other things ahead in the life-queue department.  Fortunately, I have a wife that's relatively tolerant of my need to create a personal retreat space.

Since 2013 I had made a few improvements to the office space, including adding bookshelves on the exterior facing wall.  I have a lot of books.  And other stuff.  Anyway, I'd tell you that the shelves were a part of a larger, strategic space plan, but that would be a lie.  I just wanted lots of shelves.  I still had a desk that was still 3 sizes too big.

Master degree completed, and other excuses eliminated, so it was time to turn our home office into something that isn't a hazard to both humans and cats in while in the dark.  That work is (mostly) completed, with a bulky IKEA office thingie replaced by two bamboo surface, adjustable height tables (one for me, one for Ms. Rivers), along with a few other improvements that probably only I, and our cats actually care about.  To be honest, though, the cats don't care about it either.

(NCFE Central:  Still a work in progress)

Again, the above details don't mean much to anyone but me, and that's okay.  There is a bigger point in all of this though, and I'm not selling "organization is important but it's really about control" either.  I think that activities like cleanup and re-organization are actually about a need for change.  It's about always being in a place where at least I can say "this can be better".  That's a place that ultimately tells me that, in spite of a few bumps in my road over the past two years, everything is still okay.


Sunday, January 13, 2019

New Year's 2019 Un-Resolutions

A short list of things I will strive to NOT do/accomplish in 2019.
  1. I am not trying any new vegetables in 2019.  I tried a brussel sprout in 2012, which was more than enough.  For the record, after a single (disgusting) bite I basically swallowed the offending dwarf-cabbage whole.  Needless to say, there have been no repeats.
  2. I am not staying current with the news.  At best I'll be a day or two behind.  Let's face it:  The country is in the toilet anyway at the moment, so the old saying is actually true:  No news really is good news.
  3. I am not learning any new languages.  I'll stick with my pig-Spanglish, thank you very bien.
  4. I am not committing to a regular blog posting schedule.  For the record, I am barely getting this one out.
  5. I am not getting any new cats in 2019.  I wish I was, but I'm not.  This in spite of the fact that most cats and dogs are better than most people.
  6. I am not committing to reading more fiction.  I'm sorry if that makes me look like an uneducated cro-mag to all you fiction readers and writers out there, but that's just how I roll.  I will be reading more books though in 2019 (I've already finished two this year).
  7. I am not starting my Ph.D.  My academic career is over.  One soon-to-be doctor in the family is enough.
  8. I am not committing to getting more sleep.  I probably should, which is a fact, but my mind just doesn't seem to allow such things.  I still have trouble falling asleep sometimes, in spite of having enough medication in me to tranquilize a rhino.
  9. I am not contributing to any political campaigns.  Sorry, but not in 2019.  We'll see about 2020 (or when this guy runs again).
  10. I am not listening to any new music in 2019.  I don't care how enthusiastic some family members are for, example, the Mountain Goats.  I'll stick with the 60's + 70's, with a bit of Duran Duran or maybe the Fixx thrown in for good measure.  



Saturday, January 5, 2019

Two Years Later - January 5, 2019

(A sailor on leave, 1985-ish)

I found my brother Chris dead in his home on January 5, 2017.  We aren’t actually sure exactly when he passed away.  The circumstances of his passing are actually pretty terrible; in the past, I’ve noted that I was glad in a sense to have found him, as that spared others (such as my other brothers) from having to go through the trauma.  These days, well, I would no longer use the word “glad”, but perhaps instead I am relieved that others were spared the experience.  I will confess though that it's taken something of a toll on me over the intervening years.

Before I go on, my intent on writing this posting is to tell a funny story or two about Chris, but I’m not sure it will go in that direction.  I know that’s lifting the writing curtain up a bit, something that doesn’t necessarily make for good reading, but I’m going to do it anyway.  Maybe I need to give myself outward permission to take this wherever it goes.  Anyway, permission is officially granted.

When Chris met Chris.  When my brother Chris met my (future wife) Chris(tine), the very first words out of his mouth was a joke involving midgets and pornography.  With apologies for using the word “midget”, but that’s the word he actually used.  That was, by the way, the way he rolled.  Chris (the brother) loved to get a reaction out of people.  Now I did warn my future wife Chris(tine) about my brother Chris, but I don’t think the warning did him justice.  Very few things did my brother Chris justice.  It was in part homage to that first encounter that I ended up getting Chris this tee shirt for Christmas one year:

(Available from THIS fine site)

Chris loved the shirt though, and over the years I took great delight in finding other absurd shirts to get him, including one that proclaimed that PETA actually stood for “People Eating Tasty Animals”.


Of pumpkins and Limbaugh.  Chris absolutely loved Rush Limbaugh.  Not that he actually believed most of the nonsense that Limbaugh spewed (he said yes, but I knew better) but for Chris, it was mostly, I think, about rebellion.  That would be a rebellion against our mother, who could easily be thrown into a rage at the mere thought of talk radio, let alone “El Rushbo”.  While most folks stop rebelling against their parents at about age 19, Chris carried it forward until the day mom died.  She ended up getting the last word in their on-going war though, as Chris lost his seemingly perpetual reason for rebellion.  I’m convinced that this bothered Chris on some very deep level.  Anyway, at one point after a heated argument with me about talk radio’s Most Famous Pill Addict, Chris actually left in disgust, claiming that I was just going to keep calling him (Limbaugh) “Pumpkin Head” anyway.  In all fairness, Limbaugh’s head does kind of look like a pumpkin.  For the record, that was probably the only time in my life when I could claim any kind of real verbal victory against Chris.

A third story, and not necessarily a funny one.  Chris was secretly one of my biggest cheerleaders.  That’s an odd comment to make for those that knew Chris, but the two times in my life when I was at my lowest (well outside of finding my brother…) Chris made sure I knew of his confidence in me.  He knew I would get through my difficult divorce (and all divorces are difficult) and he was absolutely positive I would land on my feet when my nearly 28-year former career came to an end.  There was never any doubt in Chris’ mind either time, even though there was plenty of doubt in mine.  I wish I would have told him how much his confidence during those two difficult times meant to me.  That’s a common denominator or sorts about losing someone close to you:  You get to think about all the unsaid things. 

Speaking of confidence, well, that was an important part of Chris’ bag of tricks.  My genetic testing kit tells me that I am far more Irish than I want to actually believe (no offense to the Irish…I was hoping for more German), but if anyone in our family had the Irish “gift of gab” it was Chris.  He was engaging, smart, and confident.  Now I can play “engaging and confident” when I’m being paid to do so, but for Chris, well, it was the real thing.  My confidence was learned; Chris had it in his genetic code.  Even towards the end of 2016, a very difficult year from my brother, he could still manage to talk me into things.  Yeah, part of that was his skill, but part of it was the fact that I would have done anything to rescue my brother, as would have the others close to him.  For the record, I failed.  Kindly spare me the “it’s not your fault Steve” stuff, as I logically understand I am not to blame, but logic was in short supply when it came to Chris’ passing.

I think it was this confidence that, in part, made Chris clash so much with our mother.  What I saw as confidence she saw as arrogance, and she had little place in her world for arrogant men, with emphasis on the word “men”.  Maybe on some level, she felt that was intimidating.  I personally think that they were actually a lot more alike than dissimilar.  Maybe that’s why my brother didn’t spend much time with our mother.  While on vacation, as a general rule, I couldn’t count on Chris to check in on our mother; he wouldn’t do it or mom would flat out refuse to do anything with him.  All of this was quite a feat given the fact that, for a number of years, they lived across the street from each other.  In retrospect, their clashes were, I think, a function of both looking into a mirror and seeing things neither was especially keen to gaze upon.  Our mom saw in Chris some of her earlier life flaws; Chris saw in mom so much anger…anger that he held as well, but which he would completely deny up until the end, in spite of my encouragements to the contrary.

Gazing is a good place to end this posting.  When I found Chris, well, I didn’t get a horribly good look at him.  The bedroom where I found him was dark (his house had no electrical power at the time), something for which I have some gratitude.  That visual simply would not have been all that pleasant, given the details of his passing.  I did touch him though, in a one-time attempt to see if he was sleeping.  He wasn’t sleeping and I will never, ever, get that touch out of my mind.  Saying “mind” isn’t an adequate description here, as it’s more of a physical memory that I have of that final encounter with Chris.  I can still “feel” it.  I would have given anything for a chance to say goodbye, but ever the rebel, Chris wasn’t going to allow that to happen.  As I noted in his eulogy, my hope is that he is now in a better place with our mother, rebellion full exercised.

Until we meet again brother.