Search This Blog

Friday, July 12, 2019

It's (business) day 11...

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Scranton & Rights

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

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 27, 2019

The Place Was Broken

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

* * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Spaces In Between

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 20, 2019

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

Sandbridge Beach, Virginia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

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

Sandbridge Beach, Virginia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



(Street view)

(Below deck, "Broadway")

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

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

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'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 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 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.  

Friday, June 14, 2019

On the (Vacation) Road, Part 1

Emmitsburg, Maryland

It's vacation time, which means, in part, lots of writing.  Mind you, vacation blog posts are more about quantity than quality, so no promises are being made on this end.

This evening's posting comes from Emmitsburg, Maryland.  Why Emmitsburg?  It's just where we decided to stop in route to Virginia Beach.  Most of the driving is in front of us yet, but that can come tomorrow.  For today it was simply important to get out of town as soon as practical.

Both Ms. Rivers and I agree that we need this vacation.  She's going non-stop in her career making sure that her employer stays reasonably compliant.  I'm busy, well, doing "stuff".  There's a bigger posting by the way embedded in that "stuff" comment, and I'm hoping one day it will actually come out of my fingertips.  For now, I need to stay cryptic in order to continue to make my truck payments.  So, in essence, we both need this vacation, all be it for opposite sides of a professional coin.

Since there actually isn't much to write about from a hotel in Emmitsburg, Maryland, I have two choices:  1) End the posting OR 2) Post photographs of the Russian Navy. 

I'm going for #2. 

The photographs were taken last year while leaving St. Petersburg, Russian Federation.

This last photo obviously isn't a ship, but I can imagine it being part of some kind of harbor defense.

On that note, it's time for me to start dialing my brain down just a bit.  See you on the road.

Monday, June 10, 2019

The Waiting

I am not now, nor have I ever been, a very patient man  I am persistent, that's for sure, but patient?  No.  And so we have it that I am in a place and process of waiting.  That waiting could be for two weeks.  It could be for two months.  It could be for, god forbid, two years.  I'll let you know when the waiting is over.

By the way, this is something of an experimental posting:  I'm trying out an Andy Palumbo-esque short post (he's really good at those...I am not) and this is the first appearance of an animated gif in over 10 years of blogging. 

A final note:  I'm not going to pretend that I am a big Tom Petty fan, because I am not.  I do like this song though (The Waiting) in part because it was written in the style of the Byrds

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Father's Day (two weeks early)

Point of reference:  I'm going to be traveling on the "real" Father's Day (June 16th), so I'm putting this out into the Internets a bit early.

In honor of Father's Day 2019, and especially for all of those father's out there who had no role model themselves (which includes me), I offer the following:  The Top 10 thing I wish I would have been taught to me by my father.  Listed in no particular order.
  1. Screwdrivers.  There is no functional limit as to the number of screwdrivers (or, as my youngest daughter used to say when she was very small "who-di-bers") that a father should own.  Owning 24 is as good as owning 10.  30?  Even better.  The more, the better, because you never know when (or where) you may need a screwdriver.
  2. How To Tie A Necktie.  A kid from the neighborhood taught me how to toe a necktie, just in time for parochial high school.  This is a must-have skill in life, be it for the occasional funeral or when the executives are showing up at work.
  3. Save Extra Screws, Nuts, and Bolts.  Hardware such as screws, nuts, and bolts is strategically packaged to always have an extra piece or six.  Save those extra parts!  You never know when may need a half inch decking screw.  Plus, there is a certain satisfaction in knowing that, after you die, your next of kin will have to go through all your stuff and wonder "why the hell did he save all of this s#it?". 
  4. Be A Good Man.  The world can be a cruel, unforgiving place at times, which makes it all the more important to not add to the insanity.  Be empathetic, considerate and compassionate.  All of those traits cost basically nothing, but yet can be priceless to someone having a bad day.  Be the person who folks say "is a good man".
  5. Most Dogs Are Better Than Most People.  It's true.  What's more, anyone capable of abusing a dog (or other animals) is wholly capable of being equally cruel to other humans.  Don't allow people like that into your life.
  6. Confidence vs. Humility.  Finding the right balance between confidence and humility is actually harder than college-level calculus.  Having worked on both, I say this with 100% certainty.  I tend to air on the side of humility, which isn't necessarily a good thing.
  7. Tell Your Children That You Love Them.  Love is never implied.  Love is the most active of action only really exists when it is being acted upon/shown.  Part of that action is in doing the daily things of a father well (fixing things, going on school trips, embarrassing your kids in front of potential/real boy/girlfriends).  Part of it is in simply telling your children that you love them, often.  Part of it is in when knowing when not to parent.
  8. Work Hard.  Set a good example as a father by working hard at everything you do.  Be as passionate about cutting the grass as you are about your career.  Teach your children that there is dignity in all work and that no one should ever be above getting their hands dirty.
  9. Don't Be Afraid (Of Yourself).  "An honest man's pillow is his peace of mind" is what John Mellencamp once noted in a song.  Having that ability to be comfortable with yourself, being able to face your better angels (and worse demons), not being afraid of your feelings is both difficult and necessary.  It's also an example of a "practice"'s not something you ever master, rather it's something you always work at as a father.
  10. Sing Loudly And Often.  I have a horrible singing voice.  It is wretched.  While I have some decent range (my voice is on the high side for a male, thanks to a lifetime of not smoking anything, ever...but I can get pretty low if needed), what noise that comes out of my mouth is more akin to howling wolves than an angelic choir.  This noted, I sing...often.  Part of this is because I always have a song in my head that just needs to get out.  Part of it is because, well, I just enjoy singing, talent be damned.  Fathers should all set a good example by making a joyful noise, regardless of talent.
I'll close this with a song (see #10) that I think is as good any written about being a Father.

Happy (early) Father's Day.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

After The Ball (May 2019 Primary Edition)

A few choice election comments, admittedly coming from the Peanut Gallery.

Scranton School Board
I am genuinely sorry to see Tom Borthwick not win a seat for the Scranton School Board.  Sorry for the Scranton School District (SSD), to be more precise.  Tom is genuinely a good man, someone I've known for many years, and the energy he brought to the SSD was unlike anything I'd seen from other candidates or board members.  There is good news though in Tom's election results:  He'll be spared the headache and heartache that is coming with a mandatory state takeover of the SSD.  I know that in Tom's mind that is not a foregone conclusion, but it is in mine.

In the end, this just simply means that someone or something else will benefit from Tom's talents.

Scranton City Council
I was thrilled to that Dr. Jessica Rothchild won a seat on Scranton City Council.  I do, however, wish that the Scranton Times spent as much time referencing her significant academic/intellectual qualifications as it did her sexuality.  Don't get me wrong...I'm thrilled that Dr. Rothchild can publically represent a community that has, until fairly recent history, had to be on the margins of acknowledged public life.  I'm not thrilled that she was almost exclusively referenced as "Jessica Rothchild, LGBTQ Activist".  I had more than several mental rants where I was screaming "...but she has a f&%king Ph.D. too!" at the computer screen after reading a Scranton Times article.  Maybe I'm sensitive to that point because I have a daughter on the verge of earning a Ph.D., and I know all too well how challenging it can still be for women in the sciences.

Why is the above such a big deal?  Well consider this:  In fairly recent memory, the SSD had two presidents that didn't even graduate from high school.  This is not an area that has always valued academic achievement, and based on the Scranton Times reporting, well, there may still be some work to be done.

Anyway, Congratulations Dr. Rothchild! 

Lackawanna County Commissioners
It looks like the adults will be taking over next January, as incumbent county commissioners Patrick O'Malley and Laureen Cummings we denied a place on the fall primary ballot.  Another great choice (not said sarcastically, by the way) by local voters.  If pandering could get an elected official frequent flyer miles, well then Commissioner O'Malley would have accumulated enough points for a trip to Hawaii, taking the Duggar family along with him.  Round trip.  In the first class.  I'm less questioning Commissioner O'Malley's intentions as I am his habit of serial glad-handing (especially when it came to the issues of property reassessment).

Commissioner Cummings, based on the many conspiracy theories that she actively sells on her public Facebook page alone...

(Wasn't Obama supposed to take everyone's guns?  Oh, wait, wasn't he born in Kenya too?)

...doesn't deserve the honor of public service, as it requires respect for all constituents, not just those who happen to agree with you.  In Commissioner Cummings' world, you can't be for any regulation of firearms without wanting to ban all guns; you can't have any differing views about abortion without being labeled a baby killer.  That's a level of toxicity that we can all do without.  Instead, I offer the following philosophy as an alternative, courtesy of musician Vince Gill:

DAN RATHER: "Do you like the way country music is going today?"
VINCE GILL: "I do. It's not my cup of tea, but I don't know if I was Merle Haggard's cup of tea when I first got going. And I don't know if Merle Haggard was Roy Acuff's cup of tea. I don't know if Roy Acuff was Jimmie Rodgers' cup of tea. You know what I'm saying? To me, to be "that" guy that looks back, you sound like a curmudgeon, you sound like you're bitter, you sound like all those things. I love seeing kids come along and being moved by what they're moved by. I don't care that they're not moved by the same things I am. I love seeing young people just out there doing what they love. There's not a rule book that says you have to like this, or it doesn't count or you're not as good. I'm not gonna be that guy. There's a lot of it I'm not crazy about but it's not personal. They don't have anybody cheering for them harder than I do."

More of Vince Gill, less of Laureen Cummings.

Monday, May 20, 2019

A Birthday Wish (to the other side)

As I was thinking about my brother Chris today, on what would have been his 54th birthday, the whole rebel artist trope got stuck in my head.  As a teenager, Chris had, for example, the requisite book of Jim Morrison poetry...not that the poems were all that great...because nothing screams rebel artist quite like "Jim Morrison: An American Poet".

(Probably not more than 300lbs between the two of us)

Another quintessential rebel artist was John Lennon.  I remember the morning of December 9th, 1980, when we found out on Good Morning America that Lennon had been assassinated the night before.  Since I'm not much of a Doors fan, well, I think a good remembrance birthday dedication compromise between Chris and I would be something by Lennon.  So here we long ago...wasn't it a dream?

Until we meet again.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Sensitivity and the Fine Art of WFH

"WFH" is a kind of business short-hand for "work from home".

(Looking out my home office window)

I'll say it right from the beginning:  I don't like working from home.  As I may have mentioned before*, I almost never work from home.  At my former employer, I think I had WFH days maybe three times over almost 28 years.  I had opportunities, mind you, but I just don't like it.  There is something about driving to and from the office that I find mildly productive and, in a way, relaxing.  On the drive to work, I can think about what I want to accomplish first in the day.  On the drive home, I can use the commute time as a kind of decompression chamber.  What's more, I am far too comfortable in my own head, so it's a challenge for me to interact with others in an office setting.  Not working from home just seems to work for me.

Make that "worked" for me.

For the past few weeks, I've been WFH three days (Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, to be precise) a week.  I'm doing my best to make it work (no pun intended), and slowly but surely I'm adjusting.  Why the need to adjust in the first place?  Well, there's the fact that I actually no longer officially support (by way of job/title/responsibilities) anyone in my office.  In fact, since last July, my team has been a virtual one, with none of my co-workers actually working out of a company office.  Then there is the sheer economics of it all, as in I save driving 48 miles a day by not trekking into the office. 

The above are some solid reasons, for sure.  They are, however, not the driving reasons.  To put it delicately, my current office location is a difficult place these days.  The company has been re-allocating resources, and with that, there is a fair amount of what I will honestly call despair.  It's a difficult environment for me to be in, in part because I can literally feel much of the negativity.  Granted that I am the last person on Earth to spout new-age stuff, but even the least sensitive person in the world could feel the negative tension in the air.  Yes, I get the need for businesses to change and adapt, and this isn't intended to be a screed about the corporate practices in 2019.  However, actions have consequences, be they the actions of a15-year-old boosting chocolate milk from Turkey Hill or those of a multi-national corporation shuffling jobs across the planet.  In the end, and merits of change theory aside for a moment, it's just not healthy for me to be in the office.

Why go in at all?  While I no longer have any direct reports, I still have 3 former team members in the office, so I owe it to them to at least provide some kind of moral, if not practical, support.  It may not be much...that is what I am able to give...but I owe it to them to give something.  Loyalty is important, especially in dark times.  We have nothing if we don't have each other.

Is there a bigger story in all of this?  Absolutely, and maybe I'll tell it one of these days.  Until then, I'm going to continue to craft some kind of WFH routine.  I'm not shooting to love the WFH thing, just maybe make it more palatable.

(*) It's hard to remember what I write here, in all honesty, as "here" is over two thousand postings, so you'll pardon me if I can't remember every word in every former posting.  Honestly, I am lucky if I remember what I had for lunch yesterday.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

May is Mental Health Month

(A small part of my library)

There are literally months for everything these days, so the fact that May is Mental Health Month probably escapes most people, including me (up until recently).  Not to slander other month-worthy topics, but I can think of very few things that we need to talk more about in this country than mental health.  I know I talk about it on this blog quite a bit; in fact, there are about 78 postings tagged to 'Mental Health' so far.  Make that 79 after this one.

In the interest of complete transparency, I will note that I think about mental health quite a bit.  That would be my own, family members, co-workers, friends and the subject in general.  As I've grown older, I've come to realize just how much mental health has been an underlying theme in my life.  I'm not going to get into any details that might compromise others, but suffice to say I have had people very close to me deal with significant issues over the years.  Part of my own struggle has centered around a central question: 

Why me?  Why am I (seemingly) okay when ________ isn't?  What makes me so special?  

The above are not necessarily pleasant thoughts.  Rather, at times I've suffered from a kind of survivor's (literal survivor...) guilt.  I know, I should be grateful for what I have in the mental health department, but that doesn't make the sting of dealing loved ones who struggle any easier.  On one hand, every time I've helped someone in some small way in this area I seem to get a bit more enlightened, a bit stronger.  On the other hand, well, I've had far more failures than successes when it comes to others, at least in my own mind.

"When logic and proportion have fallen sloppy dead.*"

Part of the challenge, at least for me, is the fact that I try and process the world around me using logic and reasoning.  That's all well and good, except for the fact that logic and reasoning are of little help in an arena that is inherently illogical and at times unreasonable.  That's something I tell others all the time but yet I have to tell myself even more frequently in some circumstances.  Sometimes I hear that self advice but yet still don't follow it.  Maybe that's one of my mental health issues.

So what does all this mean, other than the intemperate ramblings of an exceptionally amateur person that writes?  Maybe the answer is as simple as this:  We need to talk about this stuff more often, regardless of whether or not you find yourself being the patient or the caregiver.  In point of fact, for most of us, well, we usually end up being both.  That makes the dealing with the whole stigma thing about mental health issues all the more important, as we can pretend these issues don't exist in our lives, managing to fool everyone in the world except the person that matters the most:  Ourselves. 

You can learn more about Mental Health Month by following THIS link.

(*) Grace Slick, White Rabbit

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Dual Posting: Notes for After Our Passing

What follows is a joint post by Ms. Rivers a.k.a. Chris a.k.a. Mom and Steve a.k.a. Dad.  After watching numerous YouTube videos of the Long Island Medium (Theresa Caputo) and developing a slightly unhealthy fascination with her spiritual readings, Ms. Rivers wants to ensure our wishes are known about a future time after one or both of us have died.  (On a side note, Ms. Rivers believes that our souls continue to an after-life, while Steve sees no reason to believe this in the absence of any evidence or proof.*)

Ok, here we go; please note, no firm decisions have been made about our final arrangements.  Should either of us pre-decease each other and once we have both passed, we do not want anyone including our children to do the following:
  • Place cremated remains in a cigar box until a decision can be reached about their permanent location, then lose the cigar box when moving.  [Steve here:  If you do this, I will haunt you, even if there isn't an afterlife.  I absolutely hate cigars!]
  • Place ashes in an urn/vase and keep it on the mantel (in lieu of burial).  Or strap it into the passenger side of a vehicle to keep the driver "company" on outings.  
  • Divide up ashes and place them in vessels as keepsakes for multiple family members.  In particular, do not fill up glass Christmas ornaments with ashes so that we can literally participate in each holiday season as decorations on your Christmas tree.
  • Scatter ashes outdoors (especially on a windy day!) in a body of water, where it's likely they would immediately become lunch for birds, fish, and other land-dwelling things.
  • Bury us in a cemetery without trees.  Or rabbits.  We want rabbits and other assorted non-human critters to frolic on top of our graves.
  • Have some kind of enormous, gaudy, "I want attention" headstone.  Neither one of us like show-offs, be it in this life or the next.
  • Putting anything plastic (flowers, crosses, etc.) on our graves.  We want to be buried in a cemetery, not a Dollar General.  
  • Unless you plan on taking care of them, no live flowers either.  But if you do put live flowers on our grave and you were to take care of them, then I [Steve] would like Marigolds, as long as they are the multi-colored ones.  But not the really big poofy yellow or orange ones. 

Lastly, and most importantly, don't be sad when you think about us.  Life is measured in countless ways, none the least of which is in the amount of love one gives.  In our case, we've both been blessed to have found each other and to have children that will help us live on in spirit, always.

* * * * * *

(*) Slight rebuttal from Steve:  It's not that don't believe (in an afterlife), as that would be far too easy, and by and large I've never been one to do things the easy way anyhow.  Rather, it's more like "I want to believe" and "if the universe would just churn up some evidence, well, all the better".

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Thank You

Thank you one and all for the birthday wishes yesterday.  Every expression made me smile, which if you know me you realize that just isn't anatomically my natural state.

Yesterday was something of a milestone birthday by the way.  It's achieving one of those ages where I can see the world being different in front of me, all be it a world that is still many years away.  In honor of milestones and such, here are a few random thoughts about life that I've learned while getting older.

The Grass Is Never Greener.
I know, I've said this before, but with each birthday this thought becomes even truer:  The grass is never greener on the other side.  For the most part, we are all equally dysfunctional.  Everyone...every struggling in some way.  Be it substance abuse, mental health issues, physical health issues or something else.  The only difference between all of us is the fact that some are better at hiding the struggle than others.

You Become What You Surround Yourself With.
This is what our parents tried to warn us about we hung around with the "bad kids".  I never had that problem myself growing up, but my late brother Chris did; our mother would say that "if there was one bad kid in the room, Chris would find him and make him is a best friend".  Where I've seen this play out in my own life is when I tolerate consistent and institutional negativity around me.  Granted that we are all negative sometimes, as life is far from sunshine, kittens, and rainbows.   However, it's important to not let yourself be continuously immersed in negative stuff.  Literally, the clouds block out the sunlight.

Always Sign Your (Real) Name.
I am proud of the fact that I own my opinions.  Whether it's here or responding via comments to some news story, I don't hide behind pseudonyms.  I really think the world would be a better place without anonymous Internet keyboard commanders.

The Greatest Battles Are Fought Within.
I've found...make that "am continuously being reminded that"...the vast majority of the time in my life, it's not the situation that's problematic, it's my reaction to the situation.

Always Assume Positive Intent.
Everyone is born innocent; it's life and choices that turn us into who we are and what we become.  That noted, always assume positive intent.  Even the worst of us has the potential to be and do good.  We all have a daily shot at redemption.  By assuming positive intent, we may just open the door for someone else to turn a corner, to give them a small chance to make a small change.  What's more, assuming positive intent is less about others anyway; it's more about who we are as a person and the choices we make.  Now, this doesn't mean that we ignore threats to our own (physical/mental) health, but it does mean that we should set the default switch positive.

Always Be Heading For The Light.
Trust George.

Sunday, April 21, 2019


What is Easter? 

For the kids among us, it's Easter baskets and more chocolate than likely anyone needs.

From my religious upbringing, I can certainly explain as well as any layperson (well, make that better than most laypersons) what the holiday represents.

None of that seems to work for me anymore.  Mind you, I do like chocolate, but quite frankly I need to eat less, not more.  Same goes for three-quarters of the other things I eat these days.  As for the theology of it all, well, I'm having a tough time the theology of most organized religions these days.  Strict adherence to rituals or literal interpretations of text written before there was even a printing press just don't seem to make sense to me.  Then we also have the manifest failure of organized religion on several fronts, well documented, it seems, on most news days.

Anyway, this isn't intended to disparage organized religion.  If anything, I truly do applaud anyone who has faith; if that comes from rituals, books or traditions, well, good for them.  Whatever works.

So, again, what is Easter?

Best I can figure these days, Easter is about resurrection; it's about coming out of the other side if you want to call it that, from a place where there didn't seem to be all that much hope.  That's an easy sentiment to write but a difficult sentiment to put into action.  Trust me, I know this for a fact.

I've been in need of a kind of Easter.  The specifics as to why aren't all that important.  What truly matters is that in some ways, it's been a bit of a difficult row to hoe over the past year or so.  I can't claim any kind of resurrection, but it does look like I am may be coming out on the other side of it all.  Of course, in the finest of Steve traditions, I haven't gotten what I wanted, but I do seem to have gotten what I needed.  Cryptic?  Damn straight it is.  Sometimes life is cryptic though:  We have some idea of what we think we need, but then the universe throws something else at us.  It's the kind of thing that David Foster Wallace once beautifully described as follows...

Here's to resurrections and truth and freedom.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Road Apples, #178

Dear News Outlets...You're not doing your collective jobs when, at any given time, half the content in one of your stories consists of copied Tweets.  I don't care what people think about a particular story.  I just want the story.  If I want to read tweets I will go to Twitter.  Please stop.

Culm Bank...I spent time recently wandering around an old culm bank.  If you don't know what a culm bank is, well, click HERE.  There's a longer posting in the works about my visit.  There is also a larger, cautionary tale in places such as this when we think about the natural gas extraction business happening throughout Pennsylvania.  More to come.

Work from Home...I don't like to work from home.  Well, I do sometimes work from the evenings and over the weekend...but making it part of the Monday to Friday routine isn't something I have done much of in the past.  This is mostly because I need a kind of buffer between me at work and me at home, and a long commute does that trick rather nicely.  Anyway, that's going to change, at least over the short-term.  I actually had a decent work from home day this past Friday, so I'm going to do it again over the next few Fridays.  We'll see what happens.

Game of Thrones...I have never watched the show.  Ditto for Breaking Bad.  And countless other things on television.  I put television shows into four categories:
1) Educational - Shows that I enjoy because I can learn something.
2) Mindless Fun - Shows that involve unwashed Alaskans (for the most part).
3) Offensive - Anything involving "Sister Wives", "Breeders", and "Real Housewives of _______".
4) Other - Everything else that I can't be bothered with (for the most part).

Game of Thrones is in the 4th category.

Scranton School District...Follow-up from THIS posting...I heard back from one SSD Director who said that the family relationship I referenced in the posting wasn't known or disclosed during the vetting process (or lack thereof ) for the newly appointed director.  Add that to the list of things that the SSD needs to do better.  Rumor has it that Silicon Valley has invented a cutting edge new piece of technology to help the governmental bodies identify potential conflicts of interest:  It's called a CHECKLIST.

Spring...I'll admit it:  I feel better in a lot of ways when Spring finally arrives.  Part of it is the fact that I just enjoy being outdoors.  As a kid, we spent a lot of time outdoors, all throughout the year.  Another part of this is the fact that I enjoy the sense of accomplishment that comes with working in the yard.  The grass is too cut it...and there is an immediate improvement.  That kind of feedback is often times missing in my professional life.

Firefighter Under Investigation...There is a Scranton Firefighter under investigation for potential involvement in a recent multi-vehicle crash.  You can link to the story HERE.  I mention this because I was thinking the other morning about how we have to be very careful using the word "hero".  No one, in my estimation, is a hero by virtue of their occupation.  Not firefighters, not policemen not soldiers.  Someone is a hero because of what they actually do in a particular situation.  For example, a firefighter that risks his life to save a child in a burning building is a hero.  A firefighter than goes into a burning building as part of putting out a fire isn't a hero...he is trained to fight fires...that's what he does.  Anyway, The firefighter in this story shouldn't be held to a higher or lesser standard of conduct based on his occupation.  Judge him based on his actual conduct, not his day job.

Colonoscopy...Probably not the most pleasant of subjects, but what the heck, I'll go there anyway.  If you are over age 50 you should get a colonoscopy every 5 years.  If you have a family history of colon cancer you should have the procedure performed more frequently.  I started having the procedure done in my mid-40's due to some other issues, and now have three under my belt.  The test itself is a non-issue; the worst part is the IV insertion and the prep the day beforehand.  Those are but a minor inconvenience when you consider just what this test can do for you, as in it can save your life.  Seriously, talk to your doctor about this test.  You can learn more about the procedure at WebMD.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Scranton School District - "It's the expenses, stupid"

During Bill Clinton's first presidential run, one of his chief advisor (and dead-ringer for Skelator), James Carville, was famous for saying "the economy, stupid" as a way to keep the campaign focused on the issue(s) that matter the most.  I keep hearing that phrase in the back of my head whenever I read about the Scranton School District's (SSD) decades-long fiscal crisis.

By the way, it's less of a "fiscal" crisis than it is a crisis of ineptitude.

One of the things you read in the local press about the SSD's financial picture is the fact that the district is dramatically short-changed when it comes to state-provided funding.  That's actually true.  The reasons behind that are outside of my scope for this posting, but it's worth reading about if you're interested.  However, I think there is danger in focusing too much on the SSD's funding level. 

Now, should the state funding formula be changed? Sure, it should. But placing too much emphasis on the income side of the ledger is an enormous mistake. Ask anyone who ever had excessive credit card debt: Additional income sometimes just feeds additional excessive spending. 

Given the SSD's long history of horrible governance:
  1. Nepotism - Some things never change, even in the midst of a crisis.  A case in point is the fact that the most recently appointed SSD Director just happens to be the brother-in-law of the district's transportation director.  This would be the same person who, shockingly, also oversees the (twice no-bid) busing contract.  Why wasn't this family relationship disclosed during the selection process for the new director?  Board members should be on record as to whether or not they knew about the family connection prior to the appointment vote.  This is the same newly minted director who owed the City of Scranton over twenty thousand dollars in back taxes and garbage fees (citation HERE).  Why does this matter?  Simply put, the SSD has a long history of making appointments and hiring decisions based on political/familial expediency, not actual talent, which in turn permeates incompetence throughout the organization.
  2. Failed Fiduciary Responsibilities - The SSD has a horrible track record when it comes to creating and exercising reasonable fiscal (and other types of) controls.  Whether it's a twice enacted no-bid busing contract, poor information technology asset management or paying benefits to non-employee who just happened to fix select administration member's vehicles for free, the SSD has repeatedly violated its responsibility to prudently manage taxpayer resources (for more details, read THIS).  
  3. Inconsistent Labor Relations - The SSD and the Scranton Federation of Teachers (SFT) have an interesting relationship.  At times adversarial, for sure.  At times quid pro quo, as the SFT has known about the scourge of nepotism, but yet looked the other way when it knew that the best-qualified individuals were not always being hired.  There is also a history of the SFT endorsing grossly incompetent individuals for SSD director positions (see the above points).  The SFT has a bad habit of blaming the SSD administration only when it's convenient to do so and looking the other way the rest of the time.  As the old saying goes, "if you lay down with dogs, don't then complain about getting fleas".
...I have absolutely no doubt that more money would have either resulted in simply delaying the current crisis or perhaps spawning even worse decisions making.  Think about it:  Would the no-bid busing contract have been challenged if the SSD were flush with cash?  Maybe yes, maybe no.  What is certain though is that the SSD would be under far less scrutiny, which would be a very, very bad thing.

By all means, Pennsylvania's public school funding policy needs to change, but for Scranton any more funding needs to come only with significant oversight attached.