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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) 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


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.