Saturday, February 03, 2007

Wags Has Left the Building...

But he can be found at

I've moved the blog over to WordPress. Please come visit me over there.


Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Letter's in the Mail?

A couple of weeks ago, Sen. Jim Webb (D. Va) asked Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice if it was the administration's position that President Bush had the power to take military action against Iran without permission from Congress. She demurred, promising a written answer once she was able to gain "a rather more clear understanding of what we are actually talking about."

Apparently getting tired of checking his mailbox for her promised response, Sen. Webb has written a letter to Secretary Rice to nudge her along.

I do like that man's backbone.

Thanks to Waldo Jaquith for bringing this to light.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Rivanna Trail Run

Another good run tonight. I was off work for MLK day (and actually took the day off and only checked my work email once - well, twice) so I was able to drop my daughter off at her piano lesson and run on a section of the nearby Rivanna Trail, a 20+ mile loop of trails circling Charlottesville. Probably not too bright running on a hilly and rock-and root-strewn trail when my knee was acting up, but it was worth it. I'd love to take a couple of Saturdays and run the whole thing as two 10 milers. My main obstacle (other than not being in prime shape right now for a trail 10-miler) is my sometimes questionable navigational skills. The last time I did a long run on the Rivanna Trail I got myself lost. Dave, if you're reading this, let me know if you ever want to resume our trail running outings - you were always an able navigator....

In the meantime, I'll work on knocking it out in shorter segments. At only 20 miles, it's 2,155 miles shorter than my other section-hiking goal!

Monday, January 15, 2007

Running Again

I got back on the running wagon this afternoon, and got a good 5 miles in. Lungs and legs were fine, but one of my knees is worrisome. Both knees have always been problematic for me, and I managed to aggravate my left one during my UPS adventure last month. Fairly sharp pain and instability for the first mile or so, but it gradually subsided to a dull throbbing. I'm hoping, perhaps unrealistically, that it will resolve on its own. Hey, it's happened before!

There are so many things that I enjoy about running. One of them is the cobweb-clearing effect. After I get a few miles in and settle into a routine, my focus sharpens and my mind's creative juices start flowing. I have internal conversations with myself, analyze nagging problems and identify solutions, even work out blog posts. Unfortunately, after the run is finished and the high wears off, the effect is similar to waking up after a vivid dream - the details start to fade. So it was with the blog post that I was crafting during today's run. Maybe it'll come back to me tomorrow....

Saturday, January 13, 2007

I'm Sad That I'm Not Surprised

In a radio address this week, a Bush administration official called it "shocking" that some leading American law firms were representing inmates of the Guantánamo internment camp, and suggested that American corporations should blacklist them on that basis.

Haven't we seen this before?

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Real Concerns

My last post looks a lot whinier than I had intended. It was not a good morning, no question, but well, everyone has bad mornings now and then. And, in the grand scheme of things, was it really such a bad morning?

The same morning that I was fretting about paying the vet bill and crumpling some woman's bumper, there were people in the world dealing with real concerns. War. Genocide. Famine.

Or how about closer to home? Today's newspaper noted that for the last 16 years at a local high school, someone from every graduating class has died from an alcohol-related auto accident. That's 16 families that will never be the same.

Or closer still.... There's the woman who works across the hall from me whose every waking moment outside of work is spent caring for her husband with end-stage emphysema. There's the colleague who had to move his family 60 miles away in order to find a school that can adequately address his autistic daughter's needs. There's the woman down the hall who will be told this week that our division's restructuring is eliminating her job.

And I'm fretting about a vet bill and a crumpled bumper. Shame on me.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

One of Those Days

After I arrived at the office, I did a quick run-through of my email to make sure that no major fires were in progress, and then picked up the phone to call the vet. Our family's main Christmas present this year had been a beagle, with which we were all smitten, and she had developed a worrisome sore on her belly. The vet's assistant said that they could fit her in if I could drop her off in the next hour.

So, I gulped down the remainder of my coffee and hurried back out to my car. Fortunately I had no meetings scheduled before 11, and I figured I'd be back in the office by then. The lengthy to-do list that I'd planned on hitting that morning would have to wait a while longer. I pulled out of the garage and noticed that the new rattling noise from under the hood was getting louder. Sigh. Taking my car to the shop was not in the budget for the month. Then again, neither was taking the dog to the vet.

I made it home, grabbed the beagle and her kennel, and deposited both in the back seat. I headed back out onto the interstate with my head a whirlwind of one concern after another. What if the dog is really ill? The kids would be crushed, especially after losing Wilson this summer. I wonder how much the vet bill is going to be? There's that worrisome sound under the hood again. It would be just my luck to have the car die on me here on the highway. Am I going to be able to make it back to the office in time for my 11 o'clock? I really can't afford to be blowing off two hours of work this morning.

I veered off onto the offramp toward town.

I bet that new author is going to leave me a really annoyed voicemail, wondering where his revised contract is. I know I should take my car into the shop, but I can't swing both a mechanic's bill and a vet's bill. So much for our new austerity budget. I wonder how much the vet bill's going to be? Man I hope she's going to be OK.


I had just rear-ended the car in front of me. Unbelievable. The woman driver got out, strode around to the rear of her car, surveyed her crumpled bumper, and then swung around to face me. She appeared to be somewhere in between bursting into tears and flying into a homicidal rage. "My new car!" was all she could muster. I raised my hands up in a defensive gesture and half-shrugged. "I'm sorry" was all I could muster.

We traded insurance information, the state trooper came, and he gave me a summons for following too closely. Twist the knife a little harder, why don't you....

To be continued....

Friday, December 29, 2006

An Adequate Response

Saddam Hussein has been executed.

His case is one of those that tests my opposition to capital punishment. The man was a monster responsible for murder, torture, and crimes against humanity that are beyond comprehension. If anyone ever deserved to die, Saddam did.

But I keep coming back to the wisdom of my 13-year-old daughter. “It doesn’t make sense to kill someone to show that killing is wrong.”

Somehow “yes, but he deserved it” just doesn’t seem like an adequate response.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

What Can Brown Do For You?

I wanted one thing from Brown – enough extra income to increase my money-to-month ratio – i.e., ensure that my money outlasts my month. While living on one income has been a good thing for our family in most respects, it has put a definite strain on our budget. Charlottesville’s cost of living is relatively high, the area’s household income is relatively low, and having a large family does not make things any easier.

So, at 3:30 a.m. on a Thursday morning in late November, I arrived at our local UPS distribution center for an orientation session for my new part-time job as a package handler. I was hired as a seasonal worker to help them get through the crush of the holiday shipping season, but my hope was that I would find the schedule manageable enough to be able maintain it on a long-term basis. My need for supplemental income was, after all, not seasonal.

The first few hours of the orientation session consisted of a mixture of paperwork and training videos. Then, about 6:00 a.m., we were put out on the floor to get a taste of the work that we had signed on for. For most of us, that work was unloading tractor trailers full of packages.

The tractor trailers arrive at the distribution center fully loaded (floor-to-ceiling, front-to-back), and back up to one of eight bays in the side of the distribution center. The unloader (sometimes solo, sometimes working in a pair) opens the trailer door and starts grabbing packages and putting each one on a constantly-moving conveyor belt. The belt pulls each package out of the trailer and into a complex sorting system that will eventually result in it being loaded on the package car (UPS-speak for the brown delivery truck) that will take it to its final destination.

Unloading tractor trailers is not rocket science. Grab a box, put it on the belt. Grab a box, put it on the belt. Grab a box, put it on the belt. The expected pace is a package every 3 seconds. It's easy to keep that pace when you're grabbing Aunt Edna's Christmas fruitcake or a package from LL Bean. It gets a bit more challenging when you're dealing with heavy auto parts, or picking apart a teetering wall of packages that is threatening to bury you in an avalanche.

But still, not rocket science. I made it through the end of the shift, and reported for duty at 3:00 a.m. the following morning for more of the same. To say that I was grateful for the weekend would be an understatement.

Week #2 dawned two short days later, and my start times were getting earlier as the holiday crunch time approached. 2:50 a.m., 2:40 a.m., 2:30 a.m..... Despite the schedule creep, I was settling into a routine. Up at 2:00, stumble my way to the car, slam a Mountain Dew on the road, clock in at UPS, and slog away for the next 6 hours or so. After each shift I'd head home, jump in the shower to scrub off the grime, and trade the filthy t-shirt and jeans for the coat and tie of my regular 8:00-6:00 job. At least, what used to be my 8:00-6:00 job. It's hard to be at the office at 8:00 a.m. when you're still in the back of a tractor trailer slinging boxes. Fortunately the nature of my regular job allowed me to slink in at 9:15-9:30 a.m. without raising too many eyebrows. I’d get through the day at the office, head home for supper, and try to stay awake long enough to be able to read my 3-year-old a story and put him to bed. Then I’d crash for 5 hours or so, wake up, and do it again.

I was managing, but it was an uninspiring existence. I felt myself turning into a zombie; I wasn’t exactly bubbling over with initiative at the office. Worse yet, I was becoming detached from my family, as I was only with them (awake, anyway) for a short time in the evenings. My only consolation was that weekly paycheck – after all, I wasn’t putting myself (and Jennifer, who was picking up my considerable slack at home) through this because it was enjoyable, I was doing it because it needed to be done.

The next week, Week #3, my start times were earlier yet - 2:30 a.m., 2:40 a.m., 2:00 a.m., 2:00 a.m., and 2:15 a.m. I adjusted the alarm clock accordingly. The job itself was tolerable. Finding little in common with most of my co-workers, I kept my mouth shut, pushed hard, and quickly attracted the notice of the supervisors. They asked me to stay on after the holidays, thereby removing the “Scarlet S” of the seasonal hire. It was nice to get some validation, particularly in light of the fact that I was informed that same week at my regular job that I would not be getting the promotion that I had anticipated. The explanation was that there was a perception that I was not "excited" enough about the position, and that my lack of enthusiasm would be sensed by the team.

Hell, I thought I had been doing pretty well to stay awake.

The start times for Week #4, the week before Christmas, were earlier still. I clocked in on Monday morning at 1:15 a.m. and started slogging away. 2:00 a.m. 3:00 a.m. 4:00 a.m. 5:00 a.m. 6:00 a.m. 7:00 a.m. 8:00 a.m. I was nearly done with my last trailer when it happened. I bent down, grabbed a box off of the floor, twisted up and to the side to put it on the belt, and felt the hot poker shoot through my lower back. I fell against the side of the trailer and gasped to catch my breath. I had strained my 43-year-old back, and just like that my package-handling career at UPS was over.

Looking back at it now, that was a good thing. I had been earning much-needed supplemental income, but I was becoming an absentee husband and father, and the body- and mind-numbing fatigue was reaching the dangerous stage. It's telling that of the many thousands of packages that I had handled during my stint at UPS, some of them as heavy as I am, the one that did me in could have been lifted by my 8-year-old. My body had just said "enough is enough."

So what did Brown do for me? It provided some pre-holiday cash, which was timely. It broadened my life experience, gave me some interesting insights into how a freight handling operation works, and provided me with a number of colorful character studies that might find their way into future scribblings. Perhaps most importantly, it gave me a dose of perspective, of which I seem to be in continual need. As important as the additional income may be, I must resist the temptation to let its pursuit take the place of family, health, and happiness.

Now to find a part-time opportunity that will let me keep the proper balance....

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Enjoy It

The children are nestled all snug in their beds, while visions of sugarplums dance in their heads....

Or something like that. They are snug in their beds, anyway, and are hopefully fast asleep - Santa still needs to do his thing. In the meantime, I wanted to get this posted before Christmas 2006 becomes a memory.

We had a few minutes left at the end of our adult Sunday School lesson this morning, so I opened things up and invited everyone to share their favorite Christmas memory or tradition. Silence. I quickly gathered that everyone was feeling the same this-is-Christmas-eve-morning-and-I'm-sitting-here-in-church-which-is-where-I-know-I-am-supposed-to-be-but-I-still-have-presents-to-finish-wrapping-and-cards-to-send-and-relatives-to-visit-and-the-kids-have-really-been-getting-on-my-nerves-and-I'm-not-sure-how-in-the-world-I'm-going-to-be-able-to-get-everything-done-ho-ho-ho that I was feeling.

I took another tack.

"How about your biggest Christmas peeve?" Several started to answer at once. As people started to talk, their answers were all variations on a theme. Overbooked. Overcommitted. Overwhelmed. Too many people to see, too many things to do, too many boxes to check off on an overlong list. Several with family in town mentioned how wearisome it can be to trundle the kids back and forth from one relative's house to another. One couple each had parents who had divorced and remarried, in the process doubling the number of grandparents/step-grandparents who expected their own "Christmas" time with the grandkids. Another couple had so many out-of-town relatives coming in for the holidays that they had rented the vacant house across the street to house them. Another recounted a Christmas past in which a toddler nephew had a stomach virus and should have been at home in bed but instead was followed around all Christmas day with a bucket in case his stomach let loose. Why couldn't they have just stayed home? Each story was met with knowing, empathetic nods and affirmations.

The only ones in the room who hadn't contributed to the discussion were a Chinese couple who had been in the U.S. for several years for graduate study. Their family remained thousands of miles away in China. Then, in her halting English, she spoke. "Can I say something before we close? What I want to say is, enjoy it - all of the relatives. Because we can't."

Once again, silence. Whatever insights I had tried to impart during the 45-minute lesson were quickly (and rightly) forgotten. The real lesson for the morning had just been given in those three sentences.

Merry Christmas to all. Enjoy it.