Thursday, March 31, 2005

Riding the Yo-Yo

News on the novel.

Well, not really news. In fact, not really much of anything. It’s just that I WANT it to result in something, so I’m making it into a more significant event than it really is.

What am I “rambling” on about? Lantz (my literary agent) asked (email) if I had ever sent him any hard copies of my MS. I reminded him that way back last November he had told me NOT to send him any hard copies until he’d had a chance to review the latest, final, edited electronic version.

“Oh, yeah,” he replied. “Well, go ahead and send me 2-3 copies. As soon as I get them I’ll send them out to some publishers.”

(I don’t think he ever even looked at the electronic version. He tells me he has sent out electronic copies of my synopsis to publishers, but not the entire MS.)

Needless to say, I immediately produced for him FOUR copies and sent them by FedEx. Okay, I used FedEx ground since it’s much cheaper, but it's still FedEx! He hadn’t indicated any urgency, after all. If he’d told me an editor had asked for a copy I’d have sent it overnight!

The copies arrived yesterday, and he has told me he will send them out on Monday since he’s participating in a writers’ conference for the next 3 days. Let’s see... he asked for 2-3 copies and I sent him 4. He says he will send “them” out. Does that mean all 4? One or two? If I’d sent him ten, would he send them ALL out?

I asked him twice (two separate emails) to whom he planned to send them. He has ignored that question both times. Ah, the frustrations of communicating with Lantz!

I keep giving him the “benefit of the doubt” that he’s just really busy with, as he admits, too many clients. Further, based on my long association with him before he ever agreed to represent me, I have the distinct feeling that he doesn’t view me as one of his “leading” clients. Rather I think he’s agreed to try to sell my novel out of my persistence rather than any conviction that it’s really any good.

Yeah, I’m still plagued by self-doubts. Even with an ego as big as mine, I wonder sometimes if anybody’d really buy that book, enjoy it, tell their friends about it and so on. But then I remember the complete strangers who have read it and confessed to tears and enjoyment. So the yo-yo continues.

P. S. I must have touched a nerve with my Pet Peeve posting of yesterday. All comments and emails seem to share that one (not the eye-rolling—the cashiers’ method of handing back change and receipts). Maybe I’ll share some of my OTHER pet peeves. If my readers relate to them as well, I’ll tell Carol to stop rolling her eyes at me; I’m normal!

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

A Pet Peeve

We’ve all got ‘em. Some are just mild annoyances, but others really get you steamed.

This one of mine is very minor. When I fuss about it to Carol, she just rolls her eyes. Of course, she rolls her eyes at my blogging also. A waste of time, she says. Who cares about your pet peeve, she says.

Yeah, OK, so she’s right.

But some people do read it. Some read it every day. I’ve got comments and emails to prove it. So there!

Back to my pet peeve.

When a cashier gives you change, why does he/she ALWAYS place receipt on top of the bills (if any), put the pile of coins on top of that, and drop the whole handful of mixed paper and metal into one of your hands? Are they trained to do that, or do they just see others doing it and imitate?

Have you watched others in line ahead of you receiving their change? Everybody I watch always separates the items, puts the coins in a pocket or coin compartment of a wallet, puts the bills in a different compartment, and usually puts the receipt in the sack.

(Well, that’s not true. Whoever’s ahead of ME in line ALWAYS writes out a check. Often they’ll make a mistake and start over. Or they’ll swipe their credit/debit card, and then stand there waiting to sign something or writing the total in their register. It takes them three times as long as paying cash would, but at least there’s no change and extra bills to worry about.)

But if someone DOES pay cash and doesn’t have exact change (I never do—in fact, I think that’s one of Murphy’s laws), they get the mixed-pile-in-one-hand treatment. Then the cashier looks at you while you’re separating everything and putting it all away as if to say, “Move it, buster, you’re holding up the people behind you.”

My wife tells me I should just cram the whole pile of paper and coins into a front pants pocket and sort it all out later. You know what? She’s right again. That’s what I should do. It won’t hurt a bit to leave all that stuff in my pocket until I’m home and sort it out there.

I prefer to huff a bit and stand there holding up the line while I put it all where I want it. To my wife’s embarrassment I sometimes ask the cashier why she doesn’t let me put the bills (or coins) away first, and then hand me the other items. When I do that she just shrugs and rolls her eyes.

So that’s my pet peeve. Women who roll their eyes at me. Wonder what makes them do that?

P. S. On a slightly different note, Christina today received a check from the Texas Workforce Commission for TEN WEEKS of unemployment compensation! We're celebrating with her.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

“It Ain’t Over Till it’s Over”

Yogi Berra is credited with that quote. There’s a lot of truth in it.

Last night Carol and I drove to Christina’s apartment and delivered some furniture donated by my other daughter. We shared a pleasant evening and a fancy dinner at their local Wendy’s. I read and savored the letter from the unemployment appeals tribunal, basking in continuing satisfaction from our success.

The decision is final, unless...

Yeah, darn it, the employer still has appeal rights. Within 14 days, he COULD appeal the tribunal’s decision to the full Workforce Commission.

The Texas Workforce Commission consists of three commissioners. One represents labor; one, employers; and one, the public. Their duties include reviewing appeals of hearings like ours.

Rarely does the commission overturn an appeals tribunal’s decision. The employer would have to point out a procedural violation by the hearing officer or blatant disregard for the facts presented. Or, there would have to be some new compelling evidence and a very good reason why that evidence was not presented at the hearing. “I forgot,” won’t cut it.

Since I’m convinced there are no smoking guns, much less good reasons, I think the odds of an appeal being filed are very low. Further, if an appeal is filed, I thing the odds of it having any success are nil.

My only concern is that an appeal by the employer might further delay Christina’s receipt of unemployment benefits, although I don’t think that’s how the law reads. Of course, interpreting that law is damn near impossible, even for an English major.

Yogi should have written the laws. Then we could all understand them.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Well, the Verdict is in...

Carol and I went out of town this past three-day weekend. Planned to play golf on Friday and Saturday in the Texas hill country, then return Sunday morning.

As it turned out, we played 18 holes on Friday afternoon in Kerrville (great weather!), spent the night there, and had plans to play a beautiful little layout called "Lady Bird Johnson Golf Course" in Fredricksburg on Saturday.

We've played there before. Sometimes the weather is perfect for all 18 holes, but often as not our presence there seems to trigger rain. The forecast called for a possibility of mainly afternoon thunderstorms. We had a first tee time for 8:30 a.m., so we thought we had a good chance of getting at least one round in.


Before we made it to the first tee a slight drizzle dampened things. The sky was a solid low overcast, darker in the west than other directions. But the drizzle stopped, so we played the first few holes. By the fifth hole we could hear distant rumbles of thunder. The sky darkened further.

Light rain spattered around us on holes six and seven. By hole eight the light rain had become steady and the rumbles were much louder. We decided to try to hurry through the next hole and head for shelter at the turn. Just after we hit our tee shots on number nine, lightning rippled across the sky overhead and the western horizon, already almost black, became very indistinct.

Fools, we tried to finish the hole. We made it to the green when small hail stones became mixed in with the now heavier rain. We sprinted for the snack bar on one end of the clubhouse, failing to get inside before we were pretty thoroughly drenched. But then the rain REALLY hit.

It was what we Texas refer to as a frog chokin' gully washer.

The view outside the windows remined me of being under a waterfall. After just five minutes of this deluge, the golf course staff informed us (and others who had sought refuge) that we'd better pack up and leave. Why? The only road in and out of the course had a low river crossing. With rain that heavy, the river sometimes flooded very quickly and the road was impassible for hours. We'd be stuck if we didn't hustle!

By the time we had our clubs in the car we were soaked. The good news is, we made it out past the river crossing without incident. The bad news: that was the end of any golf for the weekend.

But I'm way ahead of my real story.

On Friday afternoon, the day before the rains, we were on the ninth hole (what is it about the ninth hole, anyway?) when my cell phone rang. Caller ID showed it was my daughter Christina. I had told her that if the results of her hearing arrived any time over the weekend to call me immediately. Good news or bad, I wanted to know. I was still fighting with Mr. Queen in my mind over what he'd said and what I shoulda said.

Her voice tone was not very positive. "Well, we got the letter. You said to call."

(Gotta make you wait for it.)

(Feel any suspense?)

Then she broke. "WE WON!"

I can't begin to describe the relief that washed over me.

She read me the entire letter, including the background information, the employer's contentions, and then the findings of fact.

I don't have a copy yet (to quote from) and now that you know the verdict the details are probably of little interest. But here were the key points.

We won based on two factors. One of them I take credit for. Despite my fumbling questions I succeeded in convincing the hearing officer that Mr. Queen did NOT follow his own progressive disciplinary policy and didn't give Christina the warnings she was entitled to. I had read precedents in which failure to follow a disciplinary policy had cost many employers their cases, which is why I attacked that point.

The other factor was all Christina's doing. I remain very proud of her!

I told you that she had written out a narrative of exactly what happened — what she said, why she said it, the entire context of the conversations in which her “offensive” comments were made — and that she did a GREAT job of reading these into the record. It didn’t sound like she was reading; it sounded genuine, like she was simply telling her story. And it rang very true.

Ms. Ford (hearing officer) went to some lengths in her written decision to affirm that she believed Christina’s version of the events, and the testimony proved there was NO misconduct.

That is important for two reasons. The first, obvious one is that she will now receive unemployment compensation retroactive to the date of her termination. That was over two months ago, so it means a lot of money (which she needs very much).

The second reason may be even better. As she interviews for new jobs, it is inevitable that she will be asked why she left that medical practice. Now she can freely discuss the “difference of opinion” between herself and her employer, but finish by saying, “a review of all the facts in my unemployment eligibility hearing confirmed that there was no misconduct, and that I did nothing wrong. It was all either a misunderstanding, or possibly just a reduction in force after the practice lost 3 of their 4 doctors.”

That has tremendous psychological value, both for Christina and for someone considering hiring her.

I told Christina on the phone that she had just "made my whole weekend!" From that point on, the golf didn't matter, Saturday's storms didn't matter, nothing could break the gread mood I was in.

The pressure was off. I hadn't blown it. I didn't let her down when she needed me and was counting on me. But much of it she did all by herself.

Pride in her, and satisfaction that justice was done. A great feeling!

Thursday, March 24, 2005


One of my faithful readers pointed out today that the Sea Story about Ensign Benson had an uncharacteristic number of typos and punctuation errors in it. Further, it was pretty rough sounding.

I found I had posted an early, unedited version.

My writing technique consists of putting down my story or thoughts on paper--well, OK, on the computer screen--without too much concern for typos and style. I'm mainly concerned at that point with telling a consistent story.

Then I go back and correct the obvious typos and punctuation glitches, cut and paste to rearrange sentences and paragraphs, and tighten things up. Still later I'll make another pass through, frequently reading out loud. Now I'm trying to get a flow, and to hone my choice of verbs and adjectives.

Even after all of that I usually read through the chapter or section a couple more times, trying out different words or sequences of words.

What I had posted was a version very early in that process. In my haste to get it on the web for all of you to see, I converted the wrong Word file to html, and used my FTP software to move to a web address.

The tone is intended to be conversational, as if the narrator was relating a story to you orally. Thus the style is casual, and the vocabulary is a bit coarse, as in, "It was just sheer luck and the inherent stability of the T-2B that saved his ass." I was envisioning sitting at the officers' club bar at happy hour, telling this story to several people including pilots and non-pilots. That was the tone I wanted to establish throughout the book.

I should have reviewed it more carefully before posting it. My apologies, faithful readers. You expect better from me, and should get better in the future.

The version that's there now is a bit cleaner, but still would need some work before I'd present it to an agent or publisher.

P.S. Still no word on the hearing results.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

A Sea Story

Every current and former Navy sailor knows what a sea story is.

The question goes: “What’s the difference between a fairy tale and a sea story?”

The answer is: “A fairy tale begins with, ‘Once Upon a Time,’ and a sea story begins with, “Now This Is No Shit!’”

Chenoah asked me if I had any good Navy jet pilot stories. Here’s one I had thought about including in a non-fiction book at some point. Might still do it. I might be able to get IT published, and THEN move into the fiction market.

My proposed title for the book is:

You Can Always Tell A Fighter Pilot
(But You Can’t Tell Him Much!)

Memoirs of a Navy Jet Flight Instructor

The chapter I’ll share is too long to put in a blog post, so I’ll put it on the internet and provide all you dedicated readers with a link to it.

Click HERE to read the chapter, and then let me know if you think a collection of that and other similar stories would sell.

If you think it would, tell my agent, too!

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Q & A

Chenoah, one of my regular blog reads, and someone who comments frequently on my blog, recently had a blogger ask her 5 questions about herself and her blog. She answered the questions (very well, by the way) and stated that the first 5 readers to post a comment would get 5 questions from HER about their blog. They could answer on their own blog and repeat the offer to others.

Kind of a blog chain letter, with questions. Her blog is the top one on my list of "Other Blogs to Check Out," in the sidebar on the right.

I commented, and here are my questions from her:

1. Your novel, Cherish is the Word, is semi-autobiographical. Will the same be true of the sequel? And, do you have a title for it yet? (Heh. Sneaked in an extra question.)

No. The sequel is pure fantasy but includes many of the same characters as the original. I mean, c'mon -- the story of how I met my wife was pretty exciting, but I figured I would have to REALLY fictionalize the other events in my life to include the necessary conflict, suspense, and so on. It starts with a dramatic (I hope) action sequence and a hook that ought to grab anybody.

The title is All the Feelings That I Have. (Second line of the same song. It IS a sequel, after all.)

2. When do we get to see a picture of Ruth’s wedding cake?

Very soon, I hope. Her camera isn't digital, so I need to find out if she's developed the film, get her to bring over the shot and let me scan it. Thanks for the reminder.

3. We’d love to hear one of your navy pilot stories! (you gotta have at least one)

Oh, yes. I have a bunch. They're another idea for a book that's been "rambling" around in my mind for a year or so. I've actually written a couple of chapters already. I'll put one in my blog posting for tomorrow or later in the week. They're too long to include here.

4. Since you are such a good advocate for your daughter in her unemployment compensation case, had you ever considered a career in law?

Are you kidding? Everybody hates lawyers! There are more lawyer jokes than Aggie jokes in Austin! And, to be honest, I do NOT enjoy confrontation. I think I have enough "go for the throat" ability when I or my family members are threatened, but maybe not enough to be a good lawyer.

5. Now that you and Carol have been to Africa, do the two of you have another exotic locale in mind for a future trip?

Is Hawaii exotic enough? We were fortunate enough to go there once (1999) and dream of a return visit. We didn't QUITE get to play all the golf courses on all the islands.

OK readers. The first 5 to comment will get 5 questions from me about THEIR blogs. Bring it on!

Monday, March 21, 2005


Who won?

Ah, later. First, here's how it went...

I started in by asking questions of Mr. Queen, who had completed his story of the events leading up to the termination before the hearing was "continued."

Without giving you a blow-by-blow, which would take me all night to type out and would bore you to tears, I'll just say I came at him pretty hard. Succeeded in making him mad. He was sarcastic and almost surly in a few of his answers, which was exactly what I wanted the hearing officer to hear from him.

I established that the medical practice had lost 3 of its 4 doctors, that other staffers had been let go (drawing the inference that Christina's firing had really been a layoff), and that two of the fired employees were very pregnant.

I tried to get him to admit that he didn't follow his own progressive discipline policy. He wouldn't admit it, but I think I cast some serious doubt.

I challenged his firing her, an admitted good employee, based on two comments she allegedly made that weren't even heard by him. And without even asking for her side of the story on the second one.

My task was simply to show that what she was accused of doing failed to meet the definition of "misconduct" required in Texas to disqualify a fired employee from drawing unemployment.

His other witnesses were pretty weak and had little to say about the two final events leading to Christina's termination, so they didn't get much air time and I chose not to cross examine them very much.

Then the hearing officer asked my daughter questions about the events. Anticipating this, Christina had rehearsed her typed-out responses and read them like a pro. She sounded natural and conversational, and made all the right points. That should have convinced Ms. Ford (hearing officer) of the way things really happened. Why? Christina's version included lots of details and just sounded like the way people talk and interact. Mr. Queen's version of events sounded artificial.

Am I biased? Well, sure. But I can listen with some objectivity, and I'm so proud of my daughter I could pop.

Afterwards I asked her questions to bring out points I thought were important to prove there was no misconduct.

Then Mr Queen had his chance to cross examine her. Still mad from my questions of him, he challenged her repeatedly about minor points. More than once Ms. Ford told him, "That question has been answered. Move on."

He managed to bring her to tears once, but she bounced back and avoided yielding to the urge to snap at him or be sarcastic, which I DIDN'T want the hearing officer to hear.

When he was finished Ms. Ford asked if there was anything more. I said I wanted to make a summary statement. She allowed it. I hammered home our points that the firing was a layoff (and possibly pregnancy discrimination), the alleged acts were not misconduct according to the legal definition, they hadn't followed their own progressive discipline policy, and their actions belied their claims. Pretty strong stuff.

Mr. Queen was just short of apoplectic. He railed back, accusing Christina of being unable to distinguish between appropriate and inappropriate words and phrases, and stated that they didn't need anybody like that working there.

I loved it, but it hurt my daughter. She took it to heart, despite my assurances (and those of her husband) that she was NOT that kind of person and had excellent interpersonal skills.

Why did I love it? By saying she was "unable" to make the right choices in speaking, I think he lost his own case. In Texas, precedents have shown that if the employer admits an employee is unable to do some part of the job, then failure to do it is NOT misconduct. I'm hoping Ms. Ford was listening to that diatribe.

So, who won? We don't know. When all the talking was over, she told us, "I'll make my decision, type it out, and send it to both parties as soon as possible. Thank you for your time and for participating. Goodbye."

Sorry to leave you hanging. Rest assured, as soon as I find out, I'll post it.

Even if it's the wrong verdict.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Preparation Day

Today is Sunday. A day of rest. Not!

Today is preparation day. My last chance to review all the material and rehearse my prepared questions for Mr. Queen and his witnesses in the unemployment hearing.

D-Day is tomorrow, and H-Hour is 1:30 p.m. I'm taking anothe half-day off from work.

(If you're not a regular here and are wondering what this is all about, please scan through my archives starting with "Another Fight Brewing," posted Feb. 23.)

I've practiced my questions for Mr. Queen using my wife as a surrogate. I'm trying to get just the right tone in my voice to imply disbelief without quite sneering at him. Then, for my questions for Christina, I want to sound empathetic and imply total conviction that she's telling the absolute truth. And she WILL be, but we need to convince the hearing officer.

Christina, meanwhile, told me she would be writing out narrative answers to my questions (which she has seen) and to anticipated questions by others. She'll be careful not to SOUND like she's reading an answer. Her concern is that under the pressure of the moment she'll forget to include something important. Or, worse, she'll be nervous and lose her train of thought. Then, if she stammers around in confusion, she'll sound like she's making it all up.

That's part of the problem with a hearing conducted by telephone. The visual clues when someone is talking are lost. No body language to guage, no nervous tics you can observe, no averted eyes to imply fabrication. All that remains are the words chosen, the tone employed, and the flow of the questions and answers. If the flow sounds strained, it might imply dishonesty.

I know. I'm over-analyzing. (Did you ever notice that the first four letters of "analyze" spell "anal?" Is that fitting or what?)

My final admonition to my daughter is to relax and just try to be herself. That'd be best.

Too bad I can't take my own advice.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

No golf today


Darn it!

A beautiful day in the mid 70s with a breeze blowing and no rain until maybe late this afternoon.

So, why no golf? Our local public course has an annual invitational tournament this weekend. The entire course is closed to everyone except tournament players.

Carol and I aren't into competitive, tournament golf. She's good enough to be competitive in a tournament, especially a handicapped one. I'm too erratic. When I'm playing well, it's pretty good, but when I'm off I can't hit the ball. At all.

I'm serious. I have days when I hit the ground and miss the ball entirely, or I'll just catch part of the ball with one edge of the club and dribble it is some weird direction.

I play best when there's no pressure. Especially when there's no one watching. Put me in front of a crowd and I'd do better throwing the ball around the course than trying to hit it.

A quick story to show you how much pressure, real or otherwise, can affect me. There are a few public courses that copy famous golf holes to let the average Joe (like me) pretend to be playing the dream PGA tour courses. A few years ago Carol and I played one of these, Tour 18 in Houston. They have a very good copy of number 12 at Augusta Nation where the Masters is played every spring. A short-to-medium par 3 over water. As I watched the group in front of us play it I imagined being in the Masters, with crowds of thousands watching every shot. When our turn came, I got so nervous from imagining that crowds were there that I duffed the ball right into the creek.

I know -- that's pathetic!

So there's no desire to participate in the tournament, and no other way to play this weekend. Unless I'm willing to spring for the money to play a local country club that also allows public "daily fee" play.

Nope, I'm too tight for that. So today is a good day to get chores and yard work done. Next weekend (Easter) I get a holiday on Good Friday, so we're planning to go out of town and play a couple of Texas Hill Country courses. Maybe the weather will cooperate.

And hopefully the crowds will stay away. Especially the one in my mind.

Friday, March 18, 2005


We had a rare slow day at the office today. The sun was shining all day, temperature in the mid 70s, Spring Fever rampant among those of us in and around our offices.

An email came to me from a colleague at a neighboring plant belonging to a different company. She mentioned the pervasive feeling of “I want to be anyplace except work today” that was floating around her digs. I appreciated that. It made concentrating on benefits administration and telephone bills SO much more interesting and fulfilling. But daydreaming about the outdoors when I’m getting paid for other tasks makes me feel... well, guilty.

Much of the talk in our lunch room was about the “March Madness” college basketball tournament and the office pool that is in full swing. Somehow I can’t get interested in that either. I went (a lifetime ago) to a very small college with no athletic prowess in any sport, so college basketball, football, and all the other activities that folks get hyped up about just seem to lack any attraction for me.

Speaking of school sports, we rented and watched “Friday Night Lights” this week. That film (and, I imagine, the book — which I haven’t read but will now) just nailed the Texas attitude towards high school football. I like Billy Bob Thornton, and thought he did a great job as the Odessa Permian football coach.

Odessa’s population is about 40% higher than that of Victoria, TX. But the attitudes are similar. This town really gets into its Friday night football. Quite a few people never get past that obsession with their high school’s teams. Heck, some never leave the county. And I mean NEVER! Their frame of reference is limited to their experiences, thus high school sports becomes the ultimate excitement. Well, different strokes, as they say.

Now, Friday evening has arrived. The weekend stretches ahead. The office walls won’t see my face again until Monday morning. Tomorrow if I want to wander around in the sunshine, I’ll be able to do it (or daydream about it) with no guilt.

It’s a good feeling.

Thursday, March 17, 2005


A little "contact cleaner" spray from the can. A little hair dryer time blowing hot air on the electronics of the remote-controlled motor caddie. Everything now works as it used to before the immersion experience!

I asked Carol, please, the next time she wants to upgrade her cell phone and get a new watch, just go buy them. There's no need to go through all these theatrics of running her cart into the pond and pretending it 's an accident.

And for her to try to blame the turtles for distracting her... I mean, come on! That's a new low. As if those turtles really had anything to do with it.

So, all is now back to normal. No angst, no feigned remorse. The tension has lifted and the mood is bright. The golf clubs still have not been put back into the bag, but the weekend is approaching so I imagine it will happen very soon so all will be in readiness.

By the way, she REALLY likes the new cell phone.

Odds and Ends

The wife’s new wristwatch looks and works fine.

Her new cell phone is programmed and seems to be very satisfactory.

Now if I can just get her motor-caddie’s remote control function to work, all will be OK again. Then I can probably get away with an occasional snide remark or joke about taking her cart for another swim.

On a different matter, for those of you waiting for the proverbial other shoe to fall, there are STILL no leaks manifesting themselves around the hall bathroom toilet. Don’t worry—I’m not fooled. It’s still biding its time. It’ll happen. Meanwhile I am enjoying the respite.

I think I’m ready for the “continued” hearing on Monday. I emailed my daughter an updated list of questions for her to review. They’re for her and other witnesses. There’s also a new “summary statement.” I’ve tried to anticipate all the possible twists, turns and surprises. You’ll get a full report next week.

I emailed Lantz (literary agent) last week asking for an update on his efforts to “pitch my project.” No answer. Tonight I’ll send him a follow up to make sure he got the first one. My insecurities are screaming, “Nobody likes it. Everybody hates it. He just doesn’t want to tell you.” Then I remember comments by complete strangers who’ve read the manuscript and reported that they loved it and cried. OK. Relegate the insecurities to where they belong. Which is in the same category as my knowledge that the toilet will leak.

Work is busy. All in all, my glass is still at least ¾ full. None of that half-way stuff for me, either way.

There. I’ve vented. I feel better. Thanks for listening.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

One day later...

Tensions around the household have eased a bit since yesterday’s posting about the errant golf cart. I hesitated to show Carol what I had written for fear that her view of those events might have been a tad less humorous than mine.

The lost wristwatch has been replaced. The drowned cell phone was partially resuscitated, but seemed to have suffered some permanent brain damage. Several functions either did not work at all, or worked differently from before. As of this afternoon, she is sporting a new, upgraded cell phone.

The clubs and bag are clean and dry. The only remaining concern is the cart’s lingering lack of response to remote control input. We’re hopeful that additional drying will correct that problem. Lacking that, I’ll attempt surgery and cleaning with electronics parts cleaner spray. If that fails, I’ll order and install a new remote guidance system.

Money cures many ills.

Anyway, I was able to comment this afternoon that her golf gear looked really spiffy, having undergone a mud-pack beauty treatment and subsequent deep cleansing. I received a wry grin instead of a hateful glare.

I’ve related the tale (the term “water hazard” has a whole new meaning) to friends at work, and am beginning to hear the inevitable remarks about “women drivers of golf carts,” and, “Boy, she must have hit a REALLY bad shot. I’ve heard of people throwing their clubs in a lake, but never with the $1,600 cart attached!”

By the time the remote control function is back to normal we’ll both be joking about the incident.

But for now I’ll keep those comments from my work friends to myself.

Monday, March 14, 2005

You had to be there...

Yesterday our weather was gorgeous, if a little on the warm side. Bright sunshine, no clouds, and a gentle southwesterly breeze that nudged the mercury up to 90. Excellent golf weather.

Walking the golf course is about the only exercise I get on a regular basis. My wife Carol and I used to pull little carts around with our clubs on them, but then we learned about remote-controlled, motorized “caddies.”

We get a lot of stares and pointed fingers as we stroll down the fairway (or in my case, through the rough and into the woods) with our carts rolling merrily along in front of us just out of reach. Someone always has to yell, “RUNAWAY CART!” and thinks he’s hilarious. It was cute the first 200-300 times we heard it, but now...

Well, yesterday we had teed off on number 12 and started down the fairway in pursuit of our shots. That hole has a wide pond all along the right side of the fairway, and like the other ponds in our area, this one is the abode of probably hundreds of water turtles. Some of these get quite large, but they usually stay right by the waters edge and slide into the muddy depths if anyone gets closer than about 15 yards.

Yesterday was different. Marching across the fairway towards the pond was a dark turtle (tortoise?) whose shell was at least a foot in diameter. He/she was likely migrating to this pond from another water hazard two or three fairways over. Then we noticed a smaller (about 5 inches in diameter) turtle following 15-20 feet behind the larger one.

How cute! A mass migration! Mother and child? Carol watched as I walked up to the smaller one. As expected, it sucked its head and legs into its shell and waited for me to go away. I stood for just a few seconds while Carol watched, and then started off again.

That’s when you had to be there. Carol screamed as her cart, which had been trekking ahead in the direction last assigned before we were distracted by the turtles, plunged over the edge and down into the pond.

Torn between horror and laughter, I jogged to the pond while she sprinted. The bank dropped off sharply and the cart and bag were out of reach.

Carol peeled off shoes and socks and stepped in. “Ewww. It’s slimy on the bottom.” It was all I could do to keep a straight face.

She snagged the handle of the cart and pulled toward shore. It barely moved. It occurred to me that the cart, 24 pound battery and full golf bag (clubs, balls, and lots of “accessories”) must weigh at least 75 pounds. And at this point the bag was full of water and strapped to the cart, which was settling on its side into the slimy mud.

I refused to look around at other golfers on the course, who just HAD to be rolling on the grass holding their sides in laughter. Together we were able to drag the cart and contents up the bank, with mud and water pouring our of every joint and crevice. Not quite like “Raise the Titanic,” but reminiscent.

Carol kept it together pretty well, but I sensed that just under the surface was a “mad as a wet hen” lady. Needless to say, our golf was finished for the day.

The only serious casualties were her cell phone (which may still dry out and function, although at this point its baptism was thorough enough that it may need resurrection) and her wristwatch, which is somewhere in the mud at the bottom of the pond. Probably nestled up against one of my errant golf balls, a number of which share that watery grave.

The watch was just a Timex, so no great loss. She has since rinsed off everything and hung or spread it all out to dry.

I’ve managed to continue holding my tongue, but it’s hard. Questions for the next round keep presenting themselves (“Which club did you hit on that shot, your mud iron?”), but if I want to see our 37’th wedding anniversary this August I’d better choke them down. I’m sure we’ll both be laughing about it some day.

But for now, you just had to be there.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

A Drive Through Houston

Like Los Angeles, Houston is known for heavy traffic and stop-and-go freeways. That’s one reason more and more tollways are springing up in that metropolitan area. The Interstates and other freeways just can’t handle the load, and people are willing to pay to avoid the delays.

Yesterday morning my wife and I drove the two hours from Victoria to Houston, took the toll road around the west side almost as far as I-45, and then drove north on 249 the short distance to Tomball. The 140+ mile trip took only two and a half hours with one quick potty stop.

We finished our business there at about lunch time and started home (after a great BBQ meal!).
Our first mistake came 5 miles later. The exit onto the toll road (to retrace our path from earlier) was backed up over a quarter mile. Looked like road construction had several lanes blocked. We decided to continue straight on 249 to I-45 south and take the inner loop (I-610) around the west side to US 59 and home.

The road we were on, which had been divided freeway, soon changed into divided road with traffic lights every quarter mile or so and lots of Saturday shoppers making their way into and out of the malls and building supply stores that seemed to be on every corner.

We progressed in spurts between the lights. One of us made the first comment expressing regret that we hadn’t fought our way through the backlog onto the toll road. It would have been faster than this.

Ha! Not the last time we would make that observation.

When we could see the I-45 overpass ahead, we eased over to the right lane to get onto the entrance ramp. Then we noticed that the traffic on that overpass wasn’t moving. Well, as we watched it DID move, but you had to be watching closely.

We had no choice but to try it, so we entered the ramp, crept up to the “freeway,” and inched our way along with the other traffic.

The miles sped by. At the approximate rate of one mile every 6-7 minutes. We never got above 20 mph, and that only for very short spurts. A few miles from I-610 loop we saw a flashing notice that there was an accident on 610. We opted to stay on I-45 all the way through downtown to the intersection of US 59 to Victoria.

Our second mistake.

We crept. We narrowly avoided several crunches as other drivers eased into our lane in front of us when there really wasn’t room. Although we tried to stay in or near the right lane to be ready to exit, it proved to be impossible. The road itself seemed to be forcing us further and further left. When the US 59 exit neared we had to cross two lanes to make the turn. We almost caused a couple of wrecks ourselves by forcing other drivers to let us in, but before the exit we were ensconced in the right-hand lane and ready.

Ah! There it is! But why is no traffic in this lane taking the exit? What are all of those barricades doing across the exit? The exit is CLOSED!!??

A sign informed us that US 59 South was closed for repairs on Saturday, March 12. OK, on to plan “C.”

We’ll continue south on I-45 (yeah, creeping, but what choice is there?) to I-610 loop on the SOUTH side of Houston and take it around to US 59 and home. But Carol notices on the map that Alternate 90 is a straighter shot to US 59, so let’s take that!

Mistake number 3.

Alternate 90 is a downtown city street with a traffic light at every corner. All seemed to be turning red as we approached. Traffic was still extremely heavy. I wondered why until we inched past the Astrodome and Reliant Field and saw all the signs directing traffic to various parking options for the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, which happened to be in full swing on this beautiful Saturday afternoon.

OK, enough. The drive that took us 2.5 hours this morning now took over 4 hours. Yes, we made it home with no mishaps.

Coulda been worse. I guess. Next time, I think I’ll take the toll road in spite of any construction in the on-ramp. Or, I’ll take L.A.

Saturday, March 12, 2005


If you’re not a regular at this blog you’ll need to scroll down and read the postings about my daughter’s unemployment appeal hearing to understand this one.

Three days ago I thought I was prepared to point out the real reason for Christina’s firing. It had nothing to do with “misconduct;” it was a reduction in force, pure and simple.

So why did her employer go through the effort of making up a case against her and calling it “misconduct?” Two powerful reasons.

First, that effort denies her unemployment and thus saves them money on payroll taxes.

Second, she was six months pregnant at the time, and it avoids what the lawyers call a “prima facia” case of pregnancy discrimination. (That’s Latin; means something like “at first glance,” or “on the face of things.” Kinda like, “an apparent case of... unless there’s more under the surface.”) To avoid a prima facia case, the employer must articulate a non-discriminatory reason for the firing. Then the burden of proof is on the fired employee to show that the real reason was discrimination.

I had prepared lots of questions to show their need for a reduction in force and their financial pressure to get rid of two very pregnant employees. This builds a circumstantial case. That might not be good enough. How can I prove what the real reasons were?

Well, after showing the logical real reasons, I then have to disprove their fictitious reason (misconduct). OK, I think I can do that. Their actions and documents didn’t match their stated reasons. But I’ve got to show that by asking questions. Of course, they’re going to answer in a way that defends their actions. And still, is that proof? Will that convince the hearing officer?

Are you tired yet? I am.

As I’ve said before, this is not a murder trial. It’s not a life and death situation. But Christina needs the unemployment income. The need is becoming acute. She is now almost 8 months pregnant, and the chances of finding a job in that condition are about nil. She’s entitled to unemployment compensation. She’s not getting it because her ex-employer is making up a case against it to save money.

She and I are both losing sleep over this. Literally! I wake up in the night and begin mentally arguing with Mr. Queen about whether he followed his own discipline policy (he didn’t). “And doesn’t that prove that there really wasn’t any misconduct?” And so it goes.

I have all of next week and next weekend to re-prepare. Which is good! But I’m feeling the pressure.

Every Dad wants to be able to stand up and defend his child against lies and unfairness. But if Dad fails, especially because of something he could have done or said but didn’t think of it when the time was right... Well, I just don’t want to think about the anguish and second-guessing that I’ll go through.

That’s pressure.

Friday, March 11, 2005

I Used to be a Personnel Manager

I used to be a Personnel Manager, but for the past 20 years or so I’ve been a Human Resources Manager. During that time I’ve seen my list of duties change almost completely. Oh, I still do the same things week in and week out, they’re just called something different now.

In fact, according to my job description...

Wait. I no longer HAVE a job description. It’s now a “position profile.”

Anyway, in this position profile, my list of job duties includes...

Wait. There is no list of job duties. It’s a list of “key deliverables.”

OK, going down the list of key deliverables I find items like “employee benefits” and...

Wait. They’re not “employees” any more. They’re either “associates” or “team members” or (and I love this one) “valued contributors.”

Ok, Ok! Enough of that. These people who work here, whatever we call them, we still offer them benefits, right? Like health insurance?

Well, like the car rental ad on TV says, “Not exactly.”

Now you can offer a PPO, POS, HMO, or Indemnity plan. These can be fully insured, self-insured with “stop-loss” coverage, or self-insured with a TPA (“Third Party Administrator”). If you include prescription drugs in your medical plan, it can be a single tier, two tier or three tier plan. (Everybody understands brand name drugs vs. generics, but what the hell is a “formulary?”)

How about vision and dental? Are these included with an opt out provision, or available with an opt in provision? How is the ratio of employer/employee contributions set up? How about deductibles and co-insurance, not to mention out-of-pocket max?

And don’t forget about cafeteria plans with “flexible spending accounts,” a.k.a. “reimbursement accounts.” (Those used to be called “salary reduction” plans, but since nobody wanted their salary reduced they weren’t very popular until they were renamed.)

It’s getting harder every day to keep caught up with all the acronyms (I used to call them “initials”) and fancy terms. But I guess it doesn’t really matter whether I’m caught up or not. I no longer have to explain those terms to our valued contributors. My corporation has outsourced benefits administration to a third party vendor. Our valued contributors can simply dial an 800 number and a CSR (Customer Service Representative) will guide them through the maze.

All I have to do is remember the 800 number. I think it’s 1-800-CFI-CARE.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

More on the Hearing

The party that initiates the termination goes first, so Ms. Ford asked Mr. Queen a number of questions.

She established the dates of employment and rate of pay, and then got into job performance. We still wondered why he had three witnesses with him: two supervisors and another staffer. What could they possibly testify about?

We heard from Mr. Queen that Christina had one day been asked to file patients’ charts on shelves. He stated that she obviously did not like to file because instead of filing she merely moved the charts around on the shelves.

Christina looked at me in shock. I motioned for her not to worry, I would rebut that. We later decided that one of the supervisors would likely be asked to elaborate on that episode. Christina had never heard about that “offense” until the hearing.

Later she explained to me that on the day in question she had spent much of the morning filing photographs and other documents in the patients’ folders, and then had begun filing the folders on the shelves. It quickly became apparent that she would need more room on the shelves to fit in all the now thicker folders. So what is the logical thing to do? You start with the folders at the end of the alphabet and MOVE all the folders in order to spread them out and create more room!

That is what she did, and we’re guessing that at some point the office supervisor noticed her rearranging the folders and ASSUMED she was goofing off but trying to look busy by moving things around. If the supervisor had simply asked, Christina would have explained and there would have been no issue. But nobody asked.

My plans for rebuttal are that I will ask a few simple questions.

1. Did anybody discuss with Christina her undesired behavior?
2. Did anybody investigate or ask why she didn’t appear to be working?
3. Did anybody counsel her or make any attempt to get her to change that behavior?
4. Was any discipline awarded? Was it in writing? Did she sign it?
5. If not (and we know the answers are no), isn’t it obvious that the goal here was simply to fire her, not to get her to improve? This is not misconduct; it’s a lack of management and direction!

Our opinion that they are simply building a case out of nothing has been strengthened. When we heard the list of things she is accused of, it is impressive. It sounds as if she SHOULD have been fired. I’m hoping I can make Ms. Ford see that the manager’s and supervisors’ inaction (no counseling or discipline) points to something other than intentional misconduct on Christina’s part. Her firing was a reduction in force, plain and simple.

I’m working on my list of questions for Mr. Queen when the hearing next continues. If the same telephone issues recur (“I can’t hear the question”) I plan to request an in-person hearing, or require that the other party call in from somewhere other than his office.

I think I’ll be better prepared next time, now that I’ve heard most of their case.

Check back later for more.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005


Well, the unemployment appeal hearing was held. Sort of.

My daughter and I dialed in and took the return call from the hearing officer. We learned that her employer was represented on the call by the office manager, two supervisors (one of them Christina’s) and another staff member who overheard both of Christina’s allegedly negative remarks. It was the second of these that was identified as the final event causing her termination.

We listened as the hearing officer (Ms. Rose Ford) set the ground rules and had each of the parties present identify themselves. When Christina and her husband (my two witnesses) and I spoke, the employer’s office manager (I’ll call him Mr. Queen) immediately complained that he couldn’t hear us.

We tried a different telephone handset. Didn’t help. He could hear Ms. Ford, and Ms. Ford could hear all parties including us loud and clear, but he said our voices would start out clear and then fade to inaudible.

We spoke louder. Heck, we shouted. Made no difference.

Ms. Ford tried to conduct the hearing anyway, and all was going fine until she finished asking Mr. Queen all of her questions, and asked me if I had any questions for him. I said I had quite a few. I asked the first, but he couldn’t hear all of it. I repeated it; same result. Ms. Ford repeated my question, and he heard it. He answered in a way that made me want to ask a follow-up, but he again couldn’t hear me. I and the hearing officer repeated the question. He misunderstood and answered a different question from the one I’d asked.

I asked Ms. Ford if there was anything we could do to improve communications. She asked if Mr. Queen and his three witnesses could call in on different numbers and try it with each of them having an individual telephone. He said no, their office phone system didn’t work that way. She was at a loss. I tried one more question, which he claimed he couldn’t hear. (She asked me the relevance of it, I explained, and she allowed it.) I repeated it. He couldn’t hear. Get the picture?

At that point we went “off the record” and Ms. Ford consulted her supervisor. The hearing was now 50 minutes old, and very little had been established. She had only scheduled one hour for the hearing. She announced the hearing would be continued, and asked all parties if the following Monday, 3/14, would be OK.

Mr. Queen said no, Mondays were their busiest day, and he couldn’t do it then. She informed Mr. Queen that unfortunately it would HAVE to be scheduled on one of her “administrative days” since her other days were already fully scheduled, and those admin days were always on a Monday. Could he make it on March 21?

He said that would be difficult since two of his witnesses had scheduled vacation for that day. Ms. Ford said, “Mr. Queen, can you make that day or not?”

He relented and said he could.

So, the hearing was continued (as in, “push pause, and we’ll hit the play button again in 12 days”) until Monday, 3/21. Christina is very upset, because that just pushes back any decision on her unemployment and she needs the money, plus she’s been dreading this hearing and just wants it over. Now she gets to dread it for another week and a half.

Major bummer. A very frustrating day.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Final Preparations for the Hearing

Your author Today I’m going over my notes, the Q&As I’ve prepared for my daughter and for her employer, the materials from the Texas Workforce Commission’s web site, all of our documentation, and my summary statement. Oh, yeah, that’s after I took care of all my HR manager duties I’m getting paid to do. The last thing we all need is for ME to get fired for misconduct, as in conducting personal business on company time.

That’s why I’m doing this at home. Besides, it’s still too soupy outside to do any yard work or outside chores.

The hearing is on Wednesday. Tomorrow (Tuesday) evening my wife and I will drive to Corpus Christi, spend some time with Christina and her husband, go out somewhere for dinner, and go over our plans for the next morning. I’m taking a vacation day Wednesday.

Wednesday morning we’ll all be together when we call in. That’s when the excitement will start. We’ll learn who will participate for her employer and how many witnesses, if any, they plan to call. If there are any surprise witnesses on the employer’s side, I’ll have to scramble to develop some questions for them based on what Christina tells me about their role in the whole mess.

The first five or ten minutes will be taken up with housekeeping matters. The hearing officer will go over the conduct and procedures of the hearing, take down the names and roles of all of the participants, and get things started. All participants will be sworn in.

Then the officer will ask questions. He’ll start with the party who initiated the termination. That’ll be the employer. I’ll be taking notes and trying to strategize.

Then the questions will shift to Christina. More note taking and strategy, plus prompting her if I feel she’s either getting angry or sidetracked.

Next the employer will get to bring forward his witnesses, if any, and ask them questions. I should get to “cross examine” them. If he doesn’t call any witnesses, I think I’ll get to question him. I hope so. I want to hear his reasons for both his actions, and for some things he didn’t do that most managers would do in a situation involving poor performance. Last I will get to directly question Christina.

After all the questions are over, each side will have a chance to summarize its position. I have a summary statement ready. This ought to be like a “closing argument” in front of a jury, but very brief.

I THINK that’s how the whole thing will go. I need to be flexible in case curves are thrown. That ought to be the biggest challenge—thinking fast and reacting to unexpected turns.

I’m getting nervous just thinking about it.

Bottom line, though: she’s not getting any unemployment now, and the WORST thing that can happen is she STILL won’t get any. There’s a lot more upside than downside. I keep reminding myself, this is not a murder trial.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Another rainy Sunday

Just like last weekend. Rain starting Saturday in the early afternoon. Rain all last night, sometimes hard. This morning the rain continues, ranging from a mist to a steady pour.

The back yard is a pond, the front ditches are full, and still it rains. A dark, dreary day.

(Shhhh. Pardon my whispering, but I think the toilet is napping. I checked on it this morning and was unable to find any trace of a leak, but I thought I sensed it grinning to itself. I’m going to try a little reverse psychology and claim to my blog readers that my repair of last week must have been successful.)

Ahem. So, all you faithful readers, I have an announcement to make. My toilet repair and replacement of last weekend was a COMPLETE success. Seven days have passed with NO leaks. Seven consecutive leak-free days meets the official definition of a successful plumbing repair, so there it is!

(I think the toilet heard that. If so, within the next day or two it will HAVE to start leaking. Otherwise I’ll claim that any future leaks are a new problem, and not the result of this last repair being flawed. I’m putting the squeeze on it. The leaking will begin very soon or I’ll have won this round. The die is cast. Heh, heh.)

If the above makes no sense to you, either you have no experience trying to repair toilets, or you haven’t read my posting of Feb. 26 and 27. Check ‘em out and you’ll know.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

A Wedding Cake Tale

Our good friend and golfing buddy Ruth, a retired single grandmother, is a perfectionist. Her only current source of earned income derives from the sale of wedding cakes.

And what cakes they are! She'll make you one from her picture book of previous masterpieces, or she design one to your specifications. Once it's set up and ready for the reception, it's gorgeous.

Today she asked us to help her unload and set in place a huge cake arrangement that she didn’t think she could handle by herself. It takes an 8 foot long table to hold this arrangement. And that doesn’t include the groom’s cake.

Te entire cake was Italian cream, with glistening white icing. Around the various layers and tiers were icing hearts, swirls, and trim. The largest portion consisted of three five-inch-tall tiers. The bottom tier was 18 inches across, the middle one 12 inches, and the top 6 inches. This combination alone weighed 36 pounds. It was placed on a clear plastic stand with four legs that held the bottom layer a foot above the covered table.

To its left was a two-tier portion placed on an eight inch stand. Next to the left came a single layer, eight inches in diameter on a four inch stand. Last was a single layer six inches in diameter placed on a flat support directly on the table.

Between each portion was a clear plastic “stairway” that looked like glass, climbing from cake to cake, from the lowest level to the highest. Underneath the plastic stands of the raised portions, fresh flowers were to be placed.

But first, arranged in festoons over parts of each gleaming white cake portion were attached (with toothpicks) large, ripe strawberries. Some were plain (crimson), some dipped in dark chocolate, some covered in dark chocolate with white chocolate “drizzles” on them, some dipped in white chocolate, and some covered in white chocolate with dark chocolate “drizzles.”

If your mouth isn’t watering at that description, you aren’t picturing what we saw.

Then there was the groom’s cake. German chocolate, designed to look like two horse shoes touching each other. This was also to be decorated with fresh flowers. Why horse shoes? Well, this was a country wedding held at the “Raisin L” Ranch in Raisin, Texas. The groom is a cowboy, and the bride’s parents own a local feed store. It all begins to make sense now, right?

After the cake portions were all in place, the florist arrived and wanted to lift each portion to put the flowers underneath. Ruth intervened and explained that if any movement occurred the stairways between the cakes would fall and the strawberries would come off, ruining everything. The florist frumped a bit but managed to get her flowers under the sections without destroying the arrangement.

Then the table began to sag! We hadn’t checked under the white cover beforehand, but it was a plastic table with folding legs. The weight of the cakes, stands and strawberries was just too much for it. Frantic action on the part of the people making last-minute preparations (including the groom’s father) managed to hold the table and prop a support under it before disaster struck.

Ruth took her pictures, proving it was beautiful and perfect, and then beat a hasty retreat. Her responsibility was over, she was paid, and if it later was bumped and fell over it would just end up being one of those tales the bride and groom would relate to people for decades, “You should have seen what happened to our wedding cake...”

Ruth’s camera is not digital so I can’t show you the cake now, but after the film is developed I’ll scan one and let you see what a beauty this was.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Fight Preparations

This weekend is the last chance I’ll have to review the details of my daughter’s recent termination and to complete preparations for the unemployment hearing. I’ve written out a list of questions I plan to ask, along with the way I’d like her to answer the questions. Don’t worry, all the answers are the truth. I just don’t want her to range beyond the scope of the questions. Nor do I want her to display anger or sarcasm — sure to turn off the hearing officer.

The way the hearing works is: the hearing officer takes the lead and asks all the questions he (or she) thinks are necessary to “develop the record” and bring out the facts of the case. I imagine he will ask many of the questions I’ve prepared for my daughter to answer. Only after he’s satisfied that he understands the facts will each side get to ask questions of their witnesses, and to “cross examine” the other side.

So, during the first part of the hearing I plan to be very busy taking notes, scratching out some of my questions (if they’ve already been answered and don’t need elaboration) and jotting new ones if issues are raised that I DO want to elaborate on.

I’ve read (thank you, John Grisham and Erle Stanley Gardner!) that lawyers should never ask a question if they don’t already know the answer, so I’ll try to stick to that rule.

My goals are specific:

1. Show that misconduct did not occur. Misconduct requires an intentional violation of rules or policies. I think I can show that no matter what she said, there was not intent to violate anything.

2. Provide a plausible alternative (REAL) reason for her termination: a reduction in force necessitated by the departure of ¾ of the practicing doctors.

I know they never replaced the other pregnant woman who was terminated. How? Did a little detective work. I don’t know for sure that they never replaced my daughter, although I don’t think they did. I’d like to ask that question (“So, have you replaced these two people who were terminated? No? Doesn’t that show that you knew their positions were not needed?”), but if they answer “yes,” I won’t be able to rebut them and it’ll weaken my contention. A dilemma.

Meanwhile, I’m spending so much time and thought on this because it’s very important to my daughter and her husband. She’s having no luck finding another job when it’s obvious that within two months she’ll need time off for maternity leave. And they are very short on money. If this appeal is successful, she’ll receive unemployment compensation all the way back to the date of her termination. They need it.

More to come...

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Gone two days; first day back...

A busy day. Two and a half days away from the office and you'd think I'd been gone a month. The email queue had 32 new messages, many of which had to be answered or requested some kine of action. Due to my foresight in putting a message on my phone telling callers I would next be in the office on Thursday, there were few voice messages waiting. But that relief was more than overcome by the stack in my in box (paper stuf).

AND, near the top of that pile was last month's bill from Verizon. This one covered the period of our long distance outage (see the postings from Feb. concerning my fight with the telephone company). The bill sported a new account number, which frightens me when I wonder what happened to the charges from the OLD account. Are they "in there" somewhere? Or will they surface later. Wait... Come to think of it we should have had a CREDIT to the old account, and I KNOW that wasn't in there.

But it gets better. There were some charges from AT&T long distance at exhorbitant rates per minute, but there were also calls billed under Verizon Long Distance which exceeded my guarantee of 5.5 cents per minute, 24/7.

Then, as I examined some other pages, it looks like they were billing us for some lines we no longer have. Oh, this is going to be fun!

At least I have the phone number and email address of the manager I dealt with last month. She told me to send her a copy of my next bill and they would re-rate (downward) all the AT&T charges that were only incurred because Verizon was unable to turn on themselves as my long distance provider. I think I'll just send the entire bill to her and let her re-work it before I pay anything.

Of course, if I do that they'll probably cut off our phone service entirely since no department in that company seems to know what any other department is doing.

Several things are coming to a head at once, it seems. One week from today is my daughter's unemployment appeal hearing. I'll bring you up to date on my plans for that soon.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Great Scenery.

Driving north through New Mexico was a real treat. Starting at Albuquerque we followed the Rio Grande toward its source in Colorado, taking I-25 to Santa Fe and then up US 84 to highway 63 to Taos.

Once out of Santa Fe the hills closed in from both sides until we were ascending a valley with the sparkling river right beside the road on our left. Fed by mountain springs and snow melt the flow wasn’t sluggish at all, but rushed through the narrow places and foamed over rocks. To our right the near-vertical cliffs rose so steeply that wire mesh anchored by large steel stanchions was all that prevented an apparent avalanche of rocks and boulders onto the highway.

We topped a rise and saw spread out before us a broad valley with the river running through a canyon in the middle of it. Ahead was the town of Taos nestled against snow-capped peaks that soared up into the clouds.

Taos, if you’ve never been, seemed to my casual gaze passing through as a town that caters to a tourist trade. Lots of adobe pueblo-style construction, lots of art galleries and curio shops, a few ski rental outlets and lots of motels and restaurants. I’m sure that’s not fair to the town or the residents, but all I did was drive through on the main highway. The views and scenery from anywhere in town were fabulous.

Another 20 miles north we found the town of Questa. We turned east and three miles out of the little town found the entrance to the Molycorp moly mine. That was our stopping point for the day, and I won’t bore you with the details of our business there. However, during our facility tour (which covered a number of miles) we were told to watch for deer and elk. We weren’t lucky enough to get a sighting of those, but saw a real, populated beaver dam in the creek flowing through a valley.

The mine itself defies description in the limited space of a blog posting. Suffice it to say it is mamoth, with a huge no-longer-active open pit portion, and a very active deep underground portion.

We left the mine after 5:30 p.m. and returned to Taos to spend the night. A productive day, and one that was very satisfying esthetically as well.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005


This week I’m traveling on business. Today I find myself in Albuquerque, looking out from my 17th floor hotel room at the mountain ridge line just east of the city. At 6:18 a.m. it’s still dark enough that the lights of town are spread out below in the bright yellows of sodium street lamps, the bluish white of mercury vapor parking lot lights and the whites, reds, greens, and yellows of traffic and traffic signals. And there goes a flashing blue of a police car hurrying to someone’s emergency.

The sky has just become light enough that I can see snow dusting the top of the ridge line. Not solid white, but definitely snow. A very few thin clouds are visible, appearing stationary in dark grey against the pale blue early morning light.

Should be an absolutely gorgeous day. I get to drive north through Santa Fe and on beyond Taos in the mountains and ski resort areas of the state. This is a real treat for someone who lives in South Texas, where the horizons move closer when the crops come up in the spring and summer. The closest thing to a hill there is a fire ant mound.

Today I visit a molybdenum mine, take a look at their layout and staffing, all with a view to recommending the number and locations of time clocks they will need. Yes, time clocks. The kind hourly employees punch in and out to work on. It’s all part of a new “Time and Attendance” system my employer is putting in place this year. I can tell you’re thrilled for me.

But at least, amidst all that excitement and the chance to affect the work experience of a large number of people in, well, not a profound way, but a little…I won’t be looking out at fire ant mounds! HR management does have its upside. Occasionally.