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Mushroom Patch -- Page 7
May 2, 2007 thru November 16, 2007
2 May 2007 -- Taking The Exit Ramp

I made a decision two weeks ago that I can only describe as "life-altering".  I have decided to retire from the FAA.

Retiring isn't all that unusual, but I had always envisioned myself working until they kicked my sorry carcass out the door at age 56.  (That is the
mandatory retirement age for controllers, and believe me, you ARE glad that they have that rule.  There isn't anything scarier from our
perspective than an over-the-hill controller who is struggling to keep up with the traffic.)

I've been playing with the idea of retiring relatively early for a while now.  I say "relatively" early because compared to some jobs, the window of
opportunity is pretty small.  We become eligible to retire some time around age 50, although it can be as early as 46, and with just a few
exceptions, we are kicked out the door no later than 56.  I've been counting down to my 50th birthday for a number of years simply because
that's the day when I can heave a sigh of relief and know that the preceding 25 years haven't all been for nothing.  If I were to lose my medical
certificate prior to that date, or get booted out of the job for any number of reasons, I could find myself unemployed after 24 years of service
without a pension to show for it.  Suffice it to say that I've been keeping an eye on my benefits, and have been crunching numbers for some time
now.  

For a while, I got fixated on what I'd be receiving per month if I stuck it out until my original target date of June 2, 2013.  That's a couple of months
before my 56th birthday, and 3 months before my 'mandatory' date of August 30, 2013.  The increase in my overall pension would have been
significant.  My epiphany moment came a few weeks ago when I was lounging in front of the radar scope with not many airplanes, intermittently
chatting with the guy working next to me.  He said he didn't want to look at his projected income for age 56 because he didn't want to get hung up
on that "big number".  My initial (and fortunately unspoken) reaction was that he was being either lazy or stupid.  Why base decisions on
incomplete data, I asked myself.  I'd want to be as thoroughly informed as possible before making a decision of this importance.

Silly me.  It took me a few days, but I got it.  He had an extremely valid point.  Sometimes it just doesn't pay to "go for the gold".  There comes a
moment when it doesn't make sense to chase the big bucks when settling for a bit less will result in a massive increase in quality of life in the
near future without sacrificing comfort later on.  God bless him for saying what he did.  I hit that realization two weeks ago.

And now that I've reached this point in the narrative, I realize two things.  One, I've gotten waaaaaaayyyyyyyy too serious; and two, I really need
to close this software and go iron some pants for work.  Showing up in my underpants might be one way to find myself out of work mere months
before hitting the all-important "Yippee!!  I'm 50!" mark.  

Dress code.                  Blech.  Did the newly instituted dress code enter into my decision?  Darned right it did.  

I'll come back to this as soon as possible.  The ticker on my Home page says I've got 397 days, 5 hours, and 3 minutes left before I'm out of work.
I'd like to spend a fair chunk of that interval posting "Facing Impending Retirement" revelations.  

Revelation #1:  I joined AARP today!!!  It's a really good feeling, because it brings the reality just one step closer, and will also provide some
benefits (now that I'm going to be on a fixed income) and some education about what lies ahead ... But I gotta tell you ... There just isn't anything
in life that will make you feel older than joining AARP.                At least for the interval while you're actually filling out your information in order to
join, you have to cast off all those illusions that you're still only 18 years old and that you really are Peter Pan's younger sister (or brother).  It's
downright humbling.  (Does the membership come with a walker and a lifetime supply of Geritol?)  

Back with more revelations as time permits.  
28 May 2007 -- 371 Days And Counting!  

Zoikes!  Once again, an entire month has zipped by without an entry in the Mushroom Patch while I was busy with silly things like work, sleep,
mowing the lawn, and doing laundry.  Poop.  I hate when that happens!  

Retirement Revelation #2:  The stuff you thought was important at work suddenly doesn't matter any more once the end is in sight.  

I'm in a very weird mental state right now that alternates between being more relaxed than I can remember in a very long time (the last time I was
feeling this laid back might have been when I was at the Air Traffic Academy for the first time in 1983), and totally stressed out over whether I've
projected my finances correctly.  I'm not at all worried about 2008 ... it's 2038 that has me a bit concerned.  (Good heavens, that's a strange
number to look at!  I won't
really be alive in 2038, will I?)  The day-to-day garbage that has been going on at work for the last ten or more years
slides right past me now that I know that I won't have to deal with it after June 2 of next year.  The kinds of stunts people pull aren't any less
childish or annoying than they ever were before; they simply don't matter anymore.

Let me give you a for instance of the kind of stupidity that goes on behind the scenes where the flying public normally never has a chance to
take a peek.  A time-honored method of giving a coworker a hard time is to tie their headset cord in knots.  Our headsets plug into the consoles
and we are tethered to our positions by what is essentially a long telephone cord -- three feet or more of stretchy, spiraled bounciness.  Most
everyone reading this probably grew up with telephone cords and knows what a project it is to untangle one that has become snarled.  (By the
way ... if you ever need to untangle a phone cord quickly and there's an air traffic controller in the house, hand it to the ATCS.  We're experts at
unsnarling those things.  We can even do it in the dark!  How that translates into a job skill for the future, I haven't a clue, but we're handy
anywhere there's a non-wireless phone attached to the wall.)  

Now imagine if someone has deliberately tied said phone cord into knots.  Before I drag everyone any further down the path-of-misconceptions,
let me say that I have never had to cope with this particular trick.  I'm using it as a starting point so you understand that what I encountered at my
facility is not an isolated case.  One of my coworkers, however, has taken this ATC tradition and gone one step further.  Periodically, someone
removes every removable part from my headset, then tucks it back in the cubbyhole where I store it, and goes on their merry way.  If they do it
right, I don't notice that bits are missing until I'm already on position and attempt to talk to an airplane.  

Let me stress that THIS IS NOT DANGEROUS.  There are always extra microphones and handsets lying around the work quarters.  It is merely
inconvenient.  Using something other than a headset merely ties up one hand every time we have to transmit, and means we can't wander
around the tower or the radar room while we're talking to airplanes.  
With the headset, we can step to the other side of the work quarters to grab
a pen, adjust some equipment, pull down a shade (in the tower), and still talk to the airplanes at the same time.  

So the point is that every six months to a year, some childish bozo at my facility removes all the extra bits from my headset -- the little microphone
end known as a 'boom', the clip to fasten the cord to my collar so the entire unit moves around when I move my head, the ear piece,
and all the
screws holding it together
-- and then ... I don't know what.  Perhaps he has a stash of dozen of teeny tiny screws hidden in his locker ... or
maybe he flushes all the communications paraphrenalia down the toilet in order to destroy the evidence.  I haven't a clue.  Boggles the mind,
doesn't it?

This used to annoy me.  I'd spend half a shift fuming at the childishness of it, stomp around in a self-induced quasi-fury for a bit, rant a bit about
the questionable maturity of at least one of my coworkers, and at the end of my shift, I would go home feeling tense and carrying yet another
backlog of unresolved anger.  (Not very mature of me either, is it?           )  

With 371 days left ... it just doesn't matter.  All it does is make me sad.  I love air traffic control so much, and I'm so proud of the job that
controllers perform every single hour of every day, and then I compare that love and pride to this juvenile trick and the fact that it has been
allowed to continue at my facility for years, and I sometimes want to cry.  

Pffffttt!!  But with 371 days left, none of that matters!!                  I mean really, really, really doesn't matter.  

Think about it!  Some fool sitting off in a corner, chortling diabolical chortles as he removes teeny tiny screws from a headset plug, and then, like
Igor, scuttles away to dispose of the evidence of his crime, terribly pleased with this evil deed that he has done.  Un-frelling-believable.    

But on to other thoughts ...

I'll tell you the "close my eyes and imagine this moment" part of retirement that is really kind of freaking me out.  Talking to an airplane for the
very last time.  I won't know what my last shift will be for another 10 months or so.  At this point, I don't even know whether I'll be working a day
shift, a night shift, or assigned a day off on June 2, 2008.  I'm kind of hoping that I'll be up in the tower for my last stint, and that my last control
instruction is to an aircraft that has just landed  "Turn right next taxiway, remain this frequency, taxi to the gate."  

Will I say anything to the pilot about it being my last action as a controller?  I doubt it.  Job done.  Pull my headset plug out, take one last look,
and go downstairs to turn in my ID badge, access card, and supply of replacement headset screws.  

Oh dear.  Now that made me tear up.  *sniffle*  

I can't wait.  

Signing off with 371 days, 2 hours, 48 minutes, and 22 seconds remaining of my career as an air traffic controller.   (But who's counting?)
6 September 2007 -- Looking Forward Instead Of Back

At some point, I'm going to have to get a new symbol to put underneath my signature in place of my little radar scope emoticon.  I'm thinking that
this one ...                    might be suitable.  

I'm just stopping in briefly to visit the Mushroom Patch.  I look forward to having the time to ramble on at length about thoroughly inconsequential
things.  I miss having the free time to sit down and put words on the screen for no reason other than to share the occasional stray thought.  For
the first few weeks after I made the decision to retire next year, I spent a fair amount of time thinking, "OMGWHID!!!"  (Oh my god, what have I
done?!?!?)  I was considering having some polo shirts made up with that emblazoned above the pocket, and wearing them to work.  That
particular phase of pre-retirementitis is over, however.  June 2nd of next year can't possibly come soon enough.  

That's it for tonight  One quick entry.  It's 1:30am, and time for bed.
20 September 2007 -- Old Does Not Equal Idiot

Here's a retiree's kind of a tale for you.  I find the entire situation, including my own series of reactions, both interesting and alarming:  interesting
because it reveals just how easy it would be to get suckered into a horrible situation; and alarming because ... it reveals just how easy it would be
for a trusting, unaware person or couple to get suckered into a horrible situation, and possibly, if all the pieces fell together in the perfectly wrong
way, lose absolutely everything.
The story goes like this ...

A couple of days ago, I decided to replace my bureau.  I've wanted to do this for quite a while; I've been saving
up money for a new one for close to half a year.  There's nothing wrong with the hunk of furniture currently
taking up a corner of my bedroom, except that my tastes have changed since the day I bought it.  I have lived
quite happily for close to twenty years with a very clean, sparsely designed teak armoire.  That thing.  Over
there to the right.  

Gorgeous bit of furniture, in like-new condition.  It simply doesn't go with the rest of the furniture in my bedroom
anymore (I'm leaning more toward shaker or 'unadorned country' these days).  

So I went out, ordered a new bureau that will fit in that space perfectly, and then put an ad in the local
newspaper to sell the armoire.  

This is where the fun begins!!    
Today was the first day that the classified ad ran.  I got my first call on the armoire around 10:00am this morning!!!  "Yippee!!!" thinks me!  "I'm
going to be able to vacuum in that corner before the new bureau arrives!!!"  The only unusual portion of the call is that it came in through an IT
relay.  "Ahhhh!  The buyer is deaf," me deduces.  So I confirm that the 'item' is still for sale (odd that they didn't just say bureau or 'armoire', but
heck, 'item' has a whole lot less letters in it, and it's easier to spell than bewrough or armwarr), I receive an e-mail address from the potential
I fire off an e-mail providing dimensions, description, and asking price, still pretty stoked that the armoire might sell so quickly.  Being habitually
cautious, I use my junk Yahoo e-mail account.  You know.  The one that catches all the spam and sales pitches that promise "get a larger penis
and balls".  (I keep ordering a set of those, requesting that they send them attached to something male, straight, about 6'2" tall, rich, and good
looking, and I never get an order confirmation.  What's up with that?)  I suppose being consciously cautious would be better than 'habitually' and
mindlessly cautious, but fortunately the outcome is the same, so I'll stick with the method that works even before I have any coffee in the
morning.  
I got a reply from the 'buyer'.  

Hello
Thanks for your email and i am interested in the price  and would love to pay by money order and  here is the final email i will send to you before
i can mail out the money order to you and this is in Regarding the shipping, I have a company that takes care of the pickup of my consignments
for me and ship to my destination in the U.S.A, you do not worry about shipping, the company will send down a representative to arrange the
sales documentation and the pick up from your end for onward transfer to my destination.
I also want to alert you on the fact that you will be receiving a money order, which will cover the money for the pickup (pickup and shipping to the
final destination) as well as the money to be  paid to the company that will take care of the pickup and the documentation with you.
So please, as soon as you receive the payment, go and cash it immediately,
deduct the money that accrues to you, and send the balance to the Head
Office of the company that handles the shipment via Western union.
The moneyorder will be in your name to make it easier for you to receive payment,please reconfirm your details one more time.I will give you the
details of the company that will be shipping the consignments as soon as we seal this
deal.Once the money is received by the agent  , the shipping agent will contact you immediately to arrange the documentation as well as the pick
up immediately.  So in view of the above,  here are some of the details I will need  for final issuance of the check or money order to you.
(1)  Full Name
(2)  Mailing address, no p.o.box  please
(3)  Your direct telephone number both home and cell.?
{4}  Acceptance of my offer
(5}  Final asking price
Once you get back to me with all the above, the  money order will be issued out immediately and it will be sent to you .Hope to hear from you
immediately.Looking forward to your swift response.
I will also be offering you extra $80 for keeping the consignments me till the shipper comes for the pick up.

What's frightening is that the alarm bells didn't go off until I got to the last line.  Wow.  The prospect of grabbing that extra $80.00 is like bait in a
trap, isn't it?  But seriously ... What buyer, private or commercial, is going to pay me $80.00 to allow MY bureau to go on sitting in the same spot
where it's been hanging out for the last 20 years?  At which point, I started to look at the message more closely.  For instance, there's the lousy
English and grammar, which reminds me of a whole slew of messages coming from a boatload of deposed princes from Naboobia who need my
money in order to recover their lost millions, after which they will reward me with lavish amounts of money.  Uh huh.  Yup.  And tomorrow at
2:00pm, $100.00 bills will be falling from the sky.  

My best guess is that shortly after sending the shipping money off to the King of Naboobia (who has a night job shipping consignments to some
destination in the U.S.A.), I would receive a call from my bank saying that the money order is counterfeit.  So I'd be out however much I had wired
to the King of Consignment Shippers, plus any fees I owed the bank, plus a very nice teak armoire (if someone showed up to actually take it),
plus the contents of my house if this turned out to be a passel of thieves, plus my identity and the entire contents of every one of my bank
accounts!!!  

Sheesh.  All I wanted was to get rid of a used bureau!!!  

I'll confess that in the interval between receiving this e-mail and the onset of Alarmbellitis, I sent an e-mail back to Senor Fraudulent, voicing
some concerns about internet fraud and phishing schemes, and asking for some more information about this supposed business somewhere in
the U.S.A.  (Show of hands.  How many of you Americans out there actually ever type U.S.A.?  It's the US ... right?  Unless you are a deposed,
former resident of Naboobia ... or a crook.)  An odd thing happened.  I did not get an answer.  

BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZT!!!  Busted!!!  

Now all I have to worry about is whether my phone number will give them any kind of access into my personal information.  I'm hoping that this
was just a counterfeit money order scheme, designed to fleece me out of the supposed shipping costs, as opposed to a full-fledged phishing
scam trying to nab my personal information.  I've got a hunch that if it was the latter, they would have tried to pick up my Social Security number
as well.  

What I find both scary and discouraging, however, is how easy it would be to fall for this.  Especially with that lure of $80.00 hanging there,
inviting some poor unsuspecting soul to stick their arm in between the metal-toothed jaws of the trap.  It was just under a quarter of the price I'm
asking for the armoire.  I'll bet the amount is calculated with a fair amount of forethought to be big enough to get people's attention fixated on it
without being so large that it seems thoroughly absurd.  In my case, $10.00 would have seemed absurd since I'm not in any kind of rush to get rid
of the teak cube in the first place.   

That's it.  Lesson for today:  If it looks like a great deal ... it's probably a bear trap.
14 November 2007 -- Goodbye, My Friend

I lost my beloved Jadzia Dax -- better know as Dax, or the Dax Factor, or Dax Attacks (used
whenever she managed to scare the living snot out of me by hugging my ankle first thing in the
morning) -- this afternoon.  What I originally hoped was her usual pre-winter three-day hibernation
turned into an extended hunger strike, and from there was eventually diagnosed as advanced
cancer somewhere in her abdominal cavity.  After a week of worrying, fussing over her, and more
mandatory snuggling than she has ever tolerated at any time in her life ... she is gone.  

The house is so empty.  
I brought Dax home to live with me in August 1993 -- just three weeks after I purchased my house.  
I hadn't even finished unpacking at that point.  I had books stacked up in the diningroom, cartons
strewn all over the house, and the extra bedrooms were a disaster area.  Perfect playground for a
kitten.

She was a 1.25 pound mini-cat, barely six weeks old. She and her siblings had been abandoned.  
They had been left in a cardboard box on the lawn in front of a dairy farm.  The wonderful people
who took her in, fed her, cared for her, and set about finding homes for the litter had no way of
knowing when the kittens had been born.  They took a guess at their age, and when they thought
the little puffballs were ready, they began finding owners.  The vet was able to pinpoint some
characteristics that placed her age closer to six weeks old, rather than the usual eight weeks.  
She spent the ride home and her first day in the house sneezing.  "Kitty allergies," I theorized.  "It's
the change in her environment.  Different dust than she's used to!"  Great theory ... until I noticed
that this tiny little micro-cat was sneezing up the most enormous, hideous green boogers.  (The
good news is that it enhanced the appearance of the dreadful, 20-year-old carpet in the house.)  
Zip the fluffball off to the vet.  The diagnosis was an upper respiratory infection and one of the most
thorough infestations of all types of mites imaginable ... all very common to cats abandoned at dairy
farms.  One shot of antibiotics and 24 hours later, I had a KITTEN on my hands!!!  

Zoooom ... up the stairs.  VROOOOOOOOM ... down the stairs and up the drapes!!!  Boing, boing,
boing, boing!!!  It's 3:00am, Lady!!!  Get up and PLAY with me!!!  (That little habit would go on for
the next 15 years, by the way.)  Hour long soccer tournaments in a cardboard box.  Yup, it's a kitten!
Dax loved sleeping in the sun (she was a cat, after all), mashed potatoes, spaghetti sauce, and
teriyaki chicken.  She hated cheese and vacuum cleaners.  On winter days, she liked to lie in front
of the fake wood stove (natural gas fired) and bake herself until she was uncomfortably hot to the
touch.  If there was a thunderstorm, she would squish herself under the recliner or hide in the
cellar.  Snow flakes were bad; rain was only to be endured if she could come inside soaking wet
and hop into my lap in order to share the water and wet fur.  

Sweaters left lying on the bed were fair game to be turned into a cat bed; but she had no interest in
a basket full of freshly laundered clothes.  (Probably knew it was too easy to just throw them back in
the washing machine.)  
She lived a solitary life.  Much of her time was spent alone in an almost silent house while I was at
work.  When I made up my mind to retire next June, one of my hopes was that Dax would live long
enough to enjoy some time when I was home to spoil her rotten ... or maybe that should be spoil her
even more rotten than I already had.

It wasn't to be.  

There is a cat door installed in the door to my porch.  The insert is in place so raccoons, skunks, and
other varmints can't get in.  There is a cat door in the door leading from the kitchen to the cellar.  It
awaits the arrival of a new furball that wants to explore the mysteries of the cellar, or wants to curl up
in the warm spot behind the dryer.  There's a sunny spot on the livingroom carpet.  No one is there.  
There is a thicket of Siberian Iris in the garden behind the house.  She liked to spend her summers
in there, either sleeping where it was cool or lying in wait, pretending to be a fierce predator lurking
in the long grass on the African plain.  One memorable evening, I waded into the thigh-high jungle,
searching for her.  I knew she was in there somewhere, and I wanted to bring her inside so I could
go to bed.  I figured she was snoozing and hadn't heard the "Tuna" call (it never failed to bring her
in), so I was hunched over, face close to the iris, using both hands to part the greenery in an
attempt to find her.  

"MWRRRRRRROAR!"  A black and gray blur leaped up right in my face.  I went over backwards on
my ass, squashing a significant portion of the African plain, while she sat off to one side, laughing
her furry little butt off, no doubt snickering, "Gotcha, Mom."  Score:  Dax - 1; Mom - 0.  
Dax is buried under the iris.  She would like it there.  
It's cool and shady in the summer, she can see what
is going on in the yards to either side of my house,
and she can lay in wait for unsuspecting humans to
wander by.  

She has her blue plaid fleece to lie on, some crunchy
snacks in case she gets hungry, and two of the little
felt balls that she has loved to play with since she was
a kitten.  

I miss her.
Dax on November 14, 2007.
Dax is home.
16 November 2007 -- Why You Should Pay Attention In Math Class

There was a near mid-air collision (in ATC vernacular, known as a NMAC ... pronounced Knee-Mack) at 25,000 feet over Indiana yesterday.  A
controller at Chicago ARTCC (enroute center) issued a descent to a Midwest jet that put it nose-to-nose at the same altitude with a United
Express jet.  I am going to skip over any conjecture as to how or why this happened.  At this point, only one person knows for sure:  the controller
working the two aircraft.  

Jump forward in time to the moment when a television newscaster was covering the almost-accident.  She said the two aircraft were converging at
the rate of
12 miles per second.  The second talking-head sitting in front of the camera questioned that statistic, and gave her a chance to fix it.  
She was quite certain of her facts, however, and insisted that they were converging at the rate of
12 miles per second.

Let me do the math for you, in case you haven't had your coffee yet this morning.  

12 miles per second  X  60 seconds in a minute = 720 miles per minute
720 miles per minute  X  60 minutes in an hour   =  43200 miles per hour

Now that is a closure rate, after all, which means that it represents the combined speeds of both aircraft heading toward each other, so we can
divide by two to get a rough idea of the forward velocity of each aircraft.  Answer:  21,600 miles per hour.  

All I can say to that is:
 ENGAGE!!

(She probably wanted 12 miles per minute.  That would be a closure rate of 720 mph, or 360 mph per aircraft, which is quite realistic.)

The moral of this story is:  Pay attention during math class ... or learn how to take a friendly hint from your fellow newscaster.