|Mushroom Patch -- Page 8
November 20, 2007 thru June 6, 2008
2 December 2007 -- Self-Perception
Still counting down to retirement!!! Only 182 days left!!!
I have come to believe that one of the biggest hurdles to be cleared whenever someone retires or changes careers is the process of redefining
self-image. Most people are a conglomeration of identities: mother, daughter, sister, friend, professional ... and however else they view
themselves. A person with a balanced life will probably define their self-perception as a mixture of these roles. Someone like myself, who lives
alone and does not have an especially strong family life, will often base a greater amount of their perspective and self-esteem on their
professional life. Give up or change that profession, and the personal upheaval can be severe.
I consider myself extremely fortunate. A couple of years back, I figured out that I had WAAAAYYYYYYYYY too much of my self-image invested in
what I did for a living, and began doing my best to shift some of the load. Picking a retirement date more than a year in advance (411 days in
advance, to be specific) also helped me prepare.
Today I had a total stranger in my house. He was there to look at a radial arm saw that I am trying to sell. After all the negotiations were
finished, we stopped to chat for a few minutes. Because it had taken a couple of tries before we found a day when we could connect, the topic of
my bizarre work schedule came up. He asked what I did for a living. "I'm a controller at the airport," says me ... and realized that for the first time
in 25 years, I was not thinking of myself as an air traffic controller. I wasn't thinking of myself as an ex-ATCS either. The person standing in my
front hallway talking to this very nice young man (married with kids, so don't anyone out there get any funny ideas!!) was simply ... ME!
Someone who is about to move on in life, and find something new and different to do for a living that doesn't involve airplanes or shift work or
worrying about whether today's weather is going to involve hazards to air navigation (such as thunderstorms, snow, turbulence, ice or any other
climatic condition that is considered "adverse" by aviation types).
It felt kind of weird ... but pleasant. I'll know for sure in 182 calendar days.
24 November 2007 -- Propaganda vs Math Class
I'm having a little trouble getting something to add up.
As I mentioned a few days ago, on 14 November, there was a near mid-air collision in Chicago ARTCC's airspace (see the entry for 15 November
2007 located at the bottom of page 7). In the aftermath of the incident, there has been a lot of fingerpointing going on between FAA
management and the controller's union (NATCA). I figure that a significant portion of the accusations and denials being hurled back and forth is
pretty standard proto-propaganda that tends to crop up whenever management and a union are bickering. I try to pick out the bits and pieces
that I think are facts, and try to ignore the remainder as inflated rhetoric.
Two pieces of information keep coming back to niggle at me, however. Management claims that Chicago ARTCC is "adequately" staffed. They
say that the staffing numbers for the facility are right where they are supposed to be. The union, on the other hand, has repeatedly mentioned
controllers working 6-day weeks.
What is bothering me is that management has not countered the union's claim about 6-day weeks. It seems to me that if the union was
exaggerating or stretching a situation into a public relations fib, that management would whip out the T&A's (Time and Attendance records) for
the facility and demonstrate that the controllers are NOT working 6-day weeks. So I'm taking it on faith that the controllers at Chicago Center
are, in fact, working enough overtime that they are starting to consider 6-day weeks as something other than an anomaly in their work schedule.
So here's where my math comes up short: Since when is staffing adequate when it requires regularly scheduled overtime? Must be the FAA's
version of New Math. (Who remembers 'new math'? Did I just prove how ancient I am?) There are undoubtedly some businesses and some
professions that think a 40-hour week is for occupational lightweights or the professionally faint-of-heart. Granted. However, I do not feel that
expecting aging air traffic controllers to consume a steady diet of overtime is in the best interest of the flying public.
Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe Chicago ARTCC is adequately staffed and the controllers are just trying to alarm the public in order to improve their
bargaining position. But if the whole 6-day work week is a large heap of baloney, why hasn't management countered with allegations that the
controllers are not working 6-day weeks.
This is not a whine-by-proxy ... or even a warm up to a real whine. While I am headed into a stretch of working 6-day weeks, I volunteered to be
on the overtime list, and two of the days I'm working for one of the other controllers so he can get some time off. I knew it was coming, and I
could have avoided all or part of it simply by not volunteering. So you won't hear any griping from this particular corner of the United States. I
guess what bugs me most about this situation is that no one -- media, politicians, or the general public -- has latched on to the inconsistency.
There endeth the blather for today.
20 November 2007 -- Drive-by Post
194 days left until retirement!!
This needs to be a short entry today ... Hey! I heard all that cheering out there!!!
As I was saying, this needs to be a short entry today because I'm contending with a couple of different computer problems, and it has been
snowing, which means I'll need to do a little driveway-scraping before I head off for work.
I wanted to stop in briefly to issue a blanket, one-size-fits-all THANK YOU!!! to the FAA for making sure that I have no regrets about retiring next
year. I've been trying to maintain a more positive attitude and outward presentation lately. I'm talking overall, not just work related. There are
times, however, when working for the Federal Aviation Administration puts my new policy to the ultimate test. I have discovered that when that
sort of thing happens, you need to turn your viewpoint around a little bit in order to reveal the positive side of a situation. In this case, I will be
forever grateful to the FAA for doing so much to ensure that I never look back on my decision to retire early and wonder if I did the right thing.
It's a rare and wonderful gift to be willing to exert so much effort into making sure that an employee knows they are doing the right thing when
they run out the door on their last day screaming, "Wooohoooo!! I'm free!! I'm free!!!!"
It may sound like a back-handed gripe, but it really isn't. I've had quite a few of those OMGWHID (Oh my god, what have I done?) moments over
the past couple of weeks. They have been banished, thanks to the efforts of FAA management -- both local and those upper echelon types who
exist in the more rarified Washington levels. My single regret is that I will be leaving some exceptional people behind to cope with top-down
management, the bureaucratic process (i.e. move at the same speed as tectonic plates), short staffing, endless training, and increasing levels of
traffic. I wish they could all make the hurried exit. There would be one heck of a party down near the lake next summer if they could.
9 December 2007 -- On Empty Corners and Missing Furballs
175 days until retirement (but who's counting?)
The house was too empty without my small furry buddy, The Dax Factor. This was the first time I had lived in constant, close companionship with
an animal, and then had to put her to sleep. I have never gone through the grieving-for-a-pet process. I did not know how waking up to discover
yet again that she is not on the bed would sap my energy, and set off a full-body ache of missing her. The silences and empty spots in the
house were incrementally dragging me down to the point where I sometimes found it difficult to function.
So I went out and got me a solution.
She is petite; she has some peculiar twitches and some fascinatingly erratic behaviors, and she is
gray and white. Therefore, her name is Pip. (This only makes sense if you are familiar with ...
yes, you guessed it ... Farscape.)
Pip is a 7-year-old shelter kitty. She was relinquished by an owner who was no longer interested in
taking care of this gorgeous creature, and she arrived at the shelter so infested with fleas that she
was sick and anemic. She also had a full quota of mites, worms, and probably ever other parasite a
cat can pick up along the way. In the five days that I have owned her, I have also determined that her
previous owners used hitting as a punishment. Pip will hiss to let me know that she doesn't like what
I'm doing, and then she will cower. I have begun the slow, painstaking process of teaching her that
she is not going to get hit anymore. I figure it may take a year, possibly more, before she will allow me to roll her on her back and rub her tummy.
We are still working out some of the more basic logistics of having her in the house. She wants to sleep on the pillow next to my head. I want her
on her cat bed ... which comes complete with a polar fleece pet blanket. I mean, what more could a spoiled furball ask for? (Obvious answer:
My pillow!) She is quite certain that I am her slave. I am staging a rebellion against servitude. She wants food available 24-7. I have noticed
that she is a glutton, and will clean out the dish no matter how much food I put in there. Whatever happened to cats automatically regulating
their intake based on their activity level? No free feed for this potential little porker!!
Like Dax before her, Pip is a bit leery of the vacuum cleaner, and she likes teriyaki chicken. Unlike
Dax, she can jump about twice as high, and has not been here long enough to learn that kitchen
counters and the dining room table are off limits. We're having some lovely battles over that issue.
She also likes to help me type when I'm working on the computer, which is nice since I can now
blame all typos on Pip.
She is currently sitting on my shoulder, critiquing this entry.
Although I wish it was Dax perched up there, offering the occasional suggestion, Pip will do. She's
29 December 2007 -- Stone Soup
156 days left until retirement
As the title of this entry has already stated, today's mental wanderings are dedicated to Stone Soup. I intend to take a pretty much empty chunk
of cyberspace, toss a conglomeration of unrelated thoughts and musings into it, and see what, if anything, comes of it.
Starting with the one item that has no relationship at all to everything else (this assumes any of the others are connected, which may turn out to
be a radically incorrect presumption) ... the latest addition to my household, the one I described as a "keeper" just two entries ago, is gone. I'm
talking about my shelter cat, Pip. After only two weeks of frustration, I took her back to the shelter. As I was doing the dastardly deed, I was
concerned that I was being even more hasty about returning her than I had been when I brought her home. My reaction when I stepped into a
once again empty house (unmitigated relief) demonstrates that it was the right decision. I feel bad for giving her such a short tryout, but it seems
to have been a poor match. Unfortunately, the short interval of having a furball back in the house -- even one that I was tempted to strangle on
more than one occasion -- has intensified my grief over losing the Dax Factor. I miss her with an intensity that I never could have predicted.
I hate waking up in the middle of the night, reaching down to pet her, and finding a cold, empty spot on the comforter. *sigh*
But on to cheerier events.
I went for a walk today. Yes! A real, get-up-off-my-keister-and-go-outdoors kind of walk. Not just a leisurely stroll from the diningroom to the
livingroom and back. Astounding concept, I know, but the sun was shining, the slush was turning into rivers of melt-water streaming over sheets
of ice (perfect surface for a winter walk in Vermont), and I actually had some free time on my hands. That last part is the factor that I find a little
unreal. I've been working 6-day weeks pretty steadily ever since I got back from Burbank at the beginning of November. Some of those 1-day
weekends were my fault. I volunteered to work for a controller who retired last week. The FAA had spent more than a year playing games with
some of his leave, and he was trying to burn off some earned time that he would not be compensated for if he retired before he used it all. I felt
that covering for him was a good enough cause for giving up two days off. One of the 1-day weekends was due to my days off changing. It
happens every 7 months or so. The remainder were the result of overtime. In any event, it's been a long slog with very little time off.
On a more positive note, it has retrained me to be more efficient with my free time. Now that I have 2-day weekends back, it feels like I've got
huge vacations every week. Wondrous! Which is how I found myself with a couple of free hours to wander about in the sunshine. This is
December in Vermont, however, which means that taking a walk involves changing into lightweight long johns, a turtle neck, and a thick
sweatshirt; and then putting on windpants, boots, a jacket, a hat and gloves. As I was bundling up, I was reflecting that part of the reason I
wanted to get outdoors was for the fresh air and sunshine. I wanted the Vitamin D recharge. You know the one I'm talking about -- the
photochemical vitamin that our body produces when we expose our epidermal layers to sunlight. The one that provides a little turbo boost to
your immune system and a couple dozen other physiological benefits that we can't easily reproduce with pills or potions.
Good thing it wasn't subzero today. At that point, I usually pull my hat down to a spot slightly below my eyebrows, yank my jacket collar up so it
comes to rest somewhere north of my upper lip, and try not to let any cold air leak in along any of the clothing-joints. That leaves less than one
square inch of skin exposed to serve as some kind of probiscatory solar collector. While the human nose has a lot of unique qualities and
remarkable abilities packed into one small package of cartilage, tissue, and skin, I'm not sure how much Vitamin D one poor snoot can provide in
the space of a 30 minute winter walk!
Speaking of noses, I bet I'm boring the snot out of you ... aren't I?
The temperature was closer to 40 degrees, there was very little wind, and the sun was shining. I suspect I got about 2% of the US RDA of
Vitamin D, but it's better than nuthin'. It was also very odd being out on a Saturday. Five months out of seven, my days off land on a pair of
days parked between Monday and Friday. I seldom get outdoors and wander around on a weekend when the rest of America is out there. I
made an amazing discovery today. PEOPLE live in my town!! Yes! Real, live PEOPLE! Astounding. I always suspected they were there. I've
never had an opportunity to actually observe them, however. Fascinating.
On the way back to the house, I was watching airplanes on approach to the airport. (I live about half a mile off the final approach to the main
runway at Burlington Airport whenever they are landing to the northwest.) I wound up standing in one spot, stalled, once again reflecting on what
it will feel like when I am no longer involved in the aviation industry. For so long, I've had 'ownership' in every aircraft that flies past my house. I
have had involvement, insider knowledge ... emotional entanglement with their well-being. As of June 3, 2008, they will nothing more than
airplanes ... and someone else's problem. I know I've been harping on this theme for a number of entries. Forgive me for returning to it once
again. It continues to boggle my mind.
And excites the hell out of me.
I forgot to ask before we started ... Is it June yet?
Switching to a different topic that is still (regrettably) connected to work, the FAA is now officially offering retention bonuses. Details have not
burbled to the surface yet. All we have heard is that there will definitely be financial incentives for not retiring. The kinds of things we do NOT
know include: what staffing level will trigger the bonuses for a particular facility (dropping below 70% has traditionally been considering 'critical'
staffing), what length of time a controller will have to commit to staying in order to qualify for the retention bonus, how much money is being
offered, whether this will include a waiver to stay past the perhaps-not-so-mandatory retirement age of 56, and what sort of penalty will be
incurred if someone retires before their commitment is fulfilled.
No matter. I'm not interested. I've made my commitment ... to getting out of the FAA. I can't think of an amount of money that could entice me to
stay beyond June 2nd. I'm only blathering on about it because I was predicting retention bonuses as early as the summer of 2006. I figured it
was the only way the FAA was going to be able to stave off the tsunami of retirements. (This isn't a flood or a tide. This sucker is a galaxy-sized
migration out of government service!)
Did I manage to create 'stone soup'? I don't believe so. There's nothing tying any of this stuff together. I think what we've got here is more
along the lines of a buffet. Lots of offerings, and no two are dependent on each other.
Time to give up while I'm ahead. Chances are, if I try to tie this all together, I'll only wind up blathering more than I already have.
6 January 2008 -- Drive-by Post
Happy New Year, and only 147 days left until retirement!!
Okay ... I have a confession to make. I'm counting the days.
I'm stopping in today for very little other than to share the picture to the right. I don't
believe it requires insights, revelations, or any kind of explanation that makes use of
words. I get a lump in my throat every time I look at it.
I no longer have an opinion on whether or not we should be in Iraq and Afghanistan. All I
want at this point is for all our men and women in uniform to come home healthy, whole,
and alive ... and I know that is not going to happen any time soon.
Ricocheting off in an entirely different direction, I came across this picture initially at a site
called I Can Has Cheezburger. It's a good place to get a daily giggle. Don't question the
name of the site or the spelling on the pictures; just go with what's being presented, and
enjoy the humor. There are several running gags in there (walruses losing their buckets,
monorail cats, and a few others). If you feel the overwhelming need to figure them out, go
back to the beginning (page 1 of the images), and you'll see how the jokes got started.
(Might be easier to just quirk an eyebrow and move to the next picture.)
23 March 2008 -- Drive-by Post
39 days left until retirement!
I wonder what it will be like to not fall asleep every time I have a few free moments to myself and choose to spend them sitting down?
Earlier today I was thinking about one of the flights I have scheduled for this coming summer, and was envisioning sitting on the airplane, waiting
for the door to close in preparation for taxiing to the runway. For as long as I can remember, I usually fall asleep within a few minutes of getting
settled in my seat. I wake up as we leave the gate. I can generally fall asleep anywhere, anytime of day or night, within 15-20 seconds after
getting situated so my head is supported in some fashion -- be it resting against the back of my chair or propped on my hand. This unenviable
talent is the product of working rotating shifts jammed into what is known as a 'compressed' work schedule (I go to work earlier each successive
day of the work week), and long-term chronic lack of sleep.
Then I started thinking about sleeping the same hours every night, and getting 8 hours of sleep every night, and realized that the day is probably
going to come when I no longer fall asleep at the drop of a hat. It is going to be weird.
That's as far as my thinking goes, this evening. It's going to be odd.
29 March 2008 -- Another Milestone
Today I reached another milestone in my trek toward retirement. My final shift has been scheduled. I have written my shifts on my calendar for
the last time. (Last time in the FAA, anyway. If I get another job later this year, I may have to start writing my work schedule down again. You
know how forgetful us senior citizens get. )
I thought it would be disconcerting to turn the page and find my initials missing from the daily worksheets we use to keep track of coverage and
position assignments. Nope. All I felt was a stupendous sense of relief. My only regret at this point is that I didn't back up my retirement date to
April 2, instead of May 2nd. Eh. In the grand scheme of things, that's chump change.
Now if I can only remember to take my camera to work a few times over the next month to get a few final pictures from the control tower. <bangs
head against keyboard, attempting to imprint the letters 'T-A-K-E-C-A-M-E-R-A-T-O-W-O-R-K" on her forehead>
5 April 2008 -- Is Winter Finally Giving Up?
At long last, I am out on the porch, basking in the spring sunshine. Most of the snow is gone, there is a hint of green in the wasteland that once
was my yard, and the birds are making a hideous racket that is music to my ears. I had begun to think winter was never going to give up. I'm
debating whether to go get a screen or two and slap them in a couple of windows simply to let some fresh air into the house.
40ºF. Maybe not.
Still, it's nice enough on the porch with the winter windows still in place.
1 May 2008 -- One Day Left
One shift left and then I am no longer an air traffic controller. To say that I have mixed emotions about this event might be the understatement of
the century. I cannot arrange words on the page adequately to express my relief to be getting out of the FAA and Burlington Tower ... and I will
miss working the traffic and watching the airplanes with an intensity that is equally difficult to describe. I do not regret my decision to leave,
however. That was -- and still is -- the right thing to do. As much as I will miss being a controller, what lies ahead holds more promise and more
excitement than anything the FAA could possibly offer.
Having said that ... there are some things that simply cannot be replaced. Having an Airbus taxi through employee parking is one of them.
|Click on the picture for a larger image.
5 June 2008 -- Newly Mown Grass and Beer In My Glass
It's 6:15pm, and I'm sitting on my porch watching two of my neighbors mow their lawns. I'm not feeling 100% smug. I mowed mine earlier today. I
do, however, have a Corona next to my elbow ... in a GLASS ... with a real slice of lime in it. The temperature is just about perfect for shorts and
a t-shirt, with the promise that I'll need a sweatshirt later in the evening; and the air is dry. We've had a lot of rain over the past couple of weeks,
so the grass is about as thick and lush as it ever gets, and everyone's garden is going berserk.
I wonder if the pleasure I get out of evenings like this will eventually wear off as I spend more evenings on the porch, or if I will continue to
breathe deep and find pleasure in the mundane routines of suburban life?
The only thing marring the evening is a mild south wind. This time of year, it always floods the low spots (like our neighborhood) with the aroma
of freshly flung cow manure. Could be worse, I suppose. I could live next to a municipal waste treatment facility. This, on the other hand, is
natural. It's the smell of things growing.
Who am I kidding? It's the smell of poop.
6 June 2008 -- Lab Rats In The Mirror
I had a small revelation today. I don't know whether it's good or bad that I had it while doing about 85 mph during an attempt to pass a trailer
truck that seemed hell bent on making sure he reached the finish line first. If we had been going downhill at the time, I would have assumed
gravity, mass, acceleration and all that good jazz were at play. But since we were on the flat and taking into account that I had been sitting
behind him doing about 68 for the last 20 miles, I have a hunch this was a case of Checkered Flag Syndrome. Or maybe the driver just didn't
like following silver Subaru Foresters.
And no, the revelation had nothing to do with trailer trucks or the I-89 Speedway (commonly known as the Vermontobahn).
I realized that leaving a job, for whatever reason -- retirement, relocation, removal or for no reason other than relaxation -- is a lot like getting
divorced. Or perhaps it's the other way around. Or perhaps both conditions are part of a larger subset that includes any situation that requires
a redefinition of self. I am recently retired, however, not recently divorced, so I get to view the similarities from my vantage point. The point of
this potentially pointless drivel (the Mushroom Patch is advertised as a place for "shallow revelations", after all) is that no matter how prepared
you are for this upheaval in your life, there are facets of it that you cannot possibly prepare for in advance. Pieces of your life suddenly go
missing, and no matter how eager you are to divest yourself of those bits, a part of your psyche keeps trying to find them or compensate for
A recently divorced woman might rejoice at being rid of her mate, but for a while she will continue to lift her foot over the spot where he always
left his shoes, or she will unconsciously glance to see if he's tossed his socks in the corner. It doesn't matter that each time she does it, she is
pleased to discover that there are no shoes or socks. Once the initial joy dies down, the brain goes on attempting to compensate for what is no
longer there ... and that can be strangely unsettling. The cause is easy to pinpoint. The symptoms continue to catch me by surprise because
they hinge on something that is not there and they tend to shift based on what I am doing at any given moment. Anxiety, an irrational sense of
dread, uncertainty, and a precursor to depression that feels like depression is knocking at the door, asking to be let in. It's not there, and it can't
arrive if I don't let it, but it means I have to remember to keep the door shut.
I know all of this will pass. I'm not concerned about it. The remedies are pretty simple: I need to focus on the next stage of my life and busy
myself with the kinds of tasks that will support my new career even if I am not actually writing. I find this all interesting in an academic kind of way.
I'm studying a lab rat by viewing it in a mirror (which might explain why I seem to be going through life either backwards or in reverse).
To which, my best reponse is ...
Oh, there is no expanse of the mind the will cannot traverse,
Or physically the distance laid across the universe.
His blessings many in the stars, say one lamented curse,
That Sixteenth Rygel, glory me, must travel in reverse!
"Oh Gawd," groan all the non-Scapers. "Not that Farscape thing again."
But how better to end a self-introspective, entirely self-absorbed entry, than by quoting Rygel the Sixteenth?