My Sentimental Journey Part 1

My Sentimental Journey – 2011

Several years ago I got the idea to take a trip across the country visiting places I wanted to see and places I had lived or had fond memories of.  I hung a map of the US on one of my bookcases and scribbled various points of interest.  Years went by and we moved and the map came down but not the desire.

I am writing this account of my trip for myself. I am publishing it for anyone who is interested. Several people I have told about my trip have asked if I had read “Travels with Charley” by Steinbeck. I had. I also read “Blue Highways” by William Least Heat Moon. And I had read a series of articles in the Ashland Daily Tidings by Don Dolan when he took his trip across the country. And I read a blog by a family I met trying camping with Lucy several years ago. They had sold their house bought a truck and an Airstream trailer and took their 8 year old little girl for a trip of a life time. They visited unusual places. Their trip is chronicled at “” I don’t think this journal will be like any of those.

So here we go. Friday morning, the eleventh of March, 2011, at 9:15 Lucy, our dog, and I set off across the country. We are going to visit people and places for the next four or five weeks. Our itinerary will take us to Janet Martin, Michele’s sister in law in Truckee, CA, Erica Burkett and her family near Reno NV (she’s Michele’s niece) The Hot Springs campground in Beatty, NV, the new bridge near Hoover Dam, the Murrah Memorial in Oklahoma City. Then we will meet Michele at the airport in Atlanta. We’ll see the cherry blossoms in Macon GA, Savannah, GA, Charleston, South Carolina, The Blue Ridge Parkway to Winchester, VA, a week in Washington, DC and then Michele flies home and Lucy and I continue on to New York to see my cousin, Boston to see my niece and nephew, Chicago, Omaha, NE to see Michele’s cousin, Judy and her husband Joe, Denver to see my old class mate, Nick Nikkel, and home.

I’m writing this the evening of the second night on the road at Baileys Hot Spring, Beatty, NV. I just spent 20 minutes in a hot spring and am feeling very relaxed. Earlier I was feeling a little crazy, like I used to get at the end of a day commuting to or from Livermore from Ashland.

I wanted to travel the “Blue Highways,” the roads less travelled. I told the GPS to avoid highways thinking that that would keep me off the interstates as much as possible. We weren’t five miles from home when the GPS started giving me bad advice. At the end of Siskiyou Blvd it wanted me to take a left onto route 99. I wasn’t about to go cross country across and perpendicular to Interstate 5 so I ignored its advice. 15 minutes later it told me to get off I5 at Hilt. That was OK because I wanted to stop at the liquor store there to see if my lottery tickets had paid for the trip. ($40 invested in tickets returned $1 in winnings, not my best investment.) I wondered where it wanted to take me because there is nothing at Hilt, Well, it told me to gat back onto I5. I guess it thought if I wanted to avoid Highways I could avoid a bit of them by exiting and returning at every off ramp. I don’t know how it wanted to take me to Janet’s house. I see now that I should have stopped and checked its route. It might have had a better idea of how to get to Truckee than I did. I took 89 and ignored the GPS trying to get me back onto I5. I decided to give it another chance as I was driving down 395 from Susanville. Everything was going fine and we were having no disagreements when the GPS told me to take the Janesville Road. (I think that was the name of the exit.) I got concerned when what was ahead was snow covered mountains and a sign that said “Janesville Grade 20 miles ahead.” I remember the family that got caught on a snow covered road that their GPS had suggested. I stopped and looked for a California map. Oops! I had emptied all my collection of maps before this trip because I didn’t need them anymore. I had a GPS! I zoomed out the GPS and saw that its route was just about as long as going trough Reno. Then the GPS told me that my route was an hour quicker than the one it had picked.  I had told GPS to pick the shortest route rather than the quickest. That almost cost me a trip to the snow it later cost me most of the hour I had saved. Being that I was ahead of schedule I thought I’d visit Trader Joe’s before going to Janet’s. The GPS took me straight through downtown Reno and showed me a red light on almost every intersection.

Well, I got to Janet’s only five minutes late, but the guy who came to the door wasn’t Janet. He was the guy who rents Janet’s house. She lives in her other house! Michele had given me the wrong address. A few minutes later I got to the right house and had a nice visit. Janet was amazingly composed for a woman who had lost her husband less than two weeks before.

Before the night was out GPS got me again. It told me to take the first exit from the round-about it neglected to tell me that it meant the second round-about, not the first. In all the confusion I neglected to watch my fuel gauge.  Until the low fuel warning light came on! It took me forever to find a gas station. I needn’t have worried, I still had three gallons left.

After a brief visit with Erica and her husband, Nathan, Lucy and I slept in the camper in their driveway. This morning we met their two year old son, Elijah. What a beautiful little boy. I gave Nathan and Elijah a tour of the camper. Later he told Erica that the camper had a bathroom and a bed and trash. I guess I should have put more stuff away. From the mouths of babes!

When I filled the truck’s tank the night before the pump stopped at $80 and the tank wasn’t full. When I left Erica’s I noticed that I had only traveled 11 miles from the gas station. The GPS said that it was 8 miles to route 395. I decided to double back and get the good price gas to fill up rather than get a higher price out in the boonies to which I was headed. Oops! The GPS was taking me out of their town by a different route than we had taken in. In all, I wasted 32 miles trying to save a few pennies a gallon. Then gas was cheaper down the road in Carson City. Not my worst investment but not my best.

Later in the day I made the mistake of not turning back. I passed a sign just south of Walker Lake. It said something to the effect “Navy Underwater Demolition Test Site.” I wish I had turned back and gotten a picture of that sign in the middle of a desert a hundred miles from any navigable water. The ride was perfect. It was a meditation in motion. Snow capped mountains, rugged rocky outcroppings, desert, long stretches of road with no traffic for miles in either direction. At one point I caught myself working on the cradle I’m building for Shonnon’s baby. I have an intricate milling job to get the bottom rails to also support the bottom of the cradle. I was deep in thought about the various cuts I will have to make. Then I thought of Huxley’s “Island.” “Here and now, boys, here and now!” The parrots were taught to repeat to remind the inhabitants to live in the here and now. I put away my thoughts of next month and went back to enjoying the scenery. Is it God forsaken or God’s country? It is quite amazing.

Day 3: Beatty to Meteor Crater: Daylight savings time came in last night. We didn’t change our clocks right away. We got a leisurely start. I threw the ball for Lucy and we had our breakfast and disconnected the camper and got on our way to Hoover Dam. More deserted highway. 395 does not get a lot of traffic 30 miles or more above Las Vegas. It is mostly one lane in each direction with an occasional passing lane on the steeper grades.  Then we got to Mercury. Mercury is a small settlement about 60 miles north of Las Vegas. The sign said “Divided Highway Ahead.”  And suddenly the traffic that couldn’t fill 2 lanes was spread out over 4! 40 miles of empty highway until we got to about 20 miles above Las Vegas then everybody joined us. I have been used to travelling in remote, sparse areas. Las Vegas freaked me out. Too many cars going too fast and passing too close. After Henderson it eased up but only for a bit. Boulder City’s approach to Hoover Dam was stop and go, mostly stop. I don’t know why there was such a backup. I saw nothing where the traffic started moving again.

To get to Hoover Dam one must submit to being searched by Security. It was reminiscent of going to the lab but these guys were no so thorough. They didn’t even climb into the camper much less open the drawers.

We pulled into the parking area for the walkway over the new Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge. Wow! What a sight. If you floated the Transamerica Pyramid on the Colorado River it could pass under this bridge without touching. It is 890 feet above the Colorado River. The arch spans 1060 feet.

This is my picture of the bridge from the dam.

This is a picture of the bridge while it was being built. For more details visit “”

We walked onto the new bridge and took some pictures of its superstructure. Then we drove over the Hoover Dam. I parked on the Arizona side and walked onto the dam and took some more pictures. Then we drove back over the dam so we could drive over the new bridge. It is so big and still so delicate. What an adventure.

I have been having power ( or brain) problems. Last night I didn’t notice that I hadn’t inserted the power cord for my computer all the way.  Fortunately I save my work frequently so I didn’t lose too much when the computer quit when its battery ran out.  I also didn’t notice that the power supply for the cooler was not supplying power. The plug is tricky and if it is not wiggled just right, no juice! Tonight I was careful to plug in the power supply for the computer but I didn’t notice that it wasn’t charging. And I forgot that when the guy at the campground showed me the outlet into which I was later to plug in the camper he remarked that the breaker was turned off! So, again, I lost a lot of my work. I promise to be more careful tomorrow. I’ll make different mistakes, then.

Day 4: Meteor Crater to Santa Rosa NM: We left Meteor Crater Campground at about 9. Soon I was repeating “Wow!,” “Ahhh!,” Wow!.” The scenery was breath taking. There are two geologic structures in the Rogue Valley called Upper and Lower Table Rock. They are quite impressive. In Arizona they’d be kiddy table rocks. We passed The Petrified Forrest and The Painted Desert. I was exercising my neck muscles all day first to the left then to the right. And the trains! Route I 40 runs parallel to a pair of train tracks. It seemed to be one freight train after another. I noticed a lot of JB Hunt and Swift logos and then realized I haven’t seen so many of them on the roads. Could they have switched from highway to railway? What a great way to save fuel. Then around Grants the flat plain we had been riding through between the Mesas and buttes was pock marked with lava fields. I saw no sign of a volcano, but miles and miles of rough black lava fields. After Albuquerque the scenery settled into rolling hills and flat plains, not exciting, but beautiful none the less. For a while today I let my mind wander to what could have been. I kicked myself for not being more persuasive with Michele and talking her into the whole trip. I’m sorry she missed the sights I was seeing and I missed not being able to share them with her. I surprised myself with my effusiveness when I told her about my day on the phone this evening.

Day 5: Santa Rosa to Shawnee, OK: Shawnee: In my world, trees have trunks and branches,  bushes have multiple stems from one base. I don’t think I saw a tree from California to 50 or 100 miles into Oklahoma. None in Texas.  I was 150 miles into Texas before the first “Rest Stop.” There had been “Picnic areas” and “Parking areas” but no “Rest Stops.”  The picnic areas and parking areas had no toilets! I was beginning to believe that Texans didn’t defecate. Which reminded me of the story about the 400 pound Texan who died. Someone asked the undertaker how he was going to find a coffin big enough. “No problem. We’ll give him an enema and bury him in a shoe box.” But, back to the rest stop: The one Texas Rest Stop was outstanding with terrazzo floors and faux granite walls between the stalls. It was clean and beautiful, if not worth the wait.

Day 6: Shawnee to Hurricane Mills, TN: The trees changed as we went from Texas to Oklahoma to Arkansas to Tennessee. They became more tree like, with trunks and branches. The further East we got the more green we saw, both in  the fields and in the buds of the trees. Also we saw more and more trees in bloom. Between Texas and Tennessee I only saw two places along the freeway that had daffodils, the second had bunches and bunches about 50 feet off the freeway. Riding through Oklahoma the land was flat and I could see to the horizon most of the time with few geologic structures or trees. Arkansas and Tennessee had hills rising more and more the more east I got and the trees enclosed the freeway so that most of what I saw was trees in various states of waking from winter. Gray, slightly green or red or covered with blossoms. And the Kudzu. I’d heard about it but this is the first time I’ve seen it. It’s like a blanket over fences and bushes and trees. At this time of year it has no leaves. It looks like giant spider webs.

Day 7: Hurricane Mills, TN to Atlanta/Forsyth, GA:  I found Hickory nut shells in the campground dog walk area in Hurricane Mills. I don’t remember ever seeing a Hickory tree before. The campground does not bill itself as being in Hurricane Mills. It says it’s in Buffalo. But the GPS says there is no such place as Buffalo. There’s a Buffalo Valley, but is nowhere near Hurricane Mills and the campground in “Buffalo.” The Exit from the freeway says “Buffalo.” My bet is that the campground didn’t think that “Hurricane Mills” would do as much for business as “Buffalo.”  This morning was to be devoted to making the camper habitable for Michele. I changed the slats in the blind behind the table. Seemed like a good idea at the time. It would be a difficult job to take out the old blind and install a new one. When the job was done and I tried to raise the blinds I found that the new slats had holes for the pull strings about a quarter of an inch away from where the old ones were. It made ascent and descent not impossible but difficult. Then we were on our way. We had little time to spare if we were to get to the airport in time to meet Michele.  But I was not about to let a rush interfere with my enjoyment of the trip. Nashville, Chattanooga, more Wow! Trees! On this trip I came to realize that there are no two trees alike. They are all different. The land through Tennessee and into Georgia is gently rolling with few cliffs or bluffs except where roads or rivers have carved them out. The cliffs we saw displayed many layers of sedimentary rock. Each layer probably not more than a foot thick. Thinking of geologic time made me feel very insignificant but very much in awe. We saw many flowering trees. Maybe cherries heralding the Macon festival. They were mostly round like white balls on a stick but some were more pointed like arrows with rounded bottoms. As I drove I was experiencing a wonderful sense of calm and peace and tranquility. The calm and peace were not broken by traffic or the frantic push to get to the airport on time. The speed limit was 70 and I was driving at about 69. Suddenly I noticed the traffic in front of me was stopped! I jammed on the brakes and checked the mirror. There was a semi bearing down on me. I started to pull off onto the shoulder until I saw that he had successfully stopped. There was a lot of smoke coming from his trailer’s rear tires and the trailer had swerved and was at about a 25 degree angle to the line of traffic. Traffic was stop and go for about twenty minutes. I am trying to enjoy every moment and I have been mostly successful. I noticed my language was not always what my mother would have approved of. I think I will try to filter some of my words. We got to Atlanta on time. Even had to circle the airport arriving area several times before Michele made it from the plane to the baggage pickup area. The dynamics are much different t with Michele here than when it was just Lucy and I. Rumicubes games instead of typing at Word.  But my peace and smile abide. I even accepted Michele’s anger that I had not made reservations at campgrounds for the week we’re in the truck. I don’t want to commit to being a certain place every night. I want to play it by ear and if we can’t get in a campground, there’s always the Walmart parking lot. We ate at a Cracker Barrel restaurant, had to try it just as I had to try a Waffle House. It was not great but not disappointing either. Wow, people in Georgia are wide.

Day 8: Forsyth/Macon: Even as we watch, the trees get greener. But our purpose in Macon is to see the Cherry Blossoms. They are white and they are everywhere. There is a “Cherry Blossom Trail” map that we got at the info center. A woman Michele met while she was taking pictures said that they get Pink later. I saw a few trees tending toward pink. On the Cherry Blossom Trail most mailboxes had pink ribbons attached; many houses had cutouts of pink poodles in their front lawns.

Day 9: Macon to Savannah, GA: We got to see what that woman meant when she told Michele the cherry blossoms turn pink. The trees that were white yesterday were turning pink today. Michele toured some old houses while I got some supplies to fix up a gadget to remind me if the cooler is not being powered. Lucy and I drove around a bit and saw some beautiful old mansions from the days of the old south. A lot of them are split into apartments now. Some had “For Rent” signs in front.

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How I changed the computer Service Manager at ISD

How I changed the Computer Service Manager at ISD (2/2010)

In 1974 I got a job with a company that sold time on Supercomputers. They were in Oakland but moved to Santa Clara. Information Systems Design rented their computers from a company that had in the rental agreement that all service be performed by computer manufacturer. We could not shop for a competitive firm to do the service. If we didn’t like the service, we were stuck.

As Operation Manager it was my job to deal with the service on our computers. I was warned when I took the job, that I would have trouble with the difficult service manager. I soon understood why. I despised the service manager. I thought he was a lying weasel. He would quote “company policy” to deny our requests for upgrades.

I distinctly remember sitting in a meeting one day when I had difficulty concentrating on the subject at hand because I was so pissed with this guy. I realized that I had no choice but to find a way to deal with him. He was the Service Manager. Our contract required we deal with his company. So I decided to get creative. I decided to find a way to loath him less. I tried to find a way make him less odious. I told my self that his mother loved him. But the picture I got was of an ugly granny type whose love did not raise my sympathy. When that didn’t work I mentally regressed him to being a little boy and crying to his mother that he had scraped his knee. She kissed him and held him. It was a sweet scene but I still disliked him, maybe was even happy that he’d hurt himself.

This called for drastic measures. I knew nothing of his personal life. As I recall, he was probably in his early to mid forties. In my imagination I gave him a wife and kids. I pictured him at breakfast in a bathrobe and messy hair. His wife put her arm around him lovingly and his kids kissed him goodbye as they left for school. If his kids and wife could love him, couldn’t I at least tolerate him? That relieved my tension enough for my mind to come back to the meeting. I never told him what I had done. I don’t recall doing anything different with him, but, from that day on he was easier to get along with. Sometime later he even bent some company rules to get us some concession I requested.

I am still amazed at how different he was after I changed me. When I stopped hating him he started liking me. Wow! What power! I could change the relationship by  changing myself, not the other person.

I suspect that that experience has changed all my relationships since. I know it has made me a better husband and father.

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On Kidney Stones



As of May 2010 I have had a total of 6 kidney stones that I know of.  They have all been different. In June of 1970 I was experiencing the stress of a marital separation. The first Kidney stone came on me with no warning and was a constant pain for five days while I was drugged with Demerol in the Albany Hospital. In the middle of the last night I felt a very sharp and sudden pain and then relief. The next time I peed the tiny rock came out and I went home to recover from the drugs. A week or two later the second stone arrived. I was moving from one house to the other and didn’t have time for another hospital stay. I bound my sides with moving tape and carried boxes of books down the stairs. During one such load the stone broke loose and the shooting pain had me almost throw a fifty pound box through the ceiling. But the stone was gone and so was the pain. The third stone snuck up on me over the next several months. It never caused real pain just slight discomfort and a strange sensation when I urinated. In September I made an appointment with my doctor to talk about it. The day before the appointment as I was peeing in the morning I heard a plink in the toilet and felt a strange shot in my urine stream. There at the bottom of the toilet was a stone a little larger than an eighth of an inch long. It was shaped like a Rice Krispie.


The fourth stone came and went in one day. I think it was about June of 1998. It hit at night. By the next noon it was unbearable. I went to Alta Bates Hospital in Berkeley and they gave me some morphine (I think). An hour or two later I passed the stone and was back in shape in a day or two. I don’t recall any specific stress at the time.


In September 2007 I was diagnosed with Lymphoma and around April 2008 with Prostate Cancer. I don’t recall the specific details but over a period of one or two weeks the kidney stone pain came and went. I was treated with Toridol several times and on a Wednesday had Lithotripsy.  The pain continued until Saturday when I passed some pieces of the stone.


Starting in February of 2010 I have been getting chemotherapy for the lymphoma. In March I had an intestinal blockage that required emergency surgery that removed some six inches of my small intestine. This was a week after my second infusion. A CT scan showed “nonobstructing calculi” in each kidney. A month later after my third infusion I felt that old familiar kidney stone pain for a day or two, not as intense as I had experienced before but anything but pleasant. Then it went away. Three weeks later it came back with a bang. My GP suggested Vicodin and if that didn’t work the emergency room. It didn’t work. But while I was in the ER the pain subsided. The next day I had several hours of pain that made all the other Kidney pain seem slight. I have never hurt so badly. And then it went away. Three weeks later it has all come back. Tylenol seems to take the edge off but the pain is persistent and is wearing me out.


This had been going on long enough that I personalized the stones and gave them names. My granddaughter, Caitlin drew them for me. Sidney and Sheila are pictured below.

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The UNIVAC 1005

The UNIVAC 1005.  (2/2010)


How I attached myself to the project


In October, 1964, I was hired by John Klein, the systems manager for the Army division, of the Federal Government Division of Univac Corporation. My title was to be Systems Engineer, my salary $6000 per year.


I heard about the job through the employment center at Georgetown University.  I had just completed my degree in September. In my first interview with John he said they usually hired people with computer experience, computer education or Math degrees. He didn’t consider my tech job at ACF Electronics as computer experience. They would consider my application if I passed their aptitude test.


They sat me in a room with no windows and I started the test. When I finished I came out to the desk of the person who had given me the test. She said something to the effect that you can’t come out until you finished the test. I said I had. She was surprised. Apparently no one had ever finished that particular test in the time allowed. Well, I must have aced it. They offered me the job. My first two weeks were spent in programming school on the Univac 1004. The 1004 was a plug board programmed card processor. It was a big box with a punched card reader and 132 column printer. Over on one side was a door that opened to a bay that held an aluminum framed board that held 5120 holes into which wires were plugged to make up the program to read the cards, process the data and print out the results. There were peripheral devices that could be connected to the 1004 that would allow punching other cards as out put, Modems and magnetic tape drives.



After my two weeks of training I was introduced to my clients, Fort Belvoir, Fort Meyers and a couple of others that I don’t even remember. John told me that I was to keep my clients happy. If they were happy he didn’t care if I only worked half days. If they were unhappy he didn’t care if I was working 18 hour days he’d be unhappy. I spent most of my time at Fort Belvoir helping them with their accounting software.


Sharon, my wife, and I had always been able to talk about anything. But when I came home talking 1004 she didn’t understand what I was talking about. Over coffee at work, I mentioned this problem to my boss and he suggested I bring her in to take the 1004 class. She did. When I told Captain Lokke at Fort Belvoir that my wife was learning 1004 he said send her down and he’d give her a job. I did. He did. My Foreign Service major wife became a programmer. Later she was recruited to be a Univac 418 programmer at Walter Reed Medical Center. And then I didn’t understand what she was saying. (But that’s another story.)


One of the problems with punch cards was that there were only 80 columns on a card. Each column had twelve possible holes. The cards were divided up into fields like first name, last name, social security number, pay grade, Hours worked, Vacation accrued, sick accrued, etc. Well, we ran into a problem when someone at Fort Belvoir accrued over 1000 hours of vacation. There were only 3 columns in the accrued vacation field. With some deft programming we were able to use one of the high holes that were usually punched for letters rather than numbers to indicate that the number was over 1000.


Meanwhile, my boss’ boss had sold an upgrade to the Army, the 1005. The 1005 was to be a version of the 1004 that could be programmed by a deck of punched cards. Leon Hammerman was involved in creating a language in which the 1005 could be programmed. Other people were working on the program that would be plugged into the 1004 board. My clients were happy and I had time on my hands. I came back to the office in the afternoons and got interested in the 1005 project. I started helping out. Before long I was working late on it.


One day Leon told me I was not allowed on the project because John didn’t want me distracted from my clients. I went into John’s office and reminded him of what he told me when I started. He had said that if my clients were happy he didn’t care if I spent the afternoons on the golf course. I asked him if my clients were happy. They were. I said I’d rather work on the 1005 than play golf. He allowed me back on the project. Eventually that was my only job. We put together a rudimentary 1005 but it wasn’t very robust. I made a case that if we were to add some logic components we could make the 1005 much stronger. My experience at ACF Electronics had taught me to deal with logic circuits like ‘and’ gates, ‘or’ gates and ‘flip flops’ (which were little electronic switches that could be turned on and off). I was tasked with designing the logic additions. I left the office and commandeered our dining room table to lay out the logic we needed.


How I manipulated the logic functions.


I put in all the bells and whistles I wanted, including bit logic functions that allowed comparing characters at the bit level using “and’ and ‘or” statements. When questioned about them I said they would help build and debug the 1005, they could be taken out later if necessary. Well, I thought they really added value to the product without much additional cost. They allowed real computer functions. So when the project was just about complete and ready to go to manufacturing and I was asked to take them out I replied that I could do that but it would hold up the project by three weeks. That was too long, so they stayed in and were a valuable asset to the 1005!


After all these years I will admit that it was a manipulation on my part. We probably could have done the project without the logic functions and I probably could have taken them out in less than three weeks. I’m not proud of my tactics but I am very proud of the results.

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Many small comments have had a major impact on my life.

Many small comments have had a major impact on my life.

Bernie Weitzer was a VP at Western Union. In a casual conversation we had he referred to me as a “Professional Manager.” Although I did not have a great deal of respect for Bernie Weitzer I accepted that comment and from then on considered myself a professional manager.

When Western Union sent me back to Middletown Virginia I got an agreement that they would send me back to San Francisco 6 times a year. On one of those trips I was flying back to Washington on the red eye. I was careful not to start a conversation with a seat mate on a long trip because I might not be able to stop a chatterbox once they got going. I always thought it was safer to be quiet and sleep for at least most of the trip. This trip was an exception. I was seated next to a tall thin, grey haired man wearing a black suit, white shirt and black tie. Very conservative. But that’s not all. This was 1973, January, I think. He had a beard and an earring! I did not speak until we were awakened to start our descent in to Washington. He had been an artist, a sculptor in LA. His sculpting, in metal had led to a manufacturing career which he left to move out into “The Valley.” Where he took up real estate and bee keeping. This trip was to meet with people in Washington to be briefed before being sent by USAID to Afghanistan to consult with their agriculture department about improving pollination of their crops. Here I was, a hot shot 33 year old with 125 people working for me, presiding over a 26 million dollar physical plant and a three million dollar a year budget. I was pretty proud of myself. He told me ”not to get stuck in a job, or in my ways. Be open to new opportunities. There will be many changes in your life.” Well, about a week later I was in a conference room with a bunch of guys going over some problem and I think “What am I doing here? Who needs the telegram? Why am I sitting a room with a bunch of guys? There isn’t even one woman in the group.” My life has never been the same. I wish I knew his name and address. I would like to have thanked him. He opened my eyes to new possibilities. Without that conversation I might have buckled down and been more a corporate man and achieved more in my career but I doubt I would have been happier.

When I was in high school I saw the movie “Mr. Roberts.” Henry Fonda, James Cagney, Jack Lemon were the stars. Henry Fonda was Mr. Roberts. I forget his rank but he was above Jack lemon and below James Cagney, who was a ruthless skipper of their ship. Mr. Roberts was a good manager. He got the respect of his men and he stuck up for them. James Cagney was a bad manager. I learned a lot from that movie about how to be a leader rather than a boss, how to put the needs of your team above your own. It inspired me to become a manager and it inspired me to do some of the things that got me in trouble as a manager and even got me fired. But it never cost me a wink of sleep. One time at Western Union I was told to change my budget for raises for the rest of the year because someone at home office had made a mistake And I wouldn’t have as much money for raises as I had been told. Well some of my people had already gotten nice raises by March. They would eat up all the new budget for the year. I would have to diminish or eliminate the raises for all the rest of my people. I thought about it for a while and I called my boss and said “Cliff, I know that the direct refusal of a direct order is a firing offense and that you will have to fire me but I refuse to cut my people’s raises because someone in the home office screwed up. I know you will have to fire me. All I ask is that you tell your management my side of the story.” I didn’t get fired. My raise budget was restored and I silently thanked Mr. Roberts. I figured that what was done was that My raise had been taken to give to my people. When I got the letter at home telling me what my raise was I was very happy to see that it had gone thru. When I got the first paycheck under the new raise I called my boss to tell him that they were paying my $700 a year too much. He told me there was no mistake. When I went home a rechecked the letter and realized I had misread it and had only seen that I was getting a raise but not the detail of how much.

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“How I met your mother”

“How I met your mother”

My Dad always was complaining that we didn’t have enough money. He wanted the lights out when you weren’t in the room. There was one time when I remember him asking us to cut expenses. I already had a grey suit. My mother took me to the store and picked out the same suit in a larger size. I argued that I didn’t like it. (I didn’t. I rarely wore the old one.) Mom and I compromised on taking the suit and letting my father decide. That night after dinner I modeled the suit for my father and complained that it was an extravagance that we didn’t need. He didn’t just choose the suit, he chewed me out for not doing as my mother said. I was very confused. Did we need to save money or not? Why was I in trouble, I was just trying to comply with his wishes. Of course, now I know that Mom and Dad must stick together and not let the snotty nosed kid drive a wedge between them.

I think it was 1958 that Black and Decker pushed Dad into retirement. I was in college and college was expensive. I chose to get a job to help me thru school. If I worked 16 hours a week in the library my tuition would be covered by the school. So I started working in the stacks of the Georgetown Library. Undergrad students were not allowed in the stacks. They came to the desk and asked for the books they wanted. We library workers would go into the stacks and bring back their books. When the books came back it was up to us to put them back on the shelves. It wasn’t the best job in the world but I enjoyed it. It felt special to have access to the stacks.

In the next room from the entry to the stacks was the reserved book reading room. Occasionally after I got off work I would stop by the reserved book reading room to talk to the girl behind the desk. She was cute and funny. We shared an interest in classical music. I invited her to a concert and she accepted. This was about March in my junior year.

I have worn a hat since I spent summers near Danbury CT, the Hat City. One evening as I was leaving the library there was a bat flying in the long corridor outside the library. I caught it between my hat and my notebook. Being the wise-ass I was (and probably still am) I stepped into the reserved book room and placed my notebook and hat on the counter. Sharon heard the scratching of the trapped bat. I don’t remember which of us lifted the hat the let the poor thing go.

The reserved book room was a long reading room with many tables and students studying. The bat was doing laps around the room. I saw some guy look up from his book just in time to see the bat heading right for him. He dove under the table. Eventually I caught the bat again and let him out.

In April I turned 21 and my father gave me a new English Ford car to keep me from buying a 1950 Studebaker. One night I invited Sharon for a ride and we cruised the town. I got up the nerve to park by the Jefferson Memorial where we necked (awkwardly). A few days later I got a card from Sharon showing the Jefferson Memorial with cars parked around it and a comment about car number 218 (I think that was the number).

We went to the quarry which was the swimming hole Georgetown men frequented. One time we had a picnic with Sharon’s room mate, Pru and her boyfriend who was later executed in Iran.

As I was driving home for the summer I was relieved. I thought the relationship was getting too serious. A break would be good for us.

Letters from Sharon in July and August and an evening with Joan, the girl I had loved when I was in high school, clinched the deal. Sharon and I became engaged soon after returning to school in the fall.

The engagement did not go over well with my folks. As time progressed toward the wedding they got more and more resistant even to the point of saying they would not come. Eventually they gave in and participated. It was a wonderful wedding at Holy Names Church in Georgetown, the same church the president, JFK, attended. The reception was at Evans Farm Inn, an elegant restaurant in rural Virginia.

I have plenty of stories about this marriage that I’ll probably tell later. But I’d like to say this about that. We had a great love affair and marriage. For about five years. About 1970 or ’71 there was a book and movie, “Love Story.” It made a lot of people cry, me for different reasons. The story line was an upscale Ivy League student fell in love with a girl from the other side of the tracks. His parents disagreed. They married anyway and did OK. Then she got sick and died. It was sooooo tragic.  I have always thought of our marriage like that but with the different ending. Sharon and I were together when we got married. We changed together for five years. Then we changed in different directions, wrestled with the differences for several years and finally broke up in 1970. If Sharon had died in 1965 or 66 ours would have been that Love Story. In stead we are  just another divorce statistic.

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The Three Most Maligned Virtues; Greed, Sloth and Pride.

The Three Most Maligned Virtues; Greed, Sloth and Pride. (3/22/2010)


I think that greed, sloth and pride get a bad rap. It was not the energetic guy who carried whatever load was required who invented the wheel or the wheelbarrow. It was the slothful soul who said “there must be an easier way.” We owe most all labor-saving devices to slothful folks. When you hire a carpenter or mechanic don’t you want the person who takes pride in their work? How about a doctor? I want the prideful person working for or on me. Who has created our economic system that has made it possible for us all to live as well as we do? Greedy folks. They do things people need to make money. They may be motivated by money, by greed, but what they do to get the money is of benefit to others.


Now, I don’t mean to say that all greed, sloth and pride is virtuous. I know it can be carried to extreme and be detrimental to a quality life for others. Iodine is good for you, in moderation. Too much is poison and can kill you. Greed, sloth and pride are not unmitigated good or evil. They can be among the deadly sins but I think they also should be considered virtues.


“Michael Lewis, Author of Liar’s Dice and a new book about being a father was interviewed on a late night show. He quoted his father as saying “Do as little as possible, and that unwillingly. For it is better to receive a slight reprimand than to perform an arduous task.” Michael went on to suggest a corollary “An awful lot of life’s problems solve themselves if you just leave them be.”

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Fischer’s Law

Fischer’s Law

I regret that I never found the time or inclination to write “Fischer’s Law.” I should have written it and publicized it and made it as popular as ”Chicken Soup for the Soul,” etc. Fischer’s Law states, “When a person is in a position where they think they can’t win, they become unpredictable and potentially violent.” Fischer’s Law may have explained 9/11. It may have explained the Bush administration’s reaction to it. It explains the people who get fired and go back to work and shoot people. It explains many cases of domestic violence. I first discovered it one evening when I was trying to have a quiet time in the kitchen at Vine St.. Nancy, who was about ten at the time, wanted to dance around the kitchen and argued with me when I asked her to stop or leave. I wanted quiet and all Nancy was allowing me was dancing or argument. With those two choices, I couldn’t win. I found myself wanting to hit her. I didn’t hit her. But let her know that she was to leave, period! When I analyzed the incident I discovered that even a peace-loving person could be moved toward violence. It was then that I discovered “Fischer’s Law.”


So what? Knowing the law of gravity doesn’t stop you from getting hurt when you fall. Can knowing Fischer’s Law keep you out of trouble?  Yes!


First, if you catch yourself in a Fischer’s Law situation you can stop and think. You do not have to explode. If you can’t win, you can’t win. You don’t have to make matters worse by over-reacting. Killing coworkers doesn’t get your job back. Hitting your spouse doesn’t make the marriage work. Shouting nasty things you can’t take back won’t make the situation any better. Just stop and think.  “Count to ten,” was the advice I got when I was young. It’s time to stop long enough to think of what we want. What do we want to accomplish? What will accomplish it? Hitting someone or shooting them probably won’t accomplish your goals. It will definitely interfere with other goals.


Second, recognize when someone else thinks that they can’t win. Help them find a way to win, or, at least, not to lose. Or if you can’t do that, get away from them. When I listen and remember my love for my honey, there is peace in my home and my heart. When I can do that, I can help her to find a way not to lose. Parents can distract or redirect the kid having a melt-down.


What could have been done to stop Timothy McVey, or the Fort Hood Psychiatrist? Would knowledge of Fischer’s Law helped that guy I read about in the paper this morning who shot his wife and then himself when she went to see a divorce lawyer?


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Change your words, change your thinking, change your life

Change your words, change your thinking, change your life (3/10/(2010)

Last week I had 3 inches of my small intestine removed in an unpleasant surgical procedure. Being on Chemo my immune system is compromised. Had I not had the surgery my intestine may have burst. With the compromised immune system I may have died. So at one point I thanked the surgeon for “Saving my life.” Wrong! She didn’t save my life. She kept me from dying last week. She prolonged my life. But I am still going to die. We all are.

When we talk about saving lives we mush up the thinking that should be clear when we think about aging and health care. We would make much better decisions if we forgot about “saving lives” and thought in stead about “prolonging life.”

Saving a life is priceless. Prolonging a life? It depends. For how long, for what cost in time, pain, suffering and, yes, even, money? Would I want Michele to spend $100,000 to keep me around for another week? Hell, no. For another healthy 25 years? You bet.

Saving Life seems open ended but is not. Prolonging life invites the important questions. What kind of life are we prolonging? One of health and joy or of sickness and suffering? Prolonging for how long? Should we spend the same energy prolonging the life of an octogenarian as we would of a teenager?

When our beloved dog, Roxy, was very old and sick and couldn’t walk, I didn’t want to lose her. If I thought the vet could have saved her life I would have asked him to do so. He could have only prolonged her life and her suffering. It would have been cruel for me to let him do that. I still miss her. I did the right thing. I let her go.

I’m glad I had my surgery. I’m glad we prolonged my life. I hope we prolonged it for another 26 years one month and 13 days, when I will turn 97. (I reserve the right to change my mind.)

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Assumption of Universal Benevolence

Assumption of Universal Benevolence

Although I want to be special and unique, the older I get the more I suspect that we are all the same. And, we all want to be special and unique. I don’t know anyone like I know myself. And no one knows me. I guess it’s natural to judge ourselves and others by different standards.

I’m sad to say that in my life I have hurt many people. I hurt my parents, my sister, and my brother. I’ve hurt friends, class mates, work mates, girl friends, my kids and wives. I’ve hurt animals. I killed a robin once. When I was about five I kicked my dog. (And I have felt bad about it ever since.) In the heat of the moment I have said things I wish I hadn’t. Sometimes I may have lashed out. But, I don’t remember ever deliberately trying to hurt someone.

And I doubt that other people deliberately try to hurt others, either. I think people are good seeking objects. We naturally seek good. The trouble is that what is good for me may be bad for you. Columnist Sydney Harris used to devote whole columns to lists of triads like “I do tax planning. You fudge your taxes. And he cheats on his taxes.” Or “I am robust. You are chunky. He is fat.” He pointed out how we tend to describe the same actions in different ways depending on who the actor is. We attribute more benign motives to ourselves and friends than we attribute to our enemies.

I used to teach the “Assumption of Universal Benevolence” (AUB) in my communication classes to help people be more effective in their communications. A repeating refrain in my communication training was “there is always a motive in your communication. You want someone to do something, or not do something. Or you want them to believe or not believe something. You want change. Everything you do is motivated by some desire. You don’t scratch where it doesn’t itch. I like that line so much I’ll repeat it. You don’t scratch where it doesn’t itch.” So when you speak to me you want some change in me. If you want to influence me you had best use my language. Don’t give me complicated directions in Greek. I don’t understand Greek. If you describe my behavior in terms with which I disagree I will not get what you’re trying to say. It may as well be Greek.

If you want to influence me you must approach me from my point of view or I won’t listen, or if I listen I’ll hear something different from what you want me to hear. No matter how bad the action, the actor is pursuing good as they see it. If you don’t acknowledge the good intention you will raise their defensiveness.

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