Tuesday, February 21, 2017

In love again

The world keeps spinning,
and love comes around once again.
Tragedy brought us together.

Attending Gilda's Club with my dying wife,
Seeming to be the last of a dying breed
with the courage to be present.

Noticed by another cancer patient
whose widowed sister had stood by her husband
until his end.
Another member of the rare breed.

Shaped by hard times and the challenges
of navigating long empty marriages
to raise the people we brought into the world.

Now we fit perfectly,
rough edges ground down,
insights tuned,
ears open,
hearts ready to give
what we have.

The perfect postlude to lives
well lived.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Where do dreams go

cat purrs
trees bloom
spring comes again

earth turns
blood pulses
another day dawns

empty spaces yawn
silence deafens
tears well

the thing happened
now who am I
or who was I

where do dreams go
when time stops
is there a self

Saturday, February 27, 2016

A widower again

Suzanne passed from this earthly realm on Jan. 3, 2016 after battling lung cancer for 18 months. We spent those 18 months doing our bucket list, enjoying every drop of life remaining. But now I am left alone once again.

Life sucks for me right now. I miss Suzy's touch, her voice, her gentle presence.
I just turned 70. What is left for me now? I have reconnected with my family, but they live two days' drive from here. I am impatient for the wheel to finish turning and bring me to a new path, a new life, a new love. I need love in my life; I need someone to love and to love me.

What are the odds of having two wives die of cancer? Ironically the first wife who divorced me after 26 years of marriage is still alive and kicking. We are close again due to our children and grandchildren, but the embers of our flame are long dead.

I am tired of death. My sister Mary died of lung cancer just 19 days after Suzanne. Last week was her memorial service. I feel drained, unmoored, drifting aimlessly. I am unmotivated to do anything. There is a big hole in me where my heart used to beat.

I attend two grief support groups, see my therapist once a week and am reading books about widowerhood. But nothing really seems to ease the pain. Everyone says it takes time, a long time. But I don't have time to waste waiting around for my life to restart itself again. I know all too well how short life is.

Since I retired 4 years ago, I lack the structure of work to return to. I have a smattering of friends with whom I can talk and have lunch, but they cannot fill the hole where Suzanne used to be. I'm afraid I will feel like a fifth wheel in social situations where Suzy & I were once at home.

So it seems as if the universe has decided that my job is to love women like they've never been loved before and then watch helplessly as cancer or divorce takes them away from me.

Then I am alone again.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Thirty years ago...

Thirty years ago, on January 1, 1984 my work life took a new turn.

On that day Bell Atlantic began its existence, following Divestiture of the Bell System into the seven Regional Bell Operating Companies.

The original Regional Bell Operating Companies ("Baby Bells") included Ameritech, Bell Atlantic, BellSouth, NYNEX (New England/New York), Pacific Telesis, Southwestern Bell and US West.  In 1997 Bell Atlantic acquired NYNEX, and in 2000 acquired GTE and became known as Verizon.  I retired in 1998, just after the NYNEX acquisition but pre Verizon.

I was selected to fill a newly-created job on the Bell Atlantic Headquarters staff in Arlington, VA.
This meant no more commuting from my home in Northern Virginia to the Maryland suburbs, where I had worked on the C&P Telephone Group Headquarters staff since 1977.
No more commuting across the Potomac River via the I-495 Beltway.
No more getting stuck for hours behind wrecks on the Potomac River bridge.

They chose me to be Forecasting Manager in the Capital Management Division because of my experience in all areas of forecasting and ability to communicate with upper management about the results.  Forecasts were an important input to the company's capital budget and engineering processes.

I served on a number of inter-Bell company task forces and committees that were redesigning the provisioning, engineering and capital management systems.  In the early years after Divestiture the former Bell companies jointly funded and cooperated with one another on a wide variety of infrastructure and standards bodies.

It turns out that January 1, 1984 was the midway point in my telephone company career (1969-98).

I began work in November 1969 as Assistant Manager C&P's Fairfax, VA Business Office.  I had just completed my active duty with the US Navy. I retired in August 1998 to begin a new life in Nashville.

The Bell System and its logos evolved over time.


35 ASR
I witnessed a revolution in back-office technology.  When I began work, the company was using WW2 electromechanical technology.  Typists in the Service Order Bureau used model 28ASR and 35ASR teletypewriters to cut paper tape, which was fed into readers that sent the pulses over dedicated multi-leg hardwire circuits to central offices, traffic centers and the central billing office in Richmond.
28 ASR
Tape library
IBM 360
As a new employee I was given a tour of our new billing computer in Richmond, which took up a floor of an office building.  The computer room was built on an elevated floor, beneath which snaked thousands of wires.  The room was cooled to about 60 degrees in order to prevent the computer from overheating. It was an IBM 360 with 16K of RAM.  Customer account data was contained in racks of punch cards, which would be rolled down the hall for each day's billing. Toll (long distance) records was captured in each central office by punch machines, which produced rolls of punched paper tape that were picked up each night and taken to the billing center in Richmond.  The computer was used to merge the toll records on paper tape with the customer accounts on punchcards to print the bills on line printers, which were torn down, stuffed into envelopes, stamped and mailed.  Bill stubs for each account were sent to each business office where they were kept in large tubs beside each Service Representative's desk.
punch card
8 channel punched paper tape
Paper tape reader
This was to be avoided

The new guy always gets assignments like running the UGF (Now United Way) campaign.  I took it seriously and achieved 100% participation in 1970.
Accepting the UGF 100% participation award from Area General Manager Al Sherritt in 1970.
My first big assignment was to design a new business office for our 75-person operation and move the existing operations to the Memco Building at Fairfax Circle over a weekend, without any lapse in customer service.  After months of careful preparation, everything went like clockwork, and the first call came in on Monday morning to the new office.  I designed pneumatic tube and conveyer belt systems to transport orders to and from various parts of the operation.  I performed time and motion studies in order to lay out the office for maximum efficiency.  In 1971 an Engineering edict from WW2 was still on the books that forbade company offices from installing Touchtone for employees.  The policy was put in place to save precious resources for the war effort but was clearly out of date.  I was able to demonstrate the economics of Touchtone by measuring the additional time it took for a Service Representative to dial 7 and 10 digit numbers using a rotary dial compared with a Touchtone set, then calculated how much money Touchtone would save in terms of loaded employee salaries.  I took these pictures shortly after the move.  

Service Order Bureau
Business Office

Business Office

Business Office

Business Office
Mom pretending to tell me how to run the business office

I arranged for the donation of an old coin collector's truck to the Fairfax Jaycees for Central Fairfax Services, which provides transportation for disabled citizens.  From left: Corky Bolton, Fairfax Coin Manager, Harry Lindsay, Public Office Manager, me (with all the hair) and Chip Curtis, President of the Fairfax Jaycees. 
The old Memco building is undergoing renovations after 42 years.

For 18 of my 29 years with the Phone Company I forecasted customer demand.  From 1972 to 1977 I was a Local Area Forecaster, estimating future telephone demand for small areas of geography in the Northern Virginia area.  My area was inside the Beltway to the DC line, north of Rt. 7 to Loudon County and east of I-95 south to Woodbridge. The engineers needed an estimate of future demand so they could build expansions required to meet future demand in an efficient and timely manner.
8316 Arlington Blvd., Falls Church, VA
200 N. Glebe Rd., Arlington, VA 1972-77
Local Area Forecaster was the best job I've ever had.  My territory consisted of the area inside the Washington Beltway and north of Rt. 7 to the Loudoun County line and east of I-95 to Woodbridge.  The area was divided up into 13 pieces of geography known as "Wire Centers," that represented the area served by a given central office.  I scheduled a driving visit to each area twice a year, during which I would drive through all residential and commercial construction projects, counting the number of residences under construction and occupied.  Between field trips I gathered information about future growth in each area.  I compiled zoning applications, community master plans, local newspapers, "Dodge" reports issued to the construction industry, and any other relevant information.  I called developers, architects, city and county officials and visited municipal planning offices to review zoning applications and use permits.  I set my own schedule and planned my own field trips.  Gunston was beautiful to visit in the fall, so I'd pack a lunch and enjoy a scenic view of the Potomac River. I got to know the best places to stop for ice cream in areas like Great Falls.

The Gunston wire center covers Mason Neck
A quiet afternoon at Pohick Bay Regional Park
Thelma's Homemade Ice Cream in Great Falls

In 1977 I transferred to the C&P Headquarters Forecasting Staff in suburban Maryland, which occupied several buildings during the 7 years I worked on the staff.
In 1980 I wrote and published the C&P Local Area Forecasting Practice, the first of its kind in the nation to document the steps required to forecast telephone customer demand.

During my time on the C&P staff, I forecasted Booked Revenue, Toll Messages and Access Lines for Washington, DC, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia using autoregressive and multivariate econometric models.  The models were built with a Fortran-based language known as "STATLIB" (Bell Laboratories Statistical Computing Library), which were run on a remote VM/CMS timeshare computer accessed over 1200 a Baud dialup modem.  Data and programs were input via paper tape cut with teletype machines.  The company sent me to many weeks of intensive training on statistical and programming techniques at the Bell System Training Center in Lisle, IL.  

Bell System Center for Technical Education (BSCTE), 6200 Rt. 53, Lisle, IL
8630 Fenton Street, Silver Spring, MD - 1977-79
Georgia Avenue, Silver Spring, MD - 1980-83
Chesapeake Headquarters Complex, Fairland, MD - 1983-84
Bell Atlantic Headquarters, 1310 N. Courthouse Rd., Arlington, VA - 1984-94

During my last 4 years, between 1990-98 I managed Bell Atlantic's $20 Million Bellcore Research & Development work program.  In 1991 I co-authored Bell Atlantic's Strategic Technology Plan.

In 1994 I began a 2nd marriage and moved to a 1790 farmhouse in beautiful western Loudoun county, which was 50 miles from my office in Arlington.  My clients were located across the northeastern US, so theoretically I could work from anywhere as long as I had a phone, computer line and fax machine. My boss mercifully allowed me to move into a vacant office in Leesburg.  I was the only person in the 2,000 person division allowed such a privilege, and I worked hard to keep it.

501 Tolbert Lane SE, Leesburg, VA - 1994-98 (building is hidden by trees)

I once hosted a budget meeting on the front porch of our farmhouse.

1790 farmhouse near Waterford, VA

Company mail took an extra 3 days to get to Leesburg, and so within 2 years I converted the R&D budget process from paper mail to fax, then to email and finally hosted it on on Bell Atlantic's new Intranet.  My new process saved hundreds of man-hours and sped up decision making by weeks.  It was the first user application Bell Atlantic had ever hosted, and for my efforts I received a $10,000 bonus.  During the first budget cycle after we merged with NYNEX, I was able to combine the companies' R&D budgets and fund essential work for nearly half of what they had spent separately the year before.  
Farmhouse with the Catoctin Mountains in the distance
On August 1, 1998 I said goodbye to Bell Atlantic, and my new wife Nancy and I rode off into the sunset to start a new life in Nashville, TN.

Nashville, TN

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Two more days

I don't think many people follow this blog anymore.  According to Google Reader, I have exactly three followers.

Nevertheless, I'll put down some thoughts here that I won't say on Twitter or Facebook.

In two more days my 42+ years of working for a living will come to and end.  I am one of those rare, fortunate and lucky people who made the right choices for the right reasons, and now at age 66 I am about to reap the rewards of a life well-lived.

I just attended my last meeting.  Everyone was jealous except for one other person who is also retiring soon.  I've almost completely packed up my office, removing artwork and personal items from the walls and desk surfaces.  I feel like I'm gradually disappearing from the workplace, fading each day into grey.  By Friday afternoon I'll be completely gone.

I have no regrets.  Although everyone commonly says they will miss people or places, I don't think I will miss this place very much.  The day job has been relatively easy these past 11+ years.  In 2000 they hired me for my experience in the telecom industry, but that industry is rapidly going the way of the buggy whip as wireless and broadband communications steal market share from the industry that was once heavily regulated.  And so there is less and less need for someone of my background.  I can easily adapt to new challenges, but the opportunities to work on new things are few and far between.

Not having enough to do is only one of the issues that sparked my desire to retire.  Only 13.2 hours of annual leave per month is insufficient time to live the life I want to live.  Suzanne and I have been married for 8+ years now, and we have rarely had more than a long weekend or maybe ten days together at a stretch.  Other issues:  (1) I have grandchildren in high school whom I barely know; (2) Decades of sedentary work are starting to take their toll on my body; (3) On beautiful mornings like this I want to enjoy the outdoors; (4) I want to travel, discover new places and see old friends; and (5) I want to take my musical career to the next step.  I could go on and on about projects I want to accomplish around the house.  I have a long bucket list.

I cannot anticipate the ways in which my new life will unfold.  But one thing I clearly imagine:  Next Monday morning on my first "workday" of retirement, I plan to be sitting outside on the porch or on our back deck sipping my 2nd cup of coffee with Suzanne by my side.  The birds will be singing, and my heart will join them.

Update Dec. 10, 2012:  We've traveled extensively to Virginia, Florida and Indiana to visit family plus a delightful 12-day drive through New England a couple of weeks prior to Hurricane Sandy.  Saw my all-time favorite band Procol Harum in St. Augustine.  Buried my mother in law, and attended the reunion of a band from the Shenandoah Valley in which I played 49 years ago.  Having the time to embark on long driving trips during the off-season is one of the primary benefits to retirement.

On a cold, rainy Monday such as this morning, it's especially nice to sip my 2nd cup of coffee here at home while listening to the traffic reports.  Life is less stressful when you don't have to contend with rush hour.

But transitions are always complicated.  A part of me misses the intellectual challenges of the day job, but I'm enjoying some new challenges including video editing and publishing.  My band keeps learning new songs, and as the keyboardist I get to play the horn parts as well as organ/piano and whatever guitars can't play.  We recently learned "Sea Cruise," where I get to play a boogie bass in one hand and sax section in the other.

Friday, April 13, 2012


Yesterday I turned in my papers.

Forty-two years in the workplace,
Now it's time for life unscripted,
Time for music,
Time to explore,
Time for love.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Feeling sad

It was nine years ago (2002) about this time of year that my wife Nancy was coming to her wits' end about the state job at the Tennessee Department of Human Services that she had started almost a year prior. She had earned glowing performance evaluations, pleasing clients and impressing coworkers with the boundless energy, nearly flawless performance and new ideas that she brought to the job. But there were two big problems: (1) The job had a 12-month probationary period, after which she would be under the protections of Civil Service, but before which she had absolutely no worker's rights. (2) Her department head hated her. He hated her ebullient and irrepressible personality and demanded absolute and total quiet on the floor where she worked. Her cubicle was positioned right outside of his office, so he could hear every word she spoke - and she spoke a lot! And so with only a few weeks to go before her probationary period would have expired, and with months of near-perfect evaluations from supervisors, he determined to end her employment. At first he pressured Nancy's immediate supervisor and then the next supervisor up the chain of command to write an unsatisfactory performance evaluation. But to their credit they both refused to fabricate an untruthful evaluation. And so the division boss removed Nancy from their supervision and placed her under another sub-boss over which he had more control. Then the unsatisfactory evaluations started being written with the goal of having a basis for dismissing her before she had achieved 12 months of satisfactory performance. Nancy protested these unfair evaluations, all the way up to the boss of her department head and who also happened to be a college classmate of mine (William & Mary, 1968). Months earlier Nancy and I had shared a pleasant dinner with her as well as a trip to Tullahoma to attend the funeral of a colleague's mother. But all of these pleadings fell on deaf ears, and she refused to intervene. So much for integrity.

And so it was on March 13, 2002, just five days from today, that I met Nancy for lunch in the AmSouth (now Regions) bank cafeteria. She was shaking with fear and dread. And so I said, "let's go," and we proceeded to march across the street and up to her office on the 7th floor of the Citizen's building, where we quickly packed her personal belongings into a cardboard box. The last thing she did before logging off the last time was type an email to her boss and coworkers explaining that she was resigning effective that day.

During the next couple of weeks we carefully prepared the documentation necessary to pursue an EEO complaint. But as the days progressed Nancy began feeling weaker, nearly fainting upon arising from a chair, and then starting to show bruises on her body. It was time for her eye exam, and so when the Optometrist reviewed her retina scans, he told her she must have diabetic retinopathy because he noted the presence of burst blood vessels inside her eye. So we decided to go to her primary care physician for a complete physical. She seemed fine other than being a bit pale, and at the end of the appointment the nurse drew a sample of blood for testing.

The next morning at work I got a call from Nancy. The blood test results showed an abnormally low level of platelets (the component that allows blood to clot). The nurse who called her suggested that we proceed immediately to St. Thomas hospital for further diagnosis. And so I raced home, we packed an overnight bag for Nancy and raced back to St. Thomas where we checked in at the Emergency Room. Another blood draw was taken, and the ER doctor came in to explain that they were going to check her into a room for further testing. Later that afternoon she had the first of what would be six bone marrow biopsies, in which a long needle is inserted deep into the hip bone to withdraw marrow - a very painful procedure. The next day, which was her 50th birthday, Oncologist Dr. Seth Cooper came to Nancy's room to give her the bad news: She had Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML), which would be fatal within weeks unless she began an intense regimen of chemotherapy. The first round of chemo would last 30 days, after which she should go into remission and then after a week or so rest would return for a final round of 30 days. The chemicals used are so toxic that they cannot be introduced into an arm vein, because the vein would be quickly destroyed. Instead, a large catheter was inserted directly into her chest into which the chemotherapy and other powerful drugs were pumped 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This chemotherapy completely destroys the patient's immune system, so few visitors were allowed, and not even potted plants could be brought into the room. To prevent infections that could be fatal, she was pumped with powerful antibiotics, antivirals and antifungal drugs, some of which had nearly fatal side effects by themselves. She also required lots of blood: 100 units of platelets and 50 units of red cells during her hospitalization.

But she did not go into remission after the first round of chemo. Exhausted and spent after a 30-day nosebleed and other complications, Nancy wanted to go home to die. And so we went home under Hospice care to wait for the end. The Hospice nurse came once a week to draw blood and take vital signs as well as address any issues that arose. But after a couple of weeks her blood chemistry started to improve, and she decided to go back for another try. This time after the 30-day hospital stay she was finally in remission. She went home for a week to rest, then re-entered the hospital for a final 30 days of chemotherapy (known as "consolidation").

We spent a total of 102 days in St. Thomas Hospital, with me sleeping in a tiny cot beside her bed most nights, returning home on weekends to pay the bills. My employer (also State government) allowed me to go on Family Medical Leave, which ensured I wouldn't lose my job, although I lost pay after exhausting my leave balances. My good neighbors mowed our lawn and brought in the mail while I was gone.

After being treated with chemotherapy, the preferred final treatment is a bone marrow transplant, in which the patient is given powerful drugs that completely destroy her own marrow. Next the donor's marrow is introduced into the patient's bloodstream, and if all goes well, it will automatically go into her bones and begin producing marrow and eventually produce a new blood supply free of leukemia.

A couple of months after she left St. Thomas we visited a bone marrow specialist at Vanderbilt, who explained that Nancy had very few options. Her family members had been tested as potential bone marrow donors, but none was a possible donor. The odds were extremely long for achieving success with a non-related donor considering Nancy's age. The most likely outcome would be a slow and painful death in the hospital of complications following the transplant attempt. And so Nancy decided to enjoy the life she had left and hope for the best.

Nancy enjoyed 6 months of remission, during which we enjoyed a week in Hot Springs, AR, and Nancy got to hold her newborn niece Lauryn. But shortly after the beginning of 2003 she began experiencing increasing pain behind her right ear, which eventually resulted in the collapse of the facial muscles on the right side of her face. The pain became so great that only liquid morphine could give her any relief. A Hendersonville ear nose & throat specialist treated her unsuccessfully for a couple of months with antibiotics and ear tubes, and finally out of frustration I took her to Nashville ENT, where a CT scan showed a large mass in her mastoid bone (a honeycomb bony structure behind the ear). It was impossible to perform a needle biopsy through the thick bone to determine what it was, and so surgery was arranged. I can still vividly recall Dr. Michael Schwabber coming to see me in the hospital waiting room after he had performed the surgery. He said when he opened her up, the mastoid was filled with a greenish substance that he recognized as leukemia that had escaped from her blood system into the mastoid bone and had been growing for months. The operation did relieve much of her pain, but by this time we knew the end was near.

One last bone marrow biopsy confirmed that the leukemia was back with a vengeance. So again we called on Hospice to help me care for her while she lived out her last days at home. I got to be a pretty good nurse, learning how to dispense IV antibiotics and care for the large catheter that had been implanted in her chest to dispense the chemotherapy.

Nancy called her friends and family to our home for a last goodbye. First our fellow choir members came to give her a final communion and sing some of her favorite songs. Then her family and some close high school friends from Kokomo came down for one last party, complete with lots of laughter and fond memories. I remember Nancy asking each of us what they would remember about her. This was a tough one. Mike Newburn said the thing he would remember is that Nancy is the kind of person who made you feel good about yourself. The next day my son & daughter showed up with their children to say their last goodbye.

And then the waiting began. It was an agonizingly slow process, death. Every day Nancy got a little weaker. I finally had to move into the guest bedroom across the hall in order to get any sleep, because she was constantly stirring. I can remember her asking one morning, "Why does this have to take so long?"

It was on Monday, April 28, 2003 at 6:15 pm that the Angel of Death finally came to visit my dear Nancy and relieve her suffering for good.

And so every year about this time when spring is just around the corner, and when the daffodils begin poking their little heads above the ground, I think of what began for Nancy and me in 2002 and ended a year later in 2003.

I still feel a mixture of anger and sorrow. I understand that leukemia is basically a defect of the immune system, which fails to recognize and kill a cancerous cell that then divides uncontrollably. And I know that the immune system can be compromised by extreme stress, and so I am angry at the state government for allowing such a tyrant to rule a department with terror. I am angry at myself for pushing Nancy into getting a job with the state. Mostly I feel deep sorrow at losing my best friend. But I retain some degree of satisfaction knowing that I went above & beyond the call of duty to ensure that Nancy's last days on earth were as comfortable as possible.