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I heard on Andy’s radio (he was sound asleep; but his radio was awake) that it was going to be a very cold day.

Parking lot, covered with ice, though thankfully not the car. 84 into Hartford was backed up for miles because of a two car accident which was an appetizer to a seven car accident further down. The Gengras sign flashed -7C at me (I took a picture as I drove past). So winter is still here.

I park on city streets and walk to work. I had parked and was brushing my hair and listening to McCain and Obama trade quips on NPR when this man tapped on my window.

I always instantly think I’ve done something wrong, but it was so cold that his car wouldn’t start, and he needed a jump.

So I nudged my car up to his on this one-way street and he fiddled with the jumper cables and — nothing. He reconnected the negative terminal he’d attached to the body ground to the negative battery terminal of my car and STILL nothing. A dump truck which had been working its way up the street stopped, cars were lining up behind it. He took the other negative clamp and moved it from HIS car’s body ground to the negative terminal (cathode?) and it started. Yay! Happiness and high fives all around (well,we were high fiving in our imaginations).

I removed the cables, re-covered the battery, closed the hood and was off.

While I walked to work, another guy made a smoking sign to me. Did he think I had cigarettes? I shook my head and walked on.

This all made me half an hour late from work, and it was cold, bitterly cold. I wonder if Ally would really like it if she were here. It’s easy enough to say you would like the cold if you live in Southern California.

Ally is having all four wisdom teeth out March 15th, and was worried they would put her to sleep with general anesthesia. Stupid horror movies like “Awake” made her fear that the drugs would paralyze her but leave her able to feel pain. They are giving her an IV drip sedation, which is what I had when I had mine out. It doesn’t put you to sleep; you feel like you’re dozing off but still occasionally aware of what’s happening, though there is no pain. It’s really wonderful stuff, and you come instantly awake once they remove it so there’s no lingering recovery.

There’s a big controversy lately about prisoners sentenced to death, given a “lethal cocktail” of drugs that supposedly paralyze you, leave you able to feel pain, and then slowly kill you. This, they call inhumane. As if killing someone painfully is less morally iffy than killing them peacefully. You’re still killing someone.

Anyway. Things are tight for Sean and Ally. Sean’s not having much luck finding work — and it is hard finding good jobs there, and the coming recession will make things even worse. Ally says by June they will know if they can make it, or if Sean will have to return to active duty in the Marines. She says he’ll likely get local duty in the San Diego area and not be sent back to Iraq, so it sounds like a good plan to me.

What’s clear is that they can’t afford to continue to live in Southern California when the Marines are going to halve Sean’s pay down to $165/month (he’s a reservist not currently on active duty), and Ally is only making a little over minimum wage grooming dogs (though she does get tips). They have dreams of moving to Monterey or Seattle, but these are both very expensive places and not very realistic unless you have an excellent job waiting for you.

While I was living in San Diego, a friend sent me a link to a site that asks bunches of questions about the kind of place you want to live, and then spits out places that match your criteria. One of my results was New Haven, Connecticut, and I think it’s kind of neat I ended up so close.

I read Ally the questions over the phone, she answered them, and HER top place was Montpelier, Vermont, with other choices scattered through Vermont, Massachusetts, and Oregon.

I asked her to let Sean take the test and see where they were the same. It would be very nice to have Ally in New England. Even though Vermont is a little remote; still, it’s closer than California. On the other hand, it’s nice to have an excuse to go to California occasionally.

Sean has never been receptive to coming to live in the Northeast. After all, HIS family isn’t here. I think Oregon would be a fantastic compromise, though Oregon looks so similar to New England… you just might as well live in here in the Northeast.

I offered up Andy’s bedroom temporarily while he is in the Marines if things went badly sour and they needed a place to stay for awhile. Would I move to a larger apartment to accommodate Ally’s family for a  time while they got their roots replanted in New England? In a second, and I bet there’s Holloways (and Schafers) throughout the area that would let them in for awhile. That’s one of the benefits of living near *family*, something neither Ally nor Andy had growing up.

Sean complains that his Marine specialty, tank repair, can only be done in San Diego or somewhere in Kansas, and he doesn’t want to move to Kansas, but I bet if he told the Marines he had to move out of Southern California to someplace else, they’d find something for him to do at the nearest Marine base.

He’s just a reservist after all.

Andy leaves March 10th for basic training now. The recruiter is coming by Saturday to answer any questions I might have.

Those two sentences took about ten seconds to write, and I could have spoken them aloud much faster than that. Talking with Andy on the phone can be a little circular. I’ve had nearly 18 years to learn how to drag information from him, but it’s always bee a struggle.

I got a call from him while I was working yesterday. He said that the Marines had called, and we needed to prepare a Care package and I needed to sign some papers.

A Care package? For who? He didn’t know. He didn’t know what a Care package was either, so I had to explain that to him. This is what happens when you don’t read, watch cartoons on Disney and Nickolodeon and play games on the Xbox with twelve year olds. The kinds of random knowledge you normally pick up, you never encounter.

Anyway. He didn’t know who it might be for. I kind of suspected the recruiter wanted to let Andy know what sort of Care packages he could receive while in Basic Training. I also wasn’t sure why I would need to sign any papers. I don’t have any legal authority over Andrew. That all ended when he turned 18. And I never needed to sign any papers when Ally joined (though I probably would have; she wanted to go so badly, even though both I and Sean’s mother very much objected)

Frustrated, Andy asked if I would call the recruiter and talk to him, but I backed him to the beginning, and pieced out the information that all the paperwork was complete, and the recruiter just wanted to stop by and answer questions. I immediately thought of several, like, “Are you going to kill my son,” and, “If you shoot off his arms and legs, will the Marines pay for his care?” and such. I can’t think of any questions that he would actually answer. I know how the basic training thing goes from a parent’s perspective, having gone through it with Ally.

Ally and Sean went in at around the same time. Marines are trained in either San Diego or Parris Island in South Carolina, depending on what side of the Mississippi they come from. Ally, though, had to go to Parris Island even though she lived in San Diego because women get trained in P.I. regardless of their home state. It still worked out so that she could fly back to San Diego and be at Sean’s graduation a few days after hers.

I’m sure Andy will be okay. I doubt they will send him into combat unless he shows real initiative in basic training. I’m pretty sure they have some crappy job lined up for him even though they promised him a spot in the infantry.

Then again, maybe the Marines will change him. It has happened. Maybe he just never has had anything in his life about which he could feel strongly.

Re: Schooling. It’s not so much I object to going to school, I really don’t. It’s because I object to wasting time, and getting a computer science degree would be a gigantic waste of time and money, and I would do poorly because I have zero interest in it.

Computer programming is a skill about on par with having good penmanship. People might thank you for writing with nice, even strokes; but they’ll never respect you for it.

I have to think of my own, post-kid future. There is no reason to do programming for work, when I could just program my own projects for fun. What I’d really like to do is write. I can write 5000 words about anything, and usually make it worth reading. If I could learn how to do this well… and given a programming background… I could go into tech writing or tech journalism.

Though there are traps there. I know a lot of tech writers, and sit in the same sorts of cubicles I sit in, but instead of writing in Java or SQL, they’re writing manuals nobody will ever read.

Still. If I go to school, I want to learn something new. I had plenty of chances to go to college in California and I did. I learned Japanese, sailing, navigation and piano. Every time I tried to take a computer course, I could not bring myself to do so. I can’t pay attention in lectures; usually I just fall asleep so there’s no point in even going to them. I don’t learn in lectures; I learn by doing. Every single skill I have used in every single job I have ever had in tech, I taught myself. Even those years at UNH were largely useless, except perhaps the Digital Circuits class, but even then I stopped going and just turned in all my homework at the end of the term.

I aced the final for that course.

So here I am at the beginning of middle age. I work at an insurance company and they always emphasize certain life facts in their internal newletters, and I have come to learn that I will die lonely and poor, and that I will be kept alive in pain by new technologies until my money runs out, unless I had started saving back when I was twenty.

With all the horror stories they tell of people who did not reach retirement with a couple of million dollars in the bank to tide them over, it really seems like reaching retirement could be the most dangerous plan of all. You have to chart out your life expectancy. Do you have enough to live five years? Ten? Fifteen? Oh, you’ll never make fifteen. Let’s plan for ten.

You are always aware of your own mortality when you work in an insurance company. And every year you live past when you were supposed to die, is another spent living miserably.

Not sure why I started on that tangent, except perhaps to note that The Hartford wants everyone to think of how long they will live, how much longer they have, and how they will pay for it. People don’t like to think of things like that; they like to assume they will live forever, or that planning their death can wait, but insurance companies know differently. You should know when you are scheduled to die at all times and try to keep that fairly up to date given your health, how much you smoke or drink, how much you exercise, where you live; and then plan out your life according to that.

I’m scheduled to retire in 2025, and die in 2030. So I have to sit down and ask myself, how do I want to spend these last years? Working as a corporate cubicle slave, leaving nothing behind? Or to try and do things that will make me happy?

I’m sorry, but getting my degree in Computer Science and sentencing myself to boring, lackluster, soul-killing jobs when I don’t even have kids to raise nor any spouse or anyone to support but myself once Andy goes into the Marines… well, I just refuse. I opt out. I don’t need money for travel. I hate traveling. I don’t need money for fancy cars because I hate driving. I don’t need money for fancy homes because I will be living alone.

I never planned to spend even this long programming computers. I always thought life had other plans for me.

Anyway, if I can write 2258 words on the drive to work, I guess maybe it’s worth seeing how far I can take it.



  1. Well, we would love it if Ally and Sean lived nearby. We would help out any way we could.

    I understand that getting a degree is not a goal for you. The point I have been trying to make is that you seem to have goals for which said degree is a means to achieving the goal. Maybe I’m wrong and have misunderstood your goals. I also worry that your next job search won’t be any easier than this past one due to continuing lack of said degree. So if some degree were to be had merely to make life easier when things take a down turn, CS seems the easiest one for you. But *some* degree would do, even if it is one that takes longer, like Japanese literature (with CS you could at least try to place out of courses or do independent study — not likely to happen with literature).

    Anyway, I’m just sounding like a mother — with good reason, right?

  2. And did you really write this on the drive to work? How did you do that?? The traffic? Wow!

  3. Wow – you have like 3 posts in one post. Would be helpful if you broke posts up by topic so that it’s easier to reply to each topic.

  4. Well that’s good that Andy is all set to go to the Marines – he must be happy.

    Perhaps you can get a degree in something you ARE interested that will garner a degree and the means to get a job you’re interested in. Take control of your future instead of just being unhappy working in a cubical feeling like a dilbert cartoon. 🙂

  5. Well, no, I didn’t write it on my way to work this morning. I wrote it about my way to work this morning.

    I do want a degree, but as you point out, I’d rather have it to be a better person in some way than to just have a paper beaten from the pulp of battered dreams hanging on the wall.

    Part of all this is I had just one goal in my life, which was to see my children safely to adulthood. Well, I’ve done that, and now I find myself without any goals whatsoever.

    I can’t find any real purpose to my life. Just to endlessly work until I finally die so I can rest? What’s the point of living a life like that?

  6. Now I get it. You don’t know what you want to do. Or aren’t 100% sure yet (I know you do want to write). I guess as long as the current job is treating you well, you have a little breathing room to figure it out.

    Open letter to Ally: I would be so happy if Fruity and Matthew could grow up together! We could share babysitting duties! Cambridge isn’t cheap, as Brenda points out in another blog entry, but a number of areas nearby to Boston area! Also, my friend in Vermont owns a bookstore — you could work there if you wanted to.

  7. Yes, it really is my dream to work at a nice little bookstore (where reading for pleasure is a serious part of the job), go to college, write in my spare time, explore the beautiful wilderness, have a nice little house and be close to family (including Fruity). I wish I could convince my husband that that’s really his dream too! I want it more than anything!!! This is the part about marriage they don’t tell you! 😛

  8. lol… a decent sized independent bookstore with a cafe and live music? Sounds like that bookstore we used to go to in Pacific Grove, or the Thunderbird Bookstore down in Carmel.

    Heck… sign ME up. Heck with Ally!

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