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  • In a wierd way, I've been feeling like a stranger in a strange land, these past few days. This is usually the time of year that things are incredibly busy for me at work. There's a lot to do to wrap up the Fiscal Year that has just ended, and a lot more to do to begin the Fiscal Year that starts on October 1st.

    I was just starting to hit my stride at work, after a year in which I had really struggled with many things about my job - why am I there, how did I wind up in my current position, who are these people who call themselves my bosses, what is my role, is it what I really want to do? Right before vacation, I had wrestled most of these "question bears" into their respective corners, and was feeling like I had finally figured it out (sort of), and was o.k. with my world there, for the first time in over a year. Coming back from vacation, I really hit the ground running, and was getting into a solid routine of going to work, doing my job, and all of those questions and doubts had kind of faded into the background. I was feeling good about what I was doing, again. I was feeling useful and effective. I felt like my work life was hitting on all cylinders.

    Even as the job of putting my agency's Government Shutdown Furlough Plan together kind of fell to me, and I became the point person for that - that played to all of my strengths. This is what I do. I head up special projects and pull a bunch of loose ends and threads and people together, run interference with the Departmental folks, with OGC (Office of General Council), engage with officials in other agencies, answer questions from agency and departmental leadership, and eventually nail it all down to a cohesive, workable plan. Granted, the nature of this particular project didn't necessarily appeal to me, but it was the project that fell into my lap, so I did everything in my power to do it well, and to do it right. I brought my patented brand of excellence to the table. It wasn't perfect, as these things never are, but we got kudos from the Secretary's office for having one of the better plans among the many agencies in the Department. Everyone agreed that the communication to all parties was exceptional - everyone knew what they had to do, those staying on and those being furloughed. I was up to my eyeballs in everything involving our plan, right up until Monday morning, when our Communications director reached out to me for the copy of the final plan, which had to get posted to our website. I'd gotten it approved by OMB, on Friday and the Department was supposed to post it to the Departmental Website - but that had been shut down! So we had to put it on our agency's website, since we would still be in business, at least our field component would be. It was a full-court press getting everything together and getting the place shut down tight Monday morning, but we got 'er done, and then...and then....

    Then, I'm suddenly on vacation again...sort of. Only, it's not vacation. It's just...it's just...it's Furlough. Oh, o.k. What's that? Who the hell knows? I've never been furloughed before. I've had to plan for many furloughs. I had to plan for one back in 1986 - that was fun. I almost got a job with the Post Office back then. They don't get paid from appropriated funds, so get to keep working when the government shuts down, and actually get paid. Kind of glad that plan didn't work out, though.

    The last one I had to plan for, in 2011, I would have been one of the lucky ones who got to keep working, without pay. I was the only one in headquarters within the Office of the Chief Financial Officer who would have continued working, had that furlough gone down. I'd had to send the letters out to each and every one of my 85 employees in the Financial Management Division, letting some know they would continue working, without pay, some that they would be furloughed, and some that would continue working, and would get paid - maybe. Our Financial Processing Center had some folks who got paid out of a reimbursable fund, non-appropriated dollars, and as long as we could figure out how to process payroll for them, and for inspectors who got paid out of that fund, they would have gotten paid. I was "excepted" because I was in charge of that center, and they would continue to process inspectors' documents and what-not. That one got averted in the 11th hour.

    This time, for the first time in my 33 years of government service, a furlough happened to me. It's a brand new experience. Don't get me wrong - I am not complaining. Just processing it. I've never been here before, so I'm sorting through it all, trying to figure out how one acts in a furlough. All of my Furlough plans were about what to do to shut things down, and what those left working would have to do. Never was there a part of the plan that spoke to what those of us furloughed do with ourselves, once the furlough takes place. Well, so far, each day has been completely different.
  • Monday, I was up at 3 to see how progress was going on them coming to terms with a budget or a continuing resolution, then realized it wasn't going to happen. Oh, great. We get to implement the plan I spent the last two weeks nailing down. Thanks, but no thanks. No choice? O.K. Let's do it. We did it, and by 10:30, I was e-mailing my boss to say, everything on my plate was done, and I was getting ready to turn my blackberry and my laptop into bricks. Anything else you need from me, boss? "Happy furlough!" Yeah, thanks, man. Catch you on the other side. At that time, I'm thinking, come Thursday, Friday, Monday at the latest, we'll be back up and running. Yeah, that was way back before we all discovered that this had been planned all along. They never had any intention of coming to any terms. This was what these guys had said they would do, when they got elected, and this is what they did. Shut it down. They were jubilant, dancing and drinking in the halls of power, delirious with their "victory". Why didn't we see this coming? I guess we didn't take them seriously enough. Didn't realize how righteous they really feel about what they believe they are doing. How brazen they could be - one of them actually had the nerve to tell a Park Ranger, just doing her job, at the closed WW II Memorial yesterday, "You should be ashamed of yourself!" for not letting people in to the memorial. There he was, out there grandstanding for cameras, in the face of a ranger doing her job, not getting paid for it, and he was feeling all self-righteous and full of himself as he did it. This is a different breed of politician we're dealing with, here. That was something to see. The ranger continued to be courteous and polite with the idiot - showing her real character, while he went on about his shenanigan grandstanding. Where do these people come from - America? Really? Wow!

    But, back to Monday. After a really strange day, in which I kept checking the news to see what was happening, as the realization began to sink in that not much was, nor would, be happening for awhile, and the anger built up and began to boil - oh, yeah, then I got to get my permanent crown installed at the Dentist, always a fun time. I at least had a great finish to that first wierd day, watching my hometown team growing up, the Pittsburgh Pirates, playing their first playoff game in 21 years, and winning it! I was all fired up, exchanging facebook messages with cousins back in Pittsburgh, all so excited that our beloved Buccos, they of 21 straight losing seasons, were actually in the playoffs, and doing well. For those couple of hours, I forgot all about Furloughs.

    But, alas, Tuesday morning I woke up, and began my furlough "routine", whatever that is. After another day of checking the news, going online to see what was going on, getting a head full of all the finger pointing going on, each side sure of its "rightness", each pillorying the other, I certainly having my own opinion about it all and sure of its rightness, I finally just got fed up to here with it all and said, "Enough! Enough, already! You (me) can't go on like this! Who cares if you're right or you're wrong, or somewhere in between? Who cares? What will any of that do to change what's going on? What's it doing to you, spiritually? Snap out of it, dude! You're a wreck! Focus! Get your head out of Congress' ass, and figure out how you're going to survive this bullshit!" (This is not a verbatim recall of my conversation with myself, just the best that I can do to piece it together. I was in an unstable emotional turmoil at the time. I just knew it was not a sustainable state of existence). So, I did what I do when the shit gets heavy. I laughed. It's so absurd, you have to laugh at it. I found my mental laughtrack, and began to hit that button. Others laughed with me. Still others wanted me to stay angry. "No thanks - you're doing a good enough job at that for both of us. I'll tell you what - you be angry, and I'll cheer you on from the sideline. I just can't take it anymore. I don't live my life angry."
  • Yesterday, I got back to basics. I spent some quality time on my morning meditation. I put a second coat of paint on the wrought iron railing I had scraped and wirebrushed and put a first coat of paint on the day before. I ran some errands, got some joint chews for the dog, Costco run, ran out of time to take the bike ride into town that I planned, put on the radio and heard about a lady who flipped out and tried to ram the barriers leading to the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue, led police on a wild chase through the district, ending with her and an officer both getting hit in a shootout near the Capitol, her fatally, and them finding a little kid in the car with her. Yeah - good thing I didn't have time to ride that bike into the city! I recalled the conversation I had with an old Veteran buddy of mine the night before, where he was talking about a bunch of disgruntled veterans planning to form a militia and storm the capitol. That was about when I had said, "Man, we all need to just chill - this is getting a little out of hand."

    I was seriously considering making a run out to Pittsburgh early next week to catch a Pirates game there. Kathy, who hates baseball and doesn't care much for Pittsburgh, but obviously loves me, had suggested this as she left for work yesterday morning - so I emailed my brother out there, to see if he'd be around. His reply made me so proud of him. We kid that he is our "Redneck" sibling, and he does display a number of redneck behaviors and tendencies, but he's had enough of all the idiocy. He's renounced Republicans - they've finally embarassed him so much, he does not care to be associated with them any longer, at all. He's become appalled at what is going on.

    Love is thicker than politics, and I've always loved him, even when we didn't agree on politics. But, ever since Obama first ran for president, he has felt that many of his friends opposed him simply because he is a black man, and my brother has been an Obama man ever since. He flew in the face of his own politics, appalled by the sometimes veiled, and sometimes not so veiled, racism that caused people to make their differences with this president so unseemly personal. But, in most other regards, he was still a republican. No longer - he's done with them.

    Another brother is still a believer - he likens this shutdown to something Teddy Roosevelt did to get campaign reform passed. He seems to think it's o.k. I still love him. In fact, I'm going to spend a weekend with him on a spiritual retreat later this month. We are all entitled to our own beliefs and opinions, politically and otherwise, and much as I am tempted to make it personal, I just won't go there. You can - let me know how that goes. I'll still love you. I got no room for hate. Sorry - not even for some of these idiots. I won't go there. I'm too tired of it all.

    So, I'm doing my best to deal with this strange new world, this world of being furloughed, of the government being shut down, and finding the best way to make the most of this time I find on my hands. Everyone has ideas on how I should spend it. Kathy thinks I should be seeing it as "snow days". I know I probably should - but I'm just not there. At this point, I am still feeling like a stranger in a strange land. It's just how I'm feeling. It's all new territory for me, and each day seems to bring something totally different. I will do my best to meet each day's discoveries and revelations with a smile, a laugh, love, and lessons learned. Maybe I'll write a book - "How to survive a Fall Freaking Furlough!" I'd really rather just go back to work.

    Maybe it's all just a bad dream! If so - wake me when it's all over, will you? Thanks for listening to my furlough freaking ramble.
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