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February 5, 2000

I got something depressing in the mail today from the Social Security Administration. It's my Social Security statement, with my salary history from the year I was 17 and earned $27 for the whole year, through 1998. The depressing part was not that I can't afford to retire until I'm 85. I'd already figured that out. No, it was that my earnings over the last seven years have been almost totally flat, leveling out at about 60% of what I was making during my years at the shoe store in the early eighties.

In those days I thought I was set for life. I was invested in the business and doing something I enjoyed. The fact that the rug was pulled out from under me was partially my fault, maybe mostly my fault. Some of it was a personality conflict with other people who had been brought into the business.

When I started with the company I was the golden boy. I could do no wrong. I took over a failing store and made it the standard for all stores, increasing both sales and customer satisfaction impressively over the shambles left by the previous manager. The fact that he had been a crook and I turned in every nickel didn't hurt my case. I was given more and more autonomy, and eventually awarded a partnership.

Then things started to slide. The economy took a downturn, and sales dropped. I never quite got a handle on hiring and firing, and service was therefore not what it should have been. I made some errors in judgment regarding inventory, and when new investors were brought in, I was bought out and asked to leave.

A measure of how badly I wanted to stay was that I asked to remain with the store, even stripped of power. That situation naturally didn't last long, and I was again asked to leave, this time for good. It was one of the worst times of my life, and if I hadn't had the support of my family I don't know how I would have pulled through.

I spent the next year clawing my way back into the workforce, finally landing with the Company, where I've been ever since. But the first full year I worked after leaving the shoe store, I earned one-third of the salary I had in my last year there. I've gradually wrestled my way back up to a comfort level of sorts, but it's still far below what I had then. And I've never enjoyed this job as much as I did that one, in its best times.

So I perused the Social Security document somewhat wistfully, looking at the rows of numbers and trying to find some perspective. I don't hate what I do. I have my family around me, and I can afford most of the things I want. Most of what I need, anyway. It's only occasionally that I look back at what I nearly had, and wonder where I might be today, had things gone differently.

But then, anyone could have the same regrets. No one's life turns out exactly as planned, and there's no way of knowing, when you set out on a path, if it's the right one for you, or what might have happened if you'd taken another route. All I can do is make the best of what I have, and look around for ways to make it better. So maybe getting this thing in the mail is one of those crossroads. In forcing me to think back, it seems to have me thinking ahead again.

Rainy Saturday

It's amazing how quickly I can rewrite my agenda for the day when I wake up to the sound of tires on wet pavement. Suddenly, it seemed a good day to stay in and get some work done, rather than rambling all over the county looking for fun. I'd made a mental list of four or five movies I might see this weekend, at matinee prices even. But my enthusiasm faded when I looked out the window and saw the dreary downpour. Then I looked into my wallet and decided I needed a gallon of milk more than I needed to see a movie anyway. It's hard to stay on the Slim-Fast diet if you let your milk supply run out.

I took advantage of a break in the storm to get to the post office and pick up milk and a newspaper. Just after I got back home, the heaviest shower of the day hit, reinforcing my inertia. This was one of those cloudbursts that seem to be aiming the darts of raindrops straight down at us. The gutters on my street filled to sidewalk level within minutes, and somehow my neighbor's lawn seemed greener already. I don't mind rain, as long as I'm looking out at it and not standing under it or driving through it. It helps to know that in California we rarely have more than two or three days like this before the sun comes out again.

In fact, today the sun was shining half an hour after the downpour. The gutters were receding and shadows from the giant walnut tree at the corner of the driveway were falling across the lawn. Within two more hours, the street was nearly dry. I stuck with the agenda, though, and kept working.

A rainy Saturday is a good time to get some real work done, since the phone is quiet and the distractions are limited. But it's hard to believe how quickly the day can get away. I was getting so much done, things I'd been trying to get at all week, that I just kept going until I looked up and saw it was nearly six o'clock. I don't work that late on weekdays. Catching up like this helps me plan for next week, so that I can make some headway on getting the books in order for the accountant while guaranteeing that I'll be ready for the upcoming insurance audit.

The audit is the middle of the month, but nothing else has a definite target date. Except, of course, that the Boss would like it done "yesterday," or perhaps "the day before." Since he's the one throwing me the curve balls all week long, he shouldn't be surprised when I swing and miss. If my weekdays could be as productive as today has been, I wouldn't have to work Saturdays at all.

Meta Notes

I did spend some time working on my bio page today. It's nearly ready, but I have some decisions to make. Not about myself, but about whether to use real names. I've already used pseudonyms for neighbors and coworkers, but they don't know I'm writing about them. And since I don't intend to tell them, I can't ask for permission to use their names.

But I'd prefer to use real names for family members, if they don't mind. Since they already read my journal, there's nothing to hide, and I wouldn't have anything negative to say about them in any case. I don't tell their stories except when they are also my stories, and even then it's from my own perspective. Still, they're interesting people, and I'd like to bring them in here a bit more. I don't want to do anything that would upset or offend them, though.

So if you're reading this and you know me, let me know what you think.

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