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Sunday, January 7, 2001

Hurray! I can cross something off my massive to-do list, and it's a big one. I finished the W-2s this morning. It wasn't easy, and it took four days because I can't do more than two at a time. I lose focus and start making mistakes if I try to do more.

Besides that, any more than two and my back is ready for traction. I had to quit last night after I found myself literally writhing in pain, trying to find a position that didn't hurt. This is the most painful use I put my typewriter to all year, hunched over typing unfamiliar names and random numbers into the red and white six-part form.

It's excruciating, because every mistake means I have to void the form and do it over. No room for error, because the impression of the error can't be erased on the five copies beneath the original. I used to be a good touch typist, but this pressure makes me tentative and accident-prone.

And we had more employees this year than ever before, nineteen. I told Tim that if he'd stop going through crew members like cheap beer, they'd have their W-2s in hand much sooner and could apply for their tax refunds early.

He said he likes the crew he has now, but that doesn't mean much. There's not a single one remaining from the guys we started with last January. Total, one hundred percent turnover in personnel. That makes a really good impression on the state unemployment office, you know? It's a great excuse for them to raise our rates.

But why, I hear you ask, don't we have a computer program to print out these forms? And I reply that we don't use any commercial accounting software, for the simple reason that the Boss doesn't trust it to produce reports and statements in exactly the format he wants, with precisely the information in the same order he did it all in by hand thirty years ago.

So I took his old handwritten spreadsheets and duplicated them in Excel, and we've been building on that base ever since. If nothing else, this keeps me from worrying about losing my job.

I designed all the internal accounting from scratch, using formulas and macros only where it wouldn't slow down the old 286 computer I started it on. None of it approaches full integration. I can't input a figure once and have it ratchet down to all the reports where it would be meaningful. Theoretically, all the employment records, including the W-2s, should be one click away, once I've input the original payroll information.

No one, and I mean No One, knows how many times I have to input the same data, just to make the Boss say, every six months or so, "Michael, I don't know how you do it. Your work is the best I've ever seen."

He thinks I'm a genius at using the computer, when really I'm only a genius at reading his mind and giving him what he wants. Which, by the way, isn't what anyone else wants. Banks, accountants, financial consultants — none of them has any idea how to read these reports that the Boss loves so much, unless he goes through them line by line.

It would really be quite comical, if it weren't so frightening. The whole company rests on the shaky foundation of my knowing what I'm doing and staying healthy enough (and interested enough) to keep doing it.

This gives me little comfort, when I recall that the Boss is going to be 62 years old this year. What in the world am I going to do if he decides to retire, or leaves the business for some other reason? I'll be obsolete the instant he's out of the picture.

And I have a few good years left in me, but I'm way past the age where it's easy to find a new job, especially one that would let me keep living in this high-rent house, buying tubs of tapioca pudding and five-pound sacks of premium wild bird seed.

Okay, I have to stop now. I'm scaring myself.

I didn't get out of the house yesterday as planned, except for a quick trip to the post office so I could mail out the last of the 33-cent envelopes. I thought again about catching a movie, but my head is still plugged up. In fact, I worked myself up to a nosebleed trying to clear things out.

But I did get some things done around here. I clipped all the branches off the brown Christmas tree and filled up the yard waste container with them. I'm not sure how I'm going to handle the trunk, since it's too long to fit in the can. But it still has a kind of stark beauty, even stripped.

This used to be a Christmas tree.

And I finally got around to hanging up the wooden wind chimes Mom gave me for Christmas. Of course, the wind was perfectly calm all day, but it won't stay that way. We are in for some real weather this week, I'm told.

wind chimes

I still have the two bird feeders to hang out, but until then I feed the birds in my own way. Trust me, they know where the easy pickings are. I may have more feathered friends than I can handle, at the rate I'm going here.

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