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Thursday, May 18, 2000

I took a look at the calendar today and had to blink to make sure I was reading it right. May. May 18. May 18, 2000. Yeah, that's the right date, and that's this year. Somehow the pageant of time has progressed to the point where I have just three weeks left before my vacation.

And at least one day, probably two, will be lost next week because of major dental work. It's a bigger project than the one that knocked me out for two days in March, but not so big that it'll take any longer to recover. (I hope.)

It's not even "major" to anyone but me. All the dentist has to do is have his tools ready, and that's the assistant's job anyway. I open my mouth, and he's in and out in an hour and fifteen. He leaves our encounter a few dollars richer, and I leave with no feeling in my mouth, until the anesthetic wears off. By then I'm home and he's on to his next victim.

The most difficult project to tackle before I leave isn't getting all the bills paid, or catching up on correspondence, or filling out bid forms. It's preparing the Boss. It's getting him in the frame of mind to understand and accept the inconvenience of going on in my absence.

He has the kind of tunnel vision that lets him concentrate with a laser-like intensity on the project of the moment. It's remarkable to see him work, because when he's focused on an assignment, nothing escapes his attention. It's like having a window into the mind of a chess master, who can see so many moves ahead that he knows the inescapable result of every possible variation.

Unfortunately, he's also a bit of an idiot savant. He has a blind spot for anything that doesn't affect him this minute. He has no patience with anything that doesn't interest him, and it takes a lot to hold his interest. So to prepare him for my absence, I have to remind him once this week, a couple of times next week, and every day the last week I'm here.

Otherwise he'll dial my phone number the following Monday morning and his mental wiring will short-circuit when I don't answer.

He'll leave me a message the first time he calls. The second time he'll get irritated and think there's something wrong with the phone line. The third time he'll start slamming down staplers and throwing his rolodex. I pity his unfortunate officemates, now more than ever.

It's not that he doesn't want me to take time off. It's just that the timing is never convenient, and if I waited for a "good" time I'd be tethered to my desk forever.

But I have a routine that never fails.

The first time I tell him I'm leaving, I always say, "I just wanted to remind you about my vacation." He doesn't know whether I've told him about it before or not, but it's easy for him to assume that it's just another petty detail that's evaporated from his overly stimulated brain.

"Remind me again before you go," he'll say, and it'll be even easier the next time we run through these lines.

By the day before I leave, he might even ad lib. Without prompting, he'll say, "You're not going to be here tomorrow, are you?" He won't remember where I'm going, or when I'll be back, but once I'm gone he finds a way to handle whatever comes up. He's only sixty, but it helps to think of him as older, maybe my best friend's grandfather, who has good days and bad days. You have to be patient with him and remind him so that he thinks he's remembering all by himself.

This is how I can abandon him for a week with no guilt. I'll know that I've tied up all the loose ends I'm aware of, and that he'll grumble about the extra phone calls he has to field while I'm gone, and the forms he'll have to fill out by hand instead of passing them on to me, and the emergencies he'll have to improvise a solution for. He'll grumble about all these things, but he'll do them.

As soon as I get back, the roof will cave in. I'll be buried with work for 25 hours a day, eight days a week. I know this is how it will end, but I can't think about it now. And I'll have no temptation (or time) to think about it while I'm gone. If I did, I might as well have stayed home, because I'd be no fun at all.

I took my car in to the mechanic this afternoon. New tires, and a possible oil leak. It has 195,000 miles on it, as of about 10:30 this morning. I'd like to make it to 250,000. A quarter of a million miles. It's an accomplishment to keep a car running that long. It means you've been paying attention, doing the right thing by your car, giving it what it needs. It also means you've been spending a lot of money, especially if you're as mechanically inept as I am. A relationship with a mechanic you can trust is one that's worth cultivating.

The end of the road.End

His shop near the end of a dead-end road. Beyond it are the Petaluma hills. There's still some open space between Santa Rosa and its neighboring towns. We routinely vote down highway expansion and other growth measures. We like our green belt.

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