Saturday, July 01, 2006

In a State

We're in quite a state here in New Jersey, pun intended. Our government failed to pass a balanced budget by the end-of-the-fiscal-year deadline, which struck at midnight. This means that only essential functions of government may continue to operate.

We all received a flurry of memos yesterday. The first memo instructed us to check with our supervisors about our status, essential vs. non-essential. I dutifully went to my boss with the memo in hand to ask about my standing. He gave me a "you're-being-a-pain-in-the..." well, we'll say neck here, just to keep it polite: he gave me a "you're-being-a-pain-in-the-neck" look, then informed me that I am non-essential. Oh the misery. I am not needed. I am insignificant.

Seriously, though, I really was being a pain in the whatever. After 18 years in the same title, I am well aware of my status. I was being obediently cheeky in following the instructions in the memo.

Later in the day, an official memo was provided to each of us informing us of our status. It once again confimed my relative unimportance as a cog in the wheel of state government. Indeed, we were told that any non-essential staff who showed up for work in the event of a government shutdown would be sent home. All around me people were bemoaning the lack of appreciation for their service.

OK, truth be told, most of us do not want to be essential. While we would prefer not to have significant amounts of time off without pay, nobody is excited over the prospect of handling all of the emergencies that arise during a government shutdown.

So how does this affect me? Well, I will be off on Monday no matter what, since I have an approved vacation day (thanks to my very kind boss, in spite of my cheek). The question is whether or not I will be paid for the day. If there is a shutdown, I will not be paid.

If the shutdown is averted, I will be home alone on Monday. My first plan is to watch all 6 glorious hours of Pride &Prejudice (the Colin Firth version, of course). My backup plan (depending on mood) is to go to the movies to see either A Prairie Home Companion or The Devil Wears Prada. (My friend Pax reviewed A Prairie Home Companion here.) I've never been to the movies alone (except the campus movie in college, but that doesn't count), and I'm not sure whether or not I'll have the courage to do so. Am I being silly?

If there is a shutdown, then I will NOT be home alone, since we are both government employees in this household. In that case, all bets are off, especially bets that involve spending any money. We'll both be losing a day's pay for each day the State of NJ is closed for business. Ouch. We'll survive a little of that, but too much of it will be very, very painful.

So Trenton (the NJ capitol city and the seat of government) is in a mess. It's in a literal mess due to serious flooding this week, which, ironically, closed many state offices in the city. It's in a figurative mess because of political posturing, grandstanding, and a mess left by past governors and legislators of both parties. To wit:

-Christie Whitman (R) plundered state employee pensions and single-handedly wrecked NJ's A+ credit rating before she abandoned her post to run the EPA for W. She appointed:

-Don DeFrancesco (R) as Acting Governor before turning tail. Mr. DeFrancesco, an unelected governor, spent money like water, putting us further into the hole.

-Jim McGreevey (D) came next. Big budget challenges awaited Mr. McGreevey, especially in the wake of the September 11th attacks, since NJ is so close to NYC and Newark International Airport played such a significant role in the attacks. Mr. McGreevey also abandoned his post late in his first (and only) term, ostensibly because he had become involved in an affair with a male staff member, but it is thought that there might have been deeper issues and scandals. Mr. McGreevey left, appointing:

-Richard Codey (D) as the acting governor. Once again New Jerseyans were left with an unelected acting governor, and once again spending went a bit over the top. And now we have:

-Jon Cozine (D), elected governor, who seems to be doing his best to fix things, without much help from all of the other elected reps here in the Garden State.

This is, of course, my highly biased view of things (hey, it's my blog, I get to be biased). Even if you disagree with my position on the issues, you can see that NJ's government has been hacked to pieces over the last several administrations. Is it any wonder we're in such a state here in NJ?

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Those Summer Nights

Summertime brings back so many memories to me, starting with summer evenings spent chasing fireflies in my jammies with Jeffy from across the street. We ran around the yard playing tag and keeping an ear cocked for the Mister Softee truck.

I grew up on a large corner lot in a housing development in the suburbs. The local parades went right past our house. We'd sit out front on patriotic holidays and watch the parade, then retire to the backyard for a barbecue. Barbecues were the only time Dad ever cooked. Mom did all of the prep, of course, but Dad would handle the grill. Except when he forgot. OK, lets just say that Mom did ALL of the cooking!

The kitchen was on the second floor of our split-level home. The house was built with a front door and a side door, but no back door (Dad added one later, with stairs leading up to the second level). To avoid taking all of the food down the stairs then out the door and around to the back of the house, Mom used to hand stuff out to us through the kitchen window. The snow drifts would pile up under this window every winter, engendering stern admonishments for me to stay out of the drifts or I'd die in them, or something like that.

On the fourth of July we'd sit in the backyard at sunset. You could see the local fireworks from there. If the mosquitoes were bad (hey, this is New Jersey, mosquitoes are the state bird here) we'd watch from the picture window upstairs. It never occurred to me that not everyone had this luxury. It's tantalyzing to me now when I hear the distant explosions at 9pm on the 4th but can't see anything from my deck.

I spent many summers working at camp. I remember the first time I had to take a group of campers (I worked with the youngest ones, about 7 years old) on a cookout. Cookouts at camp were the real deal. You had to gather the firewood and build a fire from scratch (we did use matches, however). The first time was pretty comical. I think it took me something like an hour just to get the fire started. I was covered in soot and dirt from head to toe from kneeling on the ground and blowing on the "fire" to get it going. Literally covered in soot. Face and all. I don't quite remember the meal, but I suspect that it might not have been the best of fare. My poor campers were moaning, complaining of hunger and fatigue. I think my unit director finally stopped by to help me get it together.

I improved on my outdoor cooking skills after that. I haven't built a cooking fire for several years, but I'll bet I still could! I have to say that the food was truly marvelous when cooked over an open wood fire. My favorite cookout meal was camp stew. Camp stew was made by browning bacon, then setting it aside, then browning chopped onions and beef. The bacon was added back in, and spaghetti sauce (any plain Jane generic canned sauce would do), canned potatoes (those little round ones) and canned carrots were added. Once that was all heated through, chunks of cheddar cheese were added for the coup de grace. The finished product was the most wonderful meal imaginable. It was served with doughboys (bisquick mixed with water and wrapped around a stick, then cooked over the fire) and bug juice. Mmmm, bug juice! And what would a cookout be without s'mores for dessert?

Sometimes we would camp out overnight, as well. I always tried to get the bluff site. Once the campers were settled into their tents for the night (yes, I had to pitch the tents, too!), I would lay a tarp out on the edge of the bluff (head by the edge so I couldn't roll off) and put my sleeping bag on it. I'd fall asleep under the big big sky, full of brilliant stars, overlooking the wide river. Sometimes moonlight lit a path to dreams across the rippling surface of the water. The horns of the big ships out in the channel would lull me to sleep. I was far too tired to care about bugs, or snakes, or the bats swooping over my head, and no one worried too much about ticks back then. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever was rare on the East Coast, and noone had ever heard of Lyme Disease. I have never slept so soundly or felt so at peace as I did back then.

I suppose I could go on and on about those summer nights. There were quiet ones and fun ones and romantic ones enough to fill a lifetime (my lifetime). Here we are at act one, scene one of a new summer. How will your script read this year?

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Tea Party

The scones and tea are on the table (you'll forgive a girl for adding a wee dram of Tullamore Dew to her tea, won't you?) and you're all invited for a cozy visit. The overstuffed chair is open to the first guest to arrive, but don't worry if you run a bit behind schedule - you're still welcome, and there's an overstuffed couch to match.

Feel free to take the conversation where you will - I just want to natter with my friends today. Here's a topic to start off the convivial chatter:

What's your favorite book of all time, and why? Feel free to wax long in your answers. Here's mine:

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. What does this selection tell you about me? I guess it says that I am essentially a romantic at heart, but something of a common-sense romantic.

I think Mr. Darcy was my first love. What feminine heart could resist a gentleman who showed such tenderness and caring toward his beloved? I love the way Austen painted first his outline - the proud, reserved man who inspired anger and seemed difficult to like - then fleshed him out as a thoughtful man who overcame his character flaw out of love. His actions spoke more about his love than his words. Yes, I've noted the overuse of the word, "love," in this paragraph. Vive l'amour!

I share Elizabeth Bennett's strong sense of the absurd, as well as her taste for simple pleasures (the company of good friends, a walk in the country). I sympathize with her embarrassment over the foibles of her family, and her sober understanding of the implications of their behavior. And then, of course, Mr. Darcy comes to her rescue!

If you've never read the book, the
BBC mini-series of P&P is well worth viewing. Actually, there is more than one BBC version of this story. As Virginia Gal will know, I'm speaking of the version starring Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy. This was my first DVD purchase, bought the day I bought the DVD player. In fact, I'm staying home alone on Monday, so perhaps I'll dig it out...

I have to note another favorite book. This one's a novel, with all of the delicious nuances conjured by the word. It's a book called Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon. It's the first in a series of books by this author about the same characters. Outlander is a combination time travel/historical fiction/romantic bodice-ripper that is a cut above all of the rest. It begins in Scotland just after World War II, then takes you back through time to the era of Bonnie Prince Charlie.

Outlander is well done, not at all a cheesy dimestore novel. Gabaldon invokes longing better than any author I've read. Her attention to detail is amazing, as is her writing, and the characters haunt you long after you close the cover on the final chapter of the book. I also fell in love with Jamie Fraser (shhh, don't tell). I must confess to something of a weakness for strong Celtic men (the second DVD I bought was The Quiet Man). But then, I have a fair amount of Celtic heritage to claim for myself, so I suppose it stands to reason...

OK, this one-sided conversation is getting old, so join in, please! No holds barred, and just because I'm an incurable (though common-sense) romantic doesn't mean that I expect only discussion of romantic works from you.

By the way, has anybody seen my copy of Outlander? I think I loaned it to someone. Oh well, time for a visit to!