Monday, January 25, 2010

I'm Going To Need A Little Time . . .



My dog died Saturday. Her name was Lady, she was an 11 and 1/2 year old yellow Labrador Retriever, a rescue from the Sacramento SPCA. She had been ill for a while, but her death was not expected. I had to have her put down.


I'm going to need a little time. Please excuse me if I don't post for a while.


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Yele for Relief for Haiti - Text to Donate $5

Wyclef Jean's Haitian charity, Yele (YAY' -lay), is providing relief for victims of the recent earthquake in Haiti. You can text and donate $5 as follows, but be patient -- the site has crashed under traffic and is working to restore bandwith. To donate, the number is 501501 - text "yele". Please see below.

Let's lift Haiti up in prayer and donate.

BWB

NEW YORK – Wyclef Jean is one of Haiti's most famous sons, and his tweeting about the earthquake there has been a galvanizing force on the Web.
Jean is most famously a member of the now-defunct Fugees (FOO'-jeez). Publicist Leslie Chasky says he arrived Wednesday in Haiti and is focusing on his family, his Haitian charity and responding to the disaster.
Several of the most popular topics on Twitter referred to a tweet from the singer urging people to send a text to the charity, Yele (YAY'-lay), to donate $5 toward relief. The number is 501501.
Hundreds are passing his message on by the minute. The Yele Web site is inundated with donations and has crashed under the traffic.
A spokeswoman for the charity says the organization is working to fix the problem and increase the site's bandwidth.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Who Moved My Velveeta?

Last Friday, on a Furlough Friday no less, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed that, instead of furloughs and a 14 percent and change pay cut, state workers take a 10 percent pay cut and no furloughs, citing his growing concern that the furloughs might not be legal (Ya think? Gee, what was your first clue?). My initial response was, to borrow a line from a Schwarzenegger movie, “Fuck you, asshole!” I thought, “He must think I’m Boo Boo the Fool – that I’m going to take a pay cut AND continue to work the same number of hours like nothing’s changed when the legality of the first pay cut is still in question? I don’t think so. Homie don’t play that.”

My dear, sweet sister, the Writing Diva, has expressed her concern for my situation on her blog. Not only do I work for a general fund state agency (those most at the mercy of layoffs and the like), but I have the least amount of seniority in my classification within my agency and I’m third from the bottom in the entire agency in terms of seniority. If layoffs come, I’m screwed and tattooed. I discussed my sister’s concerns for my job security with BMNB, and he was quick to allay her/my fears. “Oh, no, we’re licensed professionals – that means we’ve got a license to go make some money. If the state acts funny, you can go do contract work. You’d make more money doing contract work than you would working for the state, anyway. Or you can go work for the feds – they pay more. Worse comes to worse, we’ll just go back to Colorado. We’ve got options.”

Can you see why I love this man?

After discussing the Governor’s proposal with my state worker siblings and unleashing a steady stream of profane language at the Governor’s unwillingness to avail himself of all the LEGAL options to reduce the state payroll – golden handshakes, hard hiring freezes, reducing all boards to necessary quorums -- I thought back to a book I’d read a long time ago and it hit me:

He’s moved my Velveeta.

I haven’t been in state service long enough to know whether Spencer Johnson’s “Who Moved My Cheese?” became required reading for state workers as it was for private sector employees a decade ago. It’s a fable about two mice and two Littlepeople (the term in the book, not mine) and how they react to change. The mice and the Littlepeople get up every morning, put on their running shoes and jogging suits, and walk through a maze to find cheese, which just happens to be in abundance in Cheese Station C. The mice, Sniff and Scurry, never assume the cheese will always be in Cheese Station C, so they keep their running shoes tied around their necks and their jogging suits on, and they continue to monitor how much cheese there is or isn’t every day while they dine on it. The Littlepeople, Hem and Haw, get comfortable with the cheese always being there to the point that they expect the cheese to always be there. They stop keeping their running shoes tied around their necks and they hang up their jogging suits. Why not? There’s cheese in abundance.

Then, one day, the cheese is gone. How Sniff, Scurry, Hem and Haw react to the loss of cheese is the lesson in dealing with change. I won’t ruin the story for you, but there’s much to learn about change, and fear of change, from it. The cheese, as you can guess, is a metaphor for what motivates you – job security, success, pay, etc. In state service, the cheese is definitely Velveeta – work with lower pay relative not only to private industry but to other government agencies, with difficulty in advancing and getting training, in exchange for better benefits, job security and regular pay. Well, the “Velveeta” has been moved – job security and regular pay are definitely on the chopping block.

I’m not in control of the state budget. I’m not in control of my union. I’m not in control of the judges who will rule on the numerous furlough law suits and, possibly, the pay cut law suits to come.

What I am in control of is how I react to the shifting career sands under my feet. And, perhaps unbeknownst to my dear sister, I’ve been “sniffing” and “scurrying” in anticipation of these changes to the state work force.

I truly believe that the state worker life of my parents’ generation is going to be no more. I foresee a decrease, if not total elimination, of pensions. I see seniority going by the wayside in exchange for job security for the most productive state workers. If the state were truly innovative, it would trash the entire civil service exam system and hire, promote, and fire much like the private sector – a results-oriented approach to human resources. The problem is that those at the top – the appointed folks and the CEAs – don’t want metrics, goals, and consequences like those in the private industry. So there will be two standards – one for those at the top, and a tougher, results-and-production-oriented standard for those on the bottom.

I don’t intend to stay at the bottom. By that, I mean I don’t intend to be at the mercy, financially or otherwise, of those at the top.

Like Sniff, I’ve been sniffing out the coming changes, and like Scurry, I’ve been planning accordingly. I met with a CalPERS representative to find the best way to get service credit and, as a result, the most in pension payments and healthcare benefits in retirement, for the least amount of hard time (time actually working) and money. I set my retirement date from state service, or any CalPERS entity for that matter, based on that information. I’m in Tier 1, so as soon as I vest (I’ll have five years of service credit on May 1), I’ll buy another five years’ service credit at my salary now, which will be the lowest cost assuming that one day salaries will increase. I will possibly do another fifteen years and retire after 20 years of service and an additional 5 years of purchased service credit for a pension benefit of 50% of my average salary for the 3 highest earning years in state service, plus health care benefits. That’s assuming I stick with state service and that the pension and benefits formula stay the same, and I don’t make that assumption; I just make sure I know the best option if it does. In either event, I intend to hang on in state civil service until I vest, since I doubt the state can adopt a budget fast enough or send me a pink slip fast enough to lay me off before May 1. The state doesn’t work that fast. And even if it did, there’s always contract work until I can return to state service and vest.

Like Haw, I’ve asked myself, “What would I do if I weren’t afraid?” and planned accordingly. I’ve been working to expand my knowledge in my small legal field and in other legal fields I find interesting in order to make myself more marketable in the event I do get laid off. I’ve also been studying to take another licensing exam that I won't discuss, and I’m contemplating taking the Colorado bar exam just in case BMNB and I decide to move back to Colorado. A bookstore near where I work is going out of business, and I’ve been stocking up on professional licensing exam books and the like at 50-60 percent discounts. I’m also thinking of doing some teaching on the side now that I’ve had a nice long break from it, and I will be looking into the ethics of returning to the private sector and using what I’ve learned in state government to represent clients before my agency. And I’m still working on my writing and publishing. In other words, I don’t assume that my Velveeta won’t be moved. In fact, I not only assume that the Governor AND the Legislature will move my Velveeta; I assume that I will need to go out and find some new and better Velveeta outside of and in addition to state service Velveeta.

All I know is that I long ago tired of being afraid of what was going to happen – what the Governor and the Legislature were going to do to state workers -- and decided to take control of the one thing I could control – my own human capital. And once I did, I felt a whole lot better. The Writing Diva need not worry.

And when this all shakes out, I fully intend to enjoy some wine with my Velveeta.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

When You Leave The Ghetto, Don't Bring It With You

NBA player Gilbert Arenas brings a gun to an NBA locker room. NBA player Ron Artest lets his pit bulls run wild and free in Loomis, California while playing for the Sacramento Kings. NFL player Michael Vick did time for fighting dogs. And NFL player Plaxico Burress is doing time for shooting his damn self.

What do all these men have in common? BMNB would say an inability to make a profound paradigm shift. I’m less eloquent than BMNB is, so I’ll say it differently: The inability to leave the ghetto behind.

Yes, call me saditty, bourgie, elitist, stuck-up, whatever. I don’t care. Until you’ve had a tweaker ruin your Thanksgiving turkey, you don’t even know (more on that later), and I’m not trying to hear you.

Living in Western Placer County, my husband and I continue to hear stories from folks like us who had to flee “those who can’t leave the ghetto behind.” You know these people, and they come in all races. In our case, we had returned to Sacramento in 2004 and 2005, respectively, and we were trying to wait out the housing market because, well, we’re cheap and people we respected told us to just wait, that this was a housing bubble just like the tech bubble, and it would burst. In the meantime, we decided to rent a home in the area where I really wanted to buy: Elk Grove, California.

Elk Grove was touted as one of the fastest growing cities during the housing boom. Here’s why: San Francisco Bay Area homes have always been more expensive than Sacramento area homes on average, no matter where those Bay Area homes were located. Elk Grove, a formerly sleepy bedroom suburb and, before that, a dairy farming community, was undergoing a construction boom. The newly constructed houses built in Elk Grove in the run-up to the housing bubble were initially priced for the lower-priced Sacramento market, not the Bay Area market. Result? Folks in the ghetto in the Bay Area were able to sell their homes and buy one, and sometimes two, new homes in Elk Grove. Some of them lived in the homes, some rented them out. And many of them brought the ghetto with them. As the boom roared on, even folks in the ghetto in South Sacramento, with the assistance of shady lenders and real estate agents, were able to buy newly constructed homes costing ten times or more than annual salaries. BMNB and I didn’t know this when we rented a newly constructed home in Elk Grove in 2005 and again in 2007. We were foolish enough to believe that new construction could not equal ghetto. Well, it can. We found out the hard way.

What do I mean by “ghetto” and “bringing the ghetto with you”? Well, here are some examples:

1) Entertaining in the garage with the garage door open. We would leave for work and see our neighbors across the street playing cards in the garage with the garage door open. We would come home from work and see our neighbors across the street playing cards in the garage with the garage door open. I thought that’s what family rooms are for. Hell, I thought jobs were for getting out of the house Monday through Friday. What do I know?

2) Group homes. Our neighbors who lived diagonally across the street from the first house we rented operated a group home. We didn’t know that when we moved in. One of the group home monitors got arrested for possession of marijuana and suspected abuse of a minor. But when he got out he was just as friendly, explaining to me that he had “been away” for a while. Yeah, right. Like I couldn’t read the article in the newspaper that had his mug shot. When your neighbor appears in the paper in a mug shot, your neighborhood is ghetto.

3) Cinderblock fences, wrought-iron rolling gates, and other forms of “mammy-made” landscaping. It is beyond me why people who buy or live in brand-new homes seek to “upgrade” the landscaping with their own undeniably home-made upgrades. When I see the cinderblock being dumped in the driveway, the wrought-iron gates installed to roll across the driveway, and the six-foot tall water fountains plunked down in the center of a lawn that’s 7 x 10 feet, I just want to shake people. Oh, and that 3-foot tall statute of the Virgen de Guadalupe on your front lawn that you light up from the bottom at night? That’s ghetto, too. Yes, I said it. Even the Virgin Mary can be ghetto under the right circumstances.

4) Kitchens in your garage. In Elk Grove, not only did folks entertain in their garages, but they installed kitchens in their garages. Why? So the smell of curry wouldn’t get into the interior walls of their houses. I’m sorry, but a kitchen in your garage is ghetto, period. I don’t care what race or ethnicity you are.

5) Partying all night – on a weeknight. This was usually a renter phenomenon. The president of our neighborhood association routinely fielded complaints about this. I would tell her, “They’re renters. No one who owns and works is going to party until 4 am on a weeknight.” She thought I was stereotyping people. I wasn’t. I would routinely go to our local library, pull the tax assessor’s rolls, and find out that the owner of the afflicted home didn’t live in the home but instead lived in either San Jose or Vallejo. And from the looks of things, they were renting to any warm body with a Section 8 voucher. Voila! Tenants who don’t have to go to work in the morning and don’t give a damn if you do.

6) Exotic exterior paint colors. Again, I’m at a loss as to why people who buy a new home choose to make theirs “stand out” by painting it purple, yellow or pink in a sea of beiges, taupes, sages, mushrooms, and the like. If you don’t see any electric pink houses on the block, why you gotta be the first one to paint yours that color? Oh, because you just couldn’t leave the ghetto behind. That would have been too much like right.

7) Juvenile delinquents. In Elk Grove, a member of the police department warned me not to buy a house where I was living. I asked why. Here’s his explanation: “Right now, it all seems fine and good because these kids are young. But most of their parents work in the Bay Area and don’t get home until late at night. Once these kids become older and more mobile and continue to be unsupervised, they’re just juvenile delinquents waiting to happen. There’s going to be a crime wave coming when these kids get older, and you don’t want to try to sell your house during a crime wave.” Well, you don’t have to tell me twice. And then there were the well-meaning grandparents who thought that, by moving out of the ghetto, they would help their delinquent grandchildren to straighten up and fly right. Wrong. When they brought their delinquent gang banger grandchildren with them to the suburbs, they just brought the ghetto with them.

BMNB was particularly affected by the influx of ghetto youth in Elk Grove. On weekdays, BMNB is suited and booted and looks like, well, a Secret Service agent. On weekends, it’s another story. His favorite gear is sweatshirts, athletic shoes, jeans, and a puffy ski jacket. It doesn’t help that he looks like he’s in his mid- to late twenties. Oh, and he’s black. You can see where this is going. Needless to say, he got tons of hard stares from and was bumped into several times by young men with earrings, tons of bling, and tattoos on their necks and in their scalps. Having grown up around military families, he had no clue as to what this was about. My brother finally had to break it to him: “They’re gang bangers, and they want to know what set you’re down with.” It was about that time that BMNB decided we had to go, before he killed someone. It was that bad.

And my favorite example of bringing the ghetto with you?

8) Pit bulls. If ever there were a mascot of the ghetto, the venerable and often abused pit bull would be it. One of our neighbors in the second Elk Grove house we rented not only owned them, but bred them and kept them kenneled in his garage. One day, one of his females who had just had puppies got out and charged my elderly Labrador Retriever. Well, my dog is not only old, but evil, having attacked a Doberman Pinscher two days after I got her from the shelter. She did not back down, and there I was, rolling around on the ground trying to get between my dog and the pit bull. The owner came out and apologized profusely, but I was madder than a hornet: “You’re a pit bull owner. You can’t make this kind of mistake. This is unacceptable.” And, after apologizing, he looked at me like I was from another planet, like it was unacceptable to complain about pit bulls.

All of these things happened to us or near us in Elk Grove. For the life of me I could not understand why folks would move to the suburbs only to bring the ghetto with them.

If you either live in the ghetto or live among “those who can’t leave the ghetto behind,” at some point, if you have any common sense or just a desire to live peacefully, you have an epiphany when you realize it’s time to go. Hell, there should be a rite of passage called “fleeing the ghetto.” My first “flee the ghetto” epiphany happened when I moved back to Sacramento in 2004 and was living with my sister in the house I had grown up in. My nephew’s half-brother came to the door saying he was being chased by gang bangers and needed to hide. I was roasting a turkey for Thanksgiving at the time. It took us a while to figure out that: 1) he was high on meth; 2) he was hallucinating; and 3) he had a hammer in his pocket. As he hid in the bathroom, I called the police and warned them we had a “5150” on our hands. The police came, made my sister and I leave the house, would not let me back in to finish basting my turkey, and then threatened to taser the young man. Great. When all was said and done, I ended up with a burnt turkey and the guilt of turning over another brother to the criminal justice system.

I later sat my sister down and told her I was moving out and to Elk Grove. “Why?,” she asked me. I looked at her like she’d lost her mind. “You can live ghetto if you want to, but I’m not going to. I’m outta here. I’m not used to living like this. I’m not used to having tweakers ruin my Thanksgiving turkey.” Within a month I had rented a newly constructed home in Elk Grove with BMNB. Within six months, my sister was living with me. Within a year, she bought, along with another of my sisters, a home in a gated community in Elk Grove. I hear once you go gated, you never go back.

As for BMNB and me, we bought the best house we could in an HOA-controlled neighborhood the hell away from Sacramento County. We’re more than willing to give up a few freedoms to have another layer of governance between us and our neighbors to make sure our neighbors can’t bring the ghetto with them. And true, although money can’t buy happiness, it can buy a certain amount of peace if you can afford to buy in a neighborhood where those who can’t leave the ghetto behind can’t afford to buy. But even that’s no guarantee, as I’m sure Plaxico Burress and the like can afford to live anywhere they want.

But Plaxico, Gilbert, Michael and Ron, do some of us a favor: When you move into our neighborhoods, don’t bring the ghetto with you.

And would the last person leaving the ghetto remember to feed the pit bull and call the SPCA to come get it?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Do Me A Favor -- This Year, Choose You

There was this epiphany, “ she says. “I am sitting there with a new baby, angry, tired, and out of shape. The baby is up for that 4 o’clock feeding. And my husband is lying there, sleeping.” That’s when it struck her that if she weren’t there, he would eventually have to wake up. It worked. “I would get home from the gym, and the girls would be up and fed. That was something I had to do for me.”

The Real Michelle Obama,” O Magazine, November 2007

Happy New Year! We’ve entered not only a new year, but a new decade. So all you tired and haggard mothers, dutiful daughters, caregivers and the like, do me a favor: This year, choose you.

I came across the passage above from an interview with Michelle Obama featured in O Magazine in 2007, and I couldn’t think of anything better to emphasize the importance of occasionally -- or even regularly -- choosing yourself first over the competing but not life-threatening demands of family and work. I don’t mean choose yourself in a selfish way, damn the consequences, but in a self-preserving way in which you sacrifice domestic and career perfection for a little self soothing, care and preservation. In those moments when the world won’t fall apart if were to you do so, choose you.

Last year was tough. This year might not be any better. If you don’t take care of yourself, well, then, who will? How will you have the physical and mental stamina to endure whatever is to come if you don’t take care of yourself? In those moments when we choose mopping over crocheting, balancing the checkbook over balancing on the Wii Fit board, please, please ask yourselves: Is the world going to fall off its axis if, just this once, I choose myself over the needs of others? If the answer is “no,” well, then, consider this a permission slip a la Sherri Shepherd, and please do choose yourself.

Let’s all take a cue from our First Lady’s epiphany and figure out those things we need to do for ourselves just to keep going as ourselves, whether it’s yoga, going to the gym, reading, gardening, whatever. And when the occasion arises that, by choosing yourself, you’re making yourself physically and/or spiritually better off without making anyone you care about detrimentally worse off (I doubt that getting up to feed his kids made then-State Senator Obama any worse off), please, please, do me a favor – choose yourself.

If you don't do it for you, do it for me.

Happy New Year!