Coffee heat rising

On the Mountain

Yesterday, for the first time in many a moon, I took a much-needed hike up North Mountain, not far from my house. Besides having reached a peak state of out-of-shapeness, I’m getting fat, and the stress from the crescendoing din about the job situation is giving me a chronic bellyache.

As I was walking up the mountain (and starting to feel better), it occurred to me that I may be better off living on lots less income and living with lots less stress.

And the stress level, of late, has been measurable in astronomical units. In August we were told to expect an announcement around September 15 to the effect that almost everyone in my job classification would be laid off. Then the story was that the university’s president could not make such a decision without approval from the Board of Regents, which meets in the first week of December—hence last winter’s round of Christmastime layoffs. That date came and went. But now, in January, our rabid legislators, unleashed as our governor leaves to join President Obama’s cabinet, have decided to gut all three universities by way of taking out their loathing for Communists and Darwinists (which is what they think resides in a College of “Liberal” Arts and “Sciences”: not a joke!). Everyone’s salary is cut by 12%, and that’s just for starters. The president himself—no mere rumor-monger—has announced that 1,000 people will be laid off before the end of the fiscal year. Nontenure-track lecturers have already been told they will not be renewed after this semester; much more bloodletting is to come.

No wonder I feel like I’m going to throw up every time I eat! It’s not cancer: it’s GDU.

Reflecting on my career, such as it is, it struck me that if you count the years I was in graduate school, when I taught two sections a semester as a “teaching assistant” (read “slave laborer”), I have been working for the Great Desert University for about 25 years. There was an SAHM interlude where I freelanced, wrote three books, and worked on the editorial staffs of two large magazines. But otherwise, almost all of my work life has been spent at That Place.

And lemme tell you, working in any department of That Place is by definition stressful. When I was in graduate school, a “teaching assistantship” meant you were handed a set of books and two sections of 25 freshman composition students and told to build a course—unsupervised. There was a one-semester T.A. seminar, which carried no credit and which was a grand waste of time. By the time you prorated the salary over the number of hours this job entailed, pay was significantly less than minimum wage. But you got a tuition waiver. Since the Arizona constitution mandates that public education will be provided for citizens at a cost as close to free as possible, at the time a tuition waiver did not amount to much.

Teaching freshmen…OMG. In the first place, freshmen are not quite a step removed from high-school kids. If I had wanted to teach adolescents, I would have gotten a teaching certificate, not a Ph.D. in English. Freshmen face all the difficult developmental issues that high-school kids deal with—sex, friends, lovers, parents (complicated by the kids’ first solo flight into the world), teachers, drugs, alcohol, cars, race, class, gender, and all that—to which are added the vicissitudes of life as we grow older: deaths of friends or family members, abuse by love partners, money, failure, frustration. Poor little things. Well, freshmen tend to confuse the English teacher with Mommy, often because inexperienced composition instructors tend to give assignments that invite students to write about personal matters and hence, in the students’ not-quite-adult minds, to invite the instructor into their lives. Some of their issues are heart-rending.

Add to that the general illiteracy of the standard American high-school graduate, and you have one helluva job in teaching composition. Any day I’d rather clean house for a living!

Editing a research newsletter for the graduate college, which I did for a couple of years, was infinitely easier and pretty fun, except for our photographer, who was an evangelical Christian fundamentalist. He used to try to proselytize everyone we went out to photograph, often to embarrassing effect. While a friend and I were poking fun at his aggressive ridiculousness, we got word that the man’s only son, a winning young teacher with a doctorate in physical education who was roundly loved by everyone who knew him, was waiting at the stoplight at 44th Street and Osborn when a cement truck came along, rolled over on top of his car, and smushed him like a bug. Needless to say, our photog went even further off the deep end (he became convinced that God had arranged the extinction of his son to spare the son great suffering that had been scheduled for later in life), creating a situation that was not only sad but quite difficult to deal with.

Teaching upper-division students was a huge improvement over freshman comp, even though the course I taught most often was known off the record as “freshman composition for juniors and seniors.” When I returned to GDU after a 15-year hiatus, it was to a satellite campus populated mostly by returning adults, a very choice sort of student indeed. This would have been idyllic were it not for the course load and the chronic overenrollment of the writing sections: four and four, capped at 30. I taught four sections of writing courses—120 writing students at a time!—every semester, and usually picked up two more sections during the summer. To give you a picture, if 120 students each turn in a three-page paper, you are faced with THREE HUNDRED AND SIXTY PAGES of gawdawful drivel to plow through. Not only do you have to read it, you have to try to comment intelligently on it; quite a trick, given the quality of the material produced by people who think Wisconsin is a Rocky Mountain State and World War I happened during the 19th century. Consider that you should assign at least six such papers, and you get the idea.

Soon I learned never to accept overrides, no matter how pathetically supplicants begged to be let into my overstuffed courses (National Council of Teachers of English guidelines specify no more than 20 students in a writing class). But occasionally the admins or the dean would quietly admit people behind my back. One semester I showed up and found FORTY-TWO students enrolled in a technical writing course! And in addition to that section, I had three others filled to their cap of 30 students. That’s 132 writing students. Again, by the time you prorated my salary over the 14-hour-a-day seven-day weeks, it came to right about minimum wage.

Now that I’m on the main campus editing copy for scholarly journals and supervising a small pack of graduate students, life is much better. Except for the swirl of layoff rumors. However, though things are relatively quiet now, this job has not been without its stressful moments.

Certainly, coping with GDU’s answer to Bartleby the Scrivener was one of the major causes leading up to the stress attack that put me in the emergency room and kept me lashed upfor a good twelve hoursto every cardiovascular monitor known to humanity. The Bartleby situation went on for four. long. years. By the time she quit, shortly after the 2007 Christmas break, I was becoming obsessive about the woman. Recognizing that she was quite literally driving me nuts, I had made up my mind that if I couldn’t force her out at the time of the spring 2008 annual review, I was going to quit myself.

Well, stress is a function of life. That’s so. But GDU is so far down the Rabbit Hole, so incorrigibly through the Looking Glass, that we come out thinking life is a function of stress.

Because the Red Queen said so. Off with their heads! Off with all our heads.

If I’m canned, I will not weep long. It will be a relief to get back to the real world, where the mountains to climb are made of granite and tackling them is good for your health.

Illustrations by John Tenniel
The Cheshire Cat over the Croquet Match: Alice in Wonderland
The Mad Hatter and the Dormouse: Alice in Wonderland
Alice Meets the Red Queen:Through the Looking Glass

Taxes! PeopleSoft! Garrrrhhhhh!

Is there a way to express my hatred for my honored government’s tax system?

Just ran a Quicken report for my tax lawyer. Haven’t printed it out…I don’t even want to know how many pages it will generate. There’s probably not enough paper in the house to print the damn thing. I’ll have to hire an elephant and a mahout to deliver it across town.

Because of PeopleSoft’s proven unreliability—and because I’m pretty sure they got last year’s W-2 wrong—for the first time I’ve broken out all the details of my paycheck as a split entry under each salary deposit. I wanted a record that I could compare with the figures that appear on this year’s W-2. The result is a mosaic of new entries, some under income and some under expenses, an awe-inspiring mess. Many of these entries are directly deductible from my salary. Because my gross (instead of net, as in the past) salary appears under “income” and because Quicken categorizes refunds, reimbursements, the IRA withdrawals that immediately were reinvested (and so are a wash, tax-wise), and all sorts of other little bits of b.s. as “income,” this report makes it look like I earned almost $100,000 this year. Which, oohhhh believe me, I most decidedly did NOT.

To arrive at the real, piddling income, you have to jump through hoop after hoop after hoop after hoop. Nightmarish.

Why do we have to do this? Is there really some reason that every American, no matter how diddly his or her income, has to go through all the nonsense inflicted on our tax code to accommodate the very wealthy?

Maybe the Republicans had it right: just excuse rich people from paying taxes. If the wealthy few who could afford to hire lobbyists to instill these absurd complications in our tax law didn’t have to pay taxes, then the tax laws could be simplified and the rest of us would have a great deal easier time of it.

Let’s just give the obscenely wealthy a state—how about North Dakota? They can live there with no government and no taxes, they being, after all, wealthy enough to build their own private roads, airports, schools, and the like. Then the rest of us can go on about our business. Once you have a net worth of, say, $50 million, off you go to your mansion in North Dakota. And good-bye to all that.

Spectacular ending to a difficult day

dcp_2265Unbelievably gorgeous Arizona sunset this evening. The air is crisp—almost cold—as a rain front is ambling in from the west. A buttermilk sky floating in ahead of the storm turned first hot gold and then deep red against a turquoise backdrop. Very nice: A-minus, God.

Today piled atop yesterday to create 48 hours from Hell. At four in the morning, the dog threw up all over the bed. I’d run out of meat last night and so cooked her a couple of eggs…you can imagine what a mess that made. But try not to! By the time I got out of bed and got her off the bed and pulled the soiled blankets off (the heat has been off to save money toward the expected RIF, and so four blankets and throws were stacked on the sheets), we had yellow, stinking barf all over me, all over the floor, all over the throw rug, all over the bed, all over the bureau drawer. Fortunately it didn’t get on the pillows and didn’t soak through to the mattress, but I had to launder every stitch of bedding.

Since I don’t have any other blankets or sheets, that was the end of sleeping, after a five-hour nap.

The washer ran from four in the morning to about noon. So did the dog: she kept right on barfing, even though she had nothing left in her to throw up. After about the dozenth woof, I called the vet.

The issue here is that a day before Thanksgiving she got ahold of some sort of plastic–what it was and where she found it remains a mystery. Whatever, she chewed it up into tiny sharp pieces and swallowed a fair amount of it. This put her at risk of an obstruction or a perforated intestine.

Over the phone at the time, the vet advised me to feed her some vaseline, which works like mineral oil to…uhm…grease the works, as it were. We managed to get through the holidays without incident, but the vet also had said to watch for vomiting. Here, we had vomiting. With a vengeance.

Meanwhile, I have 200 typeset pages of medieval and renaissance research to index by tomorrow. Wuz supposed to have read a chunk of it yesterday, but as you may realize, that did not happen, partly because I was so exhausted and so harried I couldn’t function.

After the 9:00 a.m. junket to Borders to pick up the lost AMEX card, it was off to the vet at 12:30, marking pages and cleaning up barf around those trips.

A set of X-rays showed the dog has something in her gut near the caecum. What, the vet did not know. She advised watchful waiting. Gave the dog an antiemetic shot, advised me to give her Pepcid AC to try to cut down the barfing of yellow bile, and said to ease up on feeding her. That’ll be $225.

So much for trying to live on $300 this week. Well, I wasn’t going to make it anyway, but now I’ll have to raid savings to make ends meet. How on earth do I imagine I’m going to live on a gross income that’s $880 a month less than I net today?????

Managed to get through 52 pages before I fell asleep. Woke from a nap with the same headache I’ve been enjoying nonstop for the past two weeks. Do wish it would go away.
There are a lot of things one wishes would go away.

Perusing the daily news, I about had cardiac arrest when I read this story. If I may be permitted to say so: God Damn It! A cherubic eight-year-old child dies because some moron hands him a loaded freaking Uzi. No ordinary moron, mind you: a freaking chief of police!

As a screaming left-wing liberal who happens to take the Constitution literally and so believes that law-abiding citizens do indeed have a right to bear arms, I am so enraged by this stupidity that I can barely breathe. What in the name of heaven could these people have been thinking?

  1. An eight-year-old is a child. Spell it: c-h-i-l-d!
  2. An Uzi has a recoil. That’s r-e-c-o-i-l.
  3. If you don’t know what that means, try k-i-c-k-b-a-c-k.
  4. An Uzi is designed for soldiers in combat, not small children at play.
  5. A boy will get just as big a thrill out of shooting a .22 as anything else, and a .22 will let him learn how to handle a gun safely and hit a target accurately.

But apparently “handle a gun safely” was not on the agenda at this fun event. w00t! Full auto rock & roll!

Forty-eight hours from Hell.

12408eveningprayer_pic

Qwest update

Yesterday while I was at work Julie called from Qwest’s corporate headquarters in Denver. She left a phone number that, believe it or not, dialed straight through to her, unfiltered by any gate-keeping robots.

Butter would not have melted in Julie’s mouth. She was soothing, she was apologetic, she was smooth.

Julie revealed that when the Josh claimed he could save me $10 on a “bundle,” he really was claiming to “save” that amount on a much larger set of services than I had or wanted. In other words, his scam scheme would save me $10, all right: off a much larger bill! I said he had led me to understand he was going to reduce my existing bill, and that I never asked for nor needed any of the extra bells and whistles. It was thanks to the Josh’s deceptiveness that I ended up with a doubled bill.

She said she would deactivate all the extra services he had put on the system and cancel the long-distance “membership plan,” which costs an astonishing $30 annual “membership fee” (give me a BREAK!) and $20 a month for the privilege of being billed 2.9 cents per minute of long-distance talk. If you’d prefer not to pony up the monthly premium, for just the thirty-dollar annual rip, you can talk for 5 cents a minute: exactly the rate Cox charges with no extra fee.

She also agreed to cancel the cell phone contract, effective immediately.
*****Ta DAAAA!*****

Since I’d already canceled Qwest’s phone disservice and am about to cancel its DSL disservice, all I really wanted from this transaction was to get quit of the extra $30/month ding for the cell phone that I hardly ever use.

She said the various credits for all this canceled service would appear on the December bill. The $170 inflicted by the Josh’s “bargain” still is to be extracted from my checking account the first part of November, but the final bill will show a bunch of credits. She asked that I not cancel the automatic bill payment until the final bill comest through in December. Reluctantly (as usual), I agreed to this.

So, since I can’t afford a $170 phone bill, now I will have to transfer money from savings to cover it—timed perfectly as I’m looking at a possible layoff. Thank you SO much, dear Qworst. It also means, of course, that I’ll be buying less than planned in the way of Christmas presents next month. Merry Christmas, dear Qworst!

It also means I won’t be fully disconnected from Qworst until the first week in December, at the soonest. Meanwhile, she said the Cox service will start on October 30 but the paperwork will not go through until November 3. She also said that, contrary to what Cox’s “Rose” told me, Cox has to request the DSL disconnection, not me. Qwest cannot cancel it at my request. I said Cox had told me that after the serviceman came by and installed the new Internet connection, I had to call Qwest and tell them to end the DSL service. She said Cox is supposed to do that.

So it looks like that will be another bone of contention. {sigh} When will this be over?
Previous chapters:

Back Again—Temporarily?
“We Value Your Business”
Unbundled! Qwest Strikes Again
What Happens When a Live Qwest Guy Shows Up
Qwest Redux: How Do These Companies Stay in Business?
Qwest: The Saga That Will Not End

Qwest: The saga that will not end

The Qwest b.s. simply will not die!

As you’ll recall, in the last episode I received a nasty form letter claiming the credit union bounced a payment (it did not) and threatening to shut off my phone service. In the ensuing call to Qworst, customer disservice representative “Brad” told me this was fixed and my bill should revert to the normal amount, around $86.

Yesterday, I opened the monthly phone bill to find a gouge for $169.03! Further examination revealed that the cost for phone service had jumped from August’s amount of $26.72 to $43.15; Internet service was jacked up from $29.99 to $89.98!!

So, with my tape recorder running (having learned from “Brad” that the recorded voice’s claim that Qwest records your conversations with its reps is not true in 99% of calls), this morning I call back again and reach one “Alex.” He is obsequiously apologetic and, when he hears the reprise of the endless story, he decides he needs someone in authority and puts me on hold while he tries to reach the “Loyalty Department.” (Yes. That’s what he called it.)

A while later he comes back online and says he himself has been on hold. He disappears again. A few minutes later, he comes back on the phone to report he still can’t get past the hold button but on reading my bill he thinks a $108.29 credit was issued on 10/16 and I should have been billed only $69.03. He says I’ll be credited for the overcharge next month.

I say I can’t afford a $170 bill this month. He says he’ll have to go to the collections department to get the overcharge removed from this month’s bill…then he notices the $108.29 credit actually was applied to my bill.

I point out that the bill is unintelligible and it’s impossible to tell whether this is true or not (after all, look at what he had to go through to come to that conclusion!). I also state that I want the automatic payment from my checking account canceled NOW, and I will pay whatever is actually owing by check. He says he’ll call collections, stay on the line with me, and arrange for the credit to go through this month.

Then I point out the weird increases in the costs of “phone services” and “Internet service.” Now he says in this case he needs to talk to “Escalations” after all. He puts me on hold again.

Forty-five minutes into the call, I’m still listening to Qworst’s annoying “Get in the Loop” ad, endlessly looping.

Now someone named “Amber” gets on the line. She demands that I turn off the tape recorder, saying no action will be taken as long as the call is recorded.

Got that? It’s OK for Qworst to tape-record you, whether you like it or not, but not OK for you to record them.

She says the local service came to $22.64 with tax and that the apparent differences between the two monthly bills are the result of Qwest’s new layout for the bills—that magically, the amounts are really the same. This doesn’t sound very believable to me. She says $30 was added for a renewal fee for long distance—that I’m on a “membership plan.” I say no one told me any such thing, and that I had not signed up for any plan. She says I was billed that much last year.

Not until after the phone conversation ends do I think about the fact that Quicken is still live on my computer. When I check, I discover that no such extra fee was levied last year, so she simply lied to shut me up.

At any rate, I reply that $30 does not account for a difference between $85.99 and $169.03. She says I was billed for 2 1/2 months’ worth of Internet service because the upgrade in September was not billed at the time. She said the bill for the Internet service went up. I said I was told there would be no change in the amount due. She said that was “misinformation.” (Read: another lie?) Then she said she would return the service to 256K and backdate it, reducing the fee.

Scant satisfaction: I still have a ridiculously inflated bill I can’t afford resulting from a chain of events that started with Qwest’s DSL screw-up, entailed several examples of “misinformation,” and has wasted hours of my time.

This morning’s phone call alone consumed over an hour.

I called Cox, using a number given to me by a friend who claims to be satisified with Cox’s service. There I reached one “Rose,” who said that the midlevel Internet service runs at 9mb/second (if I’m not mistaken, that’s somewhat better than “256K”) and costs $45 a month. The phone service costs $20 a month, for a total of $65. This afternoon, when “Rose” arrives in her office, I’m switching from Qworst to Cox.

Qworst corralled me into a two-year cell phone contract about 18 months ago, and so that runs until June. As soon as it expires, though, I will let the cell phone service go, leaving me with a much more affordable phone bill. The only reason I got it at all was to have some way to call for help if I get in an accident or if my car craps out on the freeway; as it develops, all cell phones will dial 911 for free, whether or not they’re connected to a service. Not only that, but in many areas you can use an unconnected cell phone to dial a number and have the call charged to your credit card. The call may cost around $3 a minute, but that’s a far cry from $30 every month for a device you hardly ever use!

The Consumerist has published a list of Qwest senior executives’ addresses. I intend to get in touch with several of these folks and request an early cancellation of that cell phone with no gouge, given the gross mistreatment I have suffered at the hands of the company’s customer disservice staff. Interestingly, The Consumerist also reports a scam similar to the one The Josh pulled on me was inflicted on another woman. Apparently Qwest has a track record for this sort of thing.

Whatever you do,
NEVER
EVER
DO BUSINESS WITH QWEST!
Previous chapters:

Back Again—Temporarily?
“We Value Your Business”
Unbundled! Qwest Strikes Again
What Happens When a Live Qwest Guy Shows Up
Qwest Redux: How Do These Companies Stay in Business?

Discombobulated

Ugh! Spent the entire darned day yesterday building a package to sell The Copyeditor’s Desk to university presses. I hate writing stuff like that.

It’s exactly the same as writing a résumé and cover letter to apply for a job, and just as stressful: not only what do I say and how do I say it, but what is the most effective way to structure a pitch, what do they need and how do I talk about that instead of talking about me, when do I say X and how far do I push Y and how do I get something that should be in the emphatic last position in a graf out of the freaking MIDDLE of the graf without coming up with something that sounds incoherent and….augh! And then I had to targetrésumés for both me and Tina and tweak our track record so the reader will easily spot the work we do that’s relevant to his or her needs…gasp!

After all that, I have one, count it, ONE package ready to mail. Meanwhile, I didn’t get a lick of work done for GDU. I expect this will go easier for the other three presses whose ramparts we need to assault this week: I set up the draft material in boilerplate sections, so that really the only segment that will need to be rewritten to customize for each press is the first paragraph or two. The routine is very much like applying for jobs. The first cover letter is torture, but once you’ve got it on paper, you can reuse a lot of it with relatively light revisions. Ditto therésumé: when you start with the “list of accomplishments” or “relevant skills,” you can adjust those to move the job description’s desiderata higher on the list.

Speaking of job applications, I need to do a bunch more of those, too, in light of Our Beloved President’s recent online fireside chat.

Unfortunately, though, I’m going to be forced to actually work today, as extreme as that sounds. Two new math articles have been sitting on my flashdrive since Friday.

And it’s already 6:37 in the morning. Dang! Gotta run! 😯