Thursday, March 31, 2011


It is only a matter of hours now.

I gave up on the paperclip dilemma and decided to just leave them in drawers, coffee mugs, and paperclip holders for someone else to sort out. My apologies to that someone else.

It is bizarre. Walking through Charleston Center, I feel like a ghost, floating through halls with no purpose. My phone has not rung for two days and the only emails I get are spam. At least this assures me that my efforts to make a smooth transition to the next Director have been successful.

Chanda, the new Director, doesn’t look like a ghost. I spot her running down the hall with her cell phone to her ear and she looks like an anthill that’s been run over by a lawnmower.

Last week I was crossing a parking lot to attend my last Director’s Meeting at our sister agency in Columbia. One of the other Directors was getting out of his car, spotted me, and called out, “Dead man walking!” It was funny; he knows my sense of humor. But it was also accurate.

The photos are now all gone from my walls. Some I took home, most I gave away. I left the nails.

I do have one last very tough decision to make. How do I get Honey home.

My cactus. A gift from Karen a week after we got married that has been in every office I’ve occupied since. Do I tip it over and carry it horizontal in Karen’s SUV? Or do I put the top down on my sports car and buckle it into the passenger’s seat.

My preference is the latter although the forecast of rain may preclude it.

I removed my name from the agency’s website today and replaced it with Chanda’s. Tomorrow I will erase my harddrive. 13 years of data. (I did make a portable hard drive copy for Chanda but there is too much confidential stuff on it to just leave it on the laptop).

And what on earth am I going to do with my firefighter’s helmet?!

Hey!  I could have used this for the "Yellow Shoot"

Take it home, I guess, because I really do like it. I was a gift from the Charleston Firefighter Support Group for counseling assistance I gave them over the years after a terrible fire killed seven of their finest. But it’s too big to put on a shelf and I’ll never wear it and it is embarrassing to have during these terrible years of budget cuts – real firefighter helmets are very expensive to be given away as souvenirs.

I feel like a ghost. Periodically someone will stop into my office to thank me and wish me well. A few of them gave me little going-away gifts. I thank them, shake hands, sometimes allow a hug, and we tell each other that we’ll stay in touch…promise to have lunch sometime. We are sincere about those promises although we know (at least I do) that it won’t really happen.

Kelley, our data-management guru, got it right. She said, “Remember that the windshield is bigger than the rear-view mirror for a reason.”

Friday I will get up just as early as always in order to walk the dogs, help get the grandchildren off to daycare and fix Karen’s lunch. I will probably forget like I always do that it is April Fool’s Day although knowing Brian, he may remind me in some surprising way – like the time he rigged the kitchen sink so when I turned on the faucet the little sprayer thingy shot water in my face instead. Once the house has emptied out I will take a nap.

When I wake up, I will water Honey, who has also retired and somehow made it home to the porch. Then I will leisurely look at everyone’s Friday Shootouts and make silly comments. Maybe I will drop in on Bagman and Butler and prepare a shootout myself – although it will certainly be a late posting.

I have a long and exciting list of things to do after that – from fixing the doorknob on the porch to losing 50 pounds and climbing a volcano in Costa Rica.

But maybe on Friday, I’ll just take a second nap.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

I guess it’s time to clean out the office

I’ve been putting this off. I’ve even been putting off thinking about why I’m putting it off.

Not because of nostalgic memories or having to face feelings of sadness upon leaving. Although I do sit in my comfortable desk chair (embarrassingly stained with salad dressing from years of eating at my desk) and say to myself, “I’m really going to miss this old office.”

BAGMAN: “No you’re not.”

He’s right. I’m not really going to miss it much. At my retirement party the staff gave me a tote bag on which they had all written obligatory “We’re going to miss you”s . And Kelley, who once cracked a raw egg over my head at a company picnic, wrote: “Remember that the windshield is bigger than the rearview mirror for a reason.” I’ve always been pretty adept at leaving. Sometimes too adept or my own good.

I’ve been putting off cleaning out the office because it is stuffed – bookcases, credenzas, file cabinets – with things I didn’t know what to do with at the time. How will I figure it out now?

BAGMAN: “Don’t even look at it! Just throw everything away!”

But I’ve still got five days left before I actually vacate the office. I’m still the Director. I can’t just drop everything and start cleaning it out.

BUTLER: “Mark, Mark, Mark… For the next five days, you may be responsible for signing payroll but be honest. When was the last time your telephone rang? You’ve done a good job of methodically turning everything over to Chanda who has been promoted to follow you. You don’t even have any emails in your inbox! You have nothing else to do for the next five days. So start cleaning out!

Not that easy! But not impossible. The decision logic is limited to the following categories:

1. Confidential stuff – shred or burn

2. Confidential stuff -- pass along to appropriate management for follow-up or documentation

3. Stuff I might find useful later – training materials, etc.

4. Stuff someone else might find useful later

5. Absolutely worthless pieces of paper

6. Office supplies that should be put back in the supply cabinet

7. Personal stuff to take home

I pull out a huge notebook titled: “Emails -2008.” I used to keep selected emails I wrote with the expectation that I would take them home when I left. At the time I considered them wise or clever and worth keeping with my personal journals.

BUTLER: “Like that long-winded email you sent to the entire staff giving the philosophical and linguistic rationale for not using obscenity in the workplace.”

I read a few of the emails in the notebook and realize that I sounded like a self-righteous preacher in love with the sound of my own words.

BAGMAN: “Hey! Just like you do on Blogspot!”

Okay! Okay! Into the burn bin! And I start pulling stuff off shelves and out of file cabinets.

1. A funny cartoon I clipped out of the newspaper in 2005. Put it in the new Director’s box. She could use a laugh – she’s now wearing all the stress that you’ve shed.

2. A contract with the local mental health agency. So that’s where I put it! Return it to the contract files where it should have been in the first place.

3. Notes and exercises from the Leadership Institute I attended in 2001. Take them home in case I ever start doing management consulting in my retirement. On second thought, into the trash can.

4. A hundred paper clips of assorted colors and sizes in my desk drawer. After staring at them for ten minutes, I close the drawer and figure I’ll get to them later.

5. Folders of documentation we used to defend the Center against a lawsuit that was settled eight years ago. Burn bin.

6. Books and articles on financial management of healthcare institutions, addiction, marketing, leadership, time-management, etc. I give some to the new director, leave some on the shelves, throw some away. Too heavy to take home where my bookcases are already full.

7. 17 coffee mugs with cute sayings, mostly gifts from staff on “Boss’s Day.” I keep three of them.

8. Four of the other coffee mugs are filled with five hundred more paper clips. How did I get all these paper clips?!!

Suddenly I’m frozen with indecision. We’ve cut the budget for office supplies for the last three years in a row. I can’t just throw them away. I don’t have a box to put them in.

9. A photograph of my wife. Put it lovingly in the gift tote bag I’m using to take things home in.

As I lean down to put the photo in the tote bag, I spot, lying on the carpet near a bookcase, a large silver paper clip. I lean over, pick it up, and stare at it. Despite a 35 year career of decision-making, I don’t know what to do with it.

I begin to hyperventilate.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Revenge of architects with a sense of humor

1st Architect:  "Let's see if we can get really rich people to buy plain rectangular box shaped houses simply by putting lots and lots of columns on the front.

2nd Architect:  "And let's see how close they are willing to live together."

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Friday Photo Shootout - Yellow

BUTLER:  "Well, I certainly didn't expect you to show up this week!"

"Why not?"  I ask, sitting down at the computer and firing it up as if I still remembered what I was doing.

BUTLER:  "When you skipped 'Chaos'..."

BAGMAN:  "Which is right down our alley!"

BUTLER:  "How could you get excited about 'yellow'?"

I considered this for awhile.  Yellow is a rather pale theme...hard to get as excited about yellow as you can get about red or purple.  But I did know the reason I had shown up for this one.  But it was embarassing and I didn't want to admit it.  Finally, I said, "Do you want to know the truth?"

BAGMAN (Doing his best Jack Nicholson immitation):  "The TRUTH!  You can't HANDLE the truth!"

"Sure, I can," said calmly.  I've been feeling more and more mellow with only five more days left in my nine-to-five grind.  Mellow yellow.  But that's another story.  Back in the 70's, in Hollywood, I went to a party and met the guy who sang "Mellow Yellow."  But now I'm too senile to remember his name and back then I was too drunk to remember anything about the event except falling forward on the table and spilling his beer into his lap.  He probably doesn't remember me either.  I hope.

BUTLER:  "Excuse me for interrupting an old memory but you wereabout to tell the truth to Bagman?"

"Oh yes.  Digressions are my bane."

BAGMAN:  "Bane?  What the hell is a bane?"

"Anyhow, the truth is that yellow was an easy and not time-consuming theme for archive searching because could pull a hundred thumbnails up on the screen and just look for yellow.   That way I can post a lot of pictures real fast and go back to sleep.  Pure laziness"

BUTLER:  "I hope you can find some time this weekend to at least look at what other people are doing.  You have been very impolite and self-centered these last few weeks."

BAGMAN:  "You think you're so special just because you are retiring next Friday."

Ignoring him, I pull up thumbnails and start slapping them randomly onto the blog.

This one is almost recent...
Conner explaining the concept of bath to Noah.

And this one is ancient...
Before early manipulation with some free download program

At least this was actually taken in my hometown...

As was this one...

And this one...

But NOT this one
Although I wouldn't mind if Tuscany was my home town

BUTLER:  "Tuscany, my dear adled Mark, is not actually a town."




BAGMAN:  "That's it?  No cute smartass comment at the end?  

BUTLER:  "Sshhh....he's fallen asleep."

BAGMAN:  "I knew he couldn't handle the truth.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Friday Shootout - St. Patricks Day

I pop unexpectedly into the Bagman and Butler studio. Neither of them are impressed and both of them nursing resentments because I’ve been ignoring them.

BAGMAN: “What the frammatz do you want?” (Except he didn’t use the word “frammatz” (which is not actually a word anyhow)).

“It’s Friday!”

BUTLER: “I didn’t think that meant anything to you anymore and, besides, it will be Saturday in a few more hours.”

(Editor's Note: Actually it is already Sunday -- time flies)

“I know. I know,” I say knowingly. “But I don’t have time to argue. But I think we can get in a small post although it may be cheating since I didn’t actually take the photographs.”

BUTLER: “That really is cheating! If there are any Friday Shootout rules worth enforcing -- using your own photographs is one of them. You should NOT post these! Just go back to your room and keep moping about your retirement identity conflicts.”

"But it’s almost not cheating because, while I didn’t take the pictures, I’m in them. The staff at Charleston Center threw a Retirement Party for me and five other people who were also retiring and it had a St. Patrick’s Day theme!

BAGMAN: “You sure it wasn’t really a St. Patrick’s Day party and your ego just convinced yourself it was all about you?”

“And five other people,” I protest. “See!”

BUTLER: “I only count four other people.”

“The sixth one was late. Don’t be so picky.”

BAGMAN: “If I didn't know better, I'd think you'd been drinking.”

“But, at least, I've got a St. Patty's hat on. Is this any better?”

BAGMAN: “Now you just look like a really sad, fat, old geezer.”

“How about this one?” I say testily.

BAGMAN: “Your eyes are closed!  Couldn’t stay awake for your own party, huh?"

BUTLER:  "The Congratulations are not holding up very well."

BAGMAN:  "And he's wiping his nose in his sleep!"

I give up and leave the room to avoid further abuse.   From now on, I will have more empathy with my wife when she sees an unflattering picture of herself that I have taken and tells me to delete it immediately.


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Bagman and Butler get a letter

The atmosphere in the Butler and Bagman Studio is an odd combination of sadness, resentment, and boredom. Butler is working on an absolutely meaningless photograph of a weird pseudo-classic yuppy subdivision in Mount Pleasant where real estate developers have made millions creating a kind of upscale Disneyworld called I'on.

Meanwhile, Bagman is throwing darts at a photograph of Mark that he has hung on the wall.

It is so quiet that they both can clearly hear the rustle of a letter dropping through the mail slot. Butler walks over and picks it up.

BUTLER: "Hey! It's from Mark!"

BAGMAN: "Big freaking deal."

BUTLER: "Should I read it to you?"

BAGMAN: "Suit yourself."

Another dart flies through the air and imbeds itself in Mark's bald head with a sound that resembles "Thwip."

BUTLER (Reading): "Dear Bagman and Butler. I suppose you guys must be mad at me by now for ignoring you and missing the last two shootouts. I could give you the usual excuses of being too busy. It would be accurate. The grandchildren have been unusually time-consuming and work has been crazy, trying to tie up loose ends prior to my retirement in two weeks..."

BAGMAN: "Bull! He's a lame duck at work! How can he say he's busy when everything has been transferred to his successor already and all he does is stare at the bloody wall!"

BUTLER (Ignoring Bagman and continuing to read): "But the deeper truth is..."

BAGMAN: "Deeper truth my butt! He's lazier than I am!" Thwip twhip thwip.

BUTLER (Starting the sentence over): "But the deeper truth is that I can't figure out what to say. Or think. I know I should be dancing on the table about retiring. At least everybody seems to think so. Congratulations and expressions of envy abound. Yet I think there is also some kind of deeper transition going on. Maybe I have more ego than I think.

BAGMAN: "Duh."

BUTLER (Nods in agreement, then continues): "I have been a (finger quotes) Executive Director for so long. Now I look in my closet and see dress shirts, slacks, ties and suits and they are just hanging there with nobody in them. I go to work and there are no messages on my phone, no letters in my inbox. For the next 13 days, work will swirl around me. I feel a little bit like a ghost. It is rather nice to have no stress but it feels weird.

“Over the weekend, I took Conner shopping and realized the experience was different. Before, I was pretending to be a big shot executive who was pretending to be humble, carrying my grandson through Walmart. Now I don’t seem to be pretending to be anything. I’m just a grandfather carrying his grandson through Walmart. It feels rather good. But it feels weird.

Anyhow, I will be back in a while, Bagman and Butler. I hope you guys are well and I’ll see you soon.”

BUTLER (Folding up the letter and putting it back in the envelope): “Well, at least he’s alive.”

BAGMAN: “Humph.  At  least he realizes his humble act isn't cutting it any more.”

BUTLER:  "You should talk!"

BUTLER:  "Hey!  That hurt!"  

Monday, March 7, 2011

Beam me up, Scotty

I remember an old episode of Star Trek -- the old series before Captain Kirk got all red-faced and perspirey and started selling Priceline.Com. In this episode, something went wrong in the transporter room and Kirk and Spock got trapped between the Enterprise and the planet surface, swirling around like blobs of static.

That's how I feel with less than a month to go before my "retirement." I've grown to hate the word "retirement" and yet I can't stop saying it over and over. Bringing it into every conversation.

"No, Officer. I'm afraid I don't know how fast I was going back there. But I am retiring at the end of the month."

BUTLER: "You realize that "perspirey" is not really a word."

Report me to Webster's. I'm too busy trying to figure out who I am.

BAGMAN: "Come on, Bro! You know who you are! Once we're retired, we can lock up Butler for a change!"

Yeah yeah. Sure. Whatever you want. But you see, one of gems of wisdom that spout fountainlike from my mouth has always been: "What you do is not who you are."

BUTLER: "Ahhh. The ancient existential fountain of personal awareness."

BAGMAN: "I don't even know what that means! I just like getting all perspirey."

These days I just float around like a ghost or a lost transporter beam. And everybody that I talk to...

BUTLER: "How can you talk if you are a beam of light?"

I don't know. I guess I make a hissing or buzzing sound. But everybody I meet says one of two things. If they are retired, they tell me how much I'm going to love it. If they are not yet retired, they tell me how envious they are. I mean, like it's some big huge thing like getting married or going to Disneyland. I don't even want to talk about it!"

BUTLER: "And yet you bring it into every conversation."

I pause to think about that.

BAGMAN: "Yeah!! Like this one!!"

I realize that I have paused but am not actually thinking.

From somewhere, far away, Scotty's voice calls down, "Hang in there, Captain! I'll have you out of this in a minute!" The word 'this' sounds more like 'thish' and I can't tell if it's a Scottish accent or Sean Connery. But I look down and part of my sparkly column near the bottom is trying to form a foot.

BUTLER: "But thinking about not actually thinking is actually thinking."


BAGMAN: "Hey! There are reruns of Star Trek tonight at 2:00 a.m.!! We can make popcorn!!"

Friday, March 4, 2011

Friday Photo Shootout - S (Short and Sweet)

S is for Spring (as well as short-shootout)

At least it is not from the archives.  I did manage to stop for a moment and smell the those white trees are....

And just for variety, I photoshopped it this morning.  Although my eyes are still sleepy and it may not look any different. 

I like the top version better, myself... I think.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Walking Annabelle - not as much fun as it looks

Oh boy!  I get to walk Annabelle!!

Sometimes it isn't until after you look at photographs that you realize something was going on that you didn't see while you were shooting them.

We were out in the back yard with Conner who always wants to hold the leash when I'm walking the dogs.  Actually, we didn't have them on the leash that day but were just cavorting in the yard, and Conner gets the leash.  So I figure he'll have a ball walking Annabelle (the mop dog) and maybe I'll get some pictures of the fun.  So I'm shooting away and engrossed in my own frustrations of trying to get a well-composed shot and trying to remember how to use the camera that I've been ignoring for too long. 

I'm just assuming that Conner is having a ball until he suddenly lies down and starts crying.  It is a short-lived little frustration for him but it isn't until afterwards when I'm looking at the pictures that I realize from the beginning, he is not just running around with the dog but really intent on doing a good job.  Seeing his face in the stills, there is so much responsibility and intensity...and struggle between man and beast.  Or boy and small animal. 

Wait a minute!  Why are you going that way?

Stop.  Come back!

Okay!! Hooray!!  We're doing it now!

Wait!  What's going on?!!

She's making me dizzy! 

Okay, Annabelle.  I'm only going to say this once...
you need to go where I want you to go.

That's better.   I've got it now.

Whoa!  Why is the leash going one way...
and Annabelle is going the other? 

Oh.  Tree.

This should do it...

Hey!  Stop!  Come back!

I can't take it anymore!!!

Now she comes back!
And it's hard to keep crying when Diggy is standing over me
with the camera...but I'll pretend I'm sulking a lttle. 

And then I picked him up and he was happy.  And I let Annabelle off the leash and she was happy.  But there are no pictures of that because I had put the camera down.