Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Bones n' Slovenia

On the old 80's TV series Cheers, my favorite character would have to be Coach Ernie Pantusso( played by the late Nicholas Colasanto- also notable as mob boss Tommy Como in Raging Bull). But the character I most resemble is Cliff Clavin( played by John Ratzenberger), the bar's know-it-all. A fount of useless information. 
    And that's me. Cliff, but hopefully without the pomposity. Like him, though, I  have a penchant for gathering facts and figures, with a special fondness for those which are particularly vague or meaningless. 
    A hummingbird's heart beats six times a second. The male Lion sleeps an average of 14 hours per day. Debra Winger was the voice of E.T. Karl Malden's birth name was Mladen Sekulovich

And so on(ad nauseum). Over the last couple months, I've been reading up on the human body, currently learning about the Skeletal System. Dem bones. There are 206 of 'em in the average human body(though Gray's says there are 200), and 4 different kinds: long, short, flat and irregular. All 3 types of blood cells come from the bone marrow, a red pigment found inside the bone(long bones), within the medullary cavity: erythrocytes, or red blood cells; leukocytes, or white blood cells; and thrombocytes, or platelets. 

Well that's probably enough about bones. Cliff would probably be citing studies from the University of Heidelberg at this point. And ordering another beer. 

Also reading about the Republic of Slovenia. About as disparate a subject as you can get, after the skeletal system- but it gives the blog a title with some comic incongruity in there. My real motivation for reading about it is that a good friend of mine went over there this month to play music. So my curiosity was piqued. Sometimes it doesn't take much..
 Okay, so here's what I know about Slovenia(and then I'll give you Cliff's version): 
  Slovenia is located, geographically, east of Italy, north of Croatia, south of Austria and southwest of Hungary. It's one of the six republics(along with Montenegro, Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina)that made up the former Yugoslavia. They were part of the Roman Empire, and later ruled by the Austrian Hapsburgs, from about the 13th century until the First World War. In 1918, Slovenia joined forces with Croatia and Serbia in what would become Yugoslavia in 1929. During the Second World War, Slovenia was annexed between Italy, Germany and Hungary, but returned to being part of Yugoslavia after the war. In 1992, Slovenia became(for the first time ever)an independent nation. They joined NATO in 2004. Slovenia's main industry is manufacturing: chemicals, transport equipment, among other things. 9% of the population is involved in farming. They also appear to have some fine jazz musicians. 

  And here is how I think Cliff might see it:
  Slovenia is ruled by the number 2. Consider these amazing facts: the population of Slovenia is 2,008,000. The population of Ljubljana(its capital and most populous city)is 280,000. There are 211 municipalities in Slovenia. Its land mass is roughly 20,000 square kilometers. More than coincidence???

While Cliff is ordering a round for the whole bar after leaving them all speechless, I should wrap this up. Nice to know a little bit more about another corner of the world. I don't know that I'll ever visit there, but it sounds like I'd have a nice time if I did. 


To SERS With Love

SERS, to the uninitiated, stands for State Employees' Retirement System. They're the ones now taking care of my health benefits and pension, from this month on.

I was a State Employee from April 16, 1991 until June 28, 2013. Getting on back in '91 was one of the more intelligent things I've done(it was the best game in town, and promised free healthcare after 20 years of service); and bailing last June was also the smartest move I could've made. Two different faculties here: deciding to get a State job was something I reasoned out; while deciding to leave my job was made by my gut- but both were the optimal moves in their respective times. 

About 5 years in, I started paying attention to the statements SERS would send out every year, telling you how much retirement you'd earned at that point as well as your estimated amount wayyyy down the line. My date of payment was September 1, 2014. In 1996, that was of course 18 years away. Just a speck on the horizon, but that date stuck in my mind. September 1st, 2014

In 2009, about five years away from the magic date, I started paying a lot more attention to the statements. The five-year mark is when you start to prepare for a landing(or for take-off, depending on your perspective), when you start to get your financial ducks in order. 

And it just gets tougher as you get closer to your date, the whole Goal Gradient thing(where the lab mice move faster as they approach the food at the end of the maze). I noticed that hitting the three year mark, folks were just agog with anticipation, just couldn't stop talking about it. These were long years for me too--both in having to hear others prattle on about their imminent retirement and my own anticipatory angst. 

I had planned to work all the way up to my retirement date. My last day of work would've been August 29th of this year. A series of layoffs and office closings/consolidations(which I likened to a series of Tsunami), plus some questionable management decisions militated toward pushing my weary ass out the door a year early. 

The last Tsunami, in April of last year ended up being the final straw. I lasted about two months after that. And there was just that one special day, a busy morning on the front counter(always my favorite anyway!)peppered with a few acrimonious client moments, where I decided I'd had enough. Know when you're licked was the phrase that kept running through my mind. 

So with my house long since paid off, and a few bucks I'd been squirreling away(as I told my supervisor, ever since things started getting squirrely with the layoffs and other mess), I took the plunge. 

A 14-month plunge. Like all waiting periods, nice and leisurely at first and then more impatient as one nears the goal(yep, that old Goal Gradient thing again..). But everything in time eventually gets here. Even September 1, 2014

Funny thing about those dates you wait for for years and years. When they finally arrive, they're what you wanted and all- but still could never match the Cecil B DeMille production inside your head. No fanfare of trumpets, or  heavenly choirs, no ray of light from the heavens. Not even a beautiful sunny day- slightly overcast, more of a B minus or C plus if I had to grade it. September 1st of 2014 was/is just another greasy spot on the calendar. 

But it still marks my arrival. As of the 1st, my healthcare is all set(not free, like I thought was gonna happen back in '91, but still cheaper than what I had to get), and according to a nice lady at SERS I just spoke with last week, my first pension check is due to go out on the 24th of this month. This was indeed a pleasant surprise, as I was led to believe(and by more than one person)that they take a whole month to pay you. 

I should probably suspend my glee until the check is in my grubby little hands, but I think I'll take the warm and fuzzy moment all the same. Nice when things finally get there. Or here, as it were.