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Report for 1998; The Good Junk; Report for Year Ending 12/31/99; Fear Itself; Crime Spree

Report for the Year Ending 12/31/98

Overview

This report is for activities for the calendar year projected to end on Dec. 31, 1998. This report is a little early, in that this year began only 10 months and an odd number of days ago. But it's been an odd year.

Looking back, I (management) would say 1998 took five years off our life. (That figure is to be considered an estimation in no way reflected by documented research.) Highlights of the year have included:

1) A herniated disk in our back;

2) A move to New York;

3) Quitting one job in Baltimore and getting another in the aforementioned New York;

4) The loss of two beloved cats;

5) The loss of a parent;

6) The birth of our son, who was three months premature.

This year saw massive changes in both lifestyle and marketplace. If submitted as a manuscript to a magazine, the story of 1998 would be rejected with the comment "Couldn't happen!" Nevertheless, management feels it essential that the facts of the year be reviewed with an eye to:

1) recovering;

2) never letting them happen again.

Ongoing Programs

Management is still married to a pretty, smart and strong-willed woman. We hope we are still a good thing in her life. She is still a good thing in ours.

Management is still pursuing a writing career, though the course of that career has veered in weird ways (see "Fiscal Operations"). Always striving to make innovative use of technology, management has since January been attempting to market a syndicated column to newspapers. This initiative has met with little of what critics would call "success." Lately, the Web has been our major outlet. We set up a site that now generates little or no (0) income but gets almost a hundred hits a day -- thus generating a lift to management's heart in tough times.

This Web initiative represents a fundamental shift in the business philosophy of management. Whereas during the past five years management worked on the staff of newspapers, this new initiative involves free access of management's work directly to readers. It should be noted that management has concluded that we are no newspaperman.

Reasons include:

1) newspapermen refuse to buy our column;

2) newspapermen we've known have gotten lost in the trappings of being newspapermen without knowing how to spell words like "dispute";

3) house fires are no longer intrinsically more interesting to us than knitting, especially if our wife is knitting a baby's hat.

Fiscal Operations

Net income for the year increased by some $7,000, to $38,000, representing a 22% gain over the $31,000 management made at a weekly paper in Baltimore. Management was making $28,000 there, but two days after giving notice we were told that we had been in line for a big raise. This disclosure set the tone for the year. Note that the above increase was incurred at the expense of exchanging employment at a general newspaper for employment at a trade magazine that covers the accounting profession. In this new position, we read a lot of annual reports.

But management also traded a boss who slopped us with her work for a boss who, when shown a photo of our baby son, said, "Leave the picture here on my desk during the meeting. He can help us..." Employment by this boss is expected to continue.

Notable expenses included a move to New York and subsequent raise in rent. Cost of eating out has risen approximately 150% because there's more to eat out in New York and because we're often too exhausted to cook at home. Also, management's new kitchen is very narrow.

Net Realized Losses

In 1998, management suffered the passing of three irreplaceable persons.

First was Monroe, a six-toed tuxedo cat of magnificent presence who finally surrendered to liver failure in March. On his last day we did all we could, offering him bratwurst and taking him outside for a moment in the shade, the breeze, and the sound of birds. It still makes management sad.

In May we lost our second cat, Mimi. By then we had already moved to New York, where we had to spend a long weekend in a Best Western because we forgot to advise Con Ed that we were coming. Consequently, there were no lights in the new apartment. The place also lacked furniture, as the moving truck leaked brake fluid on I-95 and turned back to Baltimore. So Mimi spent his first few nights back in New York alone, probably wondering why management had decided to live in this weird way.

Management recognizes that some shareholders may find it inappropriate at this point in the report to mention two cats with our mother, who died of cancer on Sept. 18. Reasons for this grouping include:

1) Having lost our father in 1974, management realizes that we cannot yet understand all that Sept. 18 will mean in the years ahead.

2) If mum had known Monroe and Mimi, management is sure she wouldn't mind sharing space in this report. She always had a soft spot for cats, until they went after the Christmas tree or her beadwork.

Insurance Activity

Regarding this robust business area, in the past 10 months management has spent more on just the stamps to mail medical bills to the insurance company than we spent on medical bills in our previous 35 years combined.

Chief among developments in this category was the birth on June 14th of Alexander Lee Stimpson. He weighed only one pound five ounces at birth. Management has spent months in the hospital watching our boy grow under the care of strangers.

This hospital-watching initiative began through the clear plastic of Alex's isolette. Then we watched as he yanked the breathing tube from down his throat and, week by week, worked his way onto the small nose tubes called canula. We watched him learn to eat, sweated through the two weeks after his lungs collapsed and he lay paralyzed by a drug. During that period, Alex looked like he'd been hit by a truck. Management had to put drops in his eyes and cradle Alex's unstirring head. In such moments management tried to think of better days ahead.

Management also devoted considerable time and resources to attacking the fat folder of medical bills. As of this writing, the number of incoming bills has shrunk, but the quality of the correspondence has become threatening.

Summary

Management hardly notices threatening letters. Alex has accrued body mass to the tune of six pounds, three ounces, and finally outweighs the folder of his medical bills. He is also lifting his head. Last night management fed him 50-ccs of formula from a bottle. Management hopes to soon meet with Alex's doctors to discuss the nuts and bolts of his coming home.

Management anticipates, therefore, a better 1999. (Fall, 1998)

The Good Junk

Jill got to sleep at 2:30 the other morning, after she spent an hour tossing and turning. Our baby was to have surgery in a few days. Also, Jill wanted to see how she was doing in an auction on ebay.

ebay is the online rummage sale of growing fame, in which individuals and small dealers post notices about stuff they have for sale. This morning there were 2.7 million things on there: pottery, toys, computers, mirrors, cups, clothes, playthings, memories. You log on, place a bid, and tell the ebay computer - which I think is in a garage in California -- the maximum you want to spend. As others bid against you, the computer automatically increases your bid until you reach your maximum.

Everybody wins, says Jill. Ebay gets their cut, the seller gets a good price, and the buyer - who is Jill - gets their stuff.

"Everybody wins! It's brilliant!" Jill remarked one night as she was entering her third hour of bidding and her fourth without so much as a sip of water. I think Jill could last weeks at sea as long as she had ebay access in the lifeboat.

Jill?

Jill?

"What? What! WHAT?!" On ebay, she was like Kramer that time he drank too much coffee. "I may be talking a little fast butit'sveryhardtotell..." Jill said, spinning back to the screen. "Hey, Harkerware!"

In those last days before Alex came home after spending his whole first year in a hospital, Jill would get up after dinner, around 8:30, and say something like, "I'm going to go online for a minute." She would vanish. I'd watch a little TV. About 11 o'clock I'd go into Alex's soon-to-be-bedroom and find her in the glow of the screen. Clicking, scrolling, clicking, scrolling: the Information Age equivalent of pawing through the bins of paperbacks.

"Jill-"

"Okay I'm getting off."

Jill often talks about ebay with her friend Heidi. Jill and Heidi have sworn that they're social ebay users and that if they've lied to their husbands about how much they've spent, then it's for their husbands' own good.

"Heidi's like a squirrel in a thrift shop," Jill marvels, "looking for stuff to sell on ebay."

"Heidi said she's lied to her husband about how much she's on eBay," I point out. "Have you done that?"

"No," Jill confesses, "I haven't lied to Heidi's husband."

We turned half our study into the baby's room, manhandling the computer to the other wall about 48 hours before he came home. Since Alex finally came home, Jill hasn't been on ebay as much. Sometimes she'll just sit down at the computer the way she sits down with the phone for three hours to wrangle with the insurance company, the home-oxygen suppliers or some doctor's office, and she'll look at me and say, "I'll be off in a while. I won't buy anything, but let me do this."

She did almost buy a highchair for Alex until her sister Julie and I pointed out that it looked like an electric chair and had probably been sitting behind the WorkMate in somebody's cellar for 20 years. Jill also bought a platter with fish on it, and a platter for her sister that had something to do with when they were growing up. And a necklace. Our check register is littered with amounts like "5.75," "13.10" and "16.45."

Our checkbook also littered with the bigger wreckage of my ebaying, which at least has been direct to target. I bought two board games, both classics - by which I mean, "from my childhood" -- called "Dogfight" and "Broadside." "Dogfight" pits six little red German planes against six little green American planes in combat over the Western Front of World War I. You use the dice to move the planes toward each other and fight it out with cards that say things like "3 Bursts" or "Barrel Roll." I've actually never played "Broadside," which is about the Battle of the Great Lakes in the War of 1812. It has inch-long, red and blue plastic sailing ships. In both games that I ordered, all the tiny plastic ships and planes are there, though the wings on a couple of the little Fokkers are cracked. I've spent about $100, but realize that the last time I saw a "Dogfight" game was in the Smithsonian.

I've always thought Alex should someday know that not all games need a keyboard or a mouse. To the sellers of both games I e-mailed, "I'm looking forward to playing the game with my son. Thank you."

Alex came home not in much shape to play board games. He's a year old, for starters, and would try to put at least two of the Fokkers in his mouth. He's on oxygen full-time, and lately has been coughing and vomiting every time we sit him up. He does not stand by himself, he cannot hold a cup or roll a dice, and in fact he can't do a lot of things that were on the checklist the Early Intervention people left us yesterday.

Baby can recognize familiar faces? Yes. Baby can follow moving objects with his eyes? Turns toward the source of normal sound? Yes. Can put objects in a container? No. Plays with his toes? Plays peek-a-boo? Jill says he does. Even I realize he's probably a long way from directing tiny plastic planes in head-on attacks. Play the "5 Bursts" card, Alex!

My son has nurses around the clock because he's on 11 drugs that are either inhaled or injected into his feeding tube, in varying concoctions, every two hours. He's hooked to a cannula, a feeding tube and a blood-oxygen monitor. Sometimes, when I try to stand him up, the cords turn to spaghetti around his ankles. Sometimes he bats his clacky toys or holds daddy's hand by the thumb and gingerly works his way toward the forefinger. Sometimes he smiles like the world's most tickled bundle of 17 pounds, but sometimes he just looks off to the side and his tongue bulges like a third lip.

There's going to be a game for him. A game he thinks is fun, and one he will remember after the world has made the mistake of calling it junk. (Late summer, 1999)

Report for the Year Ending 12/31/99

This report is for activities for the calendar year scheduled to end on Dec. 31, 1999.

This will be a special night even if nothing happens to computers. It will be the first New Year's Eve when I ("management") will be home with my son, Alex. He has been home five (5) months, almost hospital-free except for one week that could have been avoided by a few CC's of Lasix, but management and its wife Jill didn't know that at the time.

Alex's homecoming was the biggest highlight of 1999. Others included:

--"Horatio Hornblower" winning Best Mini-Series;

--two dental inlays;

--the hottest July in New York City history;

--management's first foray into e-commerce.

Overview

When this year opened, management went every day after work, in the dark of deepest winter, to the hospital where Alex lay artificially paralyzed with a tube down his throat. All January we stared out the window at the mud puddles of Central Park and wondered how we were going to get through the rest of the year.

We transferred Alex on Super Bowl Sunday. By the time the Denver Broncos had won Alex was sleeping in a space-age pediatric ICU. He was soon moved upstairs and into the care of nurses that management still regards more like Alex's aunts.

Alex was discharged during a heat wave and blackout, on July 7. He survived several days of 100-degree weather and several weeks of home nursing. Management found both unforgettable and a source of fear. This calendar year is ending with Alex in the grips of a minor ear infection and a phlegmy cough. These problems are refreshingly normal.

Managementís pediatrician, who does not take insurance but who is worth every penny, assures us that next year will be even better.

Net Losses

Progress was delayed in Alex's medical treatment by the political gears of the new hospital, where doctors insisted Alex could not suck or swallow and thus couldn't eat. Declining to test, they tried for several weeks in the spring to convince management that Alex needed Nissen surgery.

Tempered by the memories of staring at Central Park mud puddles, management dug in its heels and insisted Alex receive the lesser surgery, the "J" tube, unless testing proved something more drastic was needed. The doctors never did the tests. This calendar year therefore revealed nothing about the black hole that is doctorsí reasoning.

Net Gains

Spring afternoons in the hospital park, a smile on the swings, the brush of small fingers on managementís unshaven cheek.

Ongoing Programs

Therapists visit Alex almost every day: speech and feeding, OT, PT, and a weekly reading of "Pat the Bunny." We believe these therapists -- even the one who shows up late and always needs to use the phone -- have helped Alex crawl, stand, and "centerline" objects. We look forward to additional centerlining in the coming year, as long as it's legal.

Regarding our apartment ("residential facility"), management continues to bump elbows with Jill in the kitchen. The plastic window shades slap at all hours even when there's no wind. Every morning and night the bedrooms are heavy with the smell of some neighbor frying garlic. Management has lately been increasingly concerned about this "haunted" factor of our residential facilities, as Alex will sit on the couch for up to an hour grinning and laughing at an apparently blank space on the wall. We hope we won't have to say more about this in next year's report.

Fiscal Operations

Management got a 5% raise in April; management now makes slightly more than its age to read financial reports. We have also begun freelancing for a friend in Indiana who runs an insurance magazine and pays 60 cents a word. So far this extra funding has gone into management's mouth in form of two dental inlays, which we think of as tiny porcelain bookmarks of approaching middle age.

In September, we launched our exciting new e-commerce venture. For those who still think "Amazon" is a river, e-commerce is those ads at the top of this page. Through the Christmas season, readers purchased 41 items from Amazon and management made a net profit of $33. Those e-tailers who helped management net nothing will soon be booted like bad doctors.

The process of ruthless elimination also continues in our artistic venues, where Jill has stated that sometimes management writes "tense" and "needs to loosen up." We try to refine these essays week by week. Most weeks, we fail. We expect this trend to continue into the new year.

Three parenting sites took our essays late this year. To date remuneration has been limited ($0), but we feel this is still a step in the right direction.

Summary

Management acknowledges that 1999 went down like lemonade after the castor oil that was 1998. Management likewise acknowledges that a year of "no net losses" makes a duller annual report. Management has come to like dull. We hope our pediatrician was right about the coming year. We also hope he decides to take insurance. (Winter, 1999)

Fear Itself

These are things I'm afraid of. I don't know if they have names.

Fear that I've walked outside without my pants. This usually hits me right before I get on the subway, which is a bad time. Usually involves cotton or chinos, though more and more it happens with light woolens as I get older.

Fear that I've come outside without my shoes. Similar to the above. I do commute in sneakers, and I should say that they're canvas high-tops that turn especially supple with wear. This is no excuse, though.

Fear that I put something metal in the microwave. Like a spoon. I always look. I expect that one day I will have left a spoon in the bowl and I stick my face up close to the glass just as there is some kind of reaction. I'll see a bright blue arc and come to months later with my face maimed for life. Might also happen with tinfoil.

Fear that I won't be able to afford Alex. I can't fathom all the money it's going to take. It makes my breath short. I guess this is normal.

Fear that I parked my car and didn't shut the headlights off. Sometimes we go weeks without driving our car, except to change spaces to obey New York City's alternate-side parking regulations. So if I left the lights on, I'd come back within hours of the deadline and have a dead battery, and be unable to move my car and get a ticket. See?

Fear of crowds of teenagers on a corner. When will this go away?

Fear that I've gone outside with my fly down. Similar to "Pants."

Fear of moving. Jill and I plan to buy an apartment in New York - our bid was accepted just yesterday -- which these days is about the same as planning to hit the jackpot in Vegas. It isn't the hunt that scares me, because Jill is doing most of the legwork and what comes up will come up. What scares me is the move. Moves become a life form: monstrous, tentacled, gigantic and impossible to kill. After the last few years, I don't know if I have one in me.

Fear of falling down with a pen in my mouth. We've all thought about this. My fear began the last time I shared a bedroom with my brother, in 1988. He was 35. I was 26. Right after we shut off the light he said, "Know what I'm gonna do? I'm gonna come over there when you're asleep and drop a marble down your throat!"

Fear of all those things that come up in the middle of the night, when my family is asleep but I'm not.

Fear of not taking enough pictures of Alex. He doesn't like our camera. It shines a bright light on the subject just before snapping the picture, so we always get him blinking or grimacing.

Fear of a new job. Rumors have been sailing around my office for months about changes, confirmed by at least two memos from the big boss that absolutely nothing was wrong. Nothing. You're doing a good job. So why has the boss bothered to respond to the rumors? Who knows? Bosses are nuts. But right now I have a pretty solid Internet connection and a door that closes, and they leave me largely alone for a week or two every month. Better the devil you know. But because some clown took a viable product and ran it into the ground during a boom economy, now I have to think about this stuff.

Fear that in the middle of a business lunch my thin grip on the leash of my anger will snap and I will either speak bluntly or pitch face-down in my crab cakes. Either might be satisfying, but see "Afford" fear mentioned above.

Fear that I can't keep Alex alive. This is complicated. Alex is entering the transition between bottle and food, mostly Chee-tos. We think he needs 24 ounces a day, not counting whatever orange cheesy goodness sticks to his teeth. But he's getting impatient with being held and having a nipple shoved in his face. He screeches and bolts upright in your lap, and sucking peters out at around seven ounces a meal. The doctor puts his eyes on us and clings to the numbers. He says we just made the minimum weight for this follow-up appointment. I wonder what would have happened if we hadn't made it.

Fear that I'll never see Alex grow up. Something will happen to me. Or to him, though I think he's taken his share of crap over the past two years and now probably has the best chances of anyone I know. He looks like me as a baby, my big brother says, same Charlie Brown head. I fear I'll never see Alex as a man, when he's maybe 45, leaning over me in the hospital, holding my old hand in his and whispering, "Dad, dad. I have to go. I think I left my headlights on." (Spring, 2000)

Crime Spree

This afternoon I told Jill about a mugger whoís targeting mothers in Queens.

"Why canít the cops accidentally shoot him?" she said.

If that sounds savage, it is. According to the Daily News, the robber has preyed on three women by placing a gun to the temples of their toddlers or infants and threatening to shoot if they don't hand over their valuables. In the latest crime, he dragged a woman off a deserted subway car, smacked her face and pressed a pistol to her 2-year-old daughter's head, saying, "If you don't shut her up, I'll blow her brains out!" He told her "to pray it was her lucky day." I think she had a necklace and a wallet. His MO is, if nothing else, the fastest way to get eight million people to want to kill you.

Police say this is not the first time a robber has resorted to terrorizing children. The most terrible thing I remember about a New York child happened about 10 years ago, when a father killed a baby who wouldnít stop crying and fed the body to the family dog. Iíve told this to people in other parts of the country, and they look at me as if Iím talking about a war. Theyíre fascinated, but they also wish I would be quiet.

This is the first time New York has had a mugger like this running around while I have a baby son. Three years ago I would have thought he was merely an animal. Now I think itís hard to adequately punish him for what heís done. They could start by arresting him and letting parents treat him like an old car in one of those campus fund-raisers, where for $5 you get three swings of the sledgehammer. I think Jillís response was savage and understandable; I put this guy on par with war criminals.

I always thought having a child would change me. I guess I never thought it would make me unceasingly afraid. Afraid of criminals, cars, bigger kids, a city into which my son is someday soon going to have to toddle. Afraid even of reading. In spare moments, usually when Alex is napping, sometimes before bed, I thumb through Herman Woukís War and Remembrance.

The book is hundreds of pages, touching just about every major point of World War II. I read the novel when it came out 20 years ago. In those days, I lapped up the naval battles and the historical narration. This time, I notice the children.

One of the characters loses a son in battle. Another character, a Jewish woman, is stuck in Nazi-held Europe. She has a three-year-old son. Wouk devotes a lot of space to what happened to Jewish women and their kids in Nazi-held Europe. I used to find those parts a little boring.

I picked the book up last month for the same reason I read it in 1980: diversion. But when I pass a section about the camps this time, I also read. This is a problem. Wouk, always a perceptive if slick novelist, knows when to use a kid. There were kids in the camps, he makes plain. Most of them were killed. A little girl, four or five, for example, is marching beside her mother to the gas in Auschwitz. The Nazi brass watch. A guard dog snaps at the little girl. She screams, and her mother grabs an apple branch to calm her down. It is spring. The branch is pretty. Later the Germans watch her body being pulled from the gas chamber. She is still clutching the branch, which is now broken. Later in the book, a trainload of Jews gets off at Auschwitz in the middle of the night. A lot of the kids are asleep as their parents carry them toward disinfecting.

"Whenís the next naval battle?" I used to think, reading this part. "Letís get back to the Philippines." Those were the days. Now the children in this kind of scene capture my attention and hold it after Iíve closed the book. I canít read the book before I go to sleep, not while Alex sleeps in the next room in the middle of the night.

Lucky he was born now, I think. In the first place, medical science pulled him through when, just a few decades ago, he would have died. There are also no camps; "War and Remembrance" is history.

Up until I noticed the Daily News front page, I didnít think anyone was out to get my son. Now I do, and I am afraid in that special, unspoken way that connects everybody who has a kid. New York sharpens this fear. In New York, the perverse crimes are always especially perverse, like a spin on a terrific curve ball. This city is going to be tough enough on my son without this latest mugger running around.

I can wish the hottest fire of Hell on the man without ever having laid eyes on him and feel okay about it. He started it. Society will end it, probably soon. When it ends, I hope heís alone in a crowd of parents who want their five dollarsí worth. With that thought, I sleep. (April, 2000)

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