Furlough Stories

This started out as a tongue-in-cheek post in the P&R thread on the shutdown, but in retrospect I think it has some merit as a thread of its own, especially as many of us are in the same boat. Thus, I will share my furlough-related activities with you unbidden, and I invite all my brethren (and sistren) who are out-of-work due to this nonsense to do the same.

Tin Wisdom’s Unwelcome Vacation Journal: Day 1

Got up as if it were a workday to get the kids ready for school. Didn’t shower or shave, because… you know… day off! Woohoo!

Alone in the house except for the dog, I quickly found a “honey-do” list from SWMBO. I elected to ignore it and play video games for several hours. Eador: Masters of the Broken World, if you’re interested. Lunch was leftovers because even though I am in no danger of having to actually go without pay for a month, it just felt crass to buy lunch.

Eventually, guilt began to bloom in my gut (plus there is only so much 4X I can play in a sitting), so I picked up The List. Number 1 was painting the youngest daughter’s room. This was going to be a nights-and-weekends project for The Wife, but as an underutilized carbon resource, I guess I inherited the job.

So be it! I checked my Audible subscription and saw that I have a couple unused credits. In the September Book Thread, several people spoke highly of American Elsewhere, so I download it and listen to it as I edge and paint. It’s OK… sort of Stephen King-ish but not quite as smooth to read. I get one color done.

The kids and wife get home. There’s some drama involving the eldest’s recent test grades, which are not up to snuff. There is some discussion on repercussions, and much studying for the next quiz.

Evening rolls around and I take the youngest daughter to volleyball practice. I stick around for a couple reasons: 1) I have nothing better to do, apparently, and 2) I’m the coach so the other parents expect me to be there. Talking with the other coaches who share the gym as well as my assistant coach, I find that of the four of us, 100% did not go into work today – three of us are contractors and the fourth is an actual government employee, though she did not volunteer the agency.

Strangely, this makes me feel worse. Misery should love company, but somehow this makes the impending loss of vacation time and/or hard cash much more real. The govie was particularly worried, since unlike me, she can’t actually charge vacation time for this crap – she is sitting at home taking leave-without-pay. And with the current crop of loonies in congress, it doesn’t seem likely that they will vote to restore the back-pay like they did 17 years back.

Later in the evening, some buddies and I play DOTA2 until much too late and I drink an unwise amount of scotch… the reasoning being that none of us have to get up early, the late night and potential hangover are not worth worrying about. This will prove to be faulty logic.

My business, which buys things for the government, is pretty much shut down. Had a hell of a month for fiscal year end, now it’s a quiet as a graveyard out there.

Damn. Wives don’t miss a beat, do they?

I’ve worked in a variety of positions, from oilfield to EMS. In the past few years, I worked for BNSF a lot, and so I got furloughed somewhat routinely. The solution was to save my money so I could have massive, extended vacations while on furlough. Pretty easy thing for a single man to do.

I just got my new job as an air traffic controller, and my orientation at my future facility was scheduled for this weekend. I’d already booked everything, but now ATC training is suspended…shucks! I might still go on the trip out there just to check things out since I have the finances.

Tin Wisdom’s Unwelcome Vacation Journal: Day 2

Despite playing DOTA2 into the wee hours with other furloughed buddies the night before, I got up at regular time. This was less about me trying to stick to a schedule and more about the fact that the rest of the family has to stick to theirs.

The first order of business was chin-whiskers. I am… an hirsute man. While not Chewbacca-level, I am nonetheless quite well-endowed with natural cold-weather gear and as I get older it seems that constant maintenance is needed to avoid looking like an oversized tribble. So the question of whether or not to grow a “furlough beard” is one that needs to be made quickly, as I go from “rugged adventurer” to “downtrodden hobo” in just a few hours. So I summed up the benefits and demerits of a furlough beard quickly while staring blearily into the mirror at 36 hours of growth.

Pros: Other males will be easily able to discern my testosterone level at a glance, possibly warning them off of my territory without the necessity of aggressive posturing and hooting. If early arctic winds sweep down from the tundra, my delicate cheeks will be protected from their vicious bite. According to local lore, there are certain types of women that are attracted to bearded men, raising the possibility of unexpected, casual sex. Some of these women may also be furloughed.

Cons: The East Coast is experiencing a late-season heat wave and it’s close to 90 degrees out. Beards are itchy. My wife is not one of the aforementioned women who are fans of beards, lowering the chances of any type of sex to near zero.

I elect to shave, but resolve to go on an every-other-day shaving regimen for the duration.

Monday, I had made the rounds of the contractors that I oversee at work, giving them instructions on what to shut down, what to leave up, and telling the lucky few (two out of my 50 folks) that they are considered “essential” and would still be coming into work. Each of the other 48 asked me my opinion of the length of the Shutdown and I of course said that I didn’t know any better than they did, but that I expected that we’d be back at work on Thursday after the GOP had proved their willingness to shut stuff down. Obviously I was wrong.

I have discovered that prepending the word “furlough” to pretty much any other noun is useful as a shorthand for conveying ideas. For instance, “furlough beard”.

While playing DOTA2 the night before, a number of us resolved to meet up (virtually) Wednesday at noon for “furlough DOTA”. That went well, except one of the guys had to bow out since his kid was home sick. If this goes into next week, a bunch of us may meet up in person for some “furlough board gaming.” Gods, I hope it doesn’t.

I continued painting the youngest’s room, this time doing the second color below the chair-rail that I inadvisably installed the other year. Tomorrow I’ll remove the tape and touch up the trim. The whole thing is a “seafoam blue” and some off-white color that I forget the stupid name for. I find this annoying since it means that this color combo will be out of style in a couple years and I’ll spend several weekends trying to cover up the “seafoam” with primer. You know what doesn’t go out of style? Beige.

I’m now a few hours into American Elsewhere, and it’s growing on me. I thought that the narrator might be the same guy who does Dr. Kleiner in Half Life, but it’s not him.

Played more Eador; some Torchlight II. Funny thing: I’m getting a little tired of gaming. Yeah, I know.

Sounds like it’s time to ravenously consume an entire series on Netflix in a bleary-eyed, starvation-mode multi-day marathon that leaves you ragged and thin (like butter scraped over too much bread).

Might I recommend New Doctor Who (2005-Present)?

Edit: You can call it Furlough TV

Tin Wisdom’s Unwelcome Vacation Journal: Day 3

Thursday, 10/3. Sometime during this third day, I started to get grumpy. I can’t really pinpoint where it was, but I can point to many of the things that went into it.

First, I am not yelling at people. Now, I’m not a particularly sociable guy, but like most apes, humans need social interaction in order to stay roughly sane. In a normal work-week, I maintain my sanity by interacting with my teams… which usually consists of me telling them what they are doing wrong in strident tones or (very rarely) complimenting them on a job well done. Sitting at home alone with the dog is starting to wear on me, because my dog does not even have the good grace to look abashed when I criticize her for sloppy coding techniques or an unforgivable lack of automated testing. I am tempted to call into the couple of guys that I have monitoring the keep-alive stuff back at work, but that is illegal – they were designated as “essential” and I was not. I am not allowed (under law) to donate my time to the government.

The real hell of it is, one of my teams delivered a REALLY cool new product the other day, and I was looking forward to hearing about the users’ first impressions. This thing has the potential to save hundreds of man-hours each month and allow our guys to really up our game. Good for the country, good for my users, good for the tax-payers. It pisses me off that I’m sitting here whining about it instead of implementing the thing.

Second, I made the mistake of looking at my leave balance today. This was a mistake because I knew that I had many weeks’ worth of time saved up; unlike the 750,000 government folks who are honestly NOT GETTING PAID, I am in no danger of not making a mortgage payment or falling behind on utility bills. But this burning of my vacation will have long-term repercussions: I probably won’t be able to go to Atlanta or Orlando for my daughter’s big volleyball tournaments, and even the smaller ones in Hampton or New Jersey that I would have gone to without a second thought… now I’ll have to seriously think about whether I can take those single days off or not.

First-world problems, sure… but they are stupid problems that I shouldn’t be having.

For the record, I have 27 days’ worth of leave as of October 1… so 24 days now. That’s my sick time too, of course.

Third, I found myself actually tired of playing computer games yesterday. I can’t name the last time that happened. With a full-time job, two kids, and a suburban lawn to care for, my PC gaming time has always been precious and rewarding. The fact that this stupid Shutdown has actually soured me on playing games is unforgivable. That sounds tongue-in-cheek, but it’s really not.

Other than getting pissed off, I kept myself relatively busy. I replaced the outlets and switches in my youngest’s room since the ancient tan fixtures don’t look good with the new paint-job. I accomplished this with much running up and down stairs trying to figure out which breaker switch turned off the power to her room, and I only jolted myself with 110 volts twice. Very proud.

I did a bunch of paperwork related to my eldest’s upcoming club volleyball season. She’s on a high-end national team and this year (her Junior year) is the big one in terms of college scholarships. I’m trying to lay the electronic groundwork in terms of skills videos, resumes, letters to her favored colleges, etc. She should really be doing this herself, but since I’m home bored it seemed like a good thing to get out of the way. It filled up a good chunk of the day.

Wife got home and I groused to her about my general grumpiness much like I am doing to you folks.

The day ended on a reasonably good note as the eldest’s high school volleyball team had a home game against a nearby rival and my daughter had a spectacular showing. See, the visiting school is the one that her boyfriend goes to, he promised he would be there to see it… and he didn’t show. Surprisingly (to me), this didn’t depress her as much as piss her off, and she took out her aggression on the other team. Fun to watch.

You just need some better games, Tin.

Well if you start wandering away from home and find yourself over Annapolis way during the week, let me know and I’ll buy you lunch. Thankfully my wife’s position has been considered essential so far. All the sub contractors in her office were furloughed already.

I know when I was laid off some years back, the games I played while interviewing and looking for work tasted sour to me, and I look back on those games (including Mass Effect 2) with a slight amount of nausea, as I associate them now with that dark time. Perhaps your gaming is being colored by your situation, in a similar way, which sucks for sure. I recommend you don’t play any games you really enjoy or generally want to get really into, stick with casual time killers to keep your mind active if you can, and of course try to keep your heart rate up and get some exercise, which is just good general advice but it will help you with your grumpiness, too. Good luck! This whole situation is just embarrassing for our entire country.

Tin Wisdom’s Unwelcome Vacation Journal: Day 4

Friday, October 4. Woke up with a slightly better attitude than Thursday’s, partially due to the comments above. As the chattering class seems to indicate that this mess will stretch out to encompass the debt ceiling thing in the middle of the month, I guess I’m looking at another week or two of idleness before anything happens. That’s crappy, but looking at it as guaranteed sort of makes it easier to plan for.

So now I’m trying to figure out how I am going to use this time to my best advantage. I know I’ll feel shitty if I sit around the house all day and have nothing to show for it. Thus, my plans for next week are threefold: first, I’m going to undertake a large-scale project, second I’m going to commit more time to helping my kids with their schoolwork and cooking, and third I’ll try and do something to improve myself.

The large-scale project is already on my honey-do list: repainting the entryway to the house, which is peeling and scuffed. I intend to expand that two-day project into a full week’s worth of work by stripping and repainting the trim in the front of the house; a daunting task indeed since some of the trim will need to be replaced partially or entirely. I’ll be putting five or seven hours into that each day, I reckon.

The schoolwork and cooking will occupy my evenings after about 3:00 in the afternoon.

The self-improvement task is more flexible: I’ll have a couple hours each day to devote to it, and I don’t know which of several to pick.

I could resolve to bike ten or twenty miles each day. If I was working I would be commuting via bike 20 miles round trip once or twice a week, so instead I could hit the WO&D trail every morning after dropping off my daughters at school and do twenty each day. That has the advantage of being healthy and probably contributing to some weight loss. As an aside, I find it relatively interesting that even in my unemployed state I’m getting enough exercise that I’m not gaining weight. Unexpected.

I could make myself practice my banjo a couple hours each day. I pretty much stopped playing a couple years back, and it would be good to get back into music again. I always found it relaxing and rewarding to be able to play music, even if I am genetically incapable of actually composing anything.

Finally, I could write. NaNoWriMo is coming up and I had planned to participate again after taking last year off. Assuming that I am working again in November, I suspect that I’ll be trying to put in 10 or 12-hour days for a while to make up as much of this crap Shutdown time as I can; that will leave me with little or no time to write when I am “supposed” to. Instead, I could endeavor to write for two hours each morning. Therapeutic, creative and rewarding… at least one hopes.

And of course I could try and combine several of these – practice music for a half hour each day, and then alternate writing or riding as the weather permits. I think I’d have less to show for my efforts when this political stupidity ends, but I’d have a lot of the less.

So what did I do today? Well, a lot of outside work.

I changed the rear brakes on my car, which harkened back to my younger days when I would do stuff like that all the time. This was kind of an epiphany for me, since I have been paying stupid amounts of money to mechanics and dealers for these types of tasks. In this case it’s the difference between $60 to buy the pads at the local auto parts store and paying a brake place $250 to do it. When did I become wealthy enough to shrug off that type of delta in cost? The answer is “never”… I just got lazy. So this was a nice wake-up call for me. Having never done the brakes on this car, it took like an hour and 45 minutes to do one wheel and the fifteen minutes to do the other.

Then I mowed the living shit out of my lawn, taking some extra care to trim the bushes and do the edging. This sucked up a good three hours of the day.

While I was finishing up, my wife pulls up and pulls out a pair of crutches from the back of the minivan. That’s never a good signal. Turns out she and the school trainer had been trying to get ahold of me for several hours – the eldest daughter came down on another girl’s foot at volleyball practice and needed to be taken in for x-rays to see if her ankle is fractured. The daughter herself came out of the car sobbing about her season being over and how much it hurts and how shitty it is that she broke her ankle the day before her Sweet Sixteen birthday. Not a great way to end an otherwise productive day.

The Wife took the eldest into the ER to get x-rayed while I showered and cooked dinner. The x-rays did not seem to show a fracture, but the doctor on duty didn’t want to give an official prognosis – instead they’ll send it off to a radiologist and call us back on Saturday. I suspect it’s just a sprain, but it might be bad enough to keep on the sidelines for a few weeks… and the high school season only has a few weeks left.

I actually played some Warlock: Master of the Arcane, and this was even before seeing the new trailer someone posted in the Games forum. I got up for an hour of Furlough DOTA2 with some buddies at lunchtime. Listened to more of American Elsewhere, which has taken a couple interesting turns one-third of the way through. The Wife and I watched about half of Hot Fuzz before falling asleep early.

Tin Wisdom’s Unwelcome Vacation Journal: Day 5

Monday, October 7. Well, my resolution to better myself hit a bit of a snag today, albeit a fairly pleasant one.

A couple of my also-furloughed buddies agreed last week to get together if the silly business actually went into this week. At the time, I just shrugged it off, because surely this stupidity could not last past the weekend, right? Right?

So I spent the early morning tidying the house a bit, and the guys showed up at 10. We spent the next hour and a half basically bitching about the situation.

Here’s the situation – a bit “inside baseball” maybe, but if I didn’t go into this stuff, this whole thread is just a blog, and that’s not what I wanted it to be. Late last week, Congress voted unanimously to authorize back-pay for the government workers who are idled by this crap. This is interesting in that it removed much of the “sting” from the shutdown for a lot of people – the 800K workers who were not going to get paychecks are STILL not going to get paychecks in the middle of the month, but at least they (and their creditors) know that the paychecks are actually coming. This shutdown now becomes just additional paid vacations for the non-essential government workers.

Ironically, the “essential” guys who have been at the empty-as-tombs government buildings the last few weeks are now the folks losing out. Previously, they counted themselves lucky because they were guaranteed paychecks and were not stuck at home staring at their bank balances. But now they are working like dogs trying to keep the lights on while their peers are at home getting free vacation days… vacation days that the “essential” guys will never see.

But that’s just the government workers. In the DC area, - especially in the tech fields – there are tens (maybe hundreds) of thousands of contractors that are similarly idled. Although there are rumors, it is unlikely that this “back pay” stuff actually extends to them/us. Although unlike the government folks we have been taking vacation for the last week (and thus will get paid next payday), this vacation is our typical yearly leave and it will probably not be reimbursed. And of course that’s just the lucky ones. Lockheed Martin for instance actually sent home 2,400 workers (down from a planned 3,000)… basically laying them off. Those poor bastards don’t get to charge vacation, and probably will not see any back-pay if they are reinstated.

So back to my buddies – I am probably in the best shape of the three of us who got together, with the aforementioned 22-and-counting-down days of leave available in the wings. One of the guys just started at his new company a few months back and was out of vacation days as of last Friday; he is now in the same spot that the government folks were last week – with no income at all. The other guy’s company has a plan where the folks can make up the time over the next few months (by working 12-hour days, etc.), so he is “charging” to that plan rather than taking vacation time. I don’t know how long his firm can keep that up since it’s a little 25-person concern, but it’s pretty generous, all things considered.

So anyway, after an hour or so of general bitching about Republicans (and not to get all P&R, but one of the two was once a stanch GOP-type guy; this crap has caused him to renounce the party entirely), we decided that it was time to start drinking. That morning - before she left for work - my wife suggested Hooters. This suggestion was greeted with shocked “why didn’t WE think of that” expressions, so we set out through the driving rain.

The local Hooters is in a shopping center surrounded by government office buildings and the contractor support offices (also empty), so it was pretty much deserted. We got all sorts of attention from the various waitresses as we were the only possibility for tips that afternoon, and we polished off a couple pitchers of Sam Adams Octoberfest while watching the re-run of the super-late San Diego/Oakland game.

Getting back a couple hours later, we got around to geeking out. One of the two had brought Twilight Struggle, which is a (fairly complex) board game based on the geo-political machinations of the Cold War. He set up the board and taught the other buddy and me how to play. Great game; I look forward to playing it again. Not a terrible way to spend a rainy Monday furlough day.

The two of them left in the mid-afternoon and The Wife and kids came home. I spent the rest of the evening doing my house-husband duties: cooking dinner; helping the kids with schoolwork; doing laundry.

No appreciable computer gaming or reading, though I did fall asleep trying to play the iPad version of Shadowrun Returns.

Thanks for doing all this writing. It really helps to see the human fallout side of this tragic, stupid political grandstanding, when usually I’m more focused on the politicians and their stupidity. Glad you’re doing so well.

Yes, thank you for sharing your story, much appreciated.

Tin Wisdom’s Unwelcome Vacation Journal: Day 6

Tuesday, October 8. I am starting to fall into a routine here. You could also call it a rut, I suppose.

Get up, take kids to school. Play an hour of computer games. Walk dog. Lunchtime furlough DOTA2. Do odd jobs around the house. Do a little writing or get some exercise. Go to store for dinner makings. Help kids with homework. Make dinner. Evening with family.

Yesterday evening was a little different because I coach a volleyball team in the evening, but the day was about the same. I hate it. I’m a guy who enjoys feeling needed and building stuff, and I am not building anything. My meager talents are being wasted and what I should be accomplishing for the country/taxpayers is being delayed by idiots.

I got an interesting couple of emails from my company. The first was from a coordinator who is (until Friday) considered “essential”, telling me that whenever the shutdown ends my new contract is ready to go. This is good and bad: I’ve been looking forward to the new position because I think I can really do some good there and the government manager went out of her way to recruit me into it. It’s bad in that without the shutdown I would have had more time to transition my current projects to O&M mode, get some training stuff done and maybe set up some automated monitoring stuff. Now it looks like there won’t be enough time to get all that accomplished and I’ll have to slough it off on my deputy as he takes over. He can handle it fine, but I kind of feel like I’m letting him down.

The second email was from the company proper. I work for a smallish consulting firm of about 120 people. We have no real assets other than our staff, though we do have a modest office with a few work areas, a conference room or two, and some servers. Our “overhead” staff is pretty much five folks; everyone else has… or I should say “had” billable positions where we do work for the government on an hourly basis. The email pretty much laid out the company’s policy on the shutdown: we’re to take vacation for as long as we have it; we can go “in the hole” on a case-by-case basis; we’ll be able to make up the time if our contracts allow for it. All pretty much what I already knew.

The one interesting thing was that the corporate offices are slowly shutting down too. This shouldn’t surprise me, but it did. Obviously the “overhead” people rely on funds generated by the billable workers, and since 100% of our income is government-based, there is practically no income at all right now. So they are on basically a skeleton crew right now with people working one day a week to man the phones and do “HR” stuff etc. It sounds like if it goes into next week, they’ll shut the entire office down except Tuesday and Thursday.

Eh, what else? Listened/read more American Elsewhere as I painted trim. Still enjoying it.

Tin Wisdom – thanks for sharing your stories. They mirror what I heard this morning.

I also live in the DC area, and today was International Walk Your Kid to School Day™. I’ve done this each of the last two years with my older daughter (she’s now in second grade). We live about a mile or so from her school, so if nothing else it’s a bit of decent exercise, especially since the walk back is entirely uphill.

When I got to the school this morning at 7:45, there were an astounding number of parents there. Normally there are maybe 50-60 parents who show up. Today is was closer to 150-175. That’s seriously about a third of all the parents whose kids attend my daughter’s (public) school. I stopped to chat with a couple of parents I knew (and met some new folks) who didn’t usually show up for these things, and the stories were the same from all of them – either government workers who have been furloughed or government contractors who have been furloughed. It’s utterly crazy. The government employees have a promise of income at some point, but no income at the moment (leading to a temporary cash crunch). Most of the contractors I spoke with aren’t as lucky as Tin Wisdom, but instead are being forced to take unpaid leave (leading to a permanent loss of income).

One couple, where both the husband and wife work for the same government agency, mentioned that they’re starting to worry about how they’re going to pay bills over the next month or so (since it’ll invariably take some time for the issue to be resolved and then for paychecks to catch up, even under the best possible scenario of the government reopening relatively soon). They’re looking at cashing in part of the 401(k) she has from a previous job in order to make ends meet – and they pointed out that the 401(k) has lost almost 5% of its value in the last week or so, thanks in large part to the shutdown. Another couple I spoke with (both contractors now taking unpaid leave) were considering selling their second car so they could make this month’s mortgage payment (and payment on the other car). Another family (whose kid is in the same after care program as my daughter) mentioned they are considering taking their kid out of after care in order to save the $300/mo. after care costs. The only problem is that the program is already oversubscribed, so if you pull your kid out, you almost certainly won’t be able to get your kid back in, and most other after care programs cost even more, so if they pull their kid out now, they’re effectively ensuring they’ll have to pay more in the future.

While I am neither a government employee or contractor, I do totally understand where folks are coming from. I’m effectively self-employed, and there are periods of the year where I don’t get paid at all – and I often don’t know when those periods are coming (for example, I’ve made effectively nothing over the last 4 months!) The thing is, I plan for that, and my job is such that I know that will happen eventually, and perhaps most importantly, I knew it would be like that when I chose to take this career. To have that uncertainty drop in your lap totally unexpectedly… Well, there’s evidence all over the place of how it’s throwing families into chaos. (For the record, the shutdown doesn’t affect me directly, although it has meant that a major project that was supposed to launch in early October is now on indefinite hold, and since the project was already on a tight timeline, I suspect the project will be scaled back – meaning it will ultimately reduce my income, too.)

For those who haven’t seen any of the recent articles in the Washington Post, there have been a series of opinion pieces of late from “regular” DC area folks – i.e. people who aren’t in the political game. The reality for them is not the world of catered garden parties and hob nobbing with politicians and journalists (a la “Our Town”), but the reality of working an 8-10 hour day 5 days a week at a regular job. The current shutdown has really messed with the local economy (as Tin Wisdom alluded to – imagine if you worked at that Hooters and it had been dead for an entire week), and is affecting not only the government employees and contractors, but also all the people who work the main street jobs that keep the community rolling. So aside from the immediate impacts the shutdown is having on ~800,000 government employees and several times that many contractors, it’s now messing with the livelihood of plumbers, bakers, restaurant workers, retail employees, and others all over the DC area. It’s not yet at catastrophe levels, but we’re only a week in, and honestly, listening to the rhetoric from both sides, I just see them both painting themselves into their respective corners, which is going to make any sort of solution that much more difficult to reach.

Well I just got the call, and it’s done for me. I’m heading to mess with airplanes starting November 2nd.

So I reckon there are two ways to interpret that:

  1. I was furloughed, but I just got the call that I am considered “essential” and I am going back to my job of messing with airplanes.

  2. I have been at work, but the furlough just hit, and I am so embittered that I am going to sneak past the TSA and sabotage aircraft.

You do way more with your time than I do.