The Thinker

Furlough Diary, Day 13

I’m running out of places inside my house to paint and patch. The lower level is now completely repainted. I finished that project last week when I repainted the back of one door that I had neglected in the spring. The walls consisting of our master bedroom closets and vanity have been repainted. The master bedroom itself still looks good enough where it doesn’t seem worth my effort. Last time I painted it, it involved bringing in the ladder I use to get to the roof to paint the room’s vaulted ceilings, a tedious process that I will be glad to leave to the next owners. Last year we had a contractor paint the vaulted ceilings in our living room and hallways, so that’s all done.

So I’m been reduced to painting parts of the kitchen. The planter box that extends over the kitchen sink and out into the yard needed a new coat of semigloss, as did the door to the pantry which still had its original coat of paint. There are a few more doors that need painting but that’s it, aside from my daughter’s bedroom. She is occupying it, so I’ll paint it when she moves out. It’s an odd feeling to be virtually caught up on painting chores, likely for the first time in my life. All this is thanks to dysfunction in Congress.

Which means if this continues, and it looks likely at least for a few more days, outdoor chores will be next on my agenda. Four days of often-unrelenting rain from a Nor’easter has kept me indoors with the paintbrush. Staining the deck again, a chore I have ignored for years, is obviously next up when the weather decides to cooperate. According to the non-furloughed staff at the National Weather Service, we should finally see the sun tomorrow.

Painting has kept me too busy to feel cabin fever set in, but even thirteen days later it still feels unnatural to be home so much. I wisely brought home my plant at the office before leaving on October 1st. I found comfort going to the office most days and find that I miss that routine, not to mention the excellent view of the Shenandoah Mountains on clear days. Except for one trip to Starbucks, I have had no coffee. I keep my coffeemaker at work, and I routinely have two cups of decaf at my desk with lunch. My diet has changed since the furlough. I am less likely to have a salad with lunch, simply because my house has no salad bar, unlike the cafeteria at work. Aside from the cat who usually just wants to be fed, my companion is now WAMU, the public radio station in Washington D.C. that has mostly NPR public affairs content. My portable radio tuned to WAMU follows me as I move from room to room with my paintbrush. It’s a welcome distraction but of course it is mostly shutdown politics and I rarely learn anything new. But unlike my employer at the moment, at least it is something of a new constant in my life. The Diane Rehm Show, the Kojo Nnamdi Show, Talk of the Nation and of course Morning Edition and All Things Considered now follow me through the course of my day. This week will be a trial because it’s membership week. I give the station money every year but I simply cannot deal with the drivel that is membership week. Which means it will be WSCP (C-SPAN radio) next week, when I can tolerate that or, more likely, the sounds of silence.

I am not panicking over money but sometimes I feel like I should proceed with more financial caution. We are going through a cash flow challenge of sorts, which means I will probably have to start drawing from savings soon. My wife is more than gainfully employed, but she is subcontracting, and only gets paid once a month. This means all expenses are paid from my checking account, which consists of my last paycheck plus a few hundred dollars. And boy the expenses have been coming in! A lot of these are routine expenses but there continues to be large numbers of copays, mostly related to my wife and her accident in April, as we continue to chase down the cause of her seizure. There are initial consult fees, test fees, fees to tell you what the test said, random statements in the mail demanding more money, etc. Since October 1st, there has been about $350 in copays and more in prescription medications. Arguably all are necessary.

My next paycheck will be about half of my regular amount, for whatever period is covered through September 30 and that will be it for me until the furlough is over. It looks like we will be paid for the furloughed time. The bill is currently stalled in the Senate, basically on their back burner, but likely to get approved at some point. Still, there are no guarantees. Like Mr. Spock I am trying to stay logical. It makes all the sense in the world to keep hitting the Lowes for paint and other home improvement supplies, even with no money coming in. I keep an account for home improvements, so these expenses will come out of this account, but for the short term it just makes the balance in my checkbook creep toward zero.

Trying to read the tealeaves across the Potomac River continues to be something of a black art. When or if I get to go back to work is unclear. Some days it looks promising and other days less so. The only obvious thing is that Republicans are getting seriously pummeled on the shutdown. I started out skeptical that the shutdown would mean that Democrats would retake the House in elections next year. Now I think it is more likely than not, despite the gerrymandered districts that heavily favor Republican incumbents. Some part of me is rooting for the shutdown to continue if it makes this outcome all the more probable. Even Republicans, or at least the sane ones still around, are figuring out they need to cut their losses. When groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce declares it will support Republican moderates and campaign against Tea Party affiliated candidates, you know something has changed.

What the country needs the most are not necessarily more Democrats, although they are certainly preferable to Republicans, but more moderates. The long-term consequence of this shutdown may be the return of moderates of both political stripes. This shutdown is likely to validate the thesis that a country cannot be governed with extremes on both sides holding power. We need more Mark Warners and (yes, hard to hear me say this) Chris Christies so that they can keep either extreme from getting too far away from the sensible center. We need pragmatists. We need horse traders for politicians again. God help us, we need the earmark. We are starting to see the value of the earmark, which is not so much to put plums in Congressional districts but as the oil that imperfectly moves the gears of government. If these are outcomes of the shutdown, I will welcome then.

In the meantime, I have not yet exhausted my list of home improvement chores, so I will continue to work on them doggedly while the shutdown lasts.

 

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