Thursday, July 25, 2002


I hate story problems as much as the next sane individual, but in the wake of more wackiness from the increasingly verbose Beautiful Bob (whose inforhetorials are getting too long and complex to bother retyping for this web page. As I said in the beginning, if he really wants to be online he can start his own blog, and my hands are kinda tired), I can’t resist just throwing this one out there.

A police commissioner, let’s call him “Mr. Frank” has to provide 24-hour coverage of a town, seven days a week. “Coverage” in this instance includes not only at least one police officer on patrol, but also one dispatcher in the office answering the phone and using the radio to keep police, fire and ambulance services in touch, so let “coverage” refer to “at least two employees on duty.”

Postulate #1: Every officer or dispatcher that works more than 40 hours in one seven-day period (also known as a “week”) gets paid OVERTIME, defined by law as pay at a “time-and-a-half” rate, meaning the person in question gets paid his or her regular hourly pay PLUS half again that rate for every hour over 40 he or she has worked.

Say Officer A, who makes $15 an hour (the current average hourly pay for a Saratoga police officer), wound up putting in a 60-hour week last week (real life example from last summer). Officer A would get $600 ($15 x 40 hours) for the regular 40 hours worked, plus $450 ([$15 x 20]+[$7.50 x 20]) for the OVERTIME, for a grand total of $1050 before taxes.

With me so far?

Postulate #2: The police department is trying to work within a budget.

Postulate #3: Working OVERTIME sucks, even if you’re not being required to ferry home drunks, break up domestic disputes, round up vicious or stray dogs, chase pedophiles away from the swimming pool, investigate burglaries, or endure mindless tedium during the many hours in which you merely have to patrol and be ready for these and other unpleasant occurrences. When you are, OVERTIME really sucks.

Postulate #4: Too much OVERTIME leads to crappy performance on the job through lack of sleep, bad attitude, etc.

THE CHALLENGE: Determine the minimum number of police officers ANY police department needs to have on staff in order to provide 24/7 COVERAGE while avoiding COSTLY OVERTIME.

SUB-CHALLENGE: Determine if COSTLY OVERTIME is actually more expensive than maintaining a full staff.


First determine the number of hours in a week by multiplying 24 (the number of hours in a standard Earth day - adjust this figure for other planets or satellites upon which you personally are orbiting of course!) by 7 (the number of days in a week according to the calendar in use by all of Western Civilization since before the dawn of Christendom):

24 x 7 = 168

(your results may vary depending on how much attention you paid in Mr. Hileman’s math class. No, actually, you should have learned that in Mrs. Blom’s class)

Now, according to Postulate #1, a standard work week is 40 hours. Determine the number of standard work weeks, and thus the number of officers needed to avoid COSTLY OVERTIME by dividing 168 (the number of hours in a week) by 40:

168 / 40 = 4.2 officers

Hmm. Is it possible to hire .2 of an officer? Well, maybe you can find some schmuck who will just work part time (.2 x 40 = 8, meaning he or she would only work eight hours a week for a whopping $120 a week before taxes!) and maybe save a little money on benefits, but anyone who is already a certified police officer is probably not exactly going to leap at this opportunity, and anyone who was willing to do so is either a) a greedy officer who is already working for somebody else and thus is probably not going to be giving us the finest of him- or herself for those eight hours a week or b) a certifiable loon or c) a wealthy dilettante who doesn’t really need the money and will probably quit the first time something happens that he or she doesn’t like.

So, especially when things labor laws basically require of employers like vacation time, personal days, sick leave and the like, it’s best to round that 4.2 up to 5 (FIVE) officers, which, goodness me, is exactly what we have (plus the chief, who does not patrol for reasons I don’t find entirely satisfactory but am going to save for another column).

So the answer for the CHALLENGE is FIVE OFFICERS, which is WHAT WE HAVE but THANKFULLY we the townspeople are only directly paying for FOUR of because we do have a federal grant to pay for the fifth, at least for another year or so.


We’ll just look at it on a weekly basis, if that’s all right with you. Is it? Good.

If we have enough officers (5) on staff and can therefore cover the work week with no OVERTIME, the weekly cost in raw salaries (i.e. before taxes) is determined like this:

168 hours x $15 per hour = $2520 in salaries per week

Now say we only have four officers on staff, and therefore have eight hours of overtime someone’s going to have to take on (because four officers can cover 160 hours before running into overtime, and there are 168 hours in a week):

160 hours x $15 per hour = $2400 regular pay
8 hours x $22.50 per hour = $180 overtime pay
$2400 regular pay + $180 overtime pay = $2580

For a difference of $60 per week. Which doesn’t seem that bad by itself, BUT

$60 a week x 52 weeks a year = $3120

And it gets worse if there are only three officers:

Three officers x 40 hours = 120 hours that can be worked without overtime
168 hours in a week - 120 regular hours = 48 hours of overtime per week

120 regular hours x $15 an hour = $1800 regular pay per week
48 overtime hours x $22.50 an hour = $1080 overtime pay per week
$1800 regular pay + $1080 overtime pay = $2880

We’re now paying three officers $360 more per week than we would be paying five officers.

$360 extra per week x 52 weeks in a year = $18,720 more per year we’re spending to have two fewer cops!

Still think we have too many?

I have shocking news for everyone.

Brace yourselves.

Grab something heavy.

Take deep breaths (or better yet, a deep draught of a cold and bracing drink).

Something miraculous has happened.

As of today, there is a phrase in the English language that I hold dearer to my heart, that is more pleasing to my ears, that is more likely to bring tears of pure joy to my eyes, than any that has ever gone before, up to and including my reigning champion all-time favorite utterance in any language, just knocked out of its seemingly permanent position at #1 on my list, “Hey Kate, let me buy you a Guiness.”

No, now there is something even more euphonious, more delightful to imagine and more wondrous still to actually hear unaccompanied by a post factum “Ha, made you look!”

What is this most harmonious, most stirring, most deeply beloved of exclamations, maybe ever?

“Hey look, it’s raining outside!”

When at first my Enabling Assistant (not her real name) made this statement this morning, I was fully expecting it to be another in a long line of faintly humorous attempts at the kind of “gotcha” of which only my coffee buddies are properly capable (why, only just last night, as he reported to us this morning, the Fat Cat Republican Bastard [not his real name] came upon the irresistibly tempting sight of the pickup of Obie the Artist [not his real name], its bed crammed to the gunwales with bursting trash bags. The degree to which Mrs. FCRB [not her real name] bears responsibility as accomplice or instigator is yet to be determined, but reliable sources, including MFCRB herself, do testify that it was she who first noted that it would be really funny to cram those bags into the cab. I hope I’m around for the reciprocal prank – at a safe distance of course)...

But no, rain it most certainly did, lightly last night (enough to dampen but not to wash the Punk Martha Stewart out of the “guest bedroom” at Kate’s Landing; she had wisely put on the rain fly a few days ago) and with a little more authority this morning and over the lunch hour today.

Oh, it was glorious.

We didn’t see the kind of big, meaty, splattering drops characteristic of the east coast or midwestern storms of fond memory, but nor did we see the typical thirty-second drizzle complete with glaringly clear and cloudless sky straight overhead with which the weather gods delight in teasing us even when we aren’t in a drought year. The rain was falling mostly straight down (maybe just five degrees or so away from perfect verticality) and even accumulating a bit, as a few very small puddles forming in our little-used storm gutters attested.

So now I shall have to play hooky for a moment soon to go and check on The Hollow, site of our ecstatic commemorations of the last real rainstorm we had here in early August of last year.

See, last year, the rainstorm fell gratifyingly on a Saturday, and had to be celebrated accordingly, especially since we were fortunate to have, in the persons of Mr. and Mrs. Blackdonald (not their real names) an in and a plausible excuse for being at The Hollow, a wide, somewhat pronounced depression at the entrance to a large driveway/parking lot shared by the home of The Oracle (aka the Bird Lord) [neither being, of course, his real name] and Bonaparte of the Boondocks’ little office cum apartment building. When it rains, this hollow fills up nicely and offers unparalleled mucking opportunities.

The game last year was “float the rubber sandal” and gleefully did we race them down the gentle current that drew the water slowly into Saratoga’s primitive storm sewer system. Gleefully did we race and splash and dance and sing praises to the puddle and the rain and the bizarre chance that we all had a stupid afternoon off to enjoy it all.

Of course The Oracle found us at play, as he grumpily prepared to drive off to his store up north to do god-knows-what on a late Saturday afternoon. He pulled up beside us harrumphing in his pickup and giving us his sternest possible looks (how dare grown men and women frolic so shamelessly, the look told us, but we would have none of it, of course). He began to give me a lecture about the dignity of my office, the dear old fuddy duddy, and how I was compromising that by appearing shoeless in public and covered with mud for all to see, but about halfway through his lecture he appeared to remember to whom he was speaking, giggled (it’s rare that The Oracle giggles. The only other time I’ve heard him do so was when he described to me the planning and execution of his presentation of that fine suit to the Chicken Lady I described in THE PASSING OF THE POULTRY in January), shook his head and drove off.

Alas, the rain stopped soon after lunch, but I suppose that’s just as well. The Blackdonalds now live in Idaho and I have a responsible job of sorts again, so I don’t suppose there’s any puddle mucking in my immediate future, but hey, the rain has added some to the water level in my backyard river.

I sense some quality innertube time in the offing this evening. All we need is a beer run first...

Maybe this time they’ll even float.

Tuesday, July 23, 2002


Chicago is the best city. I decided that yesterday as I splashed around in the Lake Michigan surf at Gizmo Beach (our name for a stretch of beach near Loyola University where a fellow Sec-J'er found an apartment last fall – it's quite the Chicagoland equivalent of Kate's Landing: an enviable location on the water combined with cheap digs and easy access for all one's local yokel pals).

The beach has fine, fine sand, the lake features oceanic waves and tides, and just above the rocks and almost smack against the shoreline is a row of picturesque 1930s-era apartment buldings that look like they just washed up there or else are the ones that haven't yet fallen into the lake.

My feet sank deep into the wet, dissolving sand while the water played about my knees. I had a belly full of good Indian food (we lunched in the deep sari-and-samosa district of Devon so I could enjoy some stuff I can't even begin to make for myself in Saratoga; the very reason I vacation in big silly cities and would continue to do so even if the cities I visit weren't teeming with people that I love dearly).

I had in just a quick three-day mini-vacation been reunited with an old nerd camp buddy I hadn't seen in 13 years, married off my best friend and laid my case for a groomsman's moving to Saratoga to be with me on the line (alas, I have nothing to offer as a counter to his scuba diving in the Pacific – looking for your favorite fishing lure that snapped off in the seaweed in Turpin Reservoir doesn't count, apparently), slept over in three different-and-yet-eerily-identical oversized suburban houses, discovered ruefully with about 20 of my dearest friends that 32 year olds cannot dance properly to "Rock Lobster" without cost – immediate cost – left a famous used bookstore with only two books because it was so hot int here I didn't feel like delving anymore, played four different stupid cellphone pranks, downed two purple vodka lemonade drinks at lunchtime (very cool and refreshing), and placed bets with all of my pals as to whether a friend we all know as The Queen would succeed in picking up the leathery-looking barmaid he kept insisting was no older than we are (he succeeded).

I toured the childhood neighborhood of three of my favorite people in the world.

I attended a naked Shabbat.

I have been lied to by one online booking service (Expedia* - see below for diatribe if you dare) and two airlines and now know why they are called "redeye" flights.

I have been hilariously and dramatically late to a civil service in the sun (somehow, my chauffer and I wound up with directions to the wrong country club) so that there was a minor uproar when I skulked in to sit behind the photographer (people I had never met before knew all about my Expedia woes, so all night long I felt I had been re-christened Oh You Made It Sherrod).

(The naked Shabbat happened in Fort Collins, CO. It was notable not only for the nakedness but also for the tender age of the celebrant, a friend's 3 1/2 year old son already known in the family as The Rabbi, whose pants had been removed a few minutes earlier after I made him laugh too hard with my bubble blowing skills and he went with the flow. His younger brother The Priest [who is none to good at waiting for the right time to sip his "wine" in addition to, hey, being the child of a Catholic mom and a Jewish dad. It could happen] wanted to join The Rabbi in Shabbatting sans cullottes but mom got some pajama bottoms on them at the last minute because they had dinosaurs on them, like in the song. So it wasn't really a Naked Shabbat, but isn't it fun to say? Naked Shabbat! Naked Shabbat! Oh, some days it's a drag to be Presbyterian!)

I have watched a movie set in Chicago and its outskirts in 1931 ("Road to Perdition") in a movie theater that, counterfactual conditionals being what they are, could have been built on the site of the ramshackle farmhouse to which the youthful hero retires at film's end.

I have, for the first time in six years, wasted two blissful hours in a good comic book store. My investments are doing nicely. It's good to know. I even augmented my portfolio a bit. It was a good feeling.

And through it all, I did my job, not only answering the occasional and surreal tourist inquiry on the cell phone I brought "just in case" – nothing quite like giving directions to Lake Marie whilst sitting over cocktails at Wicker Park's Silver Cloud cafe – but also selling the simple joys and overwhelming beauties of my Wyoming home to a passel of young professionals on the brink of making big decisions, like where to raise their kids, whether their paychecks are worth the bullshit and ennui at work, the soulless sameness of their commutes and the mass media-dominated idiocy of their leisure pursuits. I didn't pull any punches (though I did cement my reputation as a "nut" with at least one of my friends, who sincerely doesn't trust anyone who doesn't have cable TV).

For while Chicago is the best city, Saratoga is still the best place, and I was happy indeed to see Kate's Landing in the twilight as I pulled into my driveway... and rushed to change clothes for the first ever meeting of the Saratoga Schmomunity Center Board. No rest for the wicked...


Now, for those who care, here's my Awful Expedia Story in full excruciating detail. I have pretty much adapted this account from the one I posted to Sec-J, who I found in an uproar Friday morning after I'd originally had to call the groom in this weekend's big wedding and tell him I'd be jiggered if I could figure out how the hell I was going to make it to his wedding since Expedia NOT ONLY NEVER BOTHERED TO TICKET ME, BUT ALSO NEVER BOTHERED TO LET ME KNOW THEY HADN'T TICKETED ME (little Executive Summary, there).:

(Note: the Jim mentioned in the following account is a programmer friend of ours who works for Expedia, and who was catching about 20 kinds of hell from the rest of Sec-J because it looked like I was going to miss the wedding)

OK, I'm still piecing all of this together, but here's the basic narrative. I bought my E-ticket online on Monday (had had to wait until the last minute because I was still wrangling with my board over how much time off I could have). Everything was all good.

Tuesday morning I got an e-mail saying call Expedia asap. 1-800-Expedia. I called with my itinerary number, booking number, all that good stuff. The agent I spoke to said "I have no idea why you got that message; everything is fine, you're all set, just present your e-ticket number at check in."

Later Tuesday, my secretary at work got a phone call from Expedia. Please have her call us. I called, same story as above. The agent said "everything is fine, we don't know why you got that message."

Wednesday I noticed that in my itinerary I still didn't have an actual e-ticket number, so I called Expedia again. They said check with Frontier, so I did. Frontier gave me a number and said I was good to go. Just present the number when you check in, yadayada.

Thursday I double-checked with Frontier and Expedia (because I'm a paranoid soul). Both parties still told me everything was cool. Great. I packed serenely and wrote a bigass essay on my hopes for Buzz and Gravy's marriage and posted it to my website.

Friday morning, my parents give me a lift to the airport in Laramie (about 76 miles east of here). We take the Snowy Range road. We see the sun rise over Lake Marie (about as beautiful a sight as there is anywhere).

I arrive at the airport. Panic ensues because I've managed to walk off without my driver's license, but the absolutely fabulous guys at Great Lakes Aviation (the puddle-jumper who partners with Frontier to get people from places like Laramie to Denver) say no sweat, I'm just going to have some extra security hassles but it's okay.

I'm all set for my flight to Denver when, just as a courtesy, the GLA guy checks on my flight status from Denver to Chicago. Uh oh. I'm not on the passenger manifest.

His boss calls up Frontier with a copy of my itinerary and receipt in hand.

Frontier tells the GLA guy that Expedia never ticketed me, and I need to hash this out with Expedia. They can sell me a ticket for the flights on which I was originally booked (they did have that record, of course) for $900, which of course I don't have because Expedia has my money.

I call Expedia (first of four Expedia personnel I talked to. I tried to get them to connect me to Jim, but they said there's no way to do that. I wail inwardly but still have hope that this can be worked out). The agent tells me hey, we forwarded everything to Frontier and we don't know what went wrong from there and I need to talk to Frontier.

So I call Frontier myself. They got my RESERVATION from Expedia, but never got payment or issued a ticket. Talk to Expedia.

I call Expedia back. By this time I have my itinerary number memorized so it goes a little faster telling the booking agent what's going on. This booking agent tries to convince me, that, get this, FRONTIER HAD CANCELLED THE FLIGHTS I WAS BOOKED ON and that's why no tickets were issued.

Funny, the GLA flight I was to take out of Laramie was TAKING OFF as this Expedia agent was telling me it was cancelled, and the GLA guy had already verified for me that the Frontier flight out of Denver to Chicago was on schedule and on track.

I call this ass on his fib. He hands me over to another chick.

This chick tries to tell me that the issue was that GLA does not accept E-tickets, so there's no way Expedia could have issued me an E-ticket in the first place and that's why I had no ticket. The GLA guy hears me incredulously repeating this information and informs me that in fact he had just put 12 E-ticketed passengers onto the plane I was supposed to be on that just left. So I call bullshit on this Expedia chickie too.

She passes me up to a supervisor, Mary Beth KW (may a thousand horny billygoats suddenly develop a conditioned response to the smell of her sweat during the hottest week of the year right after her air conditioning goes on the fritz so that she is condemned to being raped by a thousand different goats until she finally dies). This woman suddenly informs me that on Tuesday a call was placed to my office and a message was left for me that I had to call Frontier within five minutes of receiving that call or I would lose the whole thing!!!!

But as I said above, my secretary took that call. All she says they said was that I needed to call Expedia asap. When I got back to my office 15 minutes later, I called Expedia and the agent said he didn't know why I had the message to call, everything was just fine. If there was really such a dire issue, wouldn't something like the fact that I'd lost out or something come up on his screen for my itinerary number? Hmm?

Anyway, this Mary Beth person insists that because she has documentation that she left a message with my secretary that I had five minutes to call Frontier or I'd not get my ticket (why? why on earth? what is the fucking point of using expedia if I'm going to have to call Frontier myself anyway, and in a blind sweaty five minute panic at that? SHITTIEST SERVICE EVER) I'm completely shit out of luck.

I inform her that I am never using Expedia again, that I'm going to share my story with untold hundreds of others via my website, and that when this weekend is over one of the nine or ten attorneys with whom I have coffee every morning will probably be contacting Expedia if they don't give me back my money (which was back in my bank account when I got back into Saratoga) and come up with some satisfactory way of compensating me for basically having to tell my best friend on the entire planet that I can't be at his wedding.

(My mommy is very impressed that I didn't use a single swear word through any of these exchanges [obviously she's not here now as I type this]. My father, whom I take after in millions of ways including a very hot temper, was not so restrained. He wanted to get to Cheyenne and hit Sutherland's and buy the bathroom sink he wants. Ass.)

So anyway, thanks to Orbitz, I will still be at the wedding (provided someone can get me from the airport to the country club tomorrow). And Expedia (except for you, dear Jim) is at the very top of my shit list forevermore.