Progress, Of Sorts

Wow, life’s been happening: in the past ten weeks two graduations, several weddings, an anniversary, a birthday, a betrothal, and I actually spent two weeks doing something that felt like work.  I didn’t make any money, but I must have gained five pounds trolling the fleshpots of Concord, NH expenses paid.  A $13 lobster sub is probably an item you are going to have to look hard for in Atlanta.  I also discovered Vinnie’s Pizza (est. 1932), perhaps the best on the planet: the whole wheat crust was to die for.  Great restaurants in Concord, and everyone was nice at the Fairfield Inn; I was most amused by the native’s swooning about how hot and humid it was, when it was about 15 cooler than Atlanta and half the humidity.  But that’s probably not unexpected from folks who have 5’ tall flags on their fire hydrants so fireman can find them in the snow drifts.

A small consulting firm – I must have made sad puppy dog eyes at just the right time in the interview – took me for two weeks of shadowing their FISMA (Federal Information Systems Management Act of 2002) guru with the aim of preparing me to go on-site alone and do FISMA risk assessments, gap analysis, and remediation.  Allow me to digress for a moment.  Remember Speaker Pelosi saying we had to pass healthcare reform so we could find out what’s in the bill?  Well, one of the nasty surprises in that bill – not related to healthcare at all – is that on July 1 entities doing electronic business with the Federal government had to meet FISMA requirements.  This became common knowledge after about a month after the bill passed, thus giving organizations about 2 months notice to complete an approximate 12,000 hour project before their main revenue stream was cut off.   Of 42 such organizations processing student loans across the country, 4 were given a dispensation to keep doing business while they worked to meet the requirements, while the other 38 were cut off July 1.  Why were not all 42 given the same largesse?  Beats me, but I’m sure it was all fair and above politics……Yeah, riiigghht as Dr. Evil would say.

It was the toughest two unpaid weeks of my life.  I have a new respect for the consulting profession: soft skills are a huge key to success.  You have to strike the right tone with a spectrum of personalities, besides actually knowing stuff.  I find out my soft skills are a bit rusty (if I ever had them at all – do you have soft skills when words like “gruff” and “blunt” are applied to you?), and there’s still a lot of stuff I need to know.   I spent two weeks of playing Daniel-san to my mentor’s Mr. Myagi, and it got pointed at times.  (Laptop on, laptop off, Tom-san!)  As we shared a warm good-bye at baggage claim at Hartsfield-Jackson, he advised me that I had the technical goodies, just needed to improve my soft skills.  “How about THIS for some soft skills!” I cried as I connected with a perfectly-thrown overhand right (not really).  And as I shared all this with my beloved that evening, she gently related that she thought I had a touch of Asperger’s Syndrome, because I didn’t pick up on social clues.  You are the wind beneath my wings, dear.

So I’m as employed as a man can be who actually hasn’t got a paycheck yet.  I could be going back to New Hampshire soon, and I told there are several other pending projects where my lack of soft skills won’t be an impediment; i.e. the staffs of these companies point at computer monitors and ask “What are bright glowing things?”  But I don’t know if I’m cut out for the travelling life.  At the end of the first week, there were no direct flights back to Atlanta, so we had to connect in Detroit.  The flight – Your Cattle Car to the Sky! – from Manchester-Boston was put in a holding pattern because of a thunderstorm, so a 90-minute plane ride became twice that with a toddler screaming and kicking the back of my seat most of the way, while someone felt intestinally empowered to let it silently fly about every 15 minutes, leaving me watery-eyed and gasping.  Then our connection to Atlanta was cancelled, so I got to sleep in the Detroit airport.  I walked in the house about 1P Saturday, and a little over 24 hours was boarding a plane back to New Hampshire, taking a rapidly abscessing molar with me.  But by the grace of God and ibuprofen I made it!  But I think I’ll yen for the gold old days when Mary in her pearls would meet me at the door each evening with my pipe and a martini in hand, sometimes chiding me for being a little rough on the Beaver the night before.

God bless us all…except you Tiny Tim, you scurrilous (and farting?) you little seat-kicker you!

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