Thursday, February 08, 2007

A bad month for John McKays
I've mentioned twice now the fact of my impending unemployment. After four and a half years as a contractor at my current job--time enough to feel like one of the team, just lacking paid time off and benefits--my position fell victim to a budget adjustment and I was told my services would no longer be needed after the end of February. What I haven't mentioned is that I have also been sick and physically miserable for the last month. I started the new year out with a flu and followed it with a head cold that simply will not go away. The guy I share a work space with had both and strep throat, too. Clever Wife just had the cold. I guess that makes me the Mamma Bear of our shared germ culture.

Every morning I wake up and think, "I'm too miserable to get up." Then I have to go through this careful self-analysis. Am I sick or am I depressed? If I'm depressed, I have to go to work. If I'm sick, I have to decide if I'm sick enough to stay home. I almost always have to go to work, a fact that is both depressing and sick.

And, with my head full of snot most days, I haven't been able to post more than off-the-cuff comments on politics, between sinus attacks. The last day I was marginally competent was the day I finished making my recommendations for Coturnix's best of the science bloggers anthology (which you should go buy here). The day I finished reading all of the nominees, I wrote up my recommendations, mailed them to Coturnix, and went to bed for sixteen hours. Since then, the book has been completed, published, I've received my copy, read it, given it to my mother, basked in her praise, and I still have a head full of snot.

This morning I went to work, feeling fairly well, and had a sudden sinus attack. I was sneezing nonstop, both hands were full of kleenex, and my eyes were watering so much that I couldn't read my computer screen. The guy I share a work space with told me to go home; I wasn't getting any work done and I was scaring people. Certainly the freeway was a much safer place to have a person in my condition. Fortunately, the freeways in Seattle rarely move faster than a school zone, so I got home okay and so did everyone else who shared the road with me. The closest I came to an accident was when a police car made an illegal U-turn a couple blocks from my house.

As long as I had made it home alive, I decided to take a look at the local news. But first, the mail arrived. We had a certified letter from the IRS telling us that we still owed taxes on the almost worthless stock options that we cashed out after both of our cool jobs in the internet boom went pop after 2001. The amount given in the mail to pay our obligations, was for last November, so I called the regional office get the correct amount. I spent a while listening to Tchaikhovski and Mozart symphonies before my question was answered.

When I got back to the news, I was surprised to see that John McKay losing his job was a major story in the local paper. I did once manage to get a letter to the editor published, but I didn't realize that doing so made me an important opinion maker to be watched. I eagerly read the article and discovered that it did not refer to me.
Seven months before he was forced to resign as U.S. attorney for the western district of Washington, John McKay received a glowing performance review from Justice Department evaluators.

"McKay is an effective, well-regarded and capable leader of the [U.S. attorney's office] and the District's law enforcement community," the team of 27 Justice Department officials concluded, according to a copy of their final report obtained by The Seattle Times.

Yet on Dec. 7, Michael Battle, director of the Justice Department's executive office for U.S. attorneys, called McKay and asked him to step down.

"I was told to resign by the end of January," McKay confirmed Wednesday. "I asked what the reason was, and they told me there was none.

"Ultimately, I serve at the pleasure of the president," McKay said. "I accept that now and I accepted that then, and that's why I resigned."

For those keeping count, John McKay is another statistic in the ongoing purge of US Attorneys.

John McKay is a painfully whitebread name. There are four John McKays in my immediate family and quite a few more in my further family. During the 2000 Florida vote recount, the majority leader of the Florida state senate was a John McKay. At one time there was a John McKay who was Tory member of parliament in Ontario. When I was studying history in graduate school, there were at least two John McKays who were practicing historians in the United States, one in a subject very close to mine. Back in Alaska when I was in my early twenties, there was another John McKay who ran in the same political circles I did. I regularly met people who would claim that we had a common friend. "Hi!" they would say, "I'm a friend of so-and-so's. You two served together on the board of the public television station." I'm sure he had the same experience. People must have met him at political events and said, "Hi! I'm a friend of so-and-so's. You two once got lip walking drunk together at the Fly-by-Night Club." So-and-so was occasionally two different people. After the other John and I finally met*, we exchanged phone numbers so we could direct misdirected people in the right direction.

I've never met the other John McKay in Seattle, so I have not been able to offer him that same deal. And that's a shame, because as soon as I got home alive today, following my tax adventures, I received a call for that John McKay.

Unfortunately, I said, "Sorry. That John McKay is probably unlisted."

The caller said, "You'd be surprised."

I said, "Yeah, heh-heh,"

At that point, my brain, on the far side of about six pounds of mucus, said, "If that's a reporter, you might be able to get your own unemployment situation added to his story as a human interest note." But it was too late; the call was over. The French have a name for this. They call it esprit d'escalier. It crudely translates as "stairway wit." It's a phrase we really need in English. It is a phase that describes all of the clever things we realize we should have said as we are leaving a party. It describes the first pang of pain over lost opportunities.

As long as I have been aware of him, I have believed that the other Seattle John McKay and I have little in common. He is a member of a socio-economic strata several degrees above mine and I believe he is as far to the right as I am to the left. Which doesn't mean we don't have anything in common. I have had many friends on the right. As long as neither of us has tipped over into that creepy, and personally insecure, extremist zone where we will only associate with people who support our views, I have always been happy to sit down with people I disagree with on some issues and look for something we can agree on, even if it is just music, movies, or beer, though the latter mattered more in my twenties.

If the other John McKay is looking for work, here's my thought: we should take to the road in neo-vaudevillian act like G. Gordon Liddy and Timothy Leary did or Abby Hoffman and Jerry Rubin did with their Yuppy-Yippy debates. Two of those four are still alive and only one of the dead committed suicide. That means we would each have a fifty-percent chance of dying of natural causes is if we took to the road together. I'm sure that there are other advantages to taking to the road together, but my brain is too full of snot at the minute to think of it.

* A story which is part of the greater Mike Gravel story.

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