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by William McGaughey, Jr.
In my varied life, I have been an accountant, a world traveler, a self-published author of books, and a political candidate, among other things. Each role has brought certain life experiences. This web site will tell certain experiences related to particular roles.
The first story, How I Resolved a $129.64 Discrepancy, written around 1982, gives an insight into the mentality of an accountant working for a large bureaucracy. In this case, it was the Metropolitan Transit Commission, the public transit agency of Minneapolis-St. Paul. For sixteen years, I was the cost accountant for this agency, responsible for the monthly cost allocation, among other things. The knowledge to do this job was quite specialized as you will see.
The second story, Farewell Checkpoint Charlie, describes an adventure in world travel. In this case, I was visiting Berlin in the spring of 1990, a city where I had lived for several months in 1962. This story combines travel with an experience of historic political change. The story was written in the summer of 1990 for my departmental newsletter at the MTC.
The third story, How I Learned to Write a Book Long in the Making, tells of an experience that happened over a life time. At a certain level, I consider myself essentially a writer. I have taught myself how to write books. When I quit a job in 1966 to pursue a writing career, I could not write on a sustained basis. After returning to work as an accountant, I gradually developed stamina and unconscious skills as a writer. My project of a lifetime was to write the book, Rhythm and Self-Consciousness, completed in 2000. This story is taken from an appendix to the book, which was published in 2001. (See listing by Thistlerose.)
The fourth story , Five Weeks in Louisiana, is a short summary of my experiences as a candidate for President of the United States in Louisianas 2004 Democratic Presidential primary. A much longer version appears in a published book, On the Ballot in Louisiana: Running for President to fight National Decay (Thistlerose, 2004).
In summary, you have here two stories that describe mental interior adventures - connected with learning something - and two stories of external experience that combine travel with politics.
by William McGaughey, Jr.
My chief responsibility is to administer the agencys cost-allocation system. This is the method by which we assign overhead costs to the different cost centers and to projects. All expenditures must be assigned to an organizational or functional unit in these two separate systems of reporting. Allocated costs are those which are assigned by a calculated distribution instead of being specifically identified with the cost center or project. Partly that is done for the sake of administrative convenience, and partly because no other way has been found.
Cost centers represent a breakdown of the organization into smaller, specialized units. These follow the organizational chart, which reveals which persons supervise which employees. Cost centers are subdivisions of the agencys departments. For example, the Program Management and Evaluation department (PM&E) has three cost centers: administration, capital projects, and contract management. The departmental number is 2200, while the three cost centers are numbered respectively 2210, 2220, and 2230.
A project, sometimes called work project, describes the function which the agency and its various departments and cost centers are performing. For example, the purpose of Project 3761 is to install a Management Information System (MIS), which is a computer-based system to control all information-gathering and reporting operations. Another project, numbered 5451, identifies Project Mobility, which provides specialized transportation services for the handicapped. In all, the agency is conducting more than fifty separate projects during this year.
Some types of expenditures are obviously identified with particular cost centers or projects. For instance, the salary of the director of the PM&E department is assigned to Cost Center 2210, which is entitled Program Management & Evaluation - Administration. When this man works on a task related to MIS, he records on his weekly time sheet the number of hours charged to Project 3761 so that the Payroll department can code the labor expense to that project. On the other hand, certain expenditures have a more general value to the agency and cannot be readily assigned to cost centers and projects, at least not without excessive effort. For example, the agency rents space for its administrative headquarters on the eighth floor of an office building. A single dollar amount appears on the monthly billing from the landlord. The Accounts Payable clerks do not have time to determine how much of this expense belongs to one or another cost center or project. Instead, the expense is allocated to such units through the computer-based cost-allocation system which I administer.
Our particular cost-allocation system is executed in three stages. In the first set of calculations, the system-wide expenses are allocated to each of the agencys cost centers. Such expenses include all fringe benefits, most utilities, office supplies, leased office space, etc. they are initially coded to a pseudo department, numbered 9999. In the second set of calculations, expenses of the indirect departments are reassigned to each of the other cost centers, and ultimately wind up in the direct cost centers and departments. An indirect department is one such as Clerical Services, Personnel, or Finance, which provides support services to the rest of the agency. A direct department, by contrast, carries out a particular basic function of the agency, such as administering federal contracts. In the third set of calculations, the indirect costs which have accumulated in the direct departments as a result of the first two allocations are assigned to the various projects upon which their people have spent time during the month. At the end of the allocation process, all expenditures should have been assigned to a particular cost center within a direct department and to a particular project.
The distinction between direct and indirect costs is basic to governmental accounting. Generally speaking, the direct costs can be associated directly with projects, while the indirect costs have a less definite relationship. Even so, their expenditure does benefit the project to a certain extent. The cost-allocation system attempts to assign fairly a portion of the indirect costs to projects.
One reason why we go through this exercise is that many of the projects were developed under contract with the federal government. Those contracts allow the agency to be reimbursed for 80% of the project expenditures up to the total number of dollars in the grant, which includes reimbursement both for direct and indirect costs. However, the indirect costs, to be reimbursable, must have been determined by a method of calculation which is provided in an approved cost-allocation plan. The calculations must be fully documented, so that federal auditors two or three years later can verify that the charges for indirect cost were properly assigned to the project. In the absence of an approved cost-allocation plan, fully documented and executed in conformance with federal guidelines, some or all of the indirect costs claimed under the project grants might be disallowed.
The actual method of allocating costs follows a standard procedure, although the particular factors or elements involved in the calculations may vary. The basic technique is to split a single dollar items of cost into several smaller amounts, each assigned to a cost center or project. The particular split depends upon the allocation base which is chosen to weight these units in an equitable manner. In the case of leased office space, for instance, a fair way to allocate the cost of the monthly rent might be on the basis of the number of square feet of floor space which each cost center occupies in the building. If the Finance department occupied 30% of the space, it should be charged 30% of the rent. In the case of allocating a departments indirect costs to projects, the dollars of labor charged to the different projects by the departments employees might be an appropriate means of assignment.
Each type of allocated expense requires its own calculation. Each month, more than one hundred separate sets of calculations must be made in a period of several days to execute the three-step allocation procedure previously described. That is my job responsibility. However, I perform mainly a supervisory function; the computer does most of the work. What I actually do each month is to submit processing requests to the computer operator, accompanied by my own green security card and, perhaps, a deck of punched cards, which specifies that a certain Job stream should be run.
A Job Stream number tells the computer what kind of processing is to be done. We use abbreviations, such as JS-03 for Job stream #3. The job streams are run in a particular sequence each month to perform the cost allocations, make entries to accounts, and print the related reports. I monitor these runs, checking for error messages and reconciling numbers which have come from different sources. In the period-end cycle of runs, I work closely with Roger Krebs, the senior accountant in charge of the general ledger, who notifies me when allocations may begin and who later closes out the period. Each of us has an idea of what the other is doing, but the entire operation is bigger than one person.
In a nutshell, my part in this process may be defined by the following series of job streams: JS-14, JS-16, JS-09F, JS-5P1, JS-09G, JS-5P1, JS-11, JS-31A, JS-09H, JS-5P1, and (after several more journal entries submitted by others), JS-10, JS-09, and JS-14. Dennis Wachholz, my predecessor, set this up, and, with minor modifications, it continues to function according to his conception. These job-stream numbers may have little significance to an outsider. To us, however, whose livelihood depends upon calling for the right run at the right time, each JS-number means running a particular report or creating particular transactions which affect the accounts. The JS-11, for instance, compiles and prints the Cost Center reports. The JS-09 calls forth the Project reports. The JS-09F, JS-09G, and JS-09H do the cost allocations.
As one final point of explanation, let me say that the heart of our computerized accounting system is the 21-digit account number used in transactions. These numbers are punched into the appropriate columns in the 80-column cards so that the computer can recognize which account goes with which cost. The 21-digit account number consists of several smaller clusters of digits, which each designate a characteristic of the account.
For instance, a typical account number might be: 01-501-03-181-2400-4-3701. The 01 in the first cluster of digits indicates that the expenditure has been made from the 01 fund, otherwise known as the general fund. The501 in the second cluster designates wages and salaries. The subsequent digits, 03, are a sub account or minor of the major category, 501. Taken together, we call these two fields, 501-03, a major/minor, which means wages and salaries - administrative. The cluster of digits numbered 181 is a functional designation which follows the federal governments standardized list of transportation functions. the 2400 in the next cluster indicates the cost center - in this case, Transit Development. The single digit, 4, is again a federal code indicating mode of transportation. Finally, the 3701 at the end of the account number represents the project. One might notice that the above account number contains only 19 digits, not 21. Two more spaces are reserved following the project cluster in case a sub-project coding is required.
The beauty of this system, at least in my eyes, is that the computer can directly identify characteristics which are relevant to a calculation or report, and can thereby combine and accumulate related types of expenditures, regardless of the characteristics in other fields. For example, it can calculate in a flash the total expenditures to date for Project 3701 by scanning all the accounts and adding up the balances of all accounts whose numbers include 3701 in the appropriate position. without that capability of focusing upon particular clusters within the account number, our cost-allocation system would not be possible.
In the process of allocation, the computer pulls together information from several sources which are needed to make the calculation. The structure of this calculation is called a cost-allocation task. The task stipulates which numbers are to be divided into other numbers during the allocations by means of numbered positions on its report. Some of the numbers are programmed into the task and remain constant. Others are pulled from the balances in particular sets of accounts in a process which we call line-genning. Here the computers ability to identify all accounts having the same digits in a relevant cluster makes it possible to code the tasks on the report specification file in a reasonable period of time.
For each allocation, we need, of course, the dollars of the expense to be allocated. we need the base factors to determine the percentages that will be used to spread this expense between the different cost centers or projects. We need to indicate the account numbers to which these allocated expenses will be charged, so that the cost will be included in the proper fund, cost center, project, etc. All these parts must be coded into the computer before the monthly allocations can be run. Most of the coding of tasks was done at the beginning of the year. The method was expected to stay the same from month to month throughout the year.
One type of expense, which is allocated in the first set of calculations, pertains to the use of the agencys staff cars. Authorized employees may use these cars from the motor pool in the course of conducting official business. When an employee receives the keys, he or she also receives a credit card for purchasing gasoline and other purposes as might be required. Such expenditures, when the agency receives the bill, are considered system-wide expenses. Otherwise, the paperwork which would be required in order to assign the cost to projects or cost centers might defeat the convenience of maintaining such a fleet. We have decided to allocate the staff-car expenses on the basis of the number of cars assigned to each cost center. The five different kinds of related expenditures - gas and oil, tires, car wash, maintenance, and towing - require five separate cost allocations to be run each month.
At the end of last year, I obtained a listing from research of the tentative assignment of cars in the coming year, and on that basis set up the cost-allocation tasks. subsequently, though, several of the cars were traded in, and new cars were added, with the result that the result that the distribution of staff cars to the cost centers was changed. Not long ago, Brian Lamb from the research department gave me a revised listing of the staff-car assignments. He reported that the Assistant General Manager had inquired whether the allocations might be changed to reflect the new assignments. (Note: Brian Lamb, then a staff person in the Research Department, is now General Manager of Metro Transit after a stint as head of the Minnesota Motor Vehicle Department and the state's Department of Administration.) Normally we try not to change cost allocations in the middle of the year; but in this case I promised to do something about it.
During a spare moment in the mid-month lull, I recoded all the lines on the five tasks which pertained to staff-car expense, and submitted these changes to the computer. that part went smoothly enough. However, when it came time to run the first allocation in the period-end cycle, I spotted five error messages at the end of the report. these messages said NA, which I think means no account on file. The messages also indicated the number of the task in which the error had occurred. After locating each of the five tasks, I recognized from the account number next to the NA on each page that the error pertained to the allocation of staff-car expenses to the Personnel department, or Human Resources department as it is now called. All five account numbers contained 5100 in the cost-center position, which is Personnels department number.
I pulled from the file my work sheet which summarized the changes in staff-car assignments. The car in question had been assigned to Training, which is part of Personnel. The problem was that in the previous assignment Personnel was not assigned any cars, but it now had one. On the other hand, the Safety department, which had one car in the old listing, now had none. Therefore, I had substituted Personnels code for safetys on one of the lines in the five tasks.
Unfortunately, while doing this, I had neglected to add the new account numbers to the General Ledger master file, which incorporated Personnels coding. Our computer system requires all new accounts to be put on file with an 01 card before expenses can be charged to their number. Otherwise, the computer will not recognize the account, and will generate the NA error message. In this instance, only the five accounts involving Personnel caused a problem. For the other cost centers, the new listing merely changed the number of cars assigned. Their accounts for receiving the allocated expense were already on file. In order to correct the errors, I needed now to create 01 cards for the five new accounts, keypunch them, and submit the cards to the computer on the JS-03.
Another thought briefly crossed my mind. Usually when we create new accounts, we must also set up for them report locations, which will accumulate their balances in the computer for the project reports. We call this line-genning an account. Line-gen is short for line-code generation. It refers to the process of assigning a code for the account number, which becomes a storage location for costs whose total appears in a particular spot on the project reports. Typically, this code would be a report-and-line number. Code 13715, for instance, would refer to line 15 on report 137. Line 15 might designate, let us say, materials and supplies - other. Report 137 might be the report number for Project 2715. Line-genning is necessary to move the dollars from the pertinent accounts into the desired positions on the reports.
In this instance, however, I reasoned that it was unnecessary to line-gen the account which accumulated Personnels staff-car expense because Personnel was an indirect department. Only the expenses from direct departments are allocated to projects, and only the project reports or project-summary reports require line-genning. With that logic, I added the five new accounts to the master file, but let the other part go.
Adding the new accounts to the file did, indeed, clear up the errors which had appeared in the first allocation run. Likewise, the second and third allocations, as well as the cost-center and project reports, were run without a hitch. Near the end of the cycle, though, I also prepare a work sheet which lists the total year-to-date balances in the accounts for expenditures from each fund. This information comes from the General Ledger trial balance and would include all accounts on file. On this worksheet, the total of the trial-balance accounts is compared with other totals which come from the JS-10 report. The JS-10 is a detailed listing of the accounts whose totaled balances appear on the project reports.
If an account is not line-genned, its dollars may appear in the trial balance, but not in the project reports. The purpose of preparing the worksheet is to spot such differences, locate the source of the error, and make timely corrections, before the project reports themselves are run. Otherwise, if the differences are not reconciled, it would be necessary to show them as reconciling items on the statements which go to the Commissioners.
In preparing the work sheet this month, I noticed a difference of $129.64 between the total expenditures included in the trial balance and the total for Matrix Report #5, which is a summary of all expenditures by fund. In previous months other differences had appeared, but never between these two totals. Also, I noticed that for the first time this year the bottom line on Report 31 showed a balance other than zero. This balance was $129, rounded to the dollar. Something had obviously been done during the past month to create the discrepancy. Where did the error lie?
One technique for locating errors or differences which have appeared for the first time is to examine the coding sheets filled out most recently to access the computer. I keep a file of these sheets in a cabinet near my desk. Most of the sheets pertained to the year-end coding of cost-allocation tasks and reports; not many entries had been made since March. Therefore, it did not take long to find the sheets which had been used to add the five new accounts to the file, representing Personnels staff-car expense. In hot pursuit, I went immediately to the General Ledger update, a run which lists all the accounts on file in account-number order, along with opening and closing balances and the current monthly change. I jotted down the total dollars in each account and took a sum of the five account balances.
Here is the result:
There is a pseudo-report number on the cost-allocation task for distributing Personnels expenses to other cost centers, which accumulates all the costs for allocation. I should have, at least, line-genned the new accounts with respect to that location. This pseudo-report number was 42005, and it was to be found on level 16. To confirm my suspicions, I checked the accounts in the JS-10 run which comprised 42005. Sure enough, none of the five accounts were there.
Ordinarily, accounts which are added to the file will automatically be line-genned when we run a JS-14 report. we do this at least twice a period. It happened, though, that we had run a JS-14 since the JS-10 listing was produced. I was curious to know whether the five new accounts had been line-genned. They had not. Two possible explanations came to mind. On one hand, the accounts might not have been line-genned if the JS-14 was run in a period after the accounts had been entered. I checked with Roger to see if we had closed the period yet. No, the period was still open. Therefore, the JS-10 and JS-14 had both been run in the same period; so that could not have been the reason. The other possibility was that the computer card used to line-gen accounts to 42005 had been punched in such a way as to prevent these particular accounts from being included. I pulled this card out of the file cabinet. Yes, the problem was here.
A diagram of the card which I pulled out of the file cabinet is shown above. What this does is to associate a particular storage location with particular accounts whose features are specified by the digits punched in pertinent columns.
The IL16 in columns 1 to 4 show that pseudo-report number 42005, punched in columns 60 to 64, appears on level 16, which is merely a subdivision of the computers memory. The 5 in column 7 specifies that only accounts whose major begins with 5 will be selected. the 9 in column 20 similarly determines that only the accounts whose project field begins with 9 will be selected. finally, the 5110 in columns 15 to 18 requires that the cost-center field contain those particular digits. Columns which are left blank in a particular field may be filled by any digit; but, if a digit appears in a column, that position in the account number must be filled by that digit. The card, read as a whole, says that all account numbers on file whose major begins with 5, whose project begins with 9, and whose cost center is 5110 will accumulate balances in storage location 42005 on level 16.
The reason that the five new account numbers were not line-genned is that 5110 had to fill the cost-center position. Instead, these accounts had 5100 in that position. It was the 1 in column 17 which did the mischief. I had put the departmental number for Personnel in the accounts for its staff-car expense rather than the cost-center number. It was an understandable, but nonetheless harmful, mistake. In some cases, where a department has only one cost center, the same number is used to designate both the department and the cost center; but not here, unfortunately.
In order to pick up accounts with either 5100 or 5110 in the cost-center position, I could create a new line-gen card, which would have 51 punched into columns 15 and 16 but which would leave columns 17 and 18 blank. Alternatively, I could punch a new card with 5100 in the cost-center field and input this to the computer while leaving the line-genning from the present card also intact. The new card with blanks in columns 17 and 18 seemed a neater solution, so that is what I did. I coded and keypunched a new line-gen card for pseudo-report number 42005 and fed it into the computer on a JS-14C.
Then I started to wonder: If the costs which had been distributed to the five accounts containing 5100 in the cost-center position had been included in the trial balance but had not been allocated to the direct departments, then those dollars should still be sitting in the Personnel departments accounts. More money had gone into those accounts during the month than had come out. The ending balance should reflect the increase. I knew exactly where to check that theory: the cost-center report for Personnel. If the allocations had been handled properly, the total expenditures for this department should have been transferred out to other departments, leaving a zero on the bottom line. But, as they were not handled properly, I confidently expected that the ending balance would be at least $129.
However, that was not the case. The balance which remained in Personnels cost center after allocations was only 41. It took me a minute or two to figure out what had happened. During the year-end coding, I had specified which accounts should be included in Personnels cost-center report by means of control cards. These cards associated particular report numbers with cost-center numbers. I checked my coding sheets in the drawer and discovered that 5110 had been specified as the cost-center digits for accounts included in this report; but my five account number had 5100.
The conclusion was inescapable: Either I had to change the control card for the JS-11 report to include only accounts with 5100 in the cost-center position - which would probably be only those five accounts - or else I had to change the account numbers, substituting 5110 for 5100 in that position, if indeed I wanted to include those staff-car expenses in Personnels cost-center report. I did want to include them, not only for the sake of completeness, but also because to do otherwise would consistently leave a credit balance on the bottom line. That was because I had already changed the line-gen card for 42005 so that the expense in accounts containing 5100 would be allocated out to the other departments; however, the previous changes to those accounts would not be admitted to the cost-center report.
Bowing to that fate, I redid the coding for the five cost-allocation tasks and also created five new account numbers on the 01 cards. I brought job-stream requests to Jan in the computer room for the JS-08 and the JS-03 respectively.
Something troubled me still. I did not know what the problem was, now that everything seemed resolved, and that uncertainty compounded my worries. finally I decided it would be wise to try to retrieve my two job-stream requests before Jan fed them into the computer. I raced to the window of the computer room and saw my request forms on the counter. It was too late. The forms had already been stamped by the time clock, indicating that job cards had already gone through the reader.
Suddenly I realized the problem. It was all right to submit the JS-08 but not the JS-03 which added new accounts. I did not want to add new accounts at this time because Roger had not yet closed the period. The significance of this was that the new accounts would not be line-genned unless I submitted another JS-14 between now and closing. For, the JS-14 is flagged to process only new accounts - i.e., those which h have been added during the current period and require line-genning. When the closing entries are run, all unprocessed accounts are changed from new to old, which makes them ineligible to be line-genned by the JS-14 in periods after that. It did not seem practical to run a JS-14 now. Roger was ready to close the period at any moment, and the JS-14 is an 800-page report, taking half an hour to run and costing at least $50.00. It was just too expensive for what I had in mind.
The new accounts had already been added. The alternatives at this point were to wait until after closing and then either to line-gen these five account by hand or else to delete them and then re-add them so that they would become new accounts, eligible for line-genning by the JS-14 when we ran it again in several weeks. I felt uncomfortable with the first alternative: Each new account line-genned manually would require me to determine five or six different line codes. Although there was a logic to each number, I did not understand it completely and had made mistakes in the past. The JS-14 would do the line-genning automatically and without mistakes.
Therefore, I opted for Alternative B. What was required here, so I supposed, was to create five new cards. On each card, one column character would be changed from an A (for add) to a D (for delete). I would save both sets of cards. Then I would run the deletion cards through first on a JS-03, and then the addition cards on another JS-03, so that the same accounts which had been deleted would be immediately put back on file. The only difference would be that these accounts would now be new.
I thought that I should touch base with Roger regarding my plans. He informed me that the computer would not accept successive deletion and addition of account numbers. Although the accounts might be changed to delete status, they would nevertheless remain on file. And, so long as the accounts were on file, the computer would not allow the same accounts to be added. To get around this problem, I would h have to run a JS-17 between the two JS-03 runs. The JS-17 would pull the accounts marked delete off the file. The second JS-03 would add them to the file again.
I followed Rogers suggestion. The print-out from the first JS-03 confirmed that the accounts had been changed to delete status. the JS-17 did not generate any report, but I assumed it had run successfully. Finally, I ran the second JS-03 with the add cards. When the print-out came back, I read, to my surprise, INV ADD, which meant that the attempted additions were invalid.
Roger did not know what to make of this, and neither did I. Our only recourse was to call Ray Deeb, the senior programmer-analyst. Ray spends a considerable amount of time putting out fires in our department. when ray arrived, I explained to him how I had tried to delete and add accounts by running the JS-17 in between. Yes, but you should have run a JS-16 before you ran the 17, Ray responded. He said he was irritated that the computer room had put the JS-17 through. there was a note from him with the control cards asking to be notified whenever the JS-17 was requested.
Ray explained that the JS-17 caused the General Ledger master file to go back to the point when the last JS-16 (which creates a back-up take for safety purposes) was run. Its possible you did some damage, Ray commented. I remembered last having run a JS-16 three or four days earlier, at the beginning of the period-end closing procedure. If that was the last JS-16 run, it would be necessary for me to repeat all of the cost-allocation runs, updates, and reports. Ray suggested that I request a current trial balance on the JS-07 to compare with our earlier period-end trial balance. Hopefully, the two would be the same.
Ten minutes later Ray returned, all smiles. Youre in the clear. As part of Rogers closing procedure, a JS-13B had been run, which has a JS-16 tacked on front. Rogers JS-16 had thus been run before I added the five accounts, but before I had begun the series of JS-03 deletions, JS-17, and JS-03 additions. The JS-17 brought things back to the point where the five new accounts were on file. This explained the error message: Invalid Addition.
The period was now closed, and I was back to the stage of having five unwanted accounts on the master file. As matters stood, these accounts would not be line-genned by the next JS-14 because they were old - due to Rogers closing. Again, I weighed the alternatives: either allowing the accounts to remain on file and line-genning them by hand, or else making them eligible to be line-genned automatically later in the period by deleting the accounts with a JS-03, running a JS-16 and JS-17, and then adding them back on another JS-03.
I thought that I might try manual line-genning this time, but then another, unrelated problem arose which required my immediate attention. I scribbled a note to myself about the five unreconstructed accounts. A day later, this project was almost forgotten. But then my note reminded me that there remained a loose end to tie before the weekend. Taking a deep breath, I submitted the JS-03, and then the JS-16, JS-17, and second JS-03. When the last run was ready, I peered anxiously at an inside page of the print-out and, to my immense relief, read beneath each of the five account numbers, RECORD ADDED.
I must admit that the $129.64 discrepancy was never corrected in that periods report. But at least its cause has been treated. In future periods, I feel quite confident that the Personnel department will be charged its full share of the staff-car expenses, and that this cost will appear on both the cost-center and project reports. Meanwhile, I have gained another learning experience. while the computer may be a nitpicker, it is not vindictive or unreasonable. Eventually, misunderstandings can be resolved.
by William McGaughey, Jr.
Travelers to eastern Europe have found that even simple activities become enmeshed in red tape. I had that experience myself when I visited East Germany last February.
I had driven immediately to West Berlin in a rental car after arriving at Frankfurt on Saturday, February 24th - only 6 hours late. So it was 3 a.m. by the time I pulled into a west Berlin neighborhood close to where my friend from many years also lived. He, his wife, two daughters, a French friend and I spent Sunday tramping around east Berlin, buying chipped souvenirs of the Wall, having refreshments at a cafe on Unter den Linden street, etc. I, being an American, had to enter East Berlin through Checkpoint Charlie in the middle of the city. My friends, residents of west Berlin, entered at another place. Years ago, Americans could visit East Berlin, but not West Berlin residents. Now it is easier for them to pass through the border.
My friends had relatives in Leipzig, a city about a hundred miles south of Berlin in East Germany. They recommended that I visit that city on Monday and perhaps witness the famous Monday night rallies in central square where the protest demonstrations against the communist government had begun in the previous autumn. This was a period of breathtaking political change - three weeks before the East Germany national elections which would put that country on a firm course of reunification with West Germany.
Our Sunday afternoon expedition had stumbled upon a mass rally of the old communist party at Marx-Engels-Platz in East Berlin, fighting for its political life (but to no avail).
My friends made a telephone call to the Leipzig relatives from their West Berlin home. We knew that the East German authorities required that foreign visitors have a firm hotel reservation in order to obtain a visa to travel in that country. (by contrast, foreigners could obtain a one-day visa to sightsee in East Berlin without a hotel reservation for 5 deutschmarks.) There was nothing subtle about this; the East Germans wanted to earn hard currency from the foreign visits, and the hotels were typically expensive. The people in Leipzig thought they could satisfy the hotel requirement by making a reservation for me in a hotel on the outskirts of town which was considerably cheaper than those recommended for tourists.
I set out late Monday morning for East Berlin in my rented car, a Mazda, with those travel plans in mind. The first hitch occurred at the Checkpoint Charlie cross point where I learned it was not sufficient to cite the hotel reservation to receive the one-day travel visa. I had to obtain the necessary papers from the East German office for foreign visitors. I asked where that office might be. The border guard said it was on Charlottenstrasse.
Having a small street map of Berlin, I drove for several blocks, parked my car, and studied the map. Charlottenstrasse was not too far from Checkpoint Charlie. I drove around that area a bit, and asked several people where the foreign-visitors office was. No one knew anything about it. It seemed that I needed an exact address. So I walked back to Checkpoint Charlie and, at length, was able to find a guard who would help me. The address was Charlottenstrasse 45, as I recall.
Now the hard part began. I quickly located Charlottenstrasse in the area near Checkpoint Charlie. However, the street numbers ran from 1 to 30. Across a major thoroughfare I picked up the continuation of Charlottenstrasse. Unfortunately, the street numbers here began in the 60s. So where was number 45? Some construction workers thought it might be about ten blocks away. No one else seemed to know.
I had no alternative but to walk back to Checkpoint Charlie and demand an explanation. Now I was told to visit the East German travel office, which was located in Aleksanderplatz, about a mile and a half away. Fortunately, this office was much easier to find. It was in a 20-storey building with a large sign, Reiseboro (travel office), on top facing in my direction. However, to find a parking place was more difficult. When I arrived at the proper office on the second floor, it was, of course, lunch time and the counter was closed. I welcomed the opportunity to relax a bit and collect my thoughts.
The counter opened at 1 p.m. The counter where visas were issued would not do that until proper documentation was received concerning the hotel reservations. Another counter would handle that function. A woman at that counter told me, when I gave her the name of the hotel in Leipzig where reservations had been made for me, that they, the travel authorities, did not recognize that particular hotel. I asked what else was available. Apparently, almost everything was booked in Leipzig for Monday night, but there was a room or two left in the range of $100 to $150 per night (Compared with the $25 I had expected to pay).
Being the cheapskate I am and more than a little irritated, I told the woman that this was unacceptable. Eventually, she volunteered the information that I might obtain a visa without hotel reservation if arrangements had been made to stay in a private home. What a break! From what my last West Berlin friends had told me, their relatives would be happy to put me up for a night. Unfortunately, the documentation permitting this arrangement could not be obtained at the travel office but at another office - my old friend, the foreign-visitors office on Charlottenstrasse.
Luckily, I was dealing this time with people who knew where the office was located. They even gave me a small slip of paper typed with its name, address, and telephone number. Charlottenstrasse 45 was indeed where the construction workers had said it was, about ten blocks distant from Checkpoint Charlie, near Unter den Linden and the Grand Hotel. I had better hurry, though; the office closed at 3 p.m.
It was getting to be rush hour. The traffic was thick on Friederichstrasse, and I had to pull over occasionally to read the map. (Fortunately, in East Berlin the parking regulations are somewhat relaxed. If you need to park, you simply pull off the street on the sidewalk. I resorted to that device several times.) Then it started to rain. My windshield fogged up as I drove through heavy traffic. The rain turned to hail. Visibility was zero. I pulled up on the sidewalk and just sat there. It was quarter to three. Even if I found the office and a parking place, I might not arrive there before closing time and my clothes would be soaked. God did not intend for me to visit Leipzig that evening, it appeared.
At least the pressure was off. Here I was - while you people were busy working in Minnesota - stranded in East Berlin with some time on my hands.
After the rain subsided, I thought I would drive around the city for awhile. Friedrichstrasse looked interesting. I headed down that street away from Checkpoint Charlie for a mile or so until I reached something that looked like a neighborhood. I parked my car on the sidewalk, locked it, and took my camcorder with me for a short walking tour.
The area had a few interesting features. One of them was the house of Berthold Brecht, the famed playwright, and a nearby book store crawling with students. There was the office of a political party which had gone defunct. My only real business was to try to reach my West Berlin friends and the people in Leipzig to let them know what had happened to me. Easier said than done!
The East German telephone system is not state of the art. First, I had to find out from someone (a clerk at a nearby store) what area codes to use for the pay phone. Then I learned that it was necessary to use exactly the right coins to place a call, and I did not happen to have those coins. A woman who was also using the pay phone made change for me. The final hurdle was to make the call work. I tried the West Berlin number several times, but only received busy signals. I did reach someone at the Leipzig number, but apparently the wrong person - for he seemed to be quite angry when I reached him for the second time. Trying the same maneuvers from another pay phone did not produce better results.
To make a long story short, I bummed around East Berlin with my camcorder for several hours, had a light supper, and then returned to west Berlin where the telephones worked better. It was almost 9 p.m. My friends put me up for another night, and the following morning sent me on my way for another crack at traveling in East Germany.
This time, Tuesday, I decided simply to accept whatever hotel reservations the travel office offered. There was a greater selection - a room for $45 a night in a charming old hotel called the Internationale in the center of Leipzig. The weather had not improved much. I drove through a snow storm, first on the autobahn and then on Route #2 from Berlin to Leipzig, which happened to run through Wittenberg, Martin Luthers home town. The church where he pounded the 95 theses in the door has been replaced by a magnificent structure. A peace service was held at 6 p.m., just at the time I arrived. I recorded part of it with the camcorder. Luther himself is buried inside the church, but I did not see the marker.
Continuing further through the snow storm at night in a desolate country, I finally reached the outskirts of Leipzig and was promptly pulled over by a police officer. To my relief, he was not interested in arresting me but in giving me directions to the hotel.
On Wednesday, I saw lots of Leipzig, including the Thomaskirsche where Bach was organ master and the Volkerverschlagdenkmal which celebrated the German victory over Napoleon at the Battle of Leipzig. It is monumental in both scope and design. I did also manager to visit the Leipzig relatives, the Martins, in their apartment a mile from the central business district. They had expected me the previous day, of course, and had even contacted the police to see if anyone had been lost in the snow storm. No one had been reported.
well that ends well. The only problem was that my extra day in East
Berlin put me a day behind schedule, and I had less time to spend in
Paris at the end of the trip. Since the French are somewhat resentful
of the Germans, that decision of mine may not have sit too well with
my French hosts in Paris, the Bosquets, who, while showing some anti-German
feeling (Understandable for one who spent time in a Nazi concentration
camp as prisoner of war) were staunchly pro-French and pro-American.
But it was an historic moment in Germany, both East and west, and, thanks
to a rented Mazda, I was able to see some of it.
(Post script, dated July 1990: Checkpoint Charlie was dismantled last week in a ceremony that featured the foreign ministers of the four allied powers walking arm in arm across the once fearsome border in downtown Berlin.)
by William McGaughey, Jr.
The manuscript of what became the book, Rhythm and Self-Consciousness, was written on a word processor between November 19th and December 20th, 2000, and twice rewritten in January of the following year. Some was original composition but most represented reworked materials from versions of the text written ten or more years earlier. This book has actually been in progress for more than forty years, interrupted by other writing projects and by a career in accounting and real-estate management.
From my high-school years, I have kept a running journal of idea notes which included creative thoughts on various subjects. They were first sketches of schoolboyish inventions or business ventures scribbled on pieces of paper. Lately, these notes have tended to be related to writing projects in which I was interested. I thought of them as expressions of original inspiration and treasured them as a personal heritage. They were typed in a chronologically ordered series of items and assigned numbers for easy identification.
The notes pertaining to rhythm and self-consciousness date back to the early 1960s when I was a college student, majoring in philosophy. My idea notes at that point tended to focus upon philosophical issues encountered in my studies or personal life. As a student, I began to have doubts about my own mental abilities. I feared that prolonged life in this mode was undermining my native thoughts and I was losing my memory and ability to concentrate. Perhaps I was no longer interested in my subjects or was suffering from competitive anxieties?
My notes at that time focused on rhythm as a condition of replenished mental energies and concentration. Self-consciousness was the condition in which I then found myself. My creative imagination was carrying forward from a source in previous periods of my life.
Eventually these concerns led me to drop out of college for two years, memorize large amounts of poetry, and go live in West Germany. There I continued this rather aimless type of existence and accumulated still more idea notes. I also was able to concentrate for an extended period of time on a writing project, in English, which concerned U.S. politics. Its experience convinced me that I was basically a writer, specializing in presentations of ideas. I returned to the United States and to college, graduated, briefly studied accounting, and then migrated to Minnesota to pursue this occupation.
I was torn between ideas and the practical world. I took an accounting job for a year with the State of Minnesota and then quit it to pursue what I hoped would be a successful writing career. My idea notes would, of course, furnish the direction of the writing. It went well for several months. I did finish two or three short pieces to my reasonable satisfaction and wrote several short stories. Then I started into the main project which was to write a work to include all my thoughts accumulated in the idea notes concerning rhythm and self-consciousness.
This project did not go well. Perhaps the problem was that I put too much emphasis on the original notes and not enough on new creation. I thought that each note contained authentic insights whose truth needed to be brought out in expressions like those originally conceived. Therefore, my strategy was to assemble the notes, group them by like concept, and then connect them together in a coherent piece of writing, trying to retain as much of the original meaning as I could. I cut up carbon copies or photocopies of the source-note sheets into separate slips of paper for each numbered idea and physically arranged them in piles by theme. Then I actually started writing.
I remember sitting in an apartment room day after day writing passages in longhand and then deciding that the subject should be approached differently. So I would cross out words and write in new ones, or I would redirect sentences or paragraphs to other parts of the manuscript, or I would insert new paragraphs in various places, to the point that I was becoming confused where I was in this project. I would wake up in the morning, drink several cups of coffee, assemble my papers in orderly piles on the table, and be prepared to start writing. But nothing came - nothing more, at least, than a few paragraphs up to as many as several pages.
I found that I could not sustain the concentration to produce a full-length work such as what I had written in Germany, even in a rough draft. It seemed that the best strategy was to let the writing go for a day or so and then return to it, hopefully with a refreshed mind and point of view. What I learned from this experience was that I could not force the writing to come. Maybe it was a mistake to have quit my job to pursue this type of activity full time.
Without ever abandoning the project, I turned to other pursuits that seemed more promising. I returned to college to take more accounting courses for the purpose of sitting for the CPA examination. I also read a number of library books on religious and other topics, making notes of their contents. At the end of this period I married and began a career in accounting.
While employed as an accountant, I considered myself to be primarily a writer. Accounting paid the bills but, in my case, it was not exactly a fast track to riches and career success. In the course of more than twenty-five years, I held five accounting positions and was fired, laid off, or retired five times.
I took up writing on weekends or during vacations or interludes of unemployment and found that this system suited me better than when I was a full-time writer. The fear of experiencing writers block was relieved by the knowledge that my frustrating condition would end when I returned to work Monday morning and submerged myself in a more manageable routine. Beginning in 1981, I self-published several books under the auspices of Thistlerose Publications and was coauthor of another published by Praeger.
In the late 1970s, while employed as an accountant with a crane manufacturer, I finally was able to assemble the idea notes related to rhythm and self-consciousness and some other subjects in a typed manuscript that was 135 single-spaced pages in length, including an appendix. An expanded version, 215 pages long, was completed in 1984. Neither was suitable for publication. The manuscripts lacked coherence because of following the source notes too closely. They also covered too many topics. In the late 1980s, I began expanding some of the chapters to bring in additional materials relating to sports psychology and music theory.
At the end of the 1980s, I was forced to leave my rented quarters in St. Paul when smoke damage from a fire left the house uninhabitable. Moving to Minneapolis, I first was occupied for several years with trade issues and then with activities, unrelated to writing, which had to do with acquiring a small apartment building and becoming an inner-city landlord. Coming into conflict with Minneapolis city officials, I joined a group of small-time landlords who were suing the city and engaging in other protest activities. As the groups chief writer, I now cheerfully labored on one of the lower rungs of a writers occupational ladder - producing frequent letters to the editor of my local newspaper.
That decision gave me time to resume work on writing projects. The latter was more appealing. By now, however, my thoughts had turned to writing a book about world history, an outgrowth of ideas within the rhythm and self-consciousness series of source notes. And so, for the next two years, I read books on history, made notes on their contents, wrote and rewrote the different chapters, and finally published the book in time to receive two reviews in the first month of the new millennium. Although I was working full time on this project (apart from my landlord duties), I did not relapse into the creative funk of the 1960s either because my writing skills were more firmly developed, or the subject matter was less difficult, or I was now using a word processor to compose and rewrite the text.
I had long had in mind returning to the Rhythm and Self-Consciousness manuscript. The thought, frankly, made me quite nervous because of past difficulties in working with this text. Philosophies of the mind deal in more elusive subjects than those in economic or historical writings. Yet, suddenly, I decided to do it. Perhaps I could write most or all of this long-postponed book during the time while I was still living alone, waiting for a wife to arrive from China. My desk had cleared of obligations related to the world-history book. The landlord problems were under control.
I had a busy day on Saturday, November 18th in connection with the landlord group. But then, on Sunday the 19th, I began with the first chapter, writing everything new. I finished it on the next day. The next two chapters followed at a similar pace, a chapter completed every two or three days. It was a pleasure to watch this fearsome project fall into place so quickly. In a little more than a month, all ten chapters were written. Although corrections and additions still had to be made, I was satisfied that Rhythm and Self-Consciousness was now finished as a book and that the quality of writing was satisfactory.
With this personal history, let me tell what I have learned about writing such works during the past thirty or more years. I have learned to work at a certain speed and avoid rewriting too much in the first draft. I have learned to follow a routine to put myself in an alert, creative mood in the early morning.
I make a pot of coffee, drink a few cups, and read the morning newspaper. If I feel ambitious (which may be once or twice a week), I will additionally jog for a mile or so and take a quick bath before dressing, drinking coffee, and reading the newspaper. I make sure that the disordered papers from the previous day are put into a reasonable order. I briefly try to think of what should be accomplished that day. If there are notes or parts of existing manuscripts that pertain to that days work, I read them and allow my mind to fill up with their awareness. It is important to work new materials into the manuscript so that ones mind is kept in a creative mood, receptive and loose rather than perfectionist.
Another secret that I have learned is the value of taking naps. I think of myself as a bow that needs to be unstrung every once in awhile to keep the spring in it. I have learned to take catnaps lasting from twenty minutes to half an hour in which I feel my body and mind grow numb as the fatigue drains away. When I have finished a section or have reached a mental impasse, I take one of those naps. Then I slowly come out of it, do a few fussy things, and am ready for the next round of work.
Actually, this second, third, or fourth beginning of the work day is often better than the first because one has a certain mental momentum by then which makes writing come more easily. On a good day, a writer can extend his productive day through naps to the equivalent of several days. During nap time, thoughts come into the writers head that may be useful in the next session. Ones creative mind is always working.
There were three types of materials that I used to write Rhythm and Self-Consciousness:
First, there were the idea notes, or source notes, previously mentioned. These notes expressed original themes for the book, presenting its main content and organization. Some of the notes were quite recent; others dated back to my college days.
Second were what I called reading notes. Any book on a theoretical subject needs, besides theory, plenty of examples. I think of the theory as being like cement mix and the examples being like the stones and rocks, steel rods, used bedsprings, or whatever contractors put into the cement to stiffen it and make it hold together better. A concrete object without this filler material is apt to crumble, while the filler material alone is a pile of junk. Both need to be used together to create an enduring structure. So theory needs to go with concrete examples, illustrations, or whatever can tie it to a reality which the reader recognizes.
The third type of material used to write this book was manuscripts of previous versions. There were at least two versions of each chapter, excepting the first, plus additional writings. Needless to say, it was easier to put the work together when there were existing versions from which to borrow words or gain a sense of how to organize the materials.
I located as many file folders as I could find containing previous versions of chapters in Rhythm and Self-Consciousness, and made photocopies of my source notes from the 1960s where these two concepts were first discussed. I also assembled a large file folder filled with newspaper clippings and magazine articles that might apply to this book. I listed all these articles on sheets of paper and then went through them again jotting down points of interest. There were several other folders from past years that contained reading notes from books previously read and annotated. These, too, were made available for easy access while writing.
Having been raised in Detroit, I was aware of Henry Fords mass-production techniques by which parts were brought down to the assembly line on conveyor belts. This allowed the workmen at different points on the line to have all the parts and tools which they needed to do their work, with minimal reaching or lifting. So it was that I tried to organize the work of writing.
I wanted all the written notes and all relevant manuscripts to be immediately available to me as I needed them. It was important not to become tired or confused from reviewing too many materials right before starting the writing. The relevant materials should be in front of me, and the others be put away in a known location for possible use. I would fill up my limited mind with each days knowledge, mull it over, and creatively put it to use. In preparation, therefore, I had to sort through the materials and decide what was needed for each days production.
I did not make an outline of the book when I began writing. From experience, I have learned that organization can be the most difficult part. I could not project the entire book in an outline, perhaps only the immediate chapter and the one after it. In fact, the scheme of chapters for this book changed several times. I would ignore my previous plans as a new scheme of organization occurred to me. Yet, I obviously had to have a sense of where to go in the immediate chapter; that was the focus of my planning.
Each chapter was a beginning of sorts. I would assemble all the relevant papers for the chapter after putting the old ones away. I also made a point of doing new research for most of the chapters, even if it meant spending a day or two on that. I listed most of the important materials on a fresh sheet of paper - source notes, reading notes, and summaries of the previous versions. Then I read through what I had assembled for the chapter on the morning when I would begin the writing. I made sure that I knew what would be the starting point and wrote down some of the other points that followed. My objective was to cover all or most of the materials planned for the chapter once I began writing and do it in roughly ten typed pages, each single spaced.
In contrast with my original practice of composing in longhand, I composed this book manuscript on the word processor. I have become used to composing nearly everything I write by this means; it has an air of finality that makes me choose my words more carefully. Also, of course, word processors can handle revisions and corrections more easily than in the case of handwritten or mechanically typed manuscripts. Knowing that, I felt more comfortable in continuing to compose the first draft and letting corrections go for the time being. An old phobia thereby disappeared.
I must admit that, the source notes notwithstanding, much of this book about rhythm and self-consciousness is based on book learning rather than first-hand experience. I am not a skilled athlete or musician but do have some acquaintance with those areas.
My only experience with sports psychology comes from having participated for several years in a golf league. Having a relatively high handicap, my partners and I won several trophies in handicap golf (which is the self-conscious principle applied to sports). I found that during tournaments I had some control over the level of my playing through the thoughts that I cultivated; or, at least, I could identify particular moods within myself that were associated with playing well as opposed to playing poorly.
With respect to music, I think I have good instincts but lack the ability to play any musical instrument or read notes. I have sung in several church choirs, though none recently. Every week or so, I participate in a mens singing group that includes several musicians and poets. I am quite creative in improvising rhythms to go with each song or chant including rhythms of clapping, harmonic parts, and, sometimes, singing unrelated melodies or words.
I was one of seven candidates listed on the Democratic presidential ballot in Louisiana. The others were John Kerry, John Edwards, Howard Dean, Wesley Clark, Dennis Kucinich, and Lyndon LaRouche. Al Sharpton was not on the ballot because, against the rules, he had paid the filing fee by personal check. Joe Lieberman, who had also filed, was taken off the list when he ended his campaign. My name, "Bill" (in quotes) McGaughey, appeared last on this alphabetized list.
Louisiana was my only state primary. I had also filed in South Carolina but the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Terence McAuliffe, declared me ineligible to receive delegates at the national convention. He meant to punish me for having run for U.S. Senate in the Independence Party primary in 2002. Party rules in South Carolina would not allow my name to appear on the ballot. "In Louisiana", on the other hand, "we don't care what you've been," an election official cheerfully told me.
And so, on February 1st, I headed south on I-35 on slick freezing pavements, many a car in the ditch. My travels took me through Kansas City and the western part of Arkansas before I arrived at Shreveport, Louisiana's third largest city, in the northwest corner of the state. Beginning here, my five-week campaign worked its way down to New Orleans from the northern and western parts of the state. Baton Rouge was my most frequent headquarters.
With one exception, I stayed at Motel 6's in Louisiana's larger cities. In my normal routine, I would drive to newspaper offices in cities or towns along routes determined from the state's official highway map. I had prepared packets of hand-out literature consisting of a comparison between the Democratic candidates' proposals to create jobs, a biographical sheet, copies of two articles which I had published in the mid '90s in the Green Party publication, Synthesis/ Regeneration, proposing a new form of tariff, and several opinion pieces published in major newspapers. I also had photographs of myself to accompany whatever articles might be written.
With respect to employment, I argued that the "jobless recovery" had two principal causes: (1) outsourcing of U.S. jobs to low-wage countries and (2) rapid improvements in labor productivity combined with high levels of overtime. To combat job loss, I argued, the U.S. government should (1) impose employer-specific tariffs whose rate would be calculated to offset the cost advantage derived from the low wages and (2) reduce work time by amending the Fair Labor Standards Act (first to cut overtime through stiffer overtime penalties, later to lower the workweek standard). Both these proposals were outside the political mainstream but economically appropriate. I argued that the other candidates were offering little to create jobs.
I learned that many jobs had left Louisiana - notably, 1,300 in Monroe when State Farm announced that its regional office there would close down next year. The state's sugar and crawfish industries were beset by lower cost imported products from Mexico and China respectively. Tariffs, in that context, were not a hard sell. But I was selling the concept of a tariff customized to the employer.
My favorite kind of experience was to find an editor( or radio station manager) willing to spend time talking with me about the local economy. To increase my knowledge, I also attended the governor's conference on Rural Economic Development in Natchitoches (pronounced NACK-ih-tish) on February 10th. While some of the talk concerned increasing broadband capacity in rural areas and lowering business tax rates, a major theme was that the economy could only revive by cultivating an entrepreneurial spirit. This I considered a cop-out. The government was washing its hands of the employment problem: unemployed people would have to create their own jobs.
Weekends were generally dead time because the newspaper offices were not open. So was the Mardi Gras period, especially the four or five days ending on "Fat Tuesday", February 24th. Some had advised me to work the Mardi Gras crowds. That, I found, didn't work. Despite my large purple Mexican hat, people did not seem to appreciate mixing Mardi Gras and presidential politicking. I wound up temporarily suspending my campaign and jumping for beads tossed off the floats. The only political payoff was in Lafayette where a television news crew noted my presence in the crowd. It was my 63rd birthday.
Throughout the campaign but especially in the last week, I was a guest on radio interview shows, some in studio but mostly by phone. These went well except for the last day when I was a "no show" on a radio show due to confusion about the time. I also was a guest for ten minutes on Jeff Crouere's television show "Ringside" which aired in New Orleans.Unfortunately for me, the show aired on March 12th, three days after the primary. Crouere gave me a preelection slot on his radio show. A columnist for The Louisiana Weekly, Christopher Tidmore, wrote a column about me and twice arranged for an interview on his radio talk show.
I spent the final days of the campaign again in northern and central Louisiana, mixing in some sightseeing - tour of a plantation, visit to a zoo and to the site of Bonnie & Clyde's last stand on a country road in Bienville Parish - with campaign activities. On election night, March 9th, I had dinner with an Alexandria newspaper columnist, Andrew Griffin, who was a big fan of Paul Wellstone's, expecting the election returns to be reported on CNN. Instead, the television screen in the sports bar showed John Kerry giving a speech in Illinois, the site of next week's primary.
After John Edwards' defeat and subsequent capitulation on "Super Tuesday" a week earlier, there was little interest in the Louisiana primary. Voter turnout dipped below 10%. The state's top election official said it was a big waste of money. He himself would only vote for appearance's sake, this official said.
From the outset, I had told people that my goal was to win 5% to 10% of the primary vote and beat at least one big-name opponent. With no hard information forthcoming on CNN, Griffin telephoned his newspaper office. I had won 4% of the vote, someone thought. It was worse than that. In the end, I won 1.955% of the vote state wide, trailing the other candidates in New Orleans but doing relatively well in rural areas. I finished well behind Kerry with his 70% of the vote and also behind the three drop-outs, Edwards, Dean, and Clark. I did, however, achieve part of my objective in finishing ahead of the other two active candidates on the ballot. My 3,161 votes statewide put me 750 votes ahead of Dennis Kucinich and 830 votes ahead of Lyndon LaRouche.
Thinking my glass "half empty", a reporter from Bossier City reminded me that it might actually be considered "half full" when he interviewed me by cell phone on my way back to Minnesota. Finishing fifth in Louisiana, for me, was not bad.
Note: For a fuller account, see information about the book, On the Ballot in Louisiana, at the website of Thistlerose Publications.
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