Tuesday

I WAKE to the dull pain of my wisdom tooth sockets, surgically emptied on Friday. I leave my apartment without eating breakfast, so I can have a diabetes test today. It's just as well that I don't eat breakfast -- I'm sick of jello, scrambled eggs and yogurt.

I arrive at work an hour late, and do my penance via a Standard Form 71 -- Application for Leave. Even though I am late for the diabetes test, the nurse is understanding and administers it. After all, it's been eight months since I signed up for the test -- I guess an hour longer won't make a significant difference.

The day was to be busy, but things fall through. The union cancels a meeting, and management cancels one, too. Both sides need more time to look over the information. My supervisor demonstrates the processing of Standard Form 52s -- Request for Personnel Action. I learn how to code them so we can determine if the employe is eligible for the bargaining unit. I ask my supervisor how a GS 15 position can be nonsupervisory and nonmanagerial as well. How can you get that far up the ladder and still be eligible for bargaining unit membership? Part of his answer is that I must learn to live with ambiguity if I am to survive in the government. I decide to memorize the codes. Standard forms are what I must learn to live with. Wednesday

The wheels of government seem to turn at a frenetic pace on Wednesdays. I attend two meetings with bureau officials who plan on reorganizing their staffs, and must consult with the union. The union wants to know if any employes will be adversely affected (that usually means loss of pay or grade.)

A meeting with management: We discuss sections of the current union contract, and how they need to be changed in the upcoming negotiations. We talk about joint union-management study committees and their effectiveness, or lack of it. We suspect that sometimes both sides are pleased if committees are formless and actionless.

At an afternoon meeting, a brief discussion about the extension of the contract causes some disagreement between union and management. Can we extend the agreement indefinitely or must we state a specific period of time? The case law is vague -- I return to the office and search the files for the minutes of the previous contract negotiations for a clue. I copy a few relevant items and give the package to my supervisor. Thursday

In the early morning, a supervisor comes in for some labor relations advice. Can he require clericals to give an established starting time for their lunch periods so that the phones are covered at all times? We advise that he must consult with the union before making a change in office practices or procedures affecting employes.

I go to lunch with a fellow Northwestern alumna -- a Post Style section reporter. We discuss the things that make Washington distinctive. She offers that Washingtonians have an attraction for power. I argue that it is an attraction for excitement. We don't really decide.

Personnel is completing a big classification survey and the potential for downgrading is a major issue. The labor relations and classification staffs sit down with one manager and matter-of-factly discuss the new protections against loss of pay in the Civil Service Reform Act.

I apply for a permanent position by submitting a Standard Qualifications Statement. I recall with a smile my friend Jim's remark that standard forms are as American as processed cheese.

I head for the Wolf Trap National Sympony concert with a friend from the office. We join the picnicking on the lawn, and pass the time before the concert classifying picnic coolers. Playmates are the Rolls-Royce of coolers; ours is definitely the Volkswagen model, 97 cents at Peoples. Friday

On arriving at the office, I am asked to track down a memorandum about a reorganization in time for a 10:30 meeting. The man who holds it does not "flex in" until 9:30, so I must wait. I conclude that an official-looking typed note placed strategically on the top of his desk will create the desired response in the shortest amount of time. It works, and at 9:35 he carries the memorandum to my office. I go to the meeting at 10:30 as an observer of the relationship between management, the union, the employes, the personnel office and the labor relations staff (all are present.) The discussion of grades and pay generates tension among the various groups. Each has to act in the best interests of the government in general, while protecting things of value to the specific group. To me, it seems that the two should coincide. But I'm learning to live with ambiguity.

I spend the rest of the afternoon matching bargaining unit codes with the personnel actions that need to be processed.

I go to the oral surgeon to have my stitches removed, and he charges nearly $500 for the surgery. I go home and take a nap with a hot pack (to speed healing.) Saturday

At 10:30 I set out with a friend for the South Fork of the Shenandoah, with intent to navigate it in tire tubes. We stop for lunch in Luray and are amused that a dime treats you to two hours on the parking meter. We eat lunch in a small diner, where a drunken senior citizen and a younger longhair begin to fight, eventually moving outside to the sidewalk. The waitress assures us that there's no cover charge for the show.

We pick up a few old tire tubes on the way, and stop at a filling station to have them patched and filled. When we finally arrive at the river there are a few clouds. We have seen only three other people -- fishermen. I feel genuinely relaxed, though we have to hurry back to the car to avoid being caught in the approaching thunderstorm. We drive back to the city in the rain, stopping long enough to buy some fresh peaches and find out what sorghum is. Sunday

I begin my day with a big bowl of fresh fruit and the newspaper. I have almost healed from the surgery. I get out my typewriter and tackle the insurance form, wondering if Aetna will think that a $500 fee for wisdom tooth removal is "usual and customary." Medical costs are certainly inflated in the capital.

A friend comes by around noon, and we decide to go to Sandy Point State Park. We get lost on the Anacostia Freeway, and end up on New York Avenue as a wedding party leaves the church. We sit in traffic and wish we were in the water. At the bay, I am attacked by a jellyfish. I lay agonizing over the blotches on my legs and forearms and think how fortunate it is that I only go to the beach about once or twice a summer. My companion critiques a draft HEW procedure for settling allegations of misused tax money. Another kettle of fish.

I spend my evening in domestic chores: doing the laundry, grilling a steak. Between chores, I watch "60 Minutes," and my admiration for Katherine Hepburn grows. Monday

I must be optimistic: Just because last week was good (translation: busy), it doesn't mean this week won't be. I meet with my supervisor and we discuss the current union-management contract, combining our findings on how it needs to be changed to conform to the Civil Service Reform Act.

I am assigned to review several recommendations for periodic step increases (known in the private sector as raises), as HEW changed its procedures for getting them this year. Many of the recommendations we receive are in the old format, so I call several supervisors to point out that they must describe the employes' duties and explain how well they have performed them -- in addition to signing forms which declare that the employes are performing at acceptable levels.

My final task for the day is to draft a petition to the Federal Labor Relations Authority, asking it to clarify the status of some regional employes who are being "recentralized." (In other words: Will they be represented by the union local in Washington or by those in their regions?) My major problem is a lack of standard forms. I must call the FLRA and order some. I decide to order Unfair Labor Practice Forms as well. Wouldn't want to be caught without them. If you want to survive in the government, you must learn to live with ambiguity -- and standard forms.