Monday I AWAKEN AT 5 a.m., aching and sore from cutting firewood all day Sunday. The old farmhouse we bought almost four years ago has a wood stove as its only source of heat, and, while efficient, the stove turns seven cords of hardwood into smoke and ash each winter. I don't mind the work involved for it is rewarding, and the neatly split and stacked wood I carry to the porch each Sunday smells good and will get us through the week barring bitter cold and windy weather. At 5:30, I stoke the stove, dampen it down so it will burn slowly and then drive the two miles to Interstate 95 and head north toward Washington.
By 7:30, I have scanned a two-inch thick computer report, spotted three or four errors, made several phone calls and have keypunched the correct data. Monday is usually a bad day because we generate weekly reports concerning employe production, trend reports showing pieces, cartons and shipments received, and reports reflecting the work accomplished by the processing floors in the warehouse.
Keypunch errors made by my staff or incorrect data submitted by the offices responsible for checking in and distributing merchandise to the company's 14 stores may cause advertised merchandise to be late getting to its destinations. The goods cannot be sold unless they make it to the stores on time, and pressures from the merchants steadily increase throughout the week.
By 4, all but a few problems have been resolved. I leave those for a supervisor who reports to me, and head out of town on the 50-mile stretch of highway that will take me home. The stiffness I felt in the morning has almost disappeared. Tuesday
It's 3 a.m. and I feel, more than hear, my wife Debbie slip into bed beside me. She works nights and I can usually tell when she gets home. I stifle a low groan when I look at the clock -- less than two hours of sleep left before I must ask my tired pickup to make the trip into Washington again.
There are six or seven hurriedly scrawled notes on my desk when I arrive, one of them from my boss informing me that one of the computers crashed after I left. Immediately I write a memo to the vice president over computer software telling him of the constantly reoccurring problem and the apparent inability of the programmers to resolve it. It is a tactful memo. I have the secretary type it and show it to my boss before it is distributed to the persons involved in computer operations.
The afternoon is again spent at my desk, drawing up a user's manual for a new computer-generated ticket-making program that recently was added to my area of responsibility. Surprisingly, the new procedure is implemented by word of mouth with no supporting documentation or instruction. Because I am unclear on the exact method of operating the system, the manual is handwritten and provides only the essential information needed to keypunch the data and set up the forms in the printer. I title it "A Ticket-Making Guide for the Complete Idiot" and make copies for a half dozen people.
I meet Debbie at the Lorton exit off I-95 and there, in a parking lot of an elementary school, our cheerful 2-year-old son is passed, from her car to my truck. She heads for work in Springfield and I turn south, bound for Stafford and home. Wednesday
There is usually one day out of the week when traffic is terrible and today is that day. Two wrecks, one at Landmark and one near Glebe Road, have cars backed up all the way to the Beltway. As my feet continually pump up and down on the clutch and accelerator and then on the brakes, I comtemplate the meetings I have scheduled that day.
The first is with the controller of the finance division, and I mentally scan the problems I know we will be discussing.
The second meeting is with the president of the buyers' committee. We will discuss the problems caused when buyers write purchase orders incorrectly. These errors often lead to the distortion of the reports my offices generate and cost my staff many hours of telephone time as they troubleshoot mistakes or omitted information.
The meetings go remarkably well and while everything I requested is not granted, my opinions at least are aired and I feel better on the way home. I wait at the school almost 15 minutes before Debbie shows up with Chris. While I wait I remember she once described herself as a "parking lot wife." Her absence in the evenings makes the weeks go slowly, but we are spared the insurmountable problems of day care. On the plus side, our weekends are special and leisurely.
The stove is almost out when I get home, and I rake the coals to the front and add more wood. The week is more than half over and the wood stacked on the porch is not quite half gone. Thursday
Remarkably, my desk calendar has not a single notation on it and, while this means that no work has carried over from the previous day or week, I know it is no assurance that the day will be trouble free.
By midmorning, I receive a frantic call. The stove went out, and while Debbie has mastered many things and has endured hardships that sometimes seem greater than those of the Donner party, Shackleton and Custer combined, she has not gotten used to the intricacies of the big stove. By the time I hear it crackling warmly in the background the phone company has earned enough to open a new substantion. Other than the commuting, our remoteness offers the drawback of monthly three-digit phone bills. Our friends conveniently live either just across the line that determines that a call is long distance or 2,000 miles away.
That night, possibly because it's payday, I sit down and type twice the usual six pages on the second novel I'm writing. The first is now in search of a publisher and the second, a novel about the Vietnam war, marches steadily on. Although it has been 10 years since I returned from Vietnam, the memories flow out my finger tips, through the keys of the typewriter and onto the paper. Like cutting wood, writing is instantly rewarding and gratifying.
My son's lining up his trucks on my typing desk is no real help, but I have grown used to his version of assistance as he has grown used to my version of inattentiveness. Friday
One day to wrap up a week's worth of problems never seems to be enough. I give it my best shot and fill up all day Monday on the desk calendar with problems that will need attention and memos that will need to be written. I find myself daydreaming occasionally, and only through superhuman concentration am I able to keep my mind on my work.
I leave work, oblivious to the heaviest rush hour of the week, and when I get home, I notice with satisfaction that the wood still in the log crib will be enough to get Debbie through the next day. For added insurance I split a few more logs outside and add them to the small pile on the porch. Shortly after I put Chris to bed I, too, retire. It is not yet 9 p.m. Saturday
The heavy forest along the Potomac is strikingly beautiful and the woods are deathly quiet. It is a day for reflection, a day used to erase the hectic work week, and by dusk, when I'm normally southbound on the interstate, I find myself sizing up individual trees, wondering how long they would burn, and how well they would split, and how many of them it would take to get me through a winter. Suddenly I realize that these considerations are not a factor in the lives of my coworkers and friends. I decide that they are somehow poorer for not having to worry about such things.
This evening, we serve quiche to friends before a crackling fire. At times like this -- with a cheerful blaze in the living room complementing the heat from the wood stove in the kitchen -- I realize that we have wrought a small miracle with the 100-year-old house.
When we go to bed tonight, we do not stoke the fire. Tomorrow the stove will get its weekly cleaning. Sunday
I can see my breath in the kitchen this morning, and I quickly pull out the five-foot piece of stovepipe that plugs into the back of the chimney that serves the fireplace on the other side of the wall. It's a good arrangement because most of the creosote collects in the stovepipe rather than the chimney and cleaning simply involves rapping on the stovepipe with a wooden paint stirrer.
By 9 a.m., the inside thermometer reads 60 degrees, and, by 9:15, my chainsaw and splitting maul are slicing and chopping into logs. I can feel the same stiffness and soreness developing in my hands and arms and back. Monday will again be a rough day.