Sunday, September 4, 2011

On the passing of stray comets, and the Minnesota Twins

Well, the Chinese are supposed to have said "May you live in interesting times," and so it begins for us. All the waiting, and working, and patience, and waiting has come to this: An offer of a position in the US State Department as a Foreign Service Officer, to begin the 163rd A-100 Orientation class on Monday, September 12, 2011.  In a surprising little twist, the Chinese gave me a little clue in advance, as the night before my offer arrived, we had Chinese carry-out from our local pot sticker purveyor.  My fortune cookie that night?  "Good news of long-awaited event will arrive soon."  No kidding.  #1 daughter's fortune cookie that night?  "In dreams and in life, nothing is impossible."  Again, no kidding.  And #1 son's fortune cookie that same night?  "Getting together with old friends brings new adventures."  Really, what are the odds?

The planets have aligned themselves such that (and perhaps with the assistance of a stray comet or two), one door has now closed and another opened in this chapter of my life. I'll soon be off to Washington, DC after 20 years in Minnesota, to start a new career after 17 years of teaching high school social studies, with the ultimate result that the family and I will find ourselves living in some far off foreign land. Interesting indeed.

About three years ago, some friends and I decided to puchase a season ticket package for the Minnesota Twins, during their last season in the baseball non-friendly confines of the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis. The goal was that we'd have an 'in' on seats as current season ticket holders when the new stadium (Target Field) opened a year or so later. That plan worked out wonderfully, and we saw some great baseball that inaugural season at Target Field.

I have been a baseball player and fan my entire life, and like baseball players the world over, I am not a believer in tempting fate. Rituals and superstition abound in the game, and ballplayers simply do not spit in the face of the baseball gods. In this vein, and after a great 2010 season, I re-upped my commitment to the group, and put down some cold hard cash for 2011 tickets, actually adding my name to another group and getting tickets in their section, too. The logic here goes like this: By putting down several hundred dollars on tickets for a season lasting most of a year, I would go so far as to guarantee myself a job that would take me away from the Minnesota Twins and the tickets I just purchased. It's kind of like getting your car washed to guarantee rain.

And so the 2011 season began, and before I knew it the Twins were 20 games under .500 by June 1st, off to their worst start in years. With that in mind, I decided at the end of the school year to make a last ditch effort at controlling my fate as a candidate for the Foreign Service, and took off for a month in Daugavpils, Latvia to try and pick up enough Russian language skills to pass a telephone language test, which would earn me bonus points for my candidacy and allow me to move up on the Register. It just so happens that as I arrived in Latvia, the Twins decided to start a little run of excellence, just as I was unable to make use the tickets I had for three or four games.

As it turns out, my decision to attend classes in Latvia worked out swimmingly. I returned to Minnesota on a Wednesday in July, and took the phone test that same week, at 800 am on Friday morning. By the Wednesday July 20, I learned that I had indeed passed the language test (again with the passing of stray comets), and my position had improved considerably on the Register, vaulting me to #4 of 100 or so, up from #42 just a day earlier. Not only had I avoided a non-existant pennant race, I managed to learn enough Russian to boost my odds of a job with the Department of State just as my candidacy was about to expire. (My first candidacy had just expired in June 2011, and my second would have expired in January 2012, but when would I again have the time to learn the language well enough to get that boost while working full time?)

I fully believed my odds of an offer for September were about as good as the Twins winning the AL Central again this year (offers for the September class were extended starting in late June while I was struggling away in Latvia), but really thought I had a shot at the January class.

Shortly after my return from Latvia, the family had a nice little chance to reconnect as we had a family reunion over a long weekend in Wisconsin, and then the four of us proceeded to spend a week hiking, sight seeing, and generally being hangers-on at a wilderness medical conference in Big Sky, Montana with my sister-in-law and her husband, the coordinator of the conference. We returned to Minnesota on Sunday, July 31 to an empty refrigerator and bare cupboards, so we visited our local Jimmy John's, after which Kate ran off to buy some groceries for the upcoming week. While shopping, some cretins stole her wallet. Credit cards, cash, the wallet itself, and the love notes from the kids when they were little. Welcome home.

That day and the next we spent considerable time filing police reports, calling credit card companies, and generally fuming at the bad luck that put Kate in the wrong place at the wrong time for the criminal to spot her purse in the grocery cart. Blast.

While out with #1 son doing some shopping at Costco the next day (August 1st), Kate sent me a text. "Are you busy on September 12?" she asked. I wracked my brain (I was used to that by now): Was it an anniversary? We did start dating in September, after all. No, that was the 15th. Hmm. What was she asking me? Then it dawned on me: That was the first day of the A-100 Orientation class! I had left my email account open, and she saw the offer show up in my inbox! Suffice it to say, the people shopping and working at Costco must have thought #1 son and I were totally bananas as we basically danced our way through the aisles high-fiving each other over and over.

It's been a whirlwind month since that fateful day in early August (and a rather crazy summer overall), with lots of emails and reams of forms, and lots of clothes shopping and other preparations. And now the time is nearly here, with my departure from Minnesota only days away. We struggled emotionally moving #1 son into his college dorm for his freshman year a few days ago, and #1 daughter is about the start her senior year of high school without me around to nag her about homework, college applications and preparing for the ACT. Other than a fabulous going-away party held here at Xylon Road, there has been little time for frivolity since notification of the offer. That includes the Twins, whose games I normally track in the daily paper and watch on TV four or five times a week (when I'm not at the ball park). But not to worry: by the time of my return from Latvia the Twins had gone back to their early season mediocrity, and in the end, I only made it to two or three games all season. My last tickets are for September 28th - the last game of this dismal season - but when I check my schedule for fall, I see that I'm a bit busy that day.

Anyone want to buy two tickets to the Twins game September 28th?

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