Saturday, May 9, 2009


Hello from Albuquerque, NM. Yesterday afternoon I rendezvoused with Merry at the airport and now we're sitting at Fred & Mary Upshall's dining room table. Fred's an ALJ here who I met at training last summer. We've been sharing stories about our first year as judges. One odd thing we both noticed was how little our new colleagues seemed to care about our social adjustment to a new city. Had we joined a new law firm we would have been shown around and invited to social events. At ODAR there is almost none of this.

My experience in St. Louis was a little different than Fred's here, because of Jane Lanser.

Every Social Security hearing is electronically recorded. The recording itself is performed by independent contractors called “hearing monitors” who are paid a set amount per hearing. Many of the hearing monitors are retired Social Security clerks who are very familiar with the process. The ALJs have no say in who is scheduled as their monitor, but the cadre is small, so it's easy to become familiar with the unique personalities of every monitor.

I met Jane during my first week at St. Louis ODAR. Jane worked at SSA for many years before retiring and taking up the hearing monitor job. She has a government pension but does the monitor job part-time as a source of “mad money.” Jane has lived a long time in St. Louis. She really, really loves the place and seems determined for me to see it through her eyes.

I have Jane as my monitor about once a week. Every time she's in my court she brings me guidebooks, magazines, flyers, newspaper clippings, handouts, and books that she believed will help me understand all that St. Louis has to offer. If I should happen to express an interest in any particular subject she will search her vast archives and produce relevant material for my review. Her archives are impressive. For example when I was writing the entry on Bevo, Jane showed up with a book on the Busch family and even old newspapers related to the family.

Over time Jane has become my principal guide to all things St. Louis. Jane has informed me in detail on every St. Louis cultural institution. She consistently provides me with insider information on how to get the most out of the many free concerts, Shakespeare in the Park and the free seats at the Muny (a summer outdoor professional theatre in Forest Park). When I was seeking a good restaurant she provided a recent list of the 30 best. One day she brought a magazine article with the 100 things ever St. Louis citizen should see or do. She is an awesome history buff but she loves two things above all else: the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and the Cardinals.

This last Thursday there was an afternoon home game against the Pittsburgh Pirates. The game started at 1:00, my hearings ended at 12:30. Busch Stadium is only four blocks from the hearing office. Jane was my monitor. I immediately knew she was planning to attend the game. She showed up for work in a “Cardinal” red dress with matching red blazer. Each lapel sported an enameled Cardinals pin. She wore earrings shaped like small baseballs with Cardinals in the center. Her tote sported the Cardinals logo done in cross stitch. Her handbag looked like a zippered fuzzy baseball about the size of a basketball. When I left work at about 3:30 the game was just getting out. The Cards won. I spotted Jane, her gray hair hidden under a Cardinals cap, in the celebrating crowd streaming out of the park. Her dress was distinctive, but every fan had their own bright red outfit. Downtown was awash in a sea of red. I waved to Jane across the street.

Jane also reports to me on every Symphony concert. She was particularly enraptured by the recent appearance of Nadia Solerno-Sonenberg. She also introduced us to the fine community orchestra at Webster University in which her daughter-in-law has played for many years.

Thanks to Jane our move has been enriched and we feel more at home.

On another note, I'd like to thank everyone who responded to last week's posting on cognitive surplus. I must have accidently hit on a topic with resonance. To clarify, I did not mean to suggest that TV never be used for entertainment, nor did I mean to suggest that if everyone turned off the TV that there would be a huge increase in Wikipedia entries. Thanks to everyone who wrote back. I plan to do more with that piece when I get the chance.

Now, off on our drive back to St. Louis.

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