There are some conversations I only hear when I make the trip home to Western Maryland. This weekend, one of those overheard conversations started innocently enough – the usual checking in on mutual friends that happens when two people who haven’t seen one another in a while show up at the same place. It very quickly became obvious that it was a conversation better not had… because it went something like this:
Person 1: Have you seen Bob lately?
Person 2: Bob’s dead.
Person 1: Oh damn. What about Frank?
Person 2: Dead.
Person 1: What was his wife’s name?
Person 2: Bonnie. She moved to Florida and died.
Person 1: Pete?
Person 2: Stroke.
Person 3: Maybe you could just list the people not dead?
OK, so I made up Person 3… mostly because that’s what I was sitting there thinking while this conversation happened. It went on for another ten minutes, with every answer being that someone was dead, almost dead, in a nursing home, in a nursing home and almost dead, or moved to Florida.
I hate to think that in 35 years that’s the kind of conversation I can look forward to. In fairness, I’ll probably be one of the ones who has dropped dead by then so I’ll at least get to miss out on the most awkward small talk ever… and that my friends is the sound of going home.
It’s hard to miss the social media mini-backlash to all the attention a lion poached in Zimbabwe has gotten over the last few days. Before I get my day started I wanted to chime in to answer the question “why do people care more about a lion than all the abortions.”
First, I don’t think the issues are mutually exclusive. It seems perfectly possible to me that one might be concerned about both poaching and abortion simultaneously. Talking about one doesn’t negate any opinion one may have on the other. The fact is, this country has been embroiled in the abortion debate for well over 50 years now – and like it or not, the arguments have become just more background noise to most people. It’s not “news” in any meaningful way.
Second, every discussion I’ve ever heard about abortion has been fueled by emotion and quickly descends into a shouting match between the two sides. Nether has proven particularly effective at making well-reasoned, rational arguments. When you charge into the issue from a position of emotion rather than logic, you almost guarantee I’m going to stop paying attention.
Third, and perhaps most important I’ve always liked animals way more than I like most people. We’ve covered that before. People, as a group, tend to be assholes. By contrast, lions tend to just be lions. So all things considered, if I have to spend the limited amount of time I have worrying about a species of 7 billion individuals stretched to every corner of the globe or one that has 30,000 in the wild, I’m going to defer my interest to the critters just about every time.
1. Priorities. I never expect to be anyone’s top priority – except my own of course. All I’ve ever wanted is to know, definitively where I fall on the spectrum of importance. My projects don’t tend to be flashy, they’re not always the high visibility ones, they’re the ones that tend to go along unnoticed and unremarked (unless something goes horribly wrong). They’re the workhorse projects that just need to get done with a minimum of trouble. They’re sort of a personal specialty of mine. While most of them motor along without much intervention, that doesn’t mean they always will. Occasionally I’m going to fire off a red star cluster. I like to think my track record shows that I’m not just doing it to get attention – but because there’s an honest to God problem somewhere in the works. But if I’m going to be dumped into the “yeah, yeah, we’ll get to you later” pile, I will plan and execute accordingly.
2. I am not the decider. Call as often as you want. Try to drop names to intimidate or influence me. Have your boss “follow-up.” See, the thing is I’m not the decider. In fact you’d be alarmed if you knew how little authority I had to do anything at all. My job is to provide analysis, advice, and recommendations. What people do with those once I provide them, I can’t and won’t answer for. I’ve gotten very adept at standing like a stone wall in the face of bitching and complaints. I can do it all day every day and not so much as raise my voice. If you need to talk to someone who’s going to “feel your pain,” you called the wrong number… but feel free to have your boss call and I’ll tell him the same thing.
3. Working lunch. No, I’m not going to consider a pack of crackers and a Coke scarfed down at my desk at 2:00 in the afternoon while trying to catch up on email “taking my lunch.” I’ll take lunch during socially agreed time of day for the mid-day meal or I’ll take it off the end of the day. It’s not optional and not a topic open to debate. In neither case will it be a “working” lunch. If people can’t figure out not to schedule meetings back to back or let them run 45 minutes over in the middle of the day, other, eminently practical provisions will be made, as rest assured I value nothing so highly as my own time.
I’ve had several distinct experiences as a homebuyer. I’ve had the experience of buying into a brand new subdivision with streets still unpaved, a hundred lots still for sale, and the mixture of fear and curiosity in wondering if and when the project would ever be finished… and what kind of wackadoodle neighbors I’d end up with. More recently I bought into an established neighborhood whose tight restrictions and price of admission helped cut down on the wackadoodle, outwardly at least. Here in exurbia we seem to keep our crazy more inside the walls than up on blocks in the front yard.
Having been thoroughly scorched by the bursting bubble of 2008/9, two of my biggest priorities were finding an established neighborhood that would still be sought after when it came time to sell (as opposed to one that was still under construction, and suffering though several iterations of developer-gone-bankrupt) and driving down my offer price low enough to hopefully not lose my ass again. I won’t claim to have timed the market, but I feel good about how closely I was able to meet those goals.
I feel even better about it now that I’ve seen a sign going up just across the hill from my little cul-de-sac. It’s well out of my eye line, separated by a stream and a couple thousand yards of trees, but I heartily welcome any developer in the next neighborhood over who wants to list “3 to 10 Acre Estate Lots Starting at $500,000” in their promotional material. It’s good for property values and mercifully keeps that tract free from higher density projects. Since it’s the last stretch of land available for development in my immediate area, I was ecstatic to see it being chunked out in such big portions. Elitist? Yeah, maybe, but like it or not a house is as much an investment as it is a home and I’m in favor of just about anything that will help drive the value up – despite what it will inevitably do to my next property tax bill.
With the rest of the immediately surrounding land being state managed or otherwise being entangled by woodland protective covenants and restrictions, barring an unforeseen calamity prices only have one way to go… though given my decidedly mixed track record with real estate I could be absolutely and completely off the mark.
This is one of those days where I’m reminded just how limited a scope of interest I currently seem to have. I could regale you with another in the latest round of stories about why the office is a shitshow. I could rant about any number of celebrities, political figures, policy decisions, or current events. In a pinch I could even bang out another about the alleged joy of home ownership. What I can’t do at the moment is give you a fresh and interesting take on any of those things. They seem to have become the background hum of every day.
I’m not an escapist by nature, but I find myself spending more and more evenings cramming my nose into a book and trying hard to ignore all the other noise. I don’t want to think about work. I’ve already had it up to my eyeballs with politics. I don’t have it in me to further ponder the expensive mud pit I’m about to have commissioned in the back yard. So for the moment, maybe I’m being a little more escapist than usual. Even so, spending the evening with a decent drink and a good story doesn’t sound particularly awful.
Conveniently I don’t have an inner adrenalin junky to satisfy or I’d probably be off signing up for sky diving lessons, so that seems like what it’s going to be for the time being – or at least until the other bits and pieces settled down a bit and are, on the whole, a little less exhausting. I’m usually inclined to try doing it all at once, but this one time I think it best to let my inner slacker lead the way for a while.
There’s a certain smell to summer in proximity to the Chesapeake. It’s not the saltwater smell you find at the beach. It’s not the aggressive punch of decomposing plant matter in the wetlands right down along the water’s edge. It’s a smell I only know from a few miles inland. It’s salty and woody and vaguely marshy. It’s a good smell and a familiar one for me. For a few weeks during the hottest parts of the summer I’d catch it in St. Mary’s County when I lived down at the southern tip of the western shore. It’s here now, too, at the northern reaches of the Eastern.
My first memory of that smell, and where I remember it most distinctly, is an a little town in between those two points no one reading this would have ever heard of. It’s the smell of long ago summer visits to far away relatives, of horses, of learning to pick crabs and to shuck oysters, and swimming until the pool’s rough bottom had worn blisters on my toes. It’s s a smell of a simpler time, or at least one that seemed simpler by virtue of knowing so little about the world’s machinations. It’s the single smell I’ll (apparently) forever associate with one very specific place and time.
It’s not a smell I’ve ever encountered elsewhere in my travels – there’s no hint of it in Petersburg, or Honolulu, or Memphis. Oregon has its own particular smell of the old, deep woods and powerful running water, but it’s not at all the same. I picked up that fleeting scent a few nights ago. It’s that time of year. The instant recall and deeply fond memories of times and people long gone couldn’t possibly have been stronger. I don’t think I’ll ever stop being amazed at what small details the brain snatches for its own and hides away only to restore them with perfect clarity years and decades later.
One of the reasons I popped on Casa de Jeff 2.0 is the fact that it had a sun room that seems almost purpose built to be a home office. With the slope of the yard the room is just about eye level with the bottom of the forest canopy. The birds, squirrel, and occasional deer are a bit of a distraction, but otherwise I’ve found it ideal for reading and writing – although at this time of year, the room seems to be basically uninhabitable between the hours of 2:00-5:00 PM. I like that it’s a separate, self contained space, but not jammed in a corner at the far end of the house. When I’m not tinkering around on some other project, it’s usually where you’ll find me.
I only mention it now because I noticed for the first time as I sat down to write this that we’re already starting to lose daylight in the evening. We’re racing towards the end of July, with more of the summer behind us than in front of us. I like the long summer nights maybe more than I thought. Even though they’re still mostly here, I miss them already. That’s not to say that I’ve taken maximum advantage of them in any real way. There haven’t been any epic road trips – no vacation days to speak of that didn’t involve meeting a contractor to talk about some much needed repair or much desired alteration to the new homestead. In fact I’d wager I haven’t been more than 20 straight-line miles away from the house since I bought the place. Me and my 18th century so-called life.
It’s all been necessary, of course, but none of what I’ve been up to feels like what summer should be about. I’m not at all satisfied with that state of affairs, though I’ll grudgingly accept it as the current (and theoretically temporary) cost of doing business.